A Nucleus of Uninstructed Believers
The travels of Apollos after he left Ephesus took him eventually to Corinth, where he continued his ministry of proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. Paul was traveling at the same time, pursuing his third missionary journey. If he had a principal companion, Scripture does not name him. Nor does it say much about the places Paul visited at the beginning. It informs us simply that he went through central Asia Minor (the regions of Galatia and Phrygia) until he reached the northern coast, probably at Troas, his point of embarkation for Europe during his previous journey. But this time he took a different course. He turned south and went to Ephesus, the most important city in the region.
He went there to keep a promise. At the end of his last journey, he stopped in Ephesus and assured the Jews who showed interest in his message that he would return at first opportunity, if God willed. And God was willing. As it turned out, God had a major work for Paul to accomplish in that city, requiring his presence for about three years (Acts 20:31).
When he arrived in Ephesus he found a small band of disciples, comprising about twelve men. In context, the term "disciples" undoubtedly refers to disciples of Jesus. No doubt many of their wives and children also believed. But they had not been fully instructed in the gospel. When Paul asked them whether they had received the Holy Spirit, they responded with some bewilderment. They asked, in essence, "Who is the Holy Spirit?" Apparently, Paul had heard that they were baptized, so his next question was to ask what kind of baptism they received. They replied that they received the baptism of John.
When Paul learned that the men knew only John's baptism, he did not belittle it, or suggest that it was unworthy. But he explained that although it was valid as a testimony of repentance, it was insufficient. John's purpose had merely been to pave the way for Jesus. He wanted people to believe that Jesus was the Christ: that is, the Messiah. It was therefore necessary for the men to be baptized again, this time in the name of Jesus, not John.
Since the men had already made the decision to follow Jesus, they were entirely willing to show their faith by being baptized again. Indeed, all were baptized. Then Paul laid his hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit, whose presence was made manifest by outward signs. As on Pentecost and other occasions recorded in Acts, the believers began to speak in tongues and to prophesy.
A Powerful Ministry
Paul then began an aggressive campaign to evangelize the city. He followed his usual strategy of starting in the synagogue. For three months he declared with Spirit-wrought power and eloquence "the things concerning the kingdom of God." In other words, He argued with great force that Jesus was the King, and that entrance into His Kingdom was impossible except by believing in Him. Others had preceded Paul with much the same message. Apollos had boldly preached Jesus to the same congregation. Perhaps Aquila and Priscilla had also given public witness to Jesus. But Paul's aim was different. He was pushing each person in the congregation to the point of decision, with the goal of forming a new church from the believers.
Paul's message did not go unopposed. Voices of unbelief forced him to engage in heated debate. Yet he was equal to the challenge. No doubt the pressure of being contradicted helped him to sharpen his arguments and win more supporters. But as the debate drew on, his opponents slipped into a rigidity of mind and hardness of heart that made further debate pointless. Moreover, their rhetoric was becoming ugly. They began to bring evil accusations against Paul and against Christians generally. So, the time came when Paul decided to gather followers and leave the synagogue.
They chose the school of Tyrannus as their new meeting place. We are not told whether Tyrannus himself was a believer. If he was typical of schoolmasters in the Greek world, he gave lectures every day on such subjects as philosophy and rhetoric to whoever wished to hear them, whether young or old. Today's young people would be thrilled to attend such a school, which ordinarily continued only until 11 o'clock in the morning.
Such a school was an ideal site for the ministry of Paul. It must have provided a lecture hall accommodating a large crowd. Since the school itself concluded in the morning, he could use the hall for the majority of the day. We know from several texts that he spent part of his day pursuing his trade of leather working (Acts 20:34; 1 Cor. 4:11-12, the latter written from Ephesus). No doubt the part he gave to manual labor was early in the morning, while the school was in session. One early commentator said that he taught from 11 AM to 4 PM.
There in the school of Tyrannus he began his own lecture series. For two whole years, he spent maybe five hours a day proclaiming Christ.
These talks at the school of Tyrannus became famous throughout the region. Everyone who lived in the province of Asia, incorporating the entire western side of Asia Minor, heard what Paul was teaching. Perhaps many heard because they attended his talks.
To enhance the effectiveness of Paul's ministry, the Lord empowered him to do miracles. In the record of his earlier career, we read that he healed a lame man in Lystra and cast out a demon in Philippi, but we do not read that he performed healings anywhere else. Yet miracles of healing became the centerpiece of his ministry in Ephesus. It was like a return to the early days of the church in Jerusalem, when people brought the sick from far and wide so that Peter might heal them. The power of healing lay even in Peter's shadow. Much the same outpouring of the supernatural occurred in Ephesus. Paul healed not only those brought to him, but also many others who merely touched one of his handkerchiefs or aprons. These were items he wore as he practiced his trade. A plainer translation of handkerchief would be "sweat rag." As he worked, he wrapped one of these about his head, and he protected his clothing with an apron. The power available through faith in the Christ that Paul preached was sufficient not only to heal every manner of physical disease, but also to cast out demons.
There was in Ephesus a group of professional exorcists working in partnership. They were seven Jews, all sons of a certain Sceva whom Luke describes as a high priest. It was not uncommon in the ancient world for a Jew to claim proficiency in the magical arts. The sorcerer in Cypress that Paul inflicted with blindness was a Jew. Apparently, the gentiles had some vague knowledge of the great feats done by the God of Israel, as recorded in the Old Testament. So, when a Jew claimed the ability to do magic through the power of God, many gentiles were willing to believe him. The seven sons of Sceva, with their connection to the high priesthood, were in an especially good position to market themselves as exorcists.
Paul's spectacular success in ridding people of demons came to their notice and provoked them to imitate his methods. They heard that he cast them out in the name of the Lord Jesus. So, when they were next called to help a victim of demon possession, they solemnly intoned Jesus' name when they ordered the demon to come out. The demon was unimpressed. Determined not to lose his lodging in a convenient victim, he challenged their authority to give him commands. By using the victim's voice as if it were his own, he cried out that he knew the name of Jesus and the name of Paul, but who were they? It is evident that the evil spirit was well aware that he was subject to Jesus' apostles. He knew that after Jesus' resurrection, He gave His apostles authority over the demonic world (Mark 16:17). But the demon's obligation to obey a true apostle like Paul did not extend to dabblers in exorcism who used Jesus' name as a magical formula rather than as an expression of faith.
After the sons of Sceva hurled the name of Jesus at the evil spirit, he showed his contempt for these self-proclaimed exorcists by attacking them. His victim had so fully lost control of his own body that the demon was able to use it as a weapon. With this human instrument, the demon leaped upon the seven brothers and overcame them, assaulting them with such violence that they could not resist. In fear and pain they fled from the house, their clothes rent and torn away and their flesh covered with wounds.
There must have been witnesses to the altercation, because news of what happened quickly spread through the whole city and beyond. Both Jews and Greeks heard that an evil spirit gave testimony to the authority of Jesus and his minister Paul, and the effect was to put the fear of God into their hearts. The name of Jesus rose still higher in public esteem.
Powers of Darkness in Retreat
The testimony that the demon gave to the superior authority of Jesus and Paul convinced many involved in sorcery and in occult practices that they were on the wrong side. Realizing that they must forsake alliances with the powers of darkness and join the people of God, they declared themselves to be believers in Christ. No doubt with Paul's encouragement, they made public confession of their sins. The phrase, "shewed their deeds," can be translated, "revealed their spells." It was generally assumed that spells were effective only if kept secret. Therefore, when these practitioners of the occult made their spells public, they were not only renouncing their use but also, in their view, taking away their power.
They also brought all their books and burned them. These books contained the spells that they had just revealed—spells designed to unleash magical power for the purpose gaining the magician's desires. The value of what was committed to the flames was substantial, amounting to fifty thousand pieces of silver known as drachmae. We cannot state the exact value in modern terms, because it is difficult to compare buying power in two societies so radically different. Nevertheless, a rough estimate might be twenty-five to fifty thousand dollars. It is evident that the converts from the occult were indeed many in number, and that for the sake of renouncing their past they absorbed a significant loss.
Luke then marks these dramatic developments as an illustration of how mightily the word of God grew and prevailed.
The time came when Paul sensed that he was nearing completion of his work in Ephesus. As he looked ahead, he resolved to revisit Macedonia and Greece. No doubt he wished to strengthen and encourage the churches that he had founded on his previous missionary journey. He apparently did not plan to see them again, for he plotted a future course that would take him far away from the former scenes of his labors. After going to Greece, he intended to go back to Jerusalem, then on to Rome. In the book of Romans, we find that he thought that after he went to Rome, he would go even farther westward, all the way to Spain (Rom. 15:24). He was ambitious to carry the gospel to the uttermost parts. But as it turned out, the Lord had other plans for Paul. Rome was his final destination. It was there that he met his death in the early 60s, during the reign of Nero.
To prepare the way for his return to Macedonia and Greece, he sent as his forerunners both Timothy and Erastus. The only other mention of this Erastus is in 2 Timothy (2 Tim. 4:20), where we learn that he later settled in Corinth as his place of ministry.
© 2009, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.