Acts Lesson Thirty-nine: Paul Meets Followers of John the Baptist – Acts 19:1-10

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” “No,” they told him, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” “Then what baptism were you baptized with?” he asked them. “With John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in the One who would come after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began to speak in other languages and to prophesy. Now there were about 12 men in all. 

Then he entered the synagogue and spoke boldly over a period of three months, engaging in discussion and trying to persuade them about the things of the kingdom of God. But when some became hardened and would not believe, slandering the Way in front of the crowd, he withdrew from them and met separately with the disciples, conducting discussions every day in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 And this went on for two years, so that all the inhabitants of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the message about the Lord. (HCSB)

Luke now switches the narrative back to Paul. In this passage, we’ll look at two sections. 

  • Paul’s interaction with a group of men who were discipled by followers of John the Baptist – verses 1-7.
  • Paul’s initial work in the synagogue located in Ephesus – verses 8-10.

Paul and Disciples of John the Baptist

While Apollos stayed in Corinth, Paul was concluding his travels, which began in Acts 18:23, as he arrived in Ephesus. Let’s take a quick look at the likely course of his travels.

  • Paul’s third missionary journey began around the summer of 53 A.D. 
  • After leaving Phrygia, Acts 18:23, the most natural route to Ephesus would begin by passing through the Lycus Valley, where several Pauline churches were later established.
    • Colosse.
    • Laodicea.
    • Hieropolis.
  • Although Scripture doesn’t indicate that Paul stopped to evangelize and plant these churches, Colossians 1:7 suggests that Paul’s co-worker, Epaphras began these churches, likely during the period of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.
  • Once Paul arrived in Ephesus, he encountered a group of twelve men who had previously been discipled by followers of John the Baptist.
  • Paul’s first question to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit,” identifies areas of deficiency in their faith, which Paul addresses.
    • The question regarding the Holy Spirit, and the manifestation of the Spirit’s leading, is irrefutable proof that a person is truly born again.
      • Romans 8:9  You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
      • Romans 8:16  The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children.
      • Ephesians 1:13  When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. 
    • Their response indicates the uncertainty of their faith. 
      • As disciples of John the Baptist, they would know that there was a Holy Spirit and that the Spirit would one day baptize God’s people.
        • Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove His sandals. He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” 
        • Luke 3:16  John answered them all,  “I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 
      • It’s possible these men were early converts of Apollos before he completely understood the Gospel.
    • Why did Paul ask them about their baptism?
      • We repeatedly see in the Book of Acts that a person’s baptismal experience is related to their spiritual experience. 
      • These men had received John’s baptism, the same one the Apostles received before the Day of Pentecost.
      • Yet, they were still lacking. They hadn’t been born again.
      • The Old Covenant was ended by Jesus at Calvary, not by John in the Jordan River.
        • John’s baptism was one of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.
        • John’s role was to prepare the people for Jesus.
        • It would appear from the passage these twelve men didn’t understand that Jesus was the one John had talked about, the Messiah, and had no saving faith.
    • As we look at this passage, we need to be careful not to read into it regarding their baptism, the laying on of hands, and the display of tongues. 
      • We shouldn’t interpret this as “re-baptism.” There is no indication these men knew about or had a saving faith in Jesus prior to meeting Paul. Therefore, this was their true baptism.
        • A Christian doesn’t need to be re-baptized if they were once baptized as a profession of faith in Jesus.
        • This includes those who may have fallen away but returned.
        • I once heard a metaphor from a missionary when he was asked about re-baptizing a follower. His response was that if we were in a boat on a lake and fell out of the boat, we don’t need a second boat to rescue us. We just need to get back into the original boat.
      • In the entire Book of Acts, this is the only instance of laying on of hands following baptism. The event is descriptive, not prescriptive.
      • This is the last reference to speaking in tongues in the Book of Acts.
        • For the Jews on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:4-11.
        • For the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius in Acts 10:44-46.
        • Both of these events contained historical significance; the baptism of Jews and Gentiles into the body of Christ.
        • The gift of tongues is not evidence of the baptism of the Spirit or fullness of the Spirit. 
          • When Paul wrote to the Ephesians about being filled with the Holy Spirit, he never mentioned speaking in tongues – Ephesians 5:18-21.
          • When Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12:30, asks, “Do all speak in other languages?” the construction of the original Greek phrase requires “no” as the answer.
          • Nowhere in Scripture are we instructed to seek a baptism of the Holy Spirit or to speak in tongues. However, we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit and to manifest the Spirit’s work in our lives. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians should be read to reinforce this idea.
    • Let’s review several ideas from this section of the passage before moving on.
      • The Holy Spirit comes upon a believer at the moment they submit to the Lordship of Jesus, not at a later time.
      • Two baptisms are not required. It occurred here because these men had not yet placed their faith in Jesus.
      • This is the only case in the Book of Acts where the laying on of hands was done in connection with baptism.
      • Although there are several instances of the manifestation of tongues in the Book of Acts, it is not a common occurrence with Spirit baptism.
      • We shouldn’t read any symbolism into the number twelve regarding those Paul baptized.  

Paul Enters the Synagogue

This is a relatively short section that leads into the next lesson. Let’s make some observations from these three verses.

  • Paul continues his typical pattern of first evangelizing in the local synagogue.
    • Paul’s comment in chapter 18 of “going to the Gentiles” applied to the Jews in Corinth and was not a universal rejection of evangelizing them.
    • Paul never lost the zeal he demonstrated towards the Jews. They may have repeatedly turned their backs on him, but he never universally turned his back on them.
  • We should also remember that in Acts 18:19-20, the Jews in the synagogue asked Paul to stay longer to teach them, but at the time, he declined and said if it were God’s will, he would return. Paul was now fulfilling that promise.
  • From the context, it appears the Ephesian Jews were open to Paul’s message.
    • Paul engaged in spirited discussion with them.
    • Paul spent three months in his evangelism efforts in the synagogue. Up until this point, this was the longest before Paul experienced opposition. If there had been widespread opposition to his message, it is likely Paul’s “freedom” to evangelize before they began to oppose him would not have been three months.
  • However, after three months, the opposition did begin.
    • Even when the opposition began, it appears that it was limited in scope as Luke uses the phrase “when some became hardened.”
    • Luke doesn’t expand on how strong the opposition was, but it resulted in Paul leaving the synagogue and taking those who had placed their faith in Jesus with him.
  • Paul took the believers and met them in the hall of Tyrannus.
    • We don’t know anything firm regarding Tyrannus.
    • He could have been the owner of the building.
    • He could have been a teacher there.
      • If this is true, his name may be an indication of how his students viewed him.
      • His name means “the Tyrant.”
  • Some Western texts add that Paul taught between the fifth and tenth hour, which means between 11 am and 4 pm. 
    • This makes sense as this would be the hottest part of the day and the time when most would be taking a siesta.
    • The hall would have been vacant during this time, allowing Paul to teach and take a break from his tent-making vocation.
  • The lecture hall provided the vehicle for a wider audience to hear Paul’s message.
    • Since it was a public building, both Jews and Gentiles could enter.
    • Also, anyone traveling through the city could hear the message.
  • Paul’s evangelism in the lecture hall went on for two years. 
    • It is reasonable to conclude that during this time, thousands of people, either residents of Ephesus or travelers, heard the Gospel. 
    • Those who were travelers and became followers of Jesus were then able to take the message and share it with others as they continued their journey.
    • It was during this time the churches in Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis were founded.
    • Paul wrote a lost letter, referenced in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 and 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, during this time, as well as writing 1 Corinthians.
  • We should also note that Paul, in contrast to what occurred in Corinth, never made a statement he would no longer evangelize the Jews. 
    • Since some of the Ephesian Jews became Christians, it is logical to infer that Paul’s witness to them continued.
    • It also appears that the Jewish reaction to Gospel was polarizing.
      • Some became Christians.
      • Some were strongly opposed to Paul’s message.
      • It is very possible there were Jews from Ephesus in the “Asian Jews” who engaged in mob action against Paul in Acts 21:27.

Applications

  • As we interact with other believers and engage in both evangelism and discipleship, we need to discern whether a person is a true believer or not. We saw Paul do this when he engaged the twelve men in the first part of chapter nineteen. Paul didn’t condemn them for the lack of understanding; he filled in the gaps to allow them to truly become followers of Christ.
  • As we engage in evangelism, we need to make sure that our message is complete. Teaching that lacks the entire understanding of the Gospel could unintentionally lead someone to think they are a believer when, in fact, they are still lost.
  • I’ve mentioned it in other lessons, but it is still applicable here. As we engage in evangelism, we will encounter opposition. Some may be mild, but some may be intense, to the point of persecution. We need to understand, accept, and continue sharing the Gospel message, never forgetting Jesus’ words in the Great Commission, “He will never leave us or forsake us.”

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