Acts 19 The Holy Spirit
Study in Connection with John 11:15-18
We were with Paul in Athens, a city where there were many great and beautiful temples and statues and altars; but they did not know about the Lord, and Paul told them about Him.
Today we go with Paul to another city, Ephesus. It was across the sea from Athens, one of the most important cities of Asia Minor. There was there a great temple to the goddess Artemis. or Diana, which was the pride of the city. There was in the temple an image of the goddess, which they said had fallen from heaven. Ephesus was the center of this worship for the country all around. It brought a great many people to the city, and made much business for the silversmiths and other workmen, for they made little shrines of Diana - little images of the goddess seated in a niche or shrine - and sold them to those who came to worship.
There were some Christians in Ephesus when Paul came on this visit, for other teachers had been working there. Paul lived with them a long time and taught and helped them. For three months he taught in the synagogue of the Jews and then for two years in a school. He worked early and late at his trade of tent-making. "And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them."
There were troubles for Paul and the Christians at Ephesus; you can perhaps think why. Especially because their teaching began to interfere with the worship of Diana in the great temple of the city. The craftsmen made the trouble, especially the silversmiths, who thought that Paul was taking their trade away. They brought the people together in a great outdoor theater, cut out as such theaters used to be in the hillside. There they shouted long and loud for "Diana of the Ephesians." Let me read you a part of the story. (Acts 19:23-41)
The church in Ephesus grew, and the apostle John, who so dearly loved the Lord, became its much-loved leader. When the Lord gave to John messages to the seven churches in Asia, the first message was to the church in Ephesus. (Revelation 2:1.)
Again a good deal has happened between Paul's preaching in Athens, and his work in Ephesus that we learn about today. From Athens Paul went on to Corinth (you will need your map), and a church was established in that city. From there he sailed to Jerusalem, stopping on the way a short time at Ephesus; and from Jerusalem he went to Antioch, the city from which he had set out on his journeys. Before long he started again from the same place on a third journey. He went by land, and after visiting old places and new places in Asia Minor, he came to Ephesus and stayed there more than two years. This is where we find him in our chapter.
The position of Ephesus made it important, for it could be reached by ships from the sea, and was at a point from which important roads led up into the highlands. The city was the center of the worship of a goddess whom the Greeks identified with their goddess Artemis or Diana. She was in Asia thought of as the goddess of life and fruitfulness in nature, and was represented by a figure with many breasts. Ephesus had the great temple of the goddess in its charge, and the worship was also, as our story shows, a source of profit to the people.
In regard to the beginning of Christian teaching in Ephesus before this visit of Paul, we learn something in Acts 18. A Jew from Alexandria named Apollos had been preaching there, who had now gone on to Corinth. The church in Ephesus had also had the help of Aquila and his wife, Priscilla, with whom Paul had lived at Corinth, working at the same trade of tent-making. They came with Paul to Ephesus when he passed on his way to Jerusalem, and remaining there they taught the people. This beginning had been made before Paul came and lived two years and more in Ephesus.
We begin our reading at chapter 19. Paul found some in Ephesus who knew about John the Baptist and his baptism, but not about the Holy Spirit and the wonderful power which it had brought to the Lord's disciples. Remember what John the Baptist himself said: "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: . . . He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Matthew 3: 11) When they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came to them. The sign of its coming, the speaking with tongues and prophesying, reminds us of its coming upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. (Acts 2:1-13)
It was Paul's custom in any new place to begin his teaching among the Jews, his own people, and he did so in Ephesus. But afterward he separated the Christian disciples, and their place of meeting was in a school, where apparently both Jews and Greeks heard his instruction. The miracles of healing (verse 12) remind us how people were healed by touching the hem of the Lord's garment (Matthew 14:34-36), and how others wished that the shadow of Peter might fall on them. (Acts 5:15)
We learn now of opposition of two kinds which met the Christians, first from the exorcists, and second from the silversmiths and craftsmen. The exorcists claimed power by repeating of words to cast out devils and heal diseases. Certain incantations of this kind were believed to have come down from Solomon; and the old historian Josephus, after speaking of these, adds, "And this method of curing is very prevalent among us up to the present time." "Vagabond" means "wandering" or "strolling." The public burning of the books - written scrolls - suggests what a quantity of formulas, etc., was used by those who claimed this power. This silver piece, no doubt, is the Attic drachma, worth about twenty cents. How much do you make the whole value?
And now the opposition of the craftsmen, who felt that their business was being taken away. Notice the name "that way" by which the Christian teaching was known. (Verse 23; Acts 9:2) Workmen of like occupation are mentioned with the silversmiths. Besides other workmen in metal, this may include workers in marble and terra-cotta, for many little shrines of these cheaper materials have been found. Even at that time workmen of one kind were banded together in a guild. Two of Paul's companions were hurried by the mob to the theater. You know what such theaters were, open to the sky, with row above row of stone seats - something like our baseball or football fields. Every city had such a theater for all great games and shows. Paul would have gone in to them, but his friends and the officers of the city both kept him back. The mob drowned all words with their cries, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians." At length the town clerk, or secretary of the city, gained a hearing. He showed the people that there were right ways of settling any complaints which they might have against Paul, and dismissed them.
After Paul left Ephesus, it appears that Timothy remained for a time in charge of the church. Besides Paul's Epistles to the Ephesians, his Epistles to Timothy were written to him there. Ephesus was later the home of the apostle John. It was not far from Ephesus to the island of Patmos, where the Lord showed John the visions of the Revelation, and gave him the messages to the churches, among the rest to John's own church in Ephesus. You will like to read again the message. It is really a message to people of a certain quality, wherever they may be, but it interests us also as a little picture of the church which we are learning of today. (Revelation 2:1-7)
1. What idolatry had its seat in Ephesus?
2. Why were the Christians in Ephesus violently opposed?
3. What leaders of the church in Ephesus do you remember?
4. Where in the Bible do you find a message to the church in Ephesus?
The early verses of the chapter distinguish sharply between the baptism of repentance of John the Baptist and the Christian baptism with which came the Holy Spirit. In T. 690 it is explained that John's baptism represented the cleansing of the external man, but that Christian baptism represents the cleansing of the internal man, which is regeneration. "That they who were baptized with John's baptism became internal men when they received faith in Christ, and were then baptized in the name of Jesus, may be seen in the Acts of the Apostles 19:3-6." The difference between the external and negative work of reformation represented by John's baptism, and the internal and positive work of regeneration accomplished by the Lord in those who sincerely believe in Him, is further explained in E.475. The double phrase "baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire" is used to indicate the operation of the Divine truth and the Divine love in the work of regeneration. (A. 9818) You remember how the same was represented on the day of Pentecost by the rushing mighty wind and the cloven tongues of fire.
The speaking with new tongues and prophesying (verse 6) reminds us of the day of Pentecost and of the promise in Mark 16:17. The promise is spiritually fulfilled in all sincere disciples of the Lord, as their minds are opened to new light and they are able to perceive and to express new truth about the Lord and heavenly life. The power then to receive and acknowledge the doctrines of the Christian Church, and the power now to receive and acknowledge the doctrines of the New Church, is a gift of new tongues. (E. 455, 706)
In the notes for younger classes we have referred to the ministry of the Apostle John in Ephesus as an interesting and important part of the history of the church in that city. The reference to the message to the church in Ephesus, in the Revelation, we have made with some hesitation, lest we might seem to limit to those in the natural Ephesus what is abundantly shown in E. 93, 95; R. 73; etc., to be a universal message to all who are in a certain spiritual state - "who primarily regard truths of doctrine and not goods of life." We may, however, assume that the church in Ephesus had something of the quality described in the message, which made that church a type of the class to whom the Lord is speaking.