Acts Lesson Forty-two

Acts Lesson Forty-two: Acts 20:1-16 – Paul Departs to Macedonia

After the uproar was over, Paul sent for the disciples, encouraged them, and after saying good-bye, departed to go to Macedonia. And when he had passed through those areas and exhorted them at length, he came to Greece and stayed three months. When he was about to set sail for Syria, a plot was devised against him by the Jews, so a decision was made to go back through Macedonia. He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy, and Tychicus  and Trophimus from Asia. These men went on ahead and waited for us in Troas, but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread. In five days we reached them at Troas, where we spent seven days. 

On the first day of the week, we assembled to break bread. Paul spoke to them, and since he was about to depart the next day, he extended his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were assembled, and a young man named Eutychus was sitting on a window sill and sank into a deep sleep as Paul kept on speaking. When he was overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down, fell on him, embraced him, and said, “Don’t be alarmed, for his life is in him!” 11 After going upstairs, breaking the bread, and eating, Paul conversed a considerable time until dawn. Then he left. 12 They brought the boy home alive and were greatly comforted. 

13 Then we went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, intending to take Paul on board there. For these were his instructions, since he himself was going by land. 14 When he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. 15 Sailing from there, the next day we arrived off Chios. The following day we crossed over to Samos, and the day after, we came to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so he would not have to spend time in Asia, because he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, for the day of Pentecost. (HCSB)

Starting in Acts 20, Paul begins to wrap up his final missionary journey and head back to Jerusalem. I’ll break this lesson into three parts.

  • Paul concludes his visit to Macedonia – verses 1-6.
  • Paul revives Eutychus – verses 7-12.
  • Paul journeys from Troas to Miletus – verses 13-16.

Paul Concludes His Visit to Macedonia

The events starting in chapter twenty take place sometime between late 56 A.D. and early 57 A.D. In Acts 19:21-22, Paul had already indicated his intention to leave with four objectives in mind.

  • To leave the trouble at Ephesus.
  • To encourage believers in the province of Asia and throughout Greece.
  • To meet Titus in Troas – 2 Corinthians 2:12-13.
  • To collect offerings for Judea – 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, 2 Corinthians 8:1-15, Romans 15:25-28.

Paul left Ephesus and traveled to Macedonia. Paul had expected to meet Titus in Troas and hear about the situation regarding the church in Corinth. However, when Titus didn’t arrive in Troas, Paul continued his journey to Macedonia, visiting the churches and finally meeting Titus. Let’s look at some information regarding Paul’s journey contained both here and in corresponding epistles.

  • The events in Acts 20:1-2 overlap with the events in 2 Corinthians 1-7, where Paul talks about the events during the same period.
    • Paul had evidently written a letter, now lost, to the Corinthian church that confronted their behavior.
    • Paul described the letter as painful and written with many tears.
    • Strong opposition within the church had arisen because of Paul’s letter.
    • From the context, it would appear that Paul confronted the opposition directly and severely.
  • As Paul was traveling to Corinth, he met Titus in Macedonia – 2 Corinthians 7:5-16.
    • The ministry in Macedonia may have lasted just over a year.
    • During this time, the Gospel spread across the Balkan peninsula and possibly as far as Illyricum – Romans 15:19.
  • After leaving Macedonia, Paul traveled to Achaia and then spent three months in Corinth. 
    • Paul wrote Romans during the winter of 57-58 A.D.
    • During this time, the collection for the Judean Christians was ever-present in Paul’s mind.
    • It is quite likely that if Paul was not focused on the offering for the Judean Christians, he would have traveled from Greece to Rome and then continued on to Spain.
  • Because of the plot by the Jews against Paul, he decided not to sail from Corinth and instead headed north through Macedonia, taking with him a team of men from various locations in the region.
    • Sopater from Berea. He is likely the Sosipater referenced in Romans 16:21.
    • Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica.
    • Gaius from Derbe.
    • Timothy from Lystra.
    • Tychicus and Trophies from Asia.
    • Luke from Philippi – included because of the reference “we” in verse six.
    • Although Corinth isn’t explicitly referenced, it is possible that Paul was speaking for the Corinthian church.
    • The team represented a large group of companions to provide safety for the funds Paul was carrying to Jerusalem, as well as an impressive cross-section of young Gentile church leadership who would appear before the Jerusalem church.
  • The group sailed from Philippi and, in five days, reached Troas.
  • Since the main purpose of the trip and the large contingent who traveled with Paul was to bring an offering to the church in Jerusalem, it is interesting that Luke avoids a direct discussion of the purpose of the trip. Here are several theories as to why Luke didn’t discuss it.
    • Was there some type of problem with the collection?
    • Was it possible that Luke deliberately omitted it because it could cause embarrassment for the Jewish Christians in their relations with the Jewish community?
    • Could it have caused problems with the relations between the Christians and Roman authorities?
    • Is it possible the offering was not well-received by the Jerusalem Christians, which Paul alludes to in Romans 15:31?
    • Honestly, the reason is unclear. 
    • Or it could be that Luke wanted the focus on Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, which would ultimately result in him being in Roman chains and sent to the capital of the empire, Rome.

Paul Revives Eutychus

Paul and the rest of his team arrived in Troas and spent seven days there, likely waiting for their next ship to continue the journey. We also see one of the earliest references to Christians meeting on Sunday for their worship service, in contrast to the Jewish Sabbath worship time. Let’s look at some points regarding this.

  • It’s possible the early Christians continued to observe the Jewish Sabbath.
  • Over time Jesus’ resurrection day became the primary day of worship for Christians.
  • It appears the service was an evening service, which would accommodate both Jews and Gentiles who would be working on Sunday.
  • The breaking of bread should be interpreted as celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
  • The assembly followed the pattern of the early church by meeting in someone’s home.
  • The members of the church enjoyed fellowship with each other, regardless of their social status.

Since Paul was leaving the next day, he took the opportunity with the gathered church to share a message. Luke includes various bits of information that, when taken together, give us a glimpse into why Eutychus likely took his tumble out of the window.

  • Paul’s message was a long one, going until midnight.
    • Since Paul was leaving the next day, he likely wanted to deliver as complete a message as possible.
    • We need to remember that Sunday was a normal workday. Many of those in attendance may have started work early in the morning and were very tired by this point.
  • Even the phrase, “there were many lamps in the room,” sheds light on the incident. It takes oxygen for the fire to burn, and the “many lamps” may have actually led to a lower level of oxygen in the room.
  • The group had shared a meal before Paul’s message.
  • It could very well have been a warm spring evening.
  • All of these factors contributed to Eutychus sitting on the window sill, possibly getting a bit of fresh air in an attempt to stay awake.
  • In the end, Eutychus falls asleep, falls out of the third-story window to the ground, and is killed by the impact. 
    • Others reached Eutychus before Paul, and they picked up his body before Paul reached them.
    • The miracle that Paul performs reminds us of Elijah and Elisha in 1 Kings 17:21 and 2 Kings 4:34-35, as well as Jesus’ ministry.
    • Paul revives the dead man.
  • The service continued as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. 
    • It seems that by this point, the worshippers were hungry.
    • After they returned to the third floor, they shared a meal, likely a snack, considering the time.
    • With everyone rejuvenated by the meal and likely still talking about Eutychus being revived, Paul continues with his message until dawn.
  • The boy’s family brings him home, being greatly comforted that Paul had revived him. 
  • Let’s consider some final points regarding the incident with Eutychus.
    • Paul follows the same pattern used by Elijah and Elisha by placing himself over the young man.
    • In the New Testament, the miracles of raising the dead present an implied symbolism of resurrection.
    • This event occurred during Easter.
    • The Passover had just concluded.
    • It was the first day of the week, the day Jesus was resurrected.
    • Paul may have been speaking on that very subject when Eutychus fell out of the window.
    • The restoration of Eutychus would be a vivid reminder to the Christians gathered there that the Jesus who Paul was preaching about was the resurrection and the life.

Paul Journeys from Troas to Miletus

The team now continues their journey to Jerusalem. Let’s note some information regarding this leg of the journey.

  • Paul traveled on foot to Assos while the rest of the team went by boat.
    • The journey on foot was a relatively easy one of twenty miles. 
    • The journey by boat was longer, about forty miles, as it required going around Cape Lectum, now known as Cape Baba.
    • There are several suggested reasons for Paul traveling separately from his other companions.
      • He may not have wanted to make the difficult passage around Cape Lectum.
      • He may have wanted to spend as much time as possible in Troas before departing.
      • He may have been delayed by the incident with Eutychus.
      • He may have just desired a period of solitude at this point in the journey.
  • Once Paul and the ship meet in Assos, Paul rejoins the team.
  • The journey from Assos to Mitylene would take about five days.
  • As they journeyed from Mitylene to Chios, Samos, and Miletus, each leg took one day. By the time they arrived in Miletus, they had been together on the ship for eight days. Each of the stops along they have historical significance.
    • Chios was the birthplace of the poet Homer.
    • Samos was the birthplace of Pythagoras.
    • Miletus was a major Asian city in Paul’s time.
  • Paul then makes the decision to sail past Ephesus instead of stopping to visit. There are several possibilities for this decision.
    • It may not have been safe for Paul to visit Ephesus at the time.
    • The ship’s schedule may not have permitted may have prevented Paul from visiting Ephesus.
    • Paul may have been fatigued and didn’t want to make the overland journey to Ephesus.
    • Paul may have felt that if he had visited Ephesus, he would not have been able to leave quickly to make it back to Jerusalem.
  • Although we don’t know the underlying reason for Paul’s decision, his message was received, and the elders of the church at Ephesus made the journey to Miletus.

Applications

  • As we go about our daily lives, we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to share the Gospel to the lost and disciple those already in the family of God.
  • We should engage in fellowship with other believers. This includes Bible study, prayer, sharing meals, and participating in the Lord’s Supper.
  • There may be seasons where we need a time of refreshment and a break from ministry. It happens to even the best and strongest of ministry workers. It does no good to run ourselves into the ground. 

Acts Lesson Forty-one

Acts Lesson Forty-one: Acts 19:21-41 – Paul and the Riot in Ephesus

21 When these events were over, Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem. “After I’ve been there,” he said, “I must see Rome as well!” 22 So after sending two of those who assisted him, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, he himself stayed in Asia for a while. 

23 During that time there was a major  disturbance about the Way. 24 For a person named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis,  provided a great deal of  business for the craftsmen. 25 When he had assembled them, as well as the workers engaged in this type of business, he said: “Men, you know that our prosperity is derived from this business. 26 You both see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this man Paul has persuaded and misled a considerable number of people by saying that gods made by hand are not gods! 27 So not only do we run a risk that our business may be discredited, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be despised and her magnificence come to the verge of ruin—the very one all of Asia and the world adore.” 

28 When they had heard this, they were filled with rage and began to cry out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with confusion, and they rushed all together into the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s traveling companions. 30 Though Paul wanted to go in before the people, the disciples did not let him. 31 Even some of the provincial officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent word to him, pleading with him not to take a chance by going into the amphitheater. 32 Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing and some another, because the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Then some of the crowd gave Alexander advice when the Jews pushed him to the front. So motioning with his hand, Alexander wanted to make his defense to the people. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a united cry went up from all of them for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 

35 However, when the city clerk had calmed the crowd down, he said, “Men of Ephesus! What man is there who doesn’t know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple guardian of the great Artemis, and of the image that fell from heaven? 36 Therefore, since these things are undeniable, you must keep calm and not do anything rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are not temple robbers or blasphemers of our  goddess. 38 So if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a case against anyone, the courts are in session, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you want something else, it must be decided in a legal assembly. 40 In fact, we run a risk of being charged with rioting for what happened today, since there is no justification that we can give as a reason for this disorderly gathering.” 41 After saying this, he dismissed the assembly. (HCSB)

I’m going to split this lesson into three parts.

  • Paul’s future plans – verses 21-22.
  • The charge of Demetrius – verses 23-27.
  • The meeting in the amphitheater – verses 28-41.

Paul’s Future Plans

Let’s make some observations from this section.

  • Paul is nearing the end of his ministry in Ephesus and is formulating his future plans.
  • This is the first time Scripture mentions Paul’s plan to visit Rome.
    • More detail is found in Romans 15:22-29.
    • His planned visit to Rome was in conjunction with a desire to visit Spain.
  • This point is a major transition in the narrative of Acts.
    • Rome will be Paul’s final destination.
    • But first, Paul will go to Jerusalem, which in some ways parallels Jesus’ decision that Jerusalem would be His final earthly destination.
      • In Acts 20:1-21:16, there is an ominous feeling concerning what Paul would encounter in Jerusalem.
      • The same ominous air surrounded Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, the city that killed the prophets.
  • Paul sent two of his co-workers, Timothy and Erastus, ahead into Macedonia to prepare for his arrival.

The Charge of Demetrius

Before diving into this section of the passage, let’s consider some facts setting up this incident.

  • Paul had been preaching the Gospel in Ephesus for approximately three years at this point.
    • There is no record of Paul staging protests against the Temple of Artemis or holding anti-idolatry rallies.
    • Paul preached the truth and sent the converts out to witness to the lost people in Ephesus.
    • As more people converted, there were customers to buy the idols.
  • The enemy was continuously being defeated during this time as the Gospel spread.
    • Satan made one final attempt to defeat Paul with a city-wide attack.
    • The goal was Paul’s arrest or even death.

Let’s take a closer look at Demetrius, the silversmiths, their business, and the temple.

  • It’s likely that Demetrius was the president of the silversmith guild.
    • It was customary for members plying the same trade to form professional guilds. 
    • These guilds set the standards for their trade and were unified to defend their economic interests.
  • His trade was making miniature replicas of the temple of Artemis.
    • The making of these replicas was a common practice.
    • Pilgrims to Ephesus would purchase these replicas and either place them in their homes as a shrine or offer them in the temple.
  • The temple of Artemis was the hub of Ephesian economic life.
    • The building was 165 feet by 345 feet and built on a platform 240 feet by 420 feet. 
    • It was adorned in brilliant colors and a gold leaf pattern.
    • The altar was 20 feet square and contained a large image of the goddess.
    • The worship of the goddess centered around Artemision, a week during the spring dedicated to the goddess.
      • During the week, there were numerous ritual plays and dances.
      • An image of the goddess was paraded through the streets during this festival.
      • Pilgrims flocked to Ephesus during the week of Artemision.
  • Because of its enormous wealth, the temple was the primary financial institution in Asia, receiving offerings and making loans.
  • The real issue behind Demetrius’ protests had nothing to do with the worship of Artemis. The issue was the loss of income to the silversmith guild because of Paul’s evangelism.
  • However, Demetrius was clever in mixing religion and patriotism into his protest because that was more likely to get a response from the public.

Now let’s consider the charge that Demetrius and the silversmith guild presented.

  • He accused Paul of being a threat by saying that gods made by hand were not gods. The irony is this is a true statement.
    • Paul was leading followers of Artemis away from worshipping her.
    • Paul was attempting to discredit the worship of Artemis.
    • Attacking Artemis was the same as attacking Ephesus.
  • From Demetrius’ viewpoint, these allegations were true.
    • Paul did preach against idolatry.
    • Paul was a threat to anyone who made their living from producing idols.
  • The Gospel is always at its most controversial when it conflicts with economic interests.

The Meeting in the Amphitheater

After successfully stirring up both the silversmith guild and the city’s residents, the scene shifts to the Amphitheater in Ephesus. Before we look at the event that took place in the Amphitheater, let’s consider the building itself.

  • It was the largest building in the city of Ephesus.
    • It was 495 feet in diameter.
    • It was built into the western slope of Mt. Pion.
    • The capacity is estimated at around 24,500 people.
    • Town meetings were held there.
  • There is little doubt the Amphitheater was a magnificent building.

Let’s consider the meeting.

  • The residents roused to action by Demetrius and his cohorts rushed to fill the Amphitheater to capacity.
    • What is described here is a typical mob action; some know what’s going on, and others participate just because they are dragged in by emotion and momentum.
    • At some point, they identify and drag Gaius and Aristarchus along with the rest of the crowd.
  • Where was Paul?
    • Knowing Paul’s character, there is little doubt he wanted to address the crowd.
    • Paul was either not in the vicinity of the mob, or some of his co-workers realized the danger and whisked him to a safer location.
    • Others of his followers also sent a message for Paul not to be involved in the proceedings in the Amphitheater.
  • The scene inside the Amphitheater was one of extreme confusion.
    • The people were shouting various things, either with or without foundation.
    • Many were probably just sucked along with the mob and didn’t really understand what was happening.
    • The inclusion of Alexander in the proceedings did nothing to quell the commotion.
      • The Jews likely wanted Alexander to address the crowd to demonstrate the Jews didn’t agree with what the Christians were doing.
      • The Jews were no threat to the worship of Artemis.
      • However, when they realized Alexander was a Jew, they drowned out anything he would say with a cry about the greatness of Artemis.
    • The mob continued to declare the greatness of Artemis for about two hours.
    • It was only the efforts of the city clerk who was able to calm the crowd.
  • Who was the city clerk?
    • He was the chief administrative officer of Ephesus.
    • He presided over the council of city magistrates and the public assembly.
    • He served as the liaison officer between the city and the Roman provincial administration.
  • The clerk realized the mob could be mistakenly interpreted as a violation of Pax Romana, and Ephesus could lose its self-governing privileges.
  • The clerk then uses both his position and skillful language to defuse the situation.
    • He starts by telling the crowd that Artemis was not really threatened.
    • The image that fell from heaven was likely a meteorite. They were often associated with the worship of the Mother Goddess.
  • After successfully convincing the crowd that Artemis was under no threat, he moves on to the legal consequences of their mob action.
    • Gaius and Aristarchus had not committed any crime.
      • They had not blasphemed the goddess.
      • They had not robbed the temple.
    • If anyone was in the wrong, it was the Ephesians who could be accused of unlawful assembly.
  • The clerk then outlines two legal avenues Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen could follow.
    • The charges could be brought before the provincial court under the direction of the Roman proconsul.
    • The charges could be brought before the town assembly in a formal way.
  • The clerk then plays his strongest card. Since the mob had no legal basis for their action, what they were doing could be interpreted as an insurrection.
    • The mob charged that Paul was a danger.
    • The clerk pointed out the real danger lay with the citizens of Ephesus, who were acting in a dangerous manner.
    • After convincing the crowd of the validity of his argument, he dismisses the crowd.
    • The clerk wasn’t taking the side of the Christians. He was merely trying to restore order and point out the error in the way the mob had acted.
  • One recurring theme to remember, as it’s repeated throughout Acts, is the Christians were innocent with respect to civil law. Paul was never found guilty by any Roman official.

Applications

  • We must understand and be prepared that when we are involved in kingdom work, we will face opposition at some point. The opposition could be mild, or it could be very strong, even to the level of death threats. If we aren’t following God, immersing ourselves in His Word and prayer, and in unity with fellow believers, we may fold under the pressure of threats. We need to work with and support others and trust in God’s protection.
  • As we share the Gospel and evangelize others, regardless of the circumstances, we should follow the example of Paul and not break the law. As an example, we can protest against abortion, but our protests shouldn’t turn violent, nor should we make or carry out threats against the workers of the clinic. Often our “flesh” wants to act out but rarely will that turn out well, and often it will paint Christians in a negative light.
  • Be prudent as you face persecution. Sometimes there’s a fine line between potentially being a martyr and needlessly throwing away your life. As we face these situations, we need to be immersed in prayer and carefully discern God’s will in the situation.

Acts Lesson Forty

Acts Lesson Forty: Paul in Ephesus and the Sons of Sceva

God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul’s hands, 12 so that even facecloths or work aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, and the diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them. 

13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists attempted to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I command you by the Jesus that Paul preaches!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 The evil spirit answered them, “I know Jesus, and I recognize Paul—but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them all, and prevailed against them, so that they ran out of that house naked and wounded. 17 This became known to everyone who lived in Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. Then fear fell on all of them, and the name of the Lord Jesus  was magnified. 18 And many who had become believers came confessing and disclosing their practices, 19 while many of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them in front of everyone. So they calculated their value and found it to be 50,000 pieces of silver. 20 In this way the Lord’s message flourished and prevailed. (HCSB)

As Paul continues his work in Ephesus, we see God displaying His power. I’ll divide this lesson into two parts.

  • Miracles by God through Paul – verses 11-12.
  • The sons of Sceva – verses 13-20.

Miracles by God Through Paul

As we begin this section, let’s take a look at the history and characteristics of biblical miracles.

  • There are there special periods of miracles in biblical history.
    • The time of Moses.
    • The time of Elijah and Elisha.
    • The time of Jesus and the Apostles.
    • Each was less than 100 years.
    • The total number of miracles recorded for the three periods is around 100.
  • When Jesus performed miracles, there were usually at least three purposes for the miracle.
    • To show compassion and meet human needs.
    • To teach a spiritual truth.
    • To demonstrate that He was the Messiah.
  • The Apostles followed this same pattern, and the ability to perform miracles was proof of apostolic authority.
  • Miracles by themself do not save anyone. They must be connected to the message of the Word of God.
  • God empowered Paul to perform “special miracles” because Ephesus was a center for occult practices, and Paul displayed God’s power in Satan’s territory.
  • However, wherever God’s people minister in truth, Satan will send a counterfeit to oppose that work.
    • Jesus taught this in the parable of the Tares – Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
    • Peter in Samaria – Acts 8:9ff.
    • Paul in Paphos – Acts 13:4-12.

Now let’s look at the details surrounding the miracles Paul was performing.

  • The miracles were extraordinary.
    • The people would take clothing articles that had touched Paul’s skin and take them to sick people, who were then healed.
    • The “facecloths” could have been either handkerchiefs or sweatbands tied around the head.
    • The work aprons were normally tied around the waist and used for wiping the sweat from the wearer’s hands or face.
    • It didn’t matter which one was used; the result is the sick and possessed were healed.
  • The idea of an object, in the present narrative items of clothing, is a delicate issue.
    • Jesus’ garment healed a woman – Mark 5:27-34.
    • Peter’s shadow healing people – Acts 5:15.
    • However, the medieval church was plagued by an unhealthy fixation on relic worship.
    • Even today, believers journey to Israel and “worship” the various locations as if the location possessed power. When my wife and I visited Israel, one of the places we visited was Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I witnessed first-hand people rubbing cloths of various types on the hole in the rock floor where some believe Jesus’ cross was planted. 
    • It is never the item of location that possesses the power. The only true source of power is God.
  • Today we have various “Christian” ministries that will tell people to “donate” a certain amount for a healing cloth or some other item.
    • These are almost certainly not wholesome or Christian ministries.
    • If God has blessed someone with the gift of healing, they should be doing that without charge. Maybe at most, the cost they incur if they travel. 
    • Most of these “healers” are living quite luxurious lives, in stark contrast to biblical standards.
    • The very fact that people will succumb to these false prophets is an indication of how dark and superstitious our culture has become.

The Sons of Sceva

This section of the narrative should cause us to remember back to Simon Magus and his infatuation with Philip’s miracles. The local Jewish exorcists likely were either first or secondhand witnesses to the work of Paul. Unlike Paul, they were motivated by greed and saw a threat to their livelihood. Therefore, they attempted to operate in the same manner as Paul by using the name of Jesus. Luke then goes on and gives a specific account, of the sons of Sceva, as well as how the population of Ephesus reacted to the events. Let’s look at this section in detail.

  • Jewish exorcists occupied a respected place in Greco-Roman society.
    • Judaism was a long-respected religion.
    • The incantations which the Jewish exorcists used were considered strange and exotic.
    • In Greco-Roman society, the more exotic the incantation, the more effective it was thought to be.
  • Jewish exorcists observed how Paul drove out evil spirits by using Jesus’ name.
    • The incantations used by Jewish exorcists were usually long and elaborate, invoking the various Old Testament names of God.
    • When they observed Paul using a name new to them and being successful in driving out evil spirits, they decided to copy Paul’s method.
  • We don’t know much about Sceva, but let’s look at what we do know.
    • Sceva doesn’t appear in any list of priests by the Jewish historian Josephus.
    • We should conclude that Luke wasn’t placing him in an official position by using the term “chief priest.”
    • It’s possible he came from a priestly family.
    • It makes more sense to conclude that Sceva occupied a prominent position among the charlatans and magicians who duped the people.
  • The sons of Sceva decided to invoke the name of Jesus during an exorcism, which went horribly wrong for them.
    • The response of the evil spirit to the sons is both interesting and humorous when the original Greek is read.
      • The evil spirit knew Jesus. We read the same thing in the gospels. The enemy clearly knows who the Son of God is.
      • The evil spirit respected Paul, realizing the power of God worked through him. 
      • The evil spirit didn’t recognize them or respect them. They had no authority or power over the evil spirit.
    • The evil spirit then attacked the seven sons.
      • This narrative demonstrates the power of evil spirits and the truth that battling evil spirits is not something to be done lightly. At the same time, if we are children of God, and have the Holy Spirit living within us, we have nothing to fear.
      • Not only did the evil spirit attack and overpower the sons, but during the battle, they were stripped naked.
        • We need to remember that extreme modesty was a characteristic of Judaism.
        • For the sons to run naked from the house symbolizes their complete failure and humiliation in the failed attempt to exorcise the evil spirit.
    • We learn two lessons from the failed attempt by Sceva’s sons.
      • Christianity has nothing to do with magic. Jesus’ name is not some magical formula by itself. It is the power of Jesus working through the Holy Spirit residing in a believer that drives out the evil spirit. It only works through those who are committed believers.
      • The evil spirit understood the power of Jesus over him. We read in James 2:19 that demons believe and shudder. 
  • The result of this one incident had a profound and far-reaching impact on the residents of Ephesus.
    • It was evident that Jesus’ name  was not some toy but was power.
    • They were seized by a reverent fear.
    • They magnified the name of Jesus.
    • The most significant impact is many became believers.
      • Not only did they become believers, they openly confessed they were previously involved in occult practices.
      • In addition to confessing their previous involvement with occult practices, many brought their magic books and publicly burned them.
      • The monetary loss was enormous.
        • The silver coin was most likely a drachma, the most common Greek silver coin.
        • The drachma was equal to an average day’s wage.
        • The bonfire that consumed the books was worth 50,000 days of wages.
        • The burning of the books was a decision made by individuals; the church didn’t suggest or enforce the action. The lesson for believers is that separation from sin should be normal practice.
    • The end result is the Gospel advanced and overcame the widespread practices of the occult in Ephesus. The advancement occurred through two avenues.
      • Paul’s preaching.
      • The witness of the Ephesian Christians.

Applications

  • Although this passage includes examples of “items” being used to heal and drive out demons, I believe it is descriptive and prescriptive behavior for the church and Christians. This was a power projection to show that God was mightier than occult practices. Although it could occur today in specific settings, it should not be expected as standard practice.
  • Our power comes from Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Apart from that power, we should never expect to overcome the darkness in the world. The sons of Sceva learned this lesson in a most dramatic fashion. We need to immerse ourselves in the Word, prayer, and fellowship with God. As we remain attached to the vine, we can accomplish great works for God’s glory.
  • As believers, we need to separate ourselves from any type of occult practice. Those who became believers in Ephesus were heavily involved in the occult, as evidenced by the hefty value of the books which were burned. However, how many Christians read their horoscope or are engaged in some other type of “innocent” occult activity? 

Acts Lesson Thirty-nine

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.”

Acts Lesson Thirty-eight

Acts Lesson Thirty-eight: Acts 18:18-28 – Paul Returns to Antioch and Apollos Appears

18 So Paul, having stayed on for many days, said good-bye to the brothers and sailed away to Syria. Priscilla and Aquila were with him. He shaved his head at Cenchreae because he had taken a vow. 19 When they reached Ephesus he left them there, but he himself entered the synagogue and engaged in discussion with the Jews. 20 And though they asked him to stay for a longer time, he declined, 21 but he said good-bye and stated, “I’ll come back to you again, if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 

22 On landing at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and went down to Antioch. 23 And after spending some time there, he set out, traveling through one place after another in the Galatian territory and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. 

24 A Jew named Apollos, a native Alexandrian, an eloquent man who was powerful in the use of the Scriptures, arrived in Ephesus. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught the things about Jesus accurately, although he knew only John’s baptism. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. After Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him home and explained the way of God to him more accurately. 27 When he wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers wrote to the disciples urging them to welcome him. After he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace. 28 For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah. (HCSB)

This lesson is comprised of two parts.

  • The conclusion of Paul’s second missionary journey and the start of the third – verses 18-23.
  • The introduction of Apollos – verses 24-28.

Paul Returns…and Sets Out Again

Verses 18-22 are a transition point between Paul’s second and third missionary journeys. This section concludes the second journey and introduces the third. Let’s look at the information regarding this section of the passage.

  • Paul “stayed on for many days.”
    • The fact that Paul was able to stay in Corinth for an extended period of time underscores the  importance of Gallio’s refusal to hear the case against Paul.
    • The period of time that Paul spent in Corinth was approximately eighteen months.
  • Priscilla and Aquila accompanied Paul to the port of Cenchreae and sailed with Paul to Ephesus.
  • What is the idea behind Paul shaving his head because of a vow that he took?
    • The vow that Paul took was likely a Nazarite vow that is explained in Numbers 6.
      • The vow itself was voluntary in nature.
      • Paul was not abandoning grace by taking the vow.
      • It was a declaration of personal devotion to God.
      • Paul let his hair grow for a specific length of time before cutting it once the vow was complete. He would also abstain from using any fruit of the vine in any form.
    • The passage doesn’t explain why Paul took the vow. However, there are a few plausible reasons.
      • It may have been a dedication during the early and challenging times of Paul’s ministry in Corinth.
      • It could have been an expression of gratitude to God for all He had done for Paul and those working with him.
    • It was customary for the person to complete the vow in Jerusalem and throw the cut hair into the fire as part of the burnt offering. However, some historical writings indicate it was also acceptable to cut the hair in another location and then go to Jerusalem to make the sacrifice. 
    • The fact that Paul would make a Nazarite vow would signal that he hadn’t left his Jewish roots even though he was a follower of Christ. This would serve as a bridge in reaching the Jewish communities where he evangelized.
  • The passage doesn’t indicate how long Paul stayed in Ephesus, but there is every indication that it was a short stop.
    • It would appear that the Jews in Ephesus were receptive to Paul’s teaching on the Gospel.
    • They wanted Paul to stay longer, likely to learn more from him.
    • However, Paul felt it was necessary to continue his journey. It could be because of the completion of the Nazarite vow and the necessity of making the sacrifice in Jerusalem.
    • But Paul did desire to return to the believers in Ephesus.
  • Priscilla and Aquila stayed in Ephesus while Paul continued his journey.
  • Paul arrived at Caesarea and went to the church in Jerusalem.
    • The phrase “he went up and greeted the church” must not be viewed as a geographical statement but rather as a topographical statement. Going up didn’t mean going north; it meant going to a higher elevation. Moving from the port to Jerusalem would require an ascent from the port to the city.
    • Going to Jerusalem immediately after arriving would also allow Paul to offer his hair as a sacrifice, essentially completing the vow.
    • Visiting Jerusalem would also allow Paul to greet the believers there and tell them about his work with the Gentiles. 
    • Paul then traveled back to his sending church in Antioch. At this point, he had been gone for about two years, possibly more, and the believers there were likely overjoyed to see him and hear about the work God was accomplishing with the Gentiles.
  • Luke doesn’t specify how long Paul stayed in Antioch. However, most theologians believe it was about one year before he set out again.
  • Paul then begins his third missionary journey.
    • The journey from Antioch to Ephesus, with the stops along the way, was likely close to 1,300 miles…on foot. The journey would have been much easier by sea, but Paul shows the importance of revisiting the previously planted churches to check on them and provide additional teaching if required.
    • The route Paul took likely led to stops in the following locations.
      • Tarsus.
      • Derbe.
      • Lystra.
      • Iconium.
      • Pisidian Antioch.
      • The reference to Galatia and Phrygia might mean Paul traveled further north and could be evidence Paul established churches in the northern portions of Galatia on his second journey.
    • Paul’s desire to return to Ephesus, where his previous visit had been cut short, didn’t lead him to neglect the other churches he had planted.
  • While Paul traveled to Ephesus, Luke switches the narrative to introduce Apollos.

The Introduction of Apollos

Before we look at the content of this passage, let’s consider what is known about Apollos.

  • He came from Alexandria, which at the time was the second most important city in the Roman Empire.
    • Alexandria was a center for education and philosophy and contained a university with about 700,000 volumes.
    • The population was a mix of Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, and Jews. The Jewish population was about 25% of the total, and they were very influential.
  • It is likely that Apollos was well educated because of where he grew up. We also know that Apollos was well versed in Old Testament Scripture.
  • He was eloquent in his manner of speech.
  • Apollos appears in this passage of Acts, in Titus 3:13, and 1 Corinthians 1:1-4:21.
  • Some, including this writer, believe that Apollos was the author of Hebrews.

Now, let’s look at the passage.

  • It is likely that Apollos had received instruction “in the way of the Lord” while living in Alexandria.
  • At the same time, there were holes within his theology.
  • Since he only knew of John’s baptism, it is logical that we infer his instruction and knowledge of Jesus came from some of John’s disciples who traveled to Alexandria prior to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
    • There was no knowledge of Calvary.
    • There was no knowledge of the resurrection.
    • There was no knowledge of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
    • Apollos had the desire but lacked complete spiritual knowledge.
  • There is theological disagreement over what is meant by “fervent in the spirit.”
    • Some believe it means the Holy Spirit.
    • Others believe it means Apollos’ spirit, his zeal.
    • I believe the second makes more sense. If Apollos were filled with the Holy Spirit, it wouldn’t make sense that he only knew of John’s baptism or he had gaps in his theology.
  • Apollos had both zeal and boldness as he began to teach in the synagogue.
  • While teaching, the holes in Apollos’ theology were discovered by Priscilla and Aquila.
    • Since the couple was already believers before meeting Paul, they already had a foundation in the Christian faith. In addition, Paul would have addressed any weak areas in their knowledge of the Gospel during their time together.
    • Now, Priscilla and Aquila were able to help Apollos grow in his faith just as Paul had helped them.
    • In this example, we see a perfect illustration of discipleship. 
      • Believers begin with limited knowledge and grow under the tutelage of mature believers.
      • Then, as they mature, they are able to fill the same role as tutor those less mature spiritually.
      • Under the tutelage of Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos was able to grow his faith and understanding, leading to him being a powerful servant for Jesus.
    • Apollos then decided he wanted to go to Achaia, where Corinth is located and where Paul had already established a church.
    • Why did Apollos desire to go there? There are a couple of plausible answers.
      • Corinthian Christians passing through Ephesus may have invited him to go there.
      • While being discipled by Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos may have desired to travel to where Paul was and learn further or help Paul in his work.
    • The believers in Ephesus wrote a “letter of recommendation” for Apollos to take to the church in Corinth. 
    • Apollos became a great help and encouragement to the congregation in Corinth. 
      • Apollos appears in the early chapters of 1 Corinthians, and the Corinthian church was grateful for his ministry.
      • Since Apollos was “powerful in the use of Scripture,” he was well suited to present the Gospel to the Jews in Corinth.
    • We can also infer from the text that Apollos was able to outdo the Jews in the debate on whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. 
    • It’s unfortunate that later on we’ll read about factions arising between the different evangelists, something that none of them would have wanted, and Paul addresses quite forcefully.

Applications

  • If you were responsible for starting any ministry group and then handed it over to another believer to lead, make sure you periodically visit to ensure the spiritual health of the group. Sometimes, this can be a fine balancing act between being concerned and intrusive. It would help to let the person to whom you are passing the leadership, to understand that you will check in, at least until you are certain the ministry is running well.
  • It is the responsibility of spiritually mature Christians to help those less mature. Discipleship is a recurring cycle from new believers to spiritual leaders.
  • We need to make sure that we correctly know and understand the Gospel before we begin our evangelism efforts. Apollos’ heart was in the right place, but he lacked a complete understanding. I’m sure we’ve seen or heard a Gospel message that had holes or wrong teaching. This could have either been intentional or accidental. In either case, it can lead people astray. 

Acts Lesson Thirty-seven

Acts Lesson Thirty-eight: Acts 18:1-17 – Paul Establishes the Corinthian Church

After this, he left Athens and went to Corinth, where he found a Jewish man named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul came to them, and being of the same occupation, stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. He reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath and tried to persuade both Jews and Greeks. 

When Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with preaching the message and solemnly testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook his robe and told them, “Your blood is on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” So he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed the Lord, along with his whole household. Many of the Corinthians, when they heard, believed and were baptized. 

Then the Lord said to Paul in a night vision, “Don’t be afraid, but keep on speaking and don’t be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to hurt you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 And he stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. 

12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack against Paul and brought him to the judge’s bench. 13 “This man,” they said, “persuades people to worship God contrary to the law!” 

14 As Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of a crime or of moral evil, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you Jews. 15 But if these are questions about words, names, and your own law, see to it yourselves. I don’t want to be a judge of such things.” 16 So he drove them from the judge’s bench. 17 Then they all seized Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the judge’s bench. But none of these things concerned Gallio. (HCSB)

I’ll split this lesson into three parts.

  • Paul’s arrival in Corinth: An introduction to Corinth and Paul’s initial work in the city – verses 1-4.
  • Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul, transitioning to Gentile evangelism and Paul’s vision – verses 5-11.
  • The Jews false accusations against Paul – verses 12-17.

Paul’s Arrival in Corinth

Before we start digging into this passage, let’s take a look at the city of Corinth to set the stage for this passage.

  • At the time of Paul’s visit, Corinth was the largest and most multi-cultural city in Greece.
  • It was located at the southern end of the isthmus connecting the Peloponnesus with mainland Greece.
  • The city was located about 50 miles west of Athens.
  • It contained two ports.
    • Lechaeum is located in the west, providing access to the Adriatic Sea.
    • Cenchrea is located in the east, providing access to the Aegean Sea.
  • The location of the two ports, and the fact that the waters around the Peloponnesus were treacherous for ships, made Corinth the Greek center for east-west trade.
  • However, this also meant that the city was plagued by the less desirable traits of a seafaring center.
  • There is a Greek word, korinthiazesthai, roughly translated to “live like a Corinthian” but understood to live immorally.
  • It was a relatively new city.
    • No major building was more than 100 years old.
    • It was also the most “Roman” city in Greece, with many Roman citizens as a core of the city.
  • The religion was mainly worship of the traditional Greek gods.
    • The temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, stood atop a 1,900-foot hill on the edge of the city.
    • Close to the agora, inside the city walls, was the temple to the sun god Apollo, who was also the patron of the city.
    • There was a temple to Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, inside the city.
  • From the context of the passage, there was a practicing Jewish community since a synagogue existed in the city.
  • We also need to remember that Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians occur at a later date, during the period of Paul’s third missionary journey. The narrative we’ll look at in this lesson concerns the founding of the Corinthian church.

Now that we have a firm understanding of Corinth during the time of Paul’s visit let’s take a closer look at the passage.

After arriving in Corinth, Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, who had recently moved from Rome to Corinth. We don’t know much about them before their introduction here, but we can deduce some information about them from the timing of their arrival into the narrative.

  • Aquila was a Jew hailing from Pontus, a region in northeastern Asia Minor.
  • Priscilla was likely a Roman citizen, although that is not certain. 
  • Both of them were tentmakers, the same trade that Paul learned to support himself.
    • Tentmakers used two different materials when they constructed tents.
      • The most common one was leather.
      • The other material was cilicium, a cloth woven from goat’s hair. It is possible that Paul focused on this type of tentmaking since cilicium originated and was named for Paul’s native province of Cilicia.
    • This trade likely harkens back to Paul’s days as a rabbinical student.
    • Students were required to learn a trade to ensure they didn’t rely on teaching as their sole source of income.
  • From the evidence in Scripture, they were mature Christians whose service to the kingdom went far beyond their interactions with Paul.
    • They put their lives on the line for Paul, as noted in Romans 16:3-4.
    • They assisted Paul in his work in Ephesus, as noted in Acts 18:18-28.
    • They hosted a church in their home, as noted in 1 Corinthians 16:19.
  • Scripture never mentions anything about Paul ministering to them. Instead, it is always the couple serving Paul.
  • It is interesting to note that the majority of the time they appear in Scripture, Priscilla is mentioned before her husband. 
    • This may be due more to her prominence in the early church than her social status.
    • Priscilla appears to be another of the women within the early church, much like Lydia, whose efforts stood out within the Christian community.
  • The decree from Claudius ordering all the Jews to leave Rome occurred between January 49-50 A.D. Since Aquila and Priscilla arrived prior to Paul, it is unlikely that Paul would have arrived in Corinth before the middle of 49 A.D.
  • Paul finds them after arriving in Corinth, whether by their reputation in the Christian community or as a fellow craftsman, lodges with them.
  • Paul then follows his standard practice of going to the synagogue each Sabbath to proclaim the Gospel to both Jews and Greeks.

Silas and Timothy Rejoin Paul

Not only did Paul meet new ministry partners in Aquila and Priscilla, but his old partners Silas and Timothy now rejoined him. However, Silas and Timothy didn’t arrive empty-handed.

  • It appears they brought money from the church in Philippi.
    • 2 Corinthians 11:9.
    • Philippians 4:14-15.
  • They also brought encouraging news from the church in Thessalonica – 1 Thessalonians 3:7-10.

We now see another pattern repeat itself regarding Paul’s evangelism efforts, rejection followed by persecution. 

We need to recognize one point regarding Paul’s statement in verse six, “From now on I’ll go to the Gentiles.” Paul didn’t mean this as a permanent declaration as he still would attempt to evangelize the Jews in the future. However, it did mean that Paul would no longer evangelize the Jews in Corinth.

Let’s take a closer look at verses 7-8.

  • Paul didn’t move into Titius Justus’ house; he was still staying at the home of Aquila and Priscilla.
  • Paul did move his place of evangelism from the synagogue to the house of Titius Justus. 
    • This house was located right next to the synagogue. One has to wonder if this was a strategic decision or if there just happened to be a Christian home next to the synagogue.
    • Some believe that Titius Justus is the Gaius mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:14. However, there is no conclusive evidence to determine if it’s true or not. 
  • Although a sizable portion of the Jewish synagogue rejected Paul’s message, the leader and his family became believers.
  • The success of Paul’s ministry is confirmed by the phrase, “Many of the Corinthians….”
  • We can infer several things from that statement.
    • The Corinthian church was relatively large. This is confirmed by the fact that church factions developed within the congregation, as noted in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.
    • The majority were likely normal working people as only a few notable families are mentioned.

Verses 9-11 act as a brief pause between what has transpired since Paul’s arrival in Corinth and what will occur when the persecution rears its ugly head in the last part of this narrative. As we prepare to look at the impending persecution, we need to remember Paul’s words from 

1 Corinthians 2:3 “I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.” It would appear that Paul anticipated the persecution which would now arise. 

Once again, we see the familiar pattern. Paul arrives in a city, engages in evangelism, attains a level of success, jealousy sets in, and the attacks begin. However, in Corinth, we see a different approach to persecution. When the persecution began in the previous cities, the normal practice was for Paul to move on to the following location. Here, he receives a reassuring vision that he should stay as nothing will happen to him. Jesus’ mission for Paul in the city of Corinth was not yet finished. 

The last part of the vision, “I have many people in this city,” should cause us to pause and consider what Jesus meant.

  • Could it be there were already a large number of believers within the city?
  • Could it be foreknowledge of a large number of future believers within the city?

It is likely the second possibility. There were evidently some believers within Corinth at the time. However, from a contextual standpoint, it wouldn’t make sense for the Lord to keep Paul there for one and a half years unless there was an extensive mission to complete in Corinth. 

The Jews Bring False Charges Against Paul

Before we take a close look at this section, let’s take a close look at Gallio.

  • He was the proconsul for Achaia.
  • Achaia was a province of the second rank in the Roman Empire.
  • A posting as proconsul was normally a one-year commitment, although sometimes it extended to a second year. 
  • Because of an inscription at Delphi and the dating of a proclamation from the emperor Claudius, Gallio’s term would have started in either 51 or 52 A.D., and the latest he would have served would have been 54 A.D.
  • Most theologians believe the encounter before Gallio occurred in the early period of his appointment.

Now that we have a bit of information regarding Gallio let’s look at these last few verses.

  • The group of jealous Jews brought Paul before Gallio.
  • They charged Paul with trying to get people to worship God contrary to the law.
  • The last part of the charge is where the problem arose. Contrary to what law? 
    • Roman law?
    • Jewish law?
    • Rome did have laws against Roman citizens being proselytized by foreign cults.
  • Gallio didn’t interpret the charge in that sense.
  • Gallio correctly understood this was an internal matter concerning a dispute within the Jewish community. 
  • In situations where there was no clear-cut case of an infraction against an established Roman law, it was within the purview of the judge whether or not he would formally hear the case.
  • Gallio didn’t believe the case warranted his time and didn’t even bother hearing a defense from Paul. 
    • He decided the Jews could settle the matter themselves and sent them all out of the court.
    • We need to be careful that we don’t interpret Gallio’s actions as an endorsement of Paul or his message. The entire matter was Jewish, and Gallio would have nothing to do with it.
  • Gallio’s decision obviously incensed those who brought charges against Paul.
  • The big question is, “who” beat Sosthenes?
    • Was it the Jews?
    • Was it the Gentiles?
    • The question is complicated by a further question. Was this Sosthenes the one mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:1, as a Christian brother? 
      • If the answer is yes, then the new leader of the synagogue may have been leaning towards Christianity at this point.
      • On the other hand, Sosthenes was a common name, and it could have been an entirely different person.
    • If we believe this Sosthenes was the same as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:1, then it would make sense it was the Jews who beat him.
    • However, if it was a different person, then what is described here could very well be anti-Semitic feelings from the Gentile crowd.
    • Theologians are split regarding both who received and delivered the beating. 

Applications

  • We should look for fellow ministry workers as we go about God’s business. Too often, we see or read about “factions” within ministry or mission work. When I was in the mission field in Thailand, I witnessed this firsthand. Instead of pooling resources, there were “turf wars.” We are all on one team against a common enemy. 
  • Expect rejection as you share the Gospel. This should never stop us or discourage us from sharing. However, it may mean we redirect who or where we focus our energy. Always try to discern God’s will as to where He would have you work; never do it based upon your wishes.
  • Expect persecution. Jesus told His disciples that persecution would occur. The comfort is knowing if we are aligned with His plans and purposes, He will strengthen us as we encounter persecution.  

Acts Lesson Thirty-six

Acts Lesson Thirty-six: Acts 17:16-34 – Paul in Athens

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him. Some said, “What is this pseudo-intellectual trying to say?” 

Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities”—because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the Resurrection. 

19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you’re speaking of? 20 For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new. 

22 Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. 23 For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.  

Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it —He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26 From one man  He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. 27 He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 28 For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Being God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination. 

30 “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.” 

32 When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him. But others said, “We’d like to hear from you again about this.” 33 Then Paul left their presence. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. (HCSB)

Paul was not idle in Athens while waiting for Silas and Timothy to rejoin him. It’s a trait we see throughout Paul’s Christian life. He was always busy in some manner, either increasing his knowledge after his conversion or sharing the Gospel with those he interacted with during his time in Antioch or during his missionary journeys. I’ll split this lesson into two parts.

  • Preaching at the synagogue and marketplace – verses 16-18.
  • The Areopagus address – verses 19-34.

However, before we get into this passage, let’s look at some facts regarding Athens in Paul’s day.

  • It was recognized as a center of culture and education.
    • There was a famous university there.
    • There were many magnificent cultural buildings.
  • However, it was in a period of decline.
    • It didn’t possess the influence it once had.
    • The glory of its politics and commerce had faded.
  • There were about 5,000 voting citizens but many more nonnative inhabitants.
  • It practiced cultured paganism was fed by idolatry.
    • Greek religion was the deification of human attributes and the powers of nature.
    • It was a religion that ministered to art and amusement and was devoid of moral power.
    • The Greek gods and goddesses had ambitions and were rivals of each, acting much like humans.
  • The city was devoted to philosophy.
    • Socrates.
    • Aristotle.
    • There were two primary schools of philosophical thought.
      • Epicureans – materialistic, atheist, with a life goal of seeking pleasure. Enjoy life.
      • Stoics – rejected idolatry and pagan worship. They believed in a one “World God.” They were pantheists. Pleasure was not good, and pain was not evil. The most important thing was to follow one’s reason and be self-sufficient, often leading to pride. Endure life.
  • It was the overbearing emphasis on idol worship that greatly disturbed Paul.

Preaching at the Synagogue and the Marketplace

Once again, Paul begins with his usual practice; he went first to the synagogue to preach on the Sabbath. However, during the week, he would go to the marketplace and share his message with the Gentiles. Luke doesn’t tell us whether Paul experienced any success or not. However, the point of this section isn’t on Paul’s witness in the synagogue or the marketplace. The point is that he encountered Stoic and Epicurean philosophers there, which led to his being brought to the Areopagus. Let’s look at some points in this section.

  • It’s clear that the philosophers were not impressed by Paul.
    • The term “pseudo-intellectual” was not a compliment.
    • The original Greek used here implies that Paul had heard bits and pieces of information and was repeating it without having an understanding of what he was talking about.
    • They were accusing Paul of being a false intellectual, an imposter.
  • At least some did realize that Paul was talking about a “deity,” although they didn’t understand the message.
  • True to their philosophical foundation, they desired to learn more about a subject that they currently didn’t know or understand.
  • Luke points out that the population of Athens spent a considerable amount of time talking or listening to each other in an attempt to increase their knowledge.
  • The idea of a bodily resurrection would have been a significant stumbling block as both schools of philosophy didn’t believe in it.
    • The Greek word for resurrection is “anastasis.” 
    • They thought Paul was talking about a new goddess named Anastasia and a new god named Jesus.
    • In their minds, Paul was a polytheist just like them.

The Areopagus Address

The philosopher’s “invitation” to address the crowd at the Areopagus is a matter of debate.

  • Was Paul tried before a formal Athenian court called Areopagus?
  • Did Paul deliver a public address from a hill known as Areopagus?
  • The original Greek leaves it ambiguous. 
    • The Areopagus was both a court and a hill.
    • The Council of Areopagus was responsible for both religion and education in Athens.
    • Since Paul was teaching a new doctrine on religion, it was natural for them to question him.
    • The court traditionally met on that hill.
    • The name means “hill of Ares,” the hill of the god of war.
    • The Roman equivalent to Ares was Mars; hence some translations call it Mars Hill.
    • Throughout Acts, Luke presented numerous occasions where Paul appeared before the official legal bodies in numerous cities. Is this another “formal” appearance?
    • Even if it was a formal address, it makes more sense that this wasn’t a trial as Paul was not charged with any crime.
  • Regardless of the formality, Paul was presented with an opportunity to address the crowd.

As Paul begins his address, knowing full well the importance of addressing this audience, he uses an engaging and respectful tone and carefully crafted message.

  • Paul acknowledges that they are “extremely religious.” Even though their religiosity is about idols, Paul doesn’t use inflammatory words.
  • It was standard practice in Greek rhetoric to win the audience’s favor and secure their attention.
  • Although Paul uses Greek philosophical rhetoric, his message is firmly rooted in Old Testament thinking. 
  • Paul focuses on the “unknown god” as a window of opportunity to show them that the triune God is the unknown god. Additionally, the fact the Greeks worshipped an unknown god was admitting ignorance of the god’s nature. This statement highlights two points.
    • Paul referred to “what” they worshiped and not “who” they worshiped. Their worship was focused on a “thing” and not a personal god.
    • There is an emphasis on ignorance. For Greek philosophers, this would be a stinging accusation. The greatest virtue was to discover the truth, and to live in ignorance was the greatest folly in their society.

Paul presents four fundamental truths about God; He is creator, He is provider, He is ruler, and He is Savior.

  • God is creator – verse 24.
    • It is normal for each of us to ponder three questions. Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Science attempts to answer the first, philosophy wrestles with the second, but only Christianity answers all three.
    • Epicureans, being atheists, believed that this life was all there was.
    • Stoics said that everything was God. He didn’t create anything; He only organized it.
    • Paul affirms that God always was and that He created everything.
    • He is not a distant God.
    • He isn’t locked in His creation.
    • He is too great to be contained in shrines made by humans.
      • This would have been recognized as a jab against the temples in Athens.
      • Not only were there numerous shrines in the city of Athens, but there were also several shrines to Athena on the Acropolis.
    • The main difference between the Greek philosophers’ viewpoint on “god” and Paul was the argument between pantheism and monotheism.
  • God is provider – verse 25.
    • The Greeks and Romans, much like some of us today, pride ourselves on service to God. 
    • However, God is self-sufficient and doesn’t need our help.
    • The pagan temples not only didn’t contain God, but their service in temples also didn’t add anything to God.
    • God gives us life, breath, and all things that we need. 
    • God is the source of everything good.
    • Instead of worshipping the creator and giving Him glory, men worship the creation and give glory to themselves.
    • In one simple statement, Paul effectively undermined the entire Greek religious system.
  • God is ruler – verses 26-29.
    • The Greek gods were aloof and possessed no concern for the problems and needs of humans.
    • Our God is the God of creation and history and geography.
      • He created mankind from one man.
      • All nations came from this one man and the same bloodline.
        • The Greeks felt they were a superior race, different from all other nations.
        • Paul tells them they are no different from any other nation.
      • Their land was a gift from God.
    • God determines the rise and fall of nations.
    • Because God is ruler over all, we should seek Him and come to know Him.
    • Paul then uses quotes from two Greek poets.
      • Paul did this for two reasons.
        • Scripture would not have resonated with the Greek audience he was addressing.
        • Quotes from fellow pagan philosophers would be more effective in reaching them.
      • “For in Him we live and move and exist” is from Epimenides.
      • “For we are also His offspring” is from Aratus.
      • By using these quotes from Greek poets, Paul was pointing out the “Fatherhood of God” in a natural sense; man was created in the image of God.
    • This led to Paul’s logical conclusion.
      • God made us in His image.
      • It would then be foolish for us to make gods in our image.
      • Greek religion was nothing more than the making and worship of gods who were patterned after men and acted like men.
      • Paul pointed out the folly of temples, temple rituals, and idolatry in general.
      • This critique of idolatry would have appealed to the Stoics, who saw idolatry as the folly of religion.
        • However, Paul’s teaching of one creator God would tell the Stoics that they too were idolators.
        • In the Stoic’s attempt to reach the divine through their own effort, they had corrupted the relationship between creator and created.
        • If they realized this corruption, they would also realize their need for repentance.
  • God is Savior – verses 30-34.
    • Paul closes his message by pointing out God’s grace.
    • For centuries, God was patient with disobedience and sinful behavior, even though some were ignorant of these facts.
    • At the same time, ignorance does not remove guilt. Just because were are ignorant of a law, i.e., speeding, doesn’t mean we won’t face punishment for breaking the law.
    • Yet, God, in spite of our disobedience, held back on His judgment.
    • After Paul’s address, the “unknown god” was no longer unknown. If they continued in their worship of idols, they would no longer be guilty of the sin of ignorance but of deliberate sin.
    • The only course of action is repentance. 
    • God is giving all of us time to repent of our sins and turn to Him.
    • God sent a Savior, Jesus, as a means to remove our sins by placing faith in Him.
      • The Savior was killed and raised from the dead.
      • One day Jesus will return and judge the world.
      • The proof is that Jesus was raised from the dead.
    • At the conclusion of Paul’s message, there were three different responses.
      • Some ridiculed Paul.
        • Greeks believed that the body was a prison, and the sooner a person left their body, the happier they would be.
        • Why would a body be raised from the dead to live again? That would continue the prison theme.
        • Why would God bother with judging each person?
        • These viewpoints were not compatible with Greek philosophy.
        • It is likely that the scoffers were the majority as Paul left the Areopagus after his address.
      • Some were interested and wanted to hear more from Paul.
      • A small group believed Paul’s message and placed their faith in Jesus. These included Dionysius and Damaris.

Applications

  • We need to tailor and contextualize the Gospel message according to the audience we are trying to reach. In the example of this passage, Paul was addressing a group of “intellectuals” and not people with any background in Christian or Old Testament understanding. Paul made use of phrases and themes that would reach them while not compromising the truths of the Gospel.
  • We need to have our ears and eyes open for opportunities around us to reach others. How often do we miss the “unknown god” moments in our lives? It’s possible those opportunities will never be available again. We need to be sensitive when they present themselves, even if the majority ridicule our message.
  • We should never expect everyone to accept the truth of the Gospel as we engage in evangelism. It’s even possible that the overwhelming majority reject the message. However, that should never prevent us from speaking the message. Listen to Jesus’ words in Luke 15:10 “I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.

Acts Lesson Thirty-five

Acts Lesson Thirty-five: Paul in Thessalonica and Berea – Acts 17:1-15

Then they traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As usual, Paul went to the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and showing that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead: “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.” Then some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, including a great number of God-fearing Greeks, as well as a number of the leading women. 

But the Jews became jealous, and they brought together some scoundrels from the marketplace, formed a mob, and started a riot in the city. Attacking Jason’s house, they searched for them to bring them out to the public assembly. When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city officials, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too, and Jason has received them as guests! They are all acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king—Jesus!” The Jews stirred up the crowd and the city officials who heard these things. So taking a security bond from Jason and the others, they released them. 

10 As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas off to Berea. On arrival, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 The people here were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, since they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Consequently, many of them believed, including a number of the prominent Greek women as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica found out that God’s message had been proclaimed by Paul at Berea, they came there too, agitating and disturbing the crowds. 14 Then the brothers immediately sent Paul away to go to the sea, but Silas and Timothy stayed on there. 15 Those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving instructions for Silas and Timothy to come to him as quickly as possible, they departed. (HCSB)

As Paul continues his second missionary journey, I’ll divide this lesson into three parts.

  • Paul’s arrival in Thessalonica – verses 1-4.
  • Jealousy of the Thessalonican Jews – verses 5-9.
  • Paul’s visit to the Bereans – verses 10-15.

Paul’s Arrival in Thessalonica

As Paul and the team left Philippi, they traveled on the Egnatian Way. Their journey from Philippi was approximately 100 miles as they traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia. If they traveled by horse, the cities were approximately one day’s journey apart. If they traveled by foot, the journey would take much longer. We also have to remember that Paul and Silas were recovering from the beating they received in Philippi. Either mode of travel would have been painful but walking would have been a significant burden. From the context of the passage, the team either wasn’t involved in evangelism in the cities they passed through, or Paul expected the believers in Philippi to evangelize the area around their city. Although not explicitly stated, it is highly likely that Timothy remained behind in Philippi as he is not mentioned again until Acts 17:14 in the city of Berea. Let’s look at some information about Thessalonica.

  • Thessalonica was a strategically important city, the capital of Macedonia.
  • It was the largest city in Greece, with a population of about 200,000.
  • It was also an important center for business, with only Corinth as a rival.
  • It was located on several important trade routes and had an excellent harbor.
  • The population was predominately Greek, although controlled by Rome.
  • It was a free city, meaning that it elected a citizen’s assembly, minted their own coins, and there was no Roman garrison within the city walls.

Once they arrived there, we know that Paul was involved in his tent-making trade as referenced in 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10. However, instead of focusing on that, let’s look at Paul’s methodology as he evangelized the city.

  • Paul followed his established of going to the local synagogue. He knew he would find two target groups if he went there.
    • Devout Jews.
    • Gentiles – God-seekers and proselytes.
  • The text explicitly states that Paul evangelized in the synagogue for three successive Sabbaths, but from cross-references, it is clear that Paul was there much longer, long enough to receive financial aid several times from the church in Philippi and for their ministry to impact the region.
    • Philippians 4:15-16.
    • 1 Thessalonians 1.
  • From Acts 17:2-3, we see four points in how Paul evangelized in the synagogue.
    • He reasoned with them – he engaged them in dialogue in a question and answer format.
    • He explained – through the use of Scripture, Paul supported what he told them.
    • He showed – Paul proved through his use of Scripture that the Messiah would be killed and resurrected.
    • He proclaimed – Paul proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah that Scripture prophesied.
  • His evangelism efforts proved successful.
    • We shouldn’t focus on the phrase “some of them,” but on the phrase “great number.” The same Greek word is used in Acts 17:12. It’s Luke’s way of saying, “it was a big crowd.”
      • Jews were converted.
      • Greek proselytes were converted.
        • These included Aristarchus and Secundus.
        • Acts 20:4.
      • Influential women were converted. This is important as Macedonian women exerted considerable social and civic influence.
  • We see Silas being mentioned once again. Most likely, this is a reminder that the Jerusalem church endorsed the evangelism of Gentiles without placing the burden of Jewish rituals and restrictions on them.
  • As a consequence of their success, we will now see opposition to their efforts.

Jealousy of the Thessalonican Jews

We now see the pattern from previous locations repeated in Thessalonica. Paul evangelizes a town or city, either in or outside the synagogue, depending on whether one existed in the city or not. A sizable number of those attending the synagogue converted to Christianity. The Jews who don’t convert become jealous and attack the missionary team in some manner. Let’s look at the details of this section.

  • The Jews were jealous of the success of Paul. They lost members of the synagogue in three areas.
    • Jews who converted.
    • Gentile men.
    • Influential Gentile women.
  • Paul had hoped that salvation of the Gentiles would spur the Jews into a deeper study of Scripture and find the truth of Jesus as the Messiah. Instead, it led the Jews to persecute the new believers and their church.
  • The jealous Jews then brought together a mob consisting of “scoundrels” from the marketplace. The scoundrels were likely a form of a gang who hung out in the marketplace extorting from the merchants and those passing through the city.
  • This mob then started a riot in the city.
  • They proceeded to Jason’s house. 
    • We know nothing about Jason except for what’s contained in this section.
    • He was most likely a believer or at least someone who was curious about the faith.
    • He was probably a Jew as Jason was a common name taken by Diaspora Jews.
    • He may have been a fellow tentmaker with Paul since we know that Paul stayed with fellow tentmakers in Acts 18:3, Aquila and Priscilla.
    • We can infer from the context that Paul and Silas were lodging with him.
    • The mob thought they could find Paul and Silas there, but Paul and Silas, likely becoming aware that the mob had moved to another location.
  • Unable to find the target of their anger, Paul and Silas, they proceeded to forcibly take Jason and some other believers before the city officials.
  • The mob leveled three charges against the believers.
    • The first charge was against Paul and Silas – they were troublemakers who had turned the world upside down. 
    • The second was against Jason – he was playing host to the troublemakers.
    • The third was against Paul, Silas, and Jason – they were all acting against Caesar’s decrees.
      • This was the most dangerous charge.
      • In essence, they were being charged with rebelling against the decrees of Caesar.
      • They were declaring there was another “king,” and it wasn’t Caesar.
      • Since Roman law required allegiance to Caesar, this was a charge the magistrates had to address.
  • In their defense, the city officials did demonstrate discretion and restraint in how they handled the situation.
    • It’s clear they didn’t believe the charge of rebellion; otherwise, their response would have been harsher.
    • However, they were aware of the disturbance that was occurring within the city, and they were responsible for keeping order.
    • They approached the solution in a similar manner as the officials in Philippi.
      • They decided to ban the “troublemakers” from the city.
      • In addition, they required Jason to pay a bond that would be forfeit if there was any further disturbance in the city.
      • This required Paul and Silas to leave Thessalonica.
      • Paul may have been referring to this in 2 Thessalonians 2:18 when he referred to “Satan hindered us” from returning to Thessalonica.
    • Paul and Silas were released, and the believers in Thessalonica sent them safely out of the city.

Paul’s Visit to the Bereans

Once darkness has fallen, the believers in Thessalonica sent Paul and Silas out of the city to Berea. The distance between the two cities was approximately forty-five to fifty miles. The journey on foot would take about three days. Let’s look at some information regarding the city of Berea.

  • The city was on the eastern slopes of Mt. Vermion in the Olympian mountain range.
  • The region was somewhat remote.
  • Although located in a remote area, the city was the most significant one in the region.
  • At one point, it was the capital of one of the four sections of Macedonia from 167-148 b.c.
  • It had a relatively sizable population.
  • There were enough Jews in the city to have a synagogue.

Once Paul and Silas were settled, the normal pattern of evangelism began. Their first visit was to the local synagogue. Let’s consider the characteristics of those who attended the synagogue in Berea.

  • The Jews in Berea were different than those in Thessalonica.
    • Luke used the Greek word that translated to “open-minded.”
    • The Bereans were open to the message that Paul preached to them.
  • Then, they investigated what Scripture said and compared it to the message Paul preached.
    • Their investigation was not a cursory one.
    • They eagerly examined what Scripture had to say about the Messiah.
    • They didn’t meet occasionally; they met daily until they came to a conclusion regarding Paul’s message.
  • The result was that many from the Berean synagogue became believers.
    • Many Jews became believers.
    • Many Greeks, including prominent women, became believers.

However, amidst the success of Paul’s efforts, the enemy appears once again in opposition. The news of Paul’s efforts made its way back to Thessalonica, and those that opposed him journeyed to Berea to stir up attacks on Paul. Let’s consider the details surrounding the attack. 

  • The Thessalonica “gang” stirred up both the Jews who rejected Paul’s message as well as the general Gentile population of Berea.
  • The attack was directed at Paul since he was the primary preacher, as shown in verse thirteen.
  • Although the text doesn’t provide the details, it’s safe to infer from preceding sections that Paul’s life was in danger, and it was time to move on once again.
  • At this point, the team splits up.
    • Paul traveled to Athens.
    • There is some debate as to how Paul got to Athens.
      • There is one group who believe he traveled to the coast (sea) and then followed the coastal road to Athens.
      • Another group believes that he traveled by boat to Athens.
      • In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Paul arrived in Athens.
    • Silas and Timothy remained in Berea.
      • The group of believers who traveled with Paul to Athens were sent back with a message for Silas and Timothy to go to Athens and join Paul there.
      • We also know that at some point, Paul sent both Silas and Timothy out from Athens.
        • Timothy was sent to Thessalonica as found in 1 Thessalonians 3:1.
        • Silas was sent to an unknown location.
        • Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul in Corinth, as found in Acts 18:5.

Applications

  • We see once again that God is a sending God. Evangelism isn’t a passive activity; come and hear the message, it is active in nature, take the message to those that need to hear it. In the same way, we need to be active in our endeavors to share the Gospel. This is especially true in the world we live in today. Relative truth and skepticism are rampant. The lost won’t likely come to church. We need to be the feet and mouth of Jesus to take the truth of the Gospel to the world.
  • Our message must be based upon Scripture. If we try and base it on our ideas or thoughts, it will fail. We see this in Paul’s evangelism to the Bereans. Although they were open to hearing the message, they also were diligent in searching Scripture to see if Paul’s message was true. After confirming the truth of Paul’s message, they became believers. For us to be able to do that, we need to read and understand Scripture. We need to immerse ourselves in God’s Word.
  • When doors close, we need to understand that and move on to the next harvest field. We see this repeatedly demonstrated by Paul. He would go to a city, evangelize it, teach the people, and then move on once he was no longer welcome by the pagans in the city. The mission field works in much the same manner. Outsiders can be successful in bringing the Gospel to an unreached location. However, once locals are converted, they will have better success in continuing the work. We need to “pass the baton” and realize that the converts are not because of us; they’re because of God. We are only a conduit through which the Holy Spirit works.
  • We need to assist our brothers and sisters when the need arises. We repeatedly see where the local believers helped Paul and the team when the situation became difficult. In the same way, we should help out those who are doing God’s work when they run into difficulties.

Acts Lesson Thirty-four

Acts Lesson Thirty-four: Acts 16:16-40 – Paul, the Fortune Teller, and Prison

16 Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit of prediction. She made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 As she followed Paul and us she cried out, “These men, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation, are the slaves of the Most High God.” 18 And she did this for many days. 

But Paul was greatly aggravated and turning to the spirit, said, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out right away.

19 When her owners saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas  and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. 20 Bringing them before the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews 21 and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice.” 

22 Then the mob joined in the attack against them, and the chief magistrates stripped off their clothes and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had inflicted many blows on them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to keep them securely guarded. 24 Receiving such an order, he put them into the inner prison and secured their feet in the stocks. 

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the doors of the prison open, he drew his sword and was going to kill himself, since he thought the prisoners had escaped. 

28 But Paul called out in a loud voice, “Don’t harm yourself, because all of us are here!” 

29 Then the jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 

31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the message of the Lord to him along with everyone in his house. 33 He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized. 34 He brought them into his house, set a meal before them, and rejoiced because he had believed God with his entire household. 

35 When daylight came, the chief magistrates sent the police to say, “Release those men!” 

36 The jailer reported these words to Paul: “The magistrates have sent orders for you to be released. So come out now and go in peace.” 

37 But Paul said to them, “They beat us in public without a trial, although we are Roman citizens, and threw us in jail. And now are they going to smuggle us out secretly? Certainly not! On the contrary, let them come themselves and escort us out!” 

38 Then the police reported these words to the magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them, and escorting them out, they urged them to leave town. 40 After leaving the jail, they came to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers, and departed. (HCSB)

As Paul and the team continued their work in Philippi, they encountered their first significant challenge as well as experienced a great victory. I’ll split this lesson into three sections.

  • Paul’s encounter with the fortune teller – verses 16-24.
  • The prison miracle – verses 25-34.
  • The Philippian magistrates admit their mistake – verses 35-40.

Paul’s Encounter with the Fortune Teller

The beginning of this section continues the narrative of the previous lesson. We don’t know how long the team was in Philippi when this event occurred, but it would appear that it wasn’t immediately after the conversion of Lydia and her household. Now, let’s look at some information regarding the encounter with the slave girl who possessed the spirit of prediction.

  • The English translation of the original Greek says, “slave girl met us who had a spirit of prediction.” The original Greek literally meant she had a “python spirit.”
    • The python was the symbol of the oracle at Delphi.
      • It represented the god Apollo, who was believed to give predictions of future events.
      • The python had become an omen of predicting future events.
      • Anyone who was believed to have the gift of predicting future events was described as led by the python.
      • Greeks and Romans placed great belief in omens and fortune-telling.
      • Military commanders would consult oracles before beginning any major military campaign.
      • Emperors would consult an oracle before making an important decree.
    • Because of these factors, the slave girl was an important source of income for her masters.
  • The slave girl understood that Paul and the team were Christians, and they had come to evangelize the city.
    • The possessed girl was able to see the nature of Paul’s preaching and the reality of God being proclaimed by Paul.
    • This is similar to what occurred during the time of Jesus’ ministry and His encounter with demon-possessed people.
      • Luke 4:34.
      • Mark 1:24.
    • She kept declaring that Paul spoke of the way of salvation and were slaves of the most high God. Why would this upset Paul? There are several possible reasons.
      • Paul didn’t want the Gospel or the name of God promoted by a demon-possessed girl.
      • A more likely reason is that the non-Christians hearing her declarations would not understand the true meaning behind the words.
        • Most of those hearing the girl’s words were Gentiles.
        • Although the term “Most High God” was common in the Old Testament, it was equally common in the Gentile world and often was applied to Zeus.
        • The term “way of salvation” would also be confusing to a Gentile as the Greco-Roman world was filled with “saviors,” and the emperor often called himself the “savior” of the people.
        • Although the statements made by the possessed girl were completely factual, they were also easily misunderstood by the pagans who heard the message. 
          • The truth could easily be warped by people with a polytheistic background.
          • Jesus could be seen as just another “savior” in a growing group of Greek “gods.”
        • In response to this danger, Paul commanded the demon to come out of the girl by the power of Jesus’ name.
        • The demon was cast out immediately after Paul made the declaration.

With the demon cast out and the girl no longer possessing the gift of fortune-telling, attention turns from the girl to Paul. Let’s look at some points from this section.

  • Healing a possessed slave girl was not the issue that caused the situation to become tense.
  • The real issue was the economic loss the slave girl’s owners would now incur.
    • There are similarities with the incident involving the Gerasene pigs in Mark 5:16-17.
    • The economic motive can also be found in the incident with Simon Magus contained in Acts 8:19f.
    • It would lead Demetrius and his fellow silversmiths to oppose Paul in Acts 19:24-28.
    • The profit stumbling block is a common obstacle to the Gospel in Acts.
    • The actions of the slave girl’s owners are in stark contrast to the generosity displayed by Lydia in sharing her home with the missionary team and fellow Christians in Philippi.
  • Luke switches from the first-person narrative in verse seventeen and doesn’t reappear until Acts 20. There are two main thoughts on this switch.
    • Luke remained in Philippi and didn’t rejoin Paul until the end of Paul’s third missionary trip.
    • Only Paul and Silas, as the leaders, bore the brunt of the owner’s anger and were dragged before the magistrates.
    • The phrase “They are Jews” may indicate that only Paul and Silas were to blame since they were outsiders in this Gentile city.
    • It makes the most sense that a combination of the latter two reasons is why only Paul and Silas were brought before the authorities.
  • The charge also includes a reference to Jewish practices that weren’t permissible for Romans to practice. Prejudice and racism were alive and well in the first century.
    • We see in the charges brought against Paul and Silas an avoidance of the real reason for their anger.
    • Their loss of income motivated all the charges brought against them, which wouldn’t be a legitimate reason for bringing them before the legal authorities.
    • They also accused them of “disturbing” the city.
  • The charges were false, but they achieved the desired result.
  • The authorities had Paul and Silas stripped for their beating.
    • This beating is likely one of the beatings Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 11:25.
    • They were then beaten by an instrument that was a bundle of rods with an ax protruding from the middle. The rods were tied together with a red band called a fasces, the same symbol that Mussolini revived and was linked with the fascist movement in Europe.
    • Although not as brutal as the flogging that the Romans inflicted upon Jesus, it was still a severe form of punishment.
  • The question that begs to be asked is, why didn’t Paul inform them that he was a Roman citizen? There are only two logical answers.
    • Because of the mob mentality, there wasn’t time.
    • Paul could have been saving that trump card for later when it might prove more valuable.
  • Once the beating was finished, they were thrown in prison.
  • However, they weren’t just thrown in prison; they were placed in the most secure section of the prison.
    • It’s likely this was the innermost cell of the prison.
    • When we envision this, we should think of the dungeon, the dark, dreary, and coldest part of the prison.
    • Their feet were placed in stocks.
      • The stocks were usually connected to the walls of the prison cell.
      • They contained numerous holes through which a prisoner’s legs would be secured.
      • They allowed for severe stretching of the torso, creating excruciating pain for the prisoner.
    • However, Luke doesn’t indicate that any form of torture took place.
    • The entire emphasis on the description of their incarceration is on the extremely tight security under which they were placed.
    • The incredibly tight security makes their miraculous deliverance all the more amazing.

The Prison Miracle

Considering their circumstances, it could have been easy for Paul and Silas to bemoan their fate. Instead of complaining or asking God to smite those who mistreated them, they were praying and  singing songs of praise to God. Let’s consider the actions of Paul and Silas and the events as they were in prison.

  • Christians should always be filled with hope; we are on the winning side.
    • Peter slept peacefully the night before his trial in Acts 12:6.
    • Paul and Silas were singing hymns to God.
    • Their actions were a witness of their relationship with God, and the other prisoners were listening.
  • The area around Philippi is prone to earthquakes, but this was no ordinary earthquake.
    • The doors, likely locked by bars, were thrown open by the force of the earthquake.
    • The chains came off the prisoners.
    • Those chains may have been attached to the walls and torn loose by the violence of the shaking.
    • Thinking back to Peter’s miraculous release from prison, we could expect that Paul and Silas would make their way out of the prison and escape. However, that was not the case.
  • As the jailor woke up and saw the open doors, he prepared to kill himself.
    • His first thought is that the prisoners had escaped.
    • Instead of waiting for Roman justice, he prepared to take his own life.
    • Jailers and guards were personally responsible for the prisoners and were held accountable if they escaped, resulting in the execution of the guard who failed in their duty.
  • Instead of taking his own life, he heard Paul tell him not to hurt himself as all the prisoners were still in their cells.
  • The miraculous release didn’t lead to the escape of Paul and Silas and potentially other prisoners. Instead, it leads to the far more significant event of the jailer’s conversion.
  • Upon hearing Paul’s voice, the jailer called for torches to be brought and rushed into the cell, falling to his knees at the feet of Paul and Silas.
    • In contrast to Paul’s reaction at Lystra, contained in Acts 14:15, Paul doesn’t object to the actions of the jailer. 
    • It may have been an act of worship, but more likely a gesture of subservience.
      • Paul had saved the life of the jailer.
      • Paul’s God had, in an instant, reduced all the efforts of securing the prisoners to naught.
  • The jailer’s expression “what must I do to be saved” could be interpreted in two ways.
    • He may have been asking how his life could be spared. But, in reality, his life already had been spared. None of the prisoners had escaped, so he was under no threat of punishment.
    • It is more likely he was asking in a religious sense. 
      • He may have heard the slave girl’s statements that Paul knew the way of salvation.
      • He may have directly heard Paul preach or had heard of Paul’s preaching but didn’t completely understand the message.
      • Maybe he had fallen asleep to the hymns that Paul and Silas were singing.
      • The miracle of the earthquake and the prisoners not escaping now prepared him to receive the message.
      • Paul’s answer was simple and classic – “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.”
  • There is now a transition, and somehow the jailer’s family enters the scene.
    • An important to emphasize before continuing is the idea of “household” salvation.
      • This verse doesn’t mean that the family is saved through the actions of the jailer.
      • Salvation is very much a personal action.
      • It is also a decision that requires understanding. This means that very young children are not able to make a conscious decision regarding salvation. There is no set age at which a person can understand the Gospel, but it does exist for each person.
      • The phrase “believe on the Lord Jesus” is directed at each member of the household, not just the head of the household.
    • Whether the jailer brought his family to the jail or the evangelism occurred at a location outside of the jail is irrelevant. What we do know is that the entire household did hear and respond to Paul’s message of salvation.
      • Throughout Acts, we see evidence of conversion through action.
      • In this narrative, once conversion took place, the jailer recognized the severity of Paul and Silas’ wounds and attended to them.
      • Luke may also be using a wordplay here. The jailer “washed” their wounds, and the family then were baptized, also a “washing.”
    • The jailer then took Paul and Silas and had the wounds they received from the beating cleaned and dressed.
    • It is clear the family responded to the message Paul preached as after Paul and Silas’ wounds were attended to, the family was baptized.
  • We then see another remarkable event.
    • Paul and Silas are still technically prisoners.
    • The jailer brings them into his house and provides them with a meal.
    • They rejoice together. They could have sung hymns together, prayed together, or possibly Paul and Silas gave further instructions on the faith. We don’t know for sure.
    • What we do know is that the jailer didn’t treat them as prisoners but as brothers in Christ.
  • We can also speculate about the other prisoners.
    • Were they ordinary prisoners, or were some possibly awaiting execution?
    • Although we don’t know, it is possible that some may have come to salvation through the message of Paul and Silas.

The Philippian Magistrates Admit Their Mistake

The narrative now switches to the next day. At some point between the arrest of Paul and Silas and the following morning, the magistrates realized there wasn’t sufficient evidence to keep them in jail and await further punishment. Therefore, they decided to have them released. However, things didn’t go according to their plan.

  • The jailer relays the message that Paul and Silas are to be released. The jailer urges them to go in peace.
  • Paul declines the offer to leave Philippi quietly. It is likely there are a couple of potential reasons behind his decision.
    • Leaving quietly could place the newly established church under a cloud of suspicion. There are several questions the Gentiles could’ve asked.
      • Who were these men?
      • Were they guilty of some crime?
      • Why did they leave so quickly and secretly?
      • What do their followers believe?
      • Paul wanted to leave the church in a positive light before leaving Philippi.
    • The magistrates had overstepped their authority in how they handled the case against Paul and Silas.
      • Paul and Silas were Roman citizens.
      • The magistrates had publicly flogged and thrown them in prison without a trial.
        • This could be done for non-citizens, even without a trial.
        • Roman citizens could be flogged and thrown in prison, but not without a trial.
        • The actions of the magistrates were beyond their authority.
    • Either reason makes sense, and it is likely that both played into the action taken by Paul.
  • Once the magistrates heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were understandably “afraid.”
    • Abusing the rights of a Roman citizen was a serious offense.
      • The magistrates could be removed from office for such an offense.
      • Philippi could have its rights reduced.
      • The emperor could deprive Philippi of all of the privileges normally associated with its status as a colony.
    • The situation was quite ironic.
      • Paul and Silas were treated as criminals but were innocent.
      • The magistrates who condemned them were actually the lawbreakers.
      • The magistrates wasted no time in coming to meet Paul and Silas.
    • The magistrates apologized to both of them. One can only imagine that they were quite animated in demonstrating sincere remorse for their actions.
    • The magistrates were likely still concerned about the events of the previous day and wanted them to quickly leave town to avoid further friction.
    • However, Paul and Silas were now in an advantageous position.
      • They weren’t in a rush to leave town.
      • The magistrates weren’t in a position to give them further trouble.
    • The missionaries now went back to Lydia’s home.
      • They met with the Christians who gathered there.
      • They encouraged them in their faith.
      • Satisfied that the church was in good standing, they left for the next city.
  • One might question whether Paul’s actions were a bit grumpy in his dealing with the magistrates. But let’s consider his actions.
    • It was essential that the fledgling church had a good reputation among the authorities if it was to grow.
    • The Christians didn’t break any of the Roman laws.
    • Paul and Silas were innocent of any wrongdoing.
    • It was essential that the magistrates admitted the innocence of Paul and Silas and cleared the charges brought against them.
    • Luke repeatedly points out throughout Acts that for every charge brought against the Christians, they didn’t break any laws in each occurrence. 

Here are some final thoughts on this passage.

  • Lydia’s home became the central meeting place for the church in Philippi.
  • It is likely the jailer, and his family became members of that church.
  • There were no apostles present.
  • No elders were ordained.
  • Yet, this fascinating mix of believers became a centerpiece for evangelism in Philippi and the surrounding region.
  • Paul’s letter to the Philippians is proof of the health of that congregation.

Applications

  • Never compromise on the purity of the Gospel message. The situation with the slave girl is an example. Although she was proclaiming that Paul and the team were the “way to salvation,” the circumstances surrounding this event could have led people to be misled if Paul hadn’t taken the action that he did.
  • Never be afraid of your circumstances if you know that you are walking in step with God’s instructions. False charges were brought against Paul and Silas, yet they never wavered in their faith or trust in God. 
  • Always rejoice regardless of your circumstances. Being locked up in jail could easily have been a discouraging situation. However, Paul and Silas sang and praised God even during this dark time. As it turned out, their actions, along with their miraculous release, led to the salvation of at least the jailer and his household and possibly other prisoners.
  • Ensure that the church of Jesus is never slandered or made to look as if its actions are criminal in nature when no wrong has been committed. This means that our actions and words need to be above reproach.

Acts Lesson Thirty-three

Acts Lesson Thirty-three: Acts 16:6-15 The Holy Spirit Leads Paul to Macedonia

They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia and were prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, bypassing Mysia, they came down to Troas. During the night a vision appeared to Paul: A Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them. 

11 Then, setting sail from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, the next day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, a Roman colony, which is a leading city of that district of Macedonia. We stayed in that city for a number of days. 13 On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate by the river, where we thought there was a place of prayer. We sat down and spoke to the women gathered there. 14 A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was spoken by Paul. 15 After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. (HCSB)

As we continue our journey through Acts, I’ll break this lesson into two parts.

  • The Holy Spirit leads Paul and the team into Europe – verses 6-10.
  • The conversion of Lydia and her household – verses 11-15.

The Holy Spirit Leading Paul and the Team into Europe

Paul’s team visited the churches established on the first missionary journey. As they were traveling, Paul decided to move into Bithynia, but the Lord closed the door to evangelism in that area. Paul likely experienced a mix of emotions when this occurred. On the one hand, it would be  a disappointment that they were prevented from moving into that area. On the other hand, this meant that the Lord would lead them in another direction. The path they now took led them to the port city of Troas. 

During the night, Paul had a vision of a man pleading for help. Scholars have speculated and debated on the identity of the person in the vision. One of the most popular choices is the writer of Acts, Luke. This is based on the text, which uses the phrase “we” for the first time in verse ten, which indicates Luke’s presence with the team. However, tradition connects Luke with Antioch and not Macedonia, and the Philippian narrative gives no indication that Macedonia was Luke’s home stomping ground. There are even some who believe the man in the vision was Alexander the Great since he had a vision of a “one world,” and Paul would attempt to realize that dream through the Gospel. However, we must conclude that there is no definitive position on the identity of the man in the vision. Rather, he was from Macedonia and requested assistance, prompting Paul’s team to begin the journey to Macedonia.

We can conclude from the context of this section that Paul shared the vision he had received with Timothy and Silas, who agreed with Paul that the team should cross over to Macedonia. In the previous paragraph, I highlighted the significance of the term “we.” It would be safe to assume that Luke joined the team at this point as they headed to Macedonia. 

Troas could be viewed as the last port between two major landmasses of the ancient world, Asia Minor and Europe. The two areas were separated by two major bodies of water, The Aegean and Black Seas. The evangelism of Europe would now begin. 

The Conversion of Lydia and Her Household

Paul and his team now set sail from Troas, heading to Macedonia. They sailed northwest from Troas, stopping first at the island of Samothrace, almost halfway to the port of Neapolis. After spending the night at Samothrace, they left for Neapolis, which was the port for the city of Philippi. The distance from Troas to Neapolis was approximately 150 miles, taking two days to make the journey. The city of Philippi was about ten miles inland from the port of Neapolis. Let’s look at some information about the city of Philippi.

  • It was a Roman colony, meaning it was a “Rome away from Rome.”
    • The emperor organized the colonies by ordering Roman citizens, especially retired military personnel, to live in them to establish and maintain a strong pro-Roman presence.
    • Although they were living on foreign land, they were expected to remain loyal to Rome, obey Roman laws, and give honor to the emperor.
    • In return for their loyalty, they were given various political privileges, one being an exemption from taxes.
  • There was an abundance of copper and gold deposits in the region.
  • It came under Roman control in 168 b.c. and was expanded in 42 b.c.
  • It was known for its agricultural industry.
  • The location was of strategic commercial importance to Rome.
  • A famous medical school was located there.

It is interesting to note that the team didn’t begin their evangelism efforts as soon as they arrived. Although they knew that God had sent them to the region, they weren’t ready yet to begin their work. This is likely due to several reasons.

  • They needed some rest after their journey.
  • They needed to spend some time in prayer and make their plans for this new area of evangelism.
    • It isn’t enough to know where God wants us.
    • We also need to know when and how He wants us to work.

Now let’s consider some facts as the team began to work in Philippi.

  • They found a place to live and waited until the following Sabbath to begin their evangelistic efforts.
  • The Jewish population must have been very small in Philippi as there was no synagogue located there. Jewish law required at least ten male heads of households to form a congregation.
  • The only place of prayer was outside of the city, next to the river.
    • The river was likely the Gangites, located about 1 1/4 miles from the city gates.
    • Romans were often uneasy about foreign cults.
    • Judaism was a recognized religion, but because there wasn’t a formally established synagogue, the women were forced to meet outside the city gates.
    • If there were no Jews in Philippi, a possibility, and all the women were Gentile “God-fearers,” gathering in the city may have drawn even more suspicion from the Roman authorities.
    • It was customary in cities where no synagogue existed for believers to gather in the open near some type of body of water so other believers could easily find them.
  • Regardless of the circumstances, this gathering was the closest thing to a synagogue that Paul’s team would find in Philippi.
    • Paul then took the normal position of a speaker or teacher in a synagogue; he sat down.
    • Most likely, the meeting took place in an open-air environment next to the river.

The first convert was Lydia, one of the women who heard Paul’s message. Let’s look at some information concerning Lydia.

  • Lydia was a successful businesswoman from the town of Thyatira.
  • Thyatira was a city well-known for its purple dye.
  • From the context of the passage, it would appear that she was in charge of a branch office of her trade in Philippi.
  • This would make Lydia someone who was successful in business.
    • Purple goods were expensive and often associated with royalty.
    • This would make the business a lucrative one.
  • She “worshipped God,” which meant that she was not a full Jewish proselyte, but she did openly worship with the Jews.
    • Thyatira contained an extensive Jewish community.
    • It is likely that she became a worshipper of God there.
    • Similar to the conversion of Cornelius, God responded to her faith and “opened her heart” to receive and understand the Gospel message.
  • She was seeking truth.
  • Women in Greek and Roman society could achieve an elevated status, unlike Jewish society.

After Lydia and her household were baptized, she persuaded the team to stay at her home. Let’s consider what the invitation meant.

  • The acceptance of her hospitality was a test of whether or not the missionary team really believed she had become a follower of Christ. It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.
  • We see later in this chapter, verse 40, that her home became a gathering place for the Philippian Christian community.
  • She may very well have been the wealthiest member of the Philippian church.
  • She embraced the ideal of the early church, freely sharing her resources with her brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • She also shared her faith, which we see in the fact that her household also became believers.
  • This is the first time the baptism of a “household” is mentioned in Acts. 
    • However, we shouldn’t use this event as support for infant baptism.
    • Throughout Acts, baptism is based upon individual faith and commitment.
  • The phrase “she persuades us” could indicate the team’s hesitancy in staying based on several possible reasons.
    • She was a woman.
    • She could have been a single woman.
    • Maybe some members of the team didn’t want to stay in the house of a Gentile, even a believing Gentile.
    • Whatever the reasons were, they were overcome, and the team agreed to stay at Lydia’s house.

Let’s consider a few other facts about the Philippian church and support to Paul’s efforts in general.

  • Of all of the churches that Paul established, the Philippian church stood out for its generosity.
  • They continued to send support to Paul as his journeys took him to other locations.
    • Philippians 4:15-18.
    • 2 Corinthians 11:8.
  • Women like Lydia were actively engaged in supporting Paul’s ministry efforts.
    • The women of Thessalonica – Acts 17:4.
    • The women of Berea – Acts 17:12.
    • Damaris in Athens – Acts 17:34.
    • Priscilla in Corinth – Acts 18:2.

Applications

  • We must be sensitive and obedient to where the Spirit would lead us and what the Spirit would have us do for the advancement of the Gospel.
  • We must be flexible in how we engage the lost. In this lesson, we see that Paul’s standard method of starting at the local synagogue wouldn’t work because there wasn’t a synagogue. Additionally, the initial target audience was a group of women. Both of these were new avenues for Paul to explore.
  • Are we like Lydia? Do we extend hospitality to those in need, and do we support efforts to advance the Gospel? All of us have various ways to reach the lost. Although many of us will not travel far in our evangelistic efforts, we can still evangelize those close to us. Additionally, we can support those who are sent to other countries. Often these missionaries make do with much less than we have.