Ephesus was a major seaport city in Asia on the western coast of what today is Turkey. It no longer exists as a major metropolis in the fashion of the past as the harbor is totally gone, but the city was in its prime at the time of Paul as the 3rd largest city of the Roman Empire – populated by over 300,000 people. Here too was the magnificent Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, being four times larger than the Parthenon in Athens.
It was in Ephesus that the power of God in the expansion of the church and gospel message was particularly evidenced. Here, the Word of God was powerfully preached and honored.
In reading through this passage, one is struck with the way that God simply took charge by displays of his power and authority. Clearly it was God’s plan to bless and expand this church community toward the growth of the church in this entire city and region.
Acts 19:8 – Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
The powerful teaching ministry that ensues is in a place called the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This was likely a building of some substantial size, as the word for a “lecture hall” denotes a place of leisure – but for the culture of the day, a great lecture was great leisure and fun. (I like these folks and that makes sense to me!) Of course, all of this occurred following the typical scenario of getting tossed out of the synagogue.
Acts 19:11 – God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
Of all the Graeco-Roman cities visited by Paul, Ephesus was the most inhabited by magicians, sorcerers, and charlatans of all types. This therefore explains the miraculous work of God through Paul in particular, as displays of greater power than that associated with the occult powers that did exist from demonic elements of the kingdom of darkness.
You’ve gotta love this passage in verses 13-16. Someday, if I live long enough, I’m going to write a book called “The Top 100 Most Humorous Passages in the Bible.” This paragraph is going to be a part of it!
Acts 19:13 – Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.
Having heard Paul’s power displayed by casting out inferior demonic powers “in the name of Jesus,” some Jews went about doing the same thing with the same formula. But on one occasion, they ran into a nastier evil spirit than most. This demon answered the command by saying, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” That is hilarious! And then the guy that the spirit inhabited went berserk and beat the tar out of them!
Acts 19:17 – When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
But all of these events were orchestrated by God to expand the church. Through this, everyone in the city and region heard the gospel – likely gaining fame and notice through these powerful displays. One in particular is that of the burning of certain magic lore books and scrolls, the value of which was 50,000 pieces of silver. If the coin being mentioned was that representing a day’s wage, the comparative value for today would be about seven million dollars!
Though we possess in our day the completed Word of God, and displays of power such as are seen in Ephesus are not the normative way God works in our world, it is appropriate to remember that this power does still lay at the root of our faith and the truth it represents. That bolsters our confidence as we run our life race in a world that is hostile to God and to truth.