Summary: Finally after years of struggle, Paul sees victory after victory, even amidst tough opposition in Ephesus. It is an affirmation of his apostleship. What happens as God begins to work more through you than on you?
Chapter 19 could be called the High Point in Paul’s ministry. In this chapter he goes to the place he may have wanted to go way back at the beginning: Ephesus. God confirms his authority as an apostle by healing, his reputation as an apostle through mention by demons, vindication of his ministry through a two year stint teaching theology at a local lecture hall, and even the victory of his ministry over the forces in Ephesus, the biggest riot yet. Paul spent about three years in Ephesus, from 53 to 56 A.D. It was the capital of the Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey). Ephesus had been a commercial trading center, but timber overharvesting and overgrazing of the land had filled the rivers with silt and ruined much of their trading business. Instead, Ephesus relied on tourism, especially pilgrimages visiting the temple of Artemis. The temple also served as a bank where merchants and even kings could “deposit” money for safekeeping.
In a way, Luke shows in this one chapter, Paul hitting on all cylinders. The signs of his apostleship are confirmed, and the same impediments to the gospel that have plagued him in prior places now fall away.
1 – 7 Apostolic Affirmation I
Remember Apollos? He too had been taught by disciples of John the Baptist, and his knowledge of Jesus was incomplete. Something in their life let Paul know the Holy Spirit wasn’t actively filling them, so he inquires as to their understanding of the Spirit, when they know nothing about Him, then he probes deeper to find out they aren’t even believers yet! John, he explains, was preparing the way for someone greater.
This could be recorded to show Paul’s Apostolic authority. The Spirit was given in several different ways and this is not intended as a how-to manual but as a recorded history of what happened.
8 – 10 Jewish Intransigence
Paul had promised to come back and visit this synagogue in chapter 18, so here he makes good on it. As before, the Jews receive him, but when push comes to shove, some not only reject Jesus and Paul but talk against “The Way” (a common expression of early Christianity). Before, Paul has had to make a public display, but now he simply takes the believers, and rents a hall (like he did in Corinth). It’s a quieter Paul we meet, almost like the turmoil he experienced with the Jews has taught him to ignore, rather than incite. And it’s a different strategy. Rather than just travelling to the cities, Paul stays in one place and they come to him.
Notice the phrase “stubborn and continued in unbelief.” Unbelief is an action that must be maintained. You may think that you choose to ignore the claims of Jesus, but in fact you must actively maintain that pushing away.
11 – 12 Apostolic Affirmation II
A lot of present day charlatans claim their kerchiefs can heal, but note that only Peter (whose shadow healed in Acts 5:15), Jesus, (whose robe healed in Mark 6:5) and Paul had this power given to them. The focus of our lives should not be what tricks we can perform, but to see the lives of the people we touch drawn towards Jesus.
I think perhaps Luke included this not to “show off” Paul, but to set the stage for what happens next. Those that do not know God are impressed by a spiritual magic show. They think all power is the same. If Paul can heal with handkerchiefs then if I “heal” by calling on magic, then it’s all the same thing. Oh, nothing could be further from the truth. It was not Paul that cast out evil spirits, but Jesus—that’s an important distinction.
Satan comes only to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). In fact, his name “Satan” means adversary in Hebrew. As we’ll see next, anything done by a power outside of Jesus (though claiming to use his name) results in nothing but problems.
13 – 20 Victory over Satanic Opposition
You can’t wield the name of Jesus as a magical talisman. He is not a good luck charm or a way to ward off evil. He is Lord of all. Satan cannot stand in his presence but he can in yours unless Jesus fills you!
Josephus recorded all the names of the priests from until the time of the destruction of the temple. Sceva is not among them.
Knowing about Jesus is not the same as knowing him.
Ephesus was a center for black magic and the occult. People would create magical formulas to give them happiness, wealth, and success in marriage. The books were worth several million dollars.
It’s no wonder this happened. People began to realize the difference between their superstitious beliefs and dabbling in the occult, and serving the living God. Satan would like nothing better than to keep a hold on us by keeping us involved in things that are opposed to God. More and more today people are getting caught up in magic by calling it “spiritual.” It’s very dangerous.