In this chapter, Paul does something very strategic that impacts the ultimate worldwide growth of Christianity. Is the strategy useful today? ◊
In ACTS 19 the Apostle Paul is now on his final missionary journey a year after his time in Corinth. He has already returned to Jerusalem and back to the city of Antioch, his home base.
In late AD 54 he travels north again and returns to Ephesus, that major hub city in Asia Minor where he had last left Priscilla and Aquila (see The Couple in ACTS 18).
Paul stays in Ephesus for over 2 years. He starts by continuing to do what he knows best and what might be considered to be the most fruitful approach: preach the Gospel message of Jesus to the Jews there in the synagogues.
But he soon changes tactics and settles into a strategy that he leverages into tremendous success over the next 2 years. He impacts thousands of people. In the same place. Every day. And the people keep coming. People from other regions and belief systems.
It was a God-gifted strategy that changed the world.
Paul in Ephesus
First of all, as he arrives in Ephesus, Paul encounters 12 men who are actually converted Christians. Most likely these men were discipled by Apollos before Priscilla and Aquila got to him, as we read about in ACTS 18. These men have not yet been completely schooled in the full Christian gospel taught by Paul and his team:
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all. (Acts 19:1-7)
Note that there is a dramatic difference in the baptism of John vs. the baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus. This was now the Way, which included the power of the Holy Spirit on the baptized men. This Holy Spirit was not available yet when John simply heralded the need for repentance in anticipation of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. He was alluding to the coming of Jesus, the savior of the world. The Kingdom of God was ushered into the world upon the death and resurrection of Christ and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
First for the Jews, then for the Gentiles; that is, everyone else no matter what creed, status, or religious background.
This was good and powerful news, manifested even by the speaking in tongues or other languages, as what had occurred in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost over 20 years earlier.
Then Paul spoke in the synagogue (local Jewish church) for 3 months:
Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 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. 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. (Acts 19:8-10)
The Strategy That Changed the World
In a simple passage above, we learn that some of the Jewish people Paul spoke to over a 3 month period in Ephesus became obstinate and refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way.
Now although Paul had encountered Jewish synagogue rejection before in other cities, something switches here for him. The text says that he left them and took his disciples to a place called the Hall of Tyrannus. It is here that he spent up to 5 hours daily (some manuscripts note that he engaged from 11am-4pm) speaking to all comers, Jews and Greeks (Gentiles) alike, lecturing or dialoguing with the people that came and went in and out of this bustling city.
It was in this manner that Paul, the brilliant orator and logical thinker, blessed by God with his own moving testimony to the power of God and the message, purpose and mission of Jesus, used this as ground zero for his amazing ministry that transformed the entire province of Asia and ultimately laid the foundation for the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity centuries later.
The Immediate Effect
Paul engaged in persuasive and logical reasoning about God’s redemptive plan through Abraham, Moses, David, and finally, Jesus, the Holy One promised through the prophets of old. He could speak to the necessary substitute sacrifice for the transgressions of all sin and the promise of eternal reconciliation for all people, Jews and Gentiles, if they would follow Christ, this new Way.
Through the power of God and his vessel Paul, it worked profoundly. The people could not deny the reasoned evidence and dynamic proof points:
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 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.
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.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 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.
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. Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 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. In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
As we know, Paul’s victories and challenges would continue, but this 2 year engagement in Ephesus could be claimed as a pivotal highpoint in his ministry. The Gospel message was honed and preached to thousands of people who spread the message to all parts of the world.
Could this work today? Short of a permanent residency gig in Las Vegas, probably not. And even that would not play well.
What does play well is a simple, reasoned and logical presentation of the Gospel of Jesus, to churched people and pagans alike. And that truth can set anyone free.
Can you present the Gospel of Jesus?
In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. – Acts 19:20