Acts Lesson Forty-nine

Acts Lesson Forty-nine: Acts 22:30-23:10 – Paul Before the Sanhedrin

The next day, since he wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and instructed the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to convene. Then he brought Paul down and placed him before them. 23Paul looked intently at the Sanhedrin and said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience until this day.” But the high priest Ananias ordered those who were standing next to him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! You are sitting there judging me according to the law, and in violation of the law are you ordering me to be struck?” 

And those standing nearby said, “Do you dare revile God’s high priest?” 

“I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest,” replied Paul. “For it is written, You must not speak evil of a ruler of your people.” When Paul realized that one part of them were Sadducees and the other part were Pharisees, he cried out in the Sanhedrin, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees! I am being judged because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead!” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, and no angel or spirit, but the Pharisees affirm them all. 

The shouting grew loud, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party got up and argued vehemently: “We find nothing evil in this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 When the dispute became violent, the commander feared that Paul might be torn apart by them and ordered the troops to go down, rescue him from them, and bring him into the barracks. (HCSB)

I’ll present this lesson in only one part. 

As we remember back to the last lesson, as the Roman soldiers were preparing to scourge Paul, they discovered that he was a Roman citizen. This certainly changed the dynamics of the situation and caused the Roman soldiers to worry about the consequences of arresting a Roman citizen without a formal charge being brought against him. 

  • The Roman commander had two serious problems to solve.
    • It was Paul’s right as a Roman citizen to know what the charges against him were.
    • He needed to have an official charge for his records and to pass along to his superiors.
  • Claudius was certain that Paul had done something quite serious to cause the Jews in the temple to react with such vehemence.
  • However, nobody could pinpoint Paul’s crime. The uncertainty surrounding Paul created a tense situation for Claudius.
  • Claudius came to the conclusion the best solution was to allow the Jews to try him.
  • Claudius arranged a special meeting of the Sanhedrin.
    • Roman officials were charged with keeping the peace, and the situation with Paul needed to be resolved to maintain the peace in Jerusalem.
    • There are differing opinions on whether or not the Roman officials had the authority to convene a formal meeting of the Sanhedrin.
    • Some believe this was an informal meeting.
    • Some believe it was held in the Tower of Antonia instead of the council chamber of the Sanhedrin.
    • There were several groups that comprised the Sanhedrin.
      • The high priest.
      • Seventy of the leading Jewish teachers.
        • Sadducees.
        • Pharisees.
        • Scribes.
      • They were responsible for interpreting and applying the sacred Jewish Law to the nation.
      • They were responsible for trying those who violated the Law.
      • The Roman authorities gave the Sanhedrin permission to impose capital punishment if the offense deserved it.
    • The phrase “he released him” only meant Paul was allowed to appear before the council. It didn’t mean that Paul was released from protective custody.

Now that we’ve looked at the details of the setting let’s take a closer look at the meeting itself.

  • The Sanhedrin already had quite a bit of experience dealing with “Christian situations.”
    • They had tried Christ.
    • They had tried Peter and John – Acts 4:5ff.
    • They had tried the twelve apostles – Acts 5:21ff.
    • They had tried and executed Stephen – Acts 6:12ff.
    • Now, Paul appeared before the council.
  • Paul begins his address before the Sanhedrin in a bi-polar manner, mixing both respect and confrontation.
    • By beginning with the term “brothers,” Paul is identifying himself as a fellow Jew.
    • However, when he continues with, “I have lived my life before God in all good conscience,” Paul is implying that he has been completely faithful to God in every manner.
      • Conscience is one of Paul’s favorite words; he used it twice in Acts and twenty-one times in his epistles. 
        • It is the inner judge that approves our actions when we’re right and disapproves when we are wrong. 
        • It doesn’t make the it standard, but it applies it to a situation.
      • If Paul’s life as a Christian made him innocent before God, then the Sanhedrin members who were not followers of Christ were the ones who were guilty.
  • Because Paul implied that the members of the Sanhedrin were the guilty ones, Ananias’ response to order those next to Paul to hit Paul in the mouth is not surprising.
    • The high priest’s action was completely in line with his character.
    • Josephus has described him as one of the very worst of the high priests.
      • He became high priest in a.d. 48.
      • He was pro-Roman.
      • He was extremely cruel.
      • He was very greedy.
      • He was well known for accepting bribes.
      • He would often take money from the temple offerings.
      • He was assassinated by Jewish guerrillas in a.d. 66.
    • His order to strike Paul was illegal since a person appearing before the Sanhedrin was considered innocent until proven guilty.
  • Paul’s response could be viewed in two different ways.
    • Some might expect Paul to react like Jesus; “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He was suffering, He did not threaten but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)
    • Some might view Paul’s angry response as completely understandable.
  • The content of Paul’s response, “you whitewashed wall,” is strong and confrontational.
    • The image of a whitewashed wall, sheer hypocrisy, is entirely appropriate given the situation.
      • The high priest would have been dressed in his high-priestly garments, symbolic of his role as an intercessor between the people and God.
      • However, his character and actions were in stark contrast to his outward appearance.
      • Jesus used the same imagery of whitewashed tombs to depict hypocrisy; the outside appeared clean but dead bones were inside the tomb.
    • We can interpret Paul’s outburst in one of four ways.
      • Paul was justified because of Ananias’ character and behavior.
      • Paul was justified in expressing righteous anger.
      • Paul spoke calmly and delivered a prophecy of God’s judgment on Ananias.
      • Paul lost his cool. Pushed beyond the breaking point by the previous day’s circumstances, he said something he should not have said.
    • Each one is possible, with scholars and commentators divided on which one is correct.
    • In a way, Paul’s words were prophetic as Ananias was killed by Jewish freedom fighters ten years later.
  • At this point, those standing around them accuse Paul of disrespect towards the high priest.
  • Paul’s response to the charge, quoting Exodus 22:28, has also been interpreted in various ways.
    • Paul’s “thorn in the side” may be poor eyesight, resulting in him not being able to see that Ananias was the high priest.
    • It had been years since Paul was last in Jerusalem, and he may not have recognized who Ananias was. This would also imply that Ananias was not dressed in his high-priestly garments.
    • Paul may have been using “holy sarcasm.” If that is true, Paul is asking if such a descpicable person could be the high priest.
  • Regardless of which one is correct, Paul is doing two things with his response.
    • Paul is showing respect for the office of the high priest.
    • Paul is not showing respect for the person serving in that office.
    • There is a subtle but significant difference.
  • Paul then realizes the group gathered to judge him was made up of both Sadducees and Pharisees. Paul uses this to his advantage.
  • There are two likely reasons for Paul to take employ this tactic.
    • After the incident with the high priest, Paul realized he would never receive a fair trial before Sanhedrin. 
      • If the Asian Jews were allowed to speak, they would have made condemning remarks regarding Paul’s behavior in Gentile territory.
      • If the trial continued, Paul faced the prospect of being convicted and stoned as a blasphemer.
      • Paul’s best chance was to end the trial as soon as possible.
    • Paul may have been playing “religious politics” with the two main sects comprising the Sanhedrin, the doctrinal issue of resurrection.
      • Jesus’ resurrection was the issue that separated Paul from the rest of the Jews.
      • Both Paul’s affiliation with the Pharisees and his belief in the resurrection is critically relevant to the situation.
  • Regardless of the reason behind Paul’s use of the doctrinal issue of the resurrection, the result is that a heated dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees.
    • Sadducees.
      • They comprised the majority in the Sanhedrin.
      • The high priest was a Sadducee.
      • The ruling elders were primarily Sadducees.
      • They only accepted the five books of the Law.
        • There is no evidence of resurrection in the Law.
        • However, there are references to angels and spirits.
      • They didn’t believe in the resurrection.
      • But what did Luke mean when he said the Sadducees didn’t believe in angels or spirits since they are found in the Law?
        • Luke may mean that the Sadducees rejected the eschatology of the Pharisees, which contained a complicated hierarchy of good and evil angels.
        • They may have rejected the idea that an angel or spirit could speak through a human as an agent of revelation.
        • It could be a form of rejecting the resurrection; they rejected an afterlife that involved an angelic or spiritual state.
    • Pharisees.
      • They comprised the minority in the Sanhedrin.
      • They are represented primarily by the scribes.
      • They believed in the resurrection.
      • They believed in angels and spirits.
    • Some Pharisees had become Christians (Acts 15:5), but the New Testament contains no evidence of a Sadducee becoming a Christian.
  • The result is that the Pharisees now became Paul’s defenders against the Sadducees.
    • They agreed with Paul on the general doctrinal idea of a resurrection.
    • They also agreed that it was possible that God may have spoken to Paul through an angel or spirit; they might have had Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus in mind.
  • At this point, the dispute between the two parties spins out of control, and Claudius, fearing that mob mentality may once again place Paul’s life in danger calls for the Roman troops to take Paul back into the barracks.
  • While Paul’s initial seizure by the Roman troops after the temple mob incident could be interpreted as an arrest, there is little doubt now that Claudius is acting in a spirit of protective custody.

Applications

  • If we live our lives in accordance with God’s will and are obedient to His Word, we can speak with boldness regardless of the situation. Paul did just that before the Sanhedrin. Although all of us will sin during our lives, we need to be obedient to His Word by surrendering our lives to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
  • We must always show respect to leadership positions. We may not agree with or like the person occupying it, but Scripture is clear we are to respect and pray for our leaders. We never know how God will use a person according to His purpose. If Christians spent less time gossiping and complaining and more time praying, we would be better witnesses to the love of Christ and more effective in shaping our world.
  • Use circumstances to benefit your witness as long as it doesn’t compromise it. Paul did that when he brought up the issue of the resurrection, knowing there would be disagreement between the Sadducees and Pharisees. He didn’t twist or compromise the truth. 

Acts Lesson Forty-seven

Acts Lesson Forty-seven: Acts 21:37-22:21 – Paul’s Defense and Testimony

37 As he was about to be brought into the barracks, Paul said to the commander, “Am I allowed to say something to you?” 

He replied, “Do you know Greek? 38 Aren’t you the Egyptian who raised a rebellion some time ago and led 4,000 Assassins into the wilderness?” 

39 Paul said, “I am a Jewish man from Tarsus of Cilicia, a citizen of an important city.  Now I ask you, let me speak to the people.” 

40 After he had given permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned with his hand to the people. When there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language: 

22 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense before you.” When they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even quieter. He  continued, “I am a Jewish man, born in Tarsus of Cilicia but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel and educated according to the strict view of our patriarchal law. Being zealous for God, just as all of you are today, I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women in jail, as both the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. After I received letters from them to the brothers, I traveled to Damascus to bring those who were prisoners there to be punished in Jerusalem. 

“As I was traveling and near Damascus, about noon an intense light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ 

“I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ 

“He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, the One you are persecuting!’ Now those who were with me saw the light, but they did not hear the voice of the One who was speaking to me. 

10 “Then I said, ‘What should I do, Lord?’ 

“And the Lord told me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told about everything that is assigned for you to do.’ 

11 “Since I couldn’t see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. 12 Someone named Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good reputation with all the Jews residing there,  13 came and stood by me and said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight.’ And in that very hour I looked up and saw him. 14 Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of His voice. 15 For you will be a witness for Him to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins by calling on His name.’ 

17 “After I came back to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple complex, I went into a visionary state 18 and saw Him telling me, ‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me!’ 

19 “But I said, ‘Lord, they know that in synagogue after synagogue I had those who believed in You imprisoned and beaten. 20 And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I was standing by and approving, and I guarded the clothes of those who killed him.’ 

21 “Then He said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” (HCSB)

The passage for this lesson is rather long, but a significant portion is Paul telling the crowd about his encounter with Jesus on the way to Damascus. I’ll be splitting this lesson into two parts.

  • Paul’s discussion with the Roman commander and the introduction of his background to the mob – verses 21:37-22:5.
  • Paul’s testimony of his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and his conversion – verses 22:6-21.

Paul’s Discussion with the Roman Commander and the Introduction of His Background to the Mob

Before being brought into the barracks, Paul engages in conversation with the Roman commander. Let’s look at some elements regarding this conversation.

  • Claudius was surprised that this “dangerous” prisoner was able to speak Greek.
    • Paul spoke to the Roman commander in polite and refined Greek.
    • Since he thought Paul was a dangerous criminal, he was surprised by this discovery.
  • The Egyptian in question also appears in historical records written by Josephus.
    • He was a false prophet who recruited a large band of followers. Josephus numbered them at 30,000, but Luke records the number at 4,000. The difference is most likely due to Josephus’ tendency to inflate numbers.
    • The Egyptian led them into the wilderness and then to the Mount of Olives.
    • He promised his followers the walls of Jerusalem would fall at his command, and they would easily overthrow the Roman occupiers.
    • Instead of the walls falling, Felix arrived with heavy troops to engage the rebels.
      • About 400 were killed.
      • About 200 were taken captive.
      • The Egyptian and the rest of his followers fled into the wilderness.
  • Jewish freedom fighters mingled in large crowds during special occasions and assassinated pro-Roman political figures before disappearing into the crowd.
  • Claudius was under the impression that Paul fell into one of these groups of anti-Roman rebels.
  • Paul then identifies himself.
    • First, as a Jew.
    • Second, as being from Tarsus of Cilicia.
      • Tarsus was a proud Hellenistic city, or as Paul said, “an important city.”
      • It is interesting that Paul does not invoke his Roman citizenship at this point, waiting until later in the chapter to reveal that detail.
  • Since Paul identified himself as a Jew, his request to address the crowd was reasonable.
  • Claudius then gives Paul permission to address the crowd.

Now let’s move on to the introduction Paul gives of himself to the crowd.

  • Paul’s primary aim as he addressed the crowd was to establish his full commitment to Judaism. We shouldn’t view this as Paul allowing syncretism to seep into his commitment to the roots of Christianity. Instead, Paul intended to demonstrate that following the traditions of Judaism was permissible as long as a person also placed faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. This tension is at the core of the Jerusalem council’s decision not to levy the requirements of Judaism on Gentile believers.
    • A Jewish Christian could still follow the traditions of Judaism.
    • A Gentile Christian was not bound by the traditions of Judaism.
  • Since Paul was unable to prove his total commitment to Jewish traditions by participating in the Nazirite vow, he attempted to prove it through his speech to the crowd.
  • Paul’s speech was a first-person narrative of what Luke wrote in Acts 9.
    • Paul talks about his former zeal for Judaism.
      • Paul uses the same introduction Stephen used before the Sanhedrin, “Brothers and fathers.”
      • Both Stephen and Paul were making a defense and were attempting to prove their loyalty to Judaism.
      • Paul calls his speech a “defense.”
      • However, Paul doesn’t address the reason the riot started, that he had desecrated the temple.
      • Paul’s speech did address the more significant issue, Paul’s faithfulness to Judaism.
      • Paul’s defense continues in the speeches that follow in Acts.
        • Before Felix and the Jews in Acts 24.
        • Before Agrippa in Acts 26.
        • It is reasonable to conclude from this point on in Acts that Paul is making a running defense of his actions before Jews.
      • Paul addresses the crowd in Hebrew to underline his Jewish roots.
      • Paul then explained how his early life demonstrated he was a strict, practicing Jew.
        • He was born in Tarsus.
        • He grew up in Jerusalem.
          • Being “brought up” meant that his family moved to Jerusalem when he was very young.
          • Paul wanted to point out that he wasn’t a Diaspora maverick but was shaped from early childhood in Jerusalem.
        • He studied under Gamaliel.
          • This implied a crucial point Paul was trying to establish with the Jerusalem Jews.
          • Paul’s former life was marked by a zeal that matched or exceeded their own.
      • Paul then goes on to describe how he persecuted the early Christian movement.
        • Believers were put in jail.
        • Believers were executed.
        • Paul then received letters from the Sanhedrin to go to Damascus and bring Christian prisoners to Jerusalem for punishment.

Paul’s Testimony of His Encounter with Jesus on the Road to Damascus and His Conversion

Paul now switches from a defense of his roots in Judaism to his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and his subsequent conversion to Christianity. This is one of three detailed accounts of Paul’s conversion in Acts. The first is in Acts 9, and the third is in Acts 26. The three accounts align in the essentials but differ in the minor details. The biggest difference is seen in the two accounts given by Paul. They were tailored to the audience hearing them. In this speech, Paul detailed the role of Ananias and his devotion to Jewish tradition. When Paul spoke before Agrippa and the Roman officials, Ananias was not mentioned as his role would be insignificant to Gentiles. The fact that Luke includes Paul’s conversion three times speaks to the importance of the event.

Acts 22:6-11 align with Acts 9:3-8, with the only differences being in minor details and first-person narrative. 

  • One of the differences is in Acts 22:6, which gives the time of the encounter as “about noon.” This fact highlights the brightness of the vision, as it occurred when the sun was at its brightest.
  • Another is the inclusion of the words “of Nazareth” in the present narration. This inclusion would have significance to the Jewish hearers.
  • In the account in Acts 9, the companions heard but didn’t understand the voice speaking to Paul. Paul’s account focuses on their seeing but not hearing. Both are important to prove that Paul’s experience was not an experience of the mind but an actual physical occurrence of both sight and sound, even if the companions didn’t participate in the experience.
  • Paul was told to go to Damascus but needed assistance from his companions. The fact that Paul was blinded underscores the brightness of the light in the middle of the day.

The retelling of the visit to Ananias in Acts 22:12-16 aligns with Acts 9:10-17. The one major difference is the omission of the vision that came to Ananias since this was a first-person account from Paul’s perspective. Let’s look at a few other points from this section.

  • The phrase “God of our fathers” carried a strong Old Testament emphasis.
  • The phrase “Righteous One” is a Jewish messianic title found in the earlier speeches of Peter and Stephen. 
  • Paul was to be a witness to all people.
  • The scene with Ananias ends with Paul’s baptism.
    • The phrase “why delay” is a common Greek expression implying that it was time for Paul to act on the commission given by Jesus.
    • The phrase “calling on His name” is the profession of faith that is the basis for baptism.

The narration now moves to the temple complex in Jerusalem after Paul returns there. Let’s take a closer look at this event and its significance.

  • Jesus knew the Jews would not accept Paul’s testimony of the encounter on the road to Damascus.
  • However, Paul protests against the command to leave.
    • Such protests are common in biblical commissioning narratives.
    • Paul’s protest was that he had a convincing testimony to tell them.
      • Jerusalem was well aware of Paul’s former zeal in hunting down and persecuting Christians.
      • They would have understood that something extraordinary must have happened to Paul to change his allegiance completely.
    • In the end, the Lord’s command was obeyed. Jesus had another task for Paul; evangelism to the Gentiles.
      • The mission to the Gentiles is closely connected to the refusal of the Jews to accept Paul’s testimony of Jesus.
      • Jesus’ parable of the great banquet in Luke 14:16-24 makes the same point.
      • Paul also wrestled with this problem in Romans 9-11. 
  • Paul then tells the crowd that Jesus sent him to evangelize the Gentiles. 
    • There was that word again, Gentiles. 
    • The crowd had patiently and respectfully listed during Paul’s conversion narrative.
    • They hadn’t questioned either of Paul’s conversations with Jesus.
    • But with the mention of Gentiles, Paul had stepped outside the Jews’ boundary of tolerance.
  • We’ll see in the next lesson that the mention of the Gentiles whipped the Jewish crowd into a murderous frenzy once again.

Applications

  • Paul’s behavior as the mob tried to kill him and the Roman soldiers rescued him is an example to follow. Although it is reasonable to assume that Paul tried to protect himself, he didn’t try to fight back. That could be because he was overwhelmingly outnumbered. It’s reasonable to think that few of us will ever face the level of hostility that Paul faced. However, being calm and non-reactionary is often the best course of action.
  • When addressing those who are hostile or resistant to the Gospel, speak in a respectful, calm, and factual manner. Becoming emotional or arguing will likely only inflame the situation.
  • In Paul’s day, the word “Gentile” was a trigger point. Depending on where we live, there may be specific words or phrases which elicit a similar response. A few examples which are currently hot topics in American society are abortion, same-sex marriage, or sin in general, leading to eternal separation from God. Each of these examples could lead to a mob mentality by those who support abortion, same-sex marriage, or don’t believe in sin or hell. At times like those, we must rely on Scripture to talk for us. Never let it be our opinion. Let God’s Word speak for God; it’s more powerful than anything we could say. 

Acts Lesson Forty-five

Acts Lesson Forty-five: Acts 21:15-25 – Conflict Over the Gentile Mission

After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea also went with us and brought us to Mnason, a Cypriot and an early disciple, with whom we were to stay. 

17 When we reached Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us gladly. 18 The following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related in detail what God did among the Gentiles through his ministry. 

20 When they heard it, they glorified God and said, “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law. 21 But they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, by telling them not to circumcise their children or to walk in our customs.  22 So what is to be done? They will certainly hear that you’ve come. 23 Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have obligated themselves with a vow. 24 Take these men, purify yourself along with them, and pay for them to get their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that what they were told about you amounts to nothing, but that you yourself are also careful about observing the law. 25 With regard to the Gentiles who have believed, we have written a letter containing our decision that they should keep themselves from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality.” (HCSB)

I’ll divide this lesson into two parts.

  • Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem – verses 15-19.
  • Conflict over the Gentile Mission – verses 20-25.

Paul’s Arrival in Jerusalem

Paul now begins the final leg of his journey to Jerusalem. Let’s take a closer look at the trip.

  • The trip from Caesarea to Jerusalem was approximately sixty-four miles.
    • The journey would take three days on foot or two days if they used pack animals.
    • The second option seems more likely as we must remember that Paul was bringing the collection from the Gentile churches, and carrying the collection would have been burdensome. 
  • The group was also relatively large; it included Paul and Luke, a delegation from each church who contributed to the offering, and some of the Christians from Caesarea.
  • Once they arrived in Jerusalem, they were led to the house of Mnason, who was from Cyprus and had been an early convert to Christianity. 
    • Although we don’t know explicitly from the texture, it is a safe conclusion that Mnason was a Hellenist.
    • Paul would not have been welcome in the home of a Palestinian Jewish Christian. 
  • Paul’s third missionary journey was finished. 
  • In addition, his mission work with the Greeks was now complete; he would not be returning there. 
  • Paul would no longer be a missionary working in freedom. 
    • Paul would now become a missionary bound by chains. 
    • However, the chains may have bound him physically, but they didn’t bind his witness to the truth of the Gospel. 
    • If anything, Paul’s witness became bolder.

Beginning in Acts 21:17, there begins a long section in Acts that doesn’t finish until the end of chapter twenty-six. Although comprised of an endless string of legal scenes and numerous speeches, the reason Luke presents it in such detail is to underscore the divine promise given to Paul at his conversion that he would bear the Lord’s name to the Gentiles, to kings, and the people of Israel (Acts 9:15). These chapters comprise the climax of Acts.

The remainder of this lesson’s passage is, in effect, a mini-trial before Paul faces the Jewish Christians and the Roman legal authorities. Let’s take a closer look at this section.

  • For the most part, Paul was warmly welcomed by the Christians in Jerusalem. 
  • The next day Paul, and part of his entourage, went to visit James and the elders of the Jerusalem church. 
    • During the Jerusalem Council, Paul’s report of the successful Gentile mission was met with silence (Acts 15:12). 
    • Here, Paul’s report was met with great enthusiasm, and they praised God for the fruit of Paul’s work among the Gentiles. 
  • The collection taken among the Gentile churches for the Jerusalem church is not mentioned here. 
    • It’s possible it wasn’t warmly received. 
    • It could be that Luke wanted to remain focused on the next major theme in Acts, Paul’s ultimate destination of Rome. 
  • Another thing to note is the absence of any of the Apostles at this point. 
  • The leadership of the Jerusalem church was comprised of James and a group of unnamed elders. 
  • The discussion now moves to the danger facing Paul; the Jewish Christian converts were “all zealous for the law.”

Conflict Over the Gentile Mission

From the earliest days of Jewish converts to Christianity, the issue of the Torah and adhering to the requirements of Jewish Law was a point of contention. If we remember back to earlier in Acts, the Jerusalem Conference was supposed to clear up the issue of the Law for Gentile converts. The Jewish Christians would remain faithful to the requirements of the Law, but Gentile converts would be exempt from following except for the provisions outlined in the Apostolic decree given in verse twenty-five. However, there was an added dynamic to the present situation, which made things dangerous for Paul and others who evangelized the Gentiles. The dynamic in question is found in verse twenty; the Jewish Christians were “zealous” for the Law. 

Let’s look at some information regarding Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem.

  • Paul’s arrival was in the spring of either 56 or 57 A.D.
  • Felix was the procurator at the time.
  • While Paul had been absent from Jerusalem, the Gospel had spread.
  • There were somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 Jewish Christians in Judea at this time.
  • At this time, Jewish nationalism and anti-Gentile attitudes were rapidly rising.
  • It was a time of political unrest.
    • There had been a number of Jewish insurrections which challenged the Roman authority.
    • Felix brutally suppressed each one.
    • Each event increased the Jewish hatred for Rome and boosted anti-Gentile sentiments.
    • The pro-Jewish sentiment was at its height, and friendliness with Gentiles was viewed in a negative light.
  • When considering the current situation, it’s easy to see that Paul’s mission to the Gentiles would not be viewed with a positive attitude. 
  • The situation also put the Jerusalem elders in a predicament.
    • They had previously supported Paul’s mission work among the Gentiles at the Jerusalem Conference.
    • Paul was a persona non grata among the Jewish population, which the elders were trying to reach with the Gospel.
    • Paul was also viewed unfavorably by the more recent Jewish Christian converts.
    • The elders didn’t want to reject Paul. On the contrary, they rejoiced over the success of Paul’s mission trips.
    • At the same time, they had to consider their evangelism efforts among the Jews, and Paul was a serious liability in those efforts.
  • The opponents of Paul, likely Jews from the Diaspora, were quite effective in creating an environment hostile to him.
    • They accused Paul of several offenses, each of which would be viewed as turning from their ancestral customs.
      • Turning from the Law of Moses.
      • Circumcision was no longer required.
      • Jewish customs no longer need to be obeyed.
      • Each of these charges was serious as they struck at the heart of Jewish self-identity as the people of God.
        • The ceremonial aspects of the Torah made them distinct from other people.
        • Circumcision was a mark given to each Jewish male on the eighth day to signify his membership in God’s covenant people.
      • Paul never argued that any of this was a means of salvation. Only faith in Christ leads to salvation, which is why Paul argued against circumcision for Gentiles.
      • At the same time, there is no evidence that Paul ever encouraged Jewish Christians to abandon Jewish customs.
      • We also see Paul remaining faithful to the requirements in the Torah as he dealt with the Jews.
    • Paul viewed one’s status in Christ as going beyond the distinction between Jew and Gentile (Galatians 3:28).
      • The Gentile wasn’t required to become a Jew.
      • The Jew didn’t stop being a Jew.
    • While accurate in a sense regarding Gentiles, Paul’s opponents were distorting the facts. Paul had only argued that the requirements for Gentile Christians shouldn’t include the requirements of the Law.
  • The offering from the Gentiles to the Jerusalem church presented another challenge.
    • Paul had carefully gathered and protected the offering over hundreds of miles of travel.
    • The offering was a demonstration of love and unity from the Gentile Christians to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
    • However, the offering presented a huge challenge for the elders of the Jerusalem church.
      • Accepting the offering from the Gentiles would be a slap in the face against the Jewish Christians, especially with nationalism and ethnic pride on the rise.
      • Declining it would be a slap in the face against the Gentiles who sacrificially gave to their brothers and sisters, as well as an affront to Paul, who gathered and transported the gift.
    • Paul had always argued for tolerance and the right of each group to their own views.
      • Timothy had been circumcised (Acts 16:3).
      • Paul had argued for the veiling of women at worship (1 Corinthians 11:2-16).
      • However, Paul’s opponents distorted his teaching and his positions of tolerance.

Now, the leaders in the Jerusalem church needed to decide how to handle the situation. Their solution was a way where Paul could, by example, show that he was still faithful to the Jewish Law. Let’s take a detailed look at their solution.

  • Four Jewish men had taken a Nazirite vow.
    • They had abstained from anything using grapes or alcohol.
    • They had not cut their hair.
    • They had avoided dead people, even if it was a family member.
  • These men were nearing the end of their vow. This would require certain steps.
    • They would have to cut their hair and burn it as an offering.
    • They would have to make a series of costly sacrifices.
      • A male lamb.
      • A female lamb.
      • A ram.
      • Cereal offerings.
      • Drink offerings.
  • The elders were asking Paul to join the four and pay the cost of the required sacrifices and hair cutting.
  • Except for paying the costs of the four men, it is unlikely that Paul had any role beyond that.
    • The minimum period for a Nazirite vow was thirty days, and Paul was only there for seven (Acts 21:27).
    • It wasn’t part of a Nazirite purification ceremony as this was only conducted if someone under the vow had come in contact with a dead body.
    • It’s possible Paul underwent a personal purification ceremony as often a Jew returning to Israel after traveling through Gentile territory would undergo ritual purification. The period for ritual purification was seven days, which fits the situation here.
    • Paul likely underwent the ritual purification to participate in the completion ceremony for the four men, which would take place in the sacred parts of the temple.
    • This would be a display of Paul’s full loyalty to the Torah.
      • Bearing the heavy financial cost of the vow.
      • Undergoing the necessary purification.
  • The Jerusalem elders were counting on this public demonstration of Paul’s commitment to the Torah as evidence against the public sentiment against him.

The concluding verse is an assurance to Paul that the decision of the Jerusalem Conference had not changed.

  • Gentiles would not be asked to live according to the requirements in the Torah.
  • The Gentiles would only have to observe table fellowship and social interaction rituals, which, if not observed, would cause friction between Jewish and Gentile Christians.
  • The Jerusalem elders were trying to create a compromise.
    • Acknowledge the legitimacy of Paul’s law-free approach to the Gentiles.
    • Maintain an effective witness to the Jews, where faithfulness to the Law was absolutely essential.

Applications

  • Do you display hospitality to missionaries or traveling ministers? In this lesson, we saw the example of Mnason. Although he is only mentioned once in the Bible, it’s his hospitality in opening his home to Paul and his companions that is noted.
  • Whatever ministry work you may be involved in, give the details to others. This is especially true if you receive support from other believers. 
  • Rejoice in the ministry work of others. We should never have jealousy of the success that others experience in sharing the Gospel. Regardless of our denomination, ethnic background, or education (or lack of), we are all one in Christ. We should share in the victories and the sorrows of each other.
  • Be flexible but never compromise. We see that example in Paul’s conduct in Jerusalem. He followed Jewish customs while not compromising the Gospel. Sometimes it can be a delicate balancing act, but we may find ourselves in a situation where it is needed.

Acts Lesson Forty-four

Acts Lesson Forty-four: Acts 21:1-14 – Paul Journeys to Jerusalem

After we tore ourselves away from them and set sail, we came by a direct route to Cos, the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. Finding a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we boarded and set sail. After we sighted Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we sailed on to Syria and arrived at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there. So we found some disciples and stayed there seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. When our days there were over, we left to continue our journey, while all of them, with their wives and children, escorted us out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach to pray, we said good-bye to one another. Then we boarded the ship, and they returned home. 

When we completed our voyage from Tyre, we reached Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them one day. The next day we left and came to Caesarea, where we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him. This man had four virgin daughters who prophesied. 

10 While we were staying there many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into Gentile hands.’ ” 12 When we heard this, both we and the local people begged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 

13 Then Paul replied, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 

14 Since he would not be persuaded, we stopped talking and simply said, “The Lord’s will be done!” (HCSB)

Paul continues his journey back to Jerusalem, making numerous stops along the way. By the end of this passage, he’s made his way back to Israel. I’ll be dividing this lesson into two parts.

  • Sailing back to Jerusalem – verses 1-7.
  • Paul’s arrival back in Israel – verses 8-14.

Sailing Back to Jerusalem

There were two main routes for ships to take at the time. One was to take a local coastal ship, which would stop at every port along the route, greatly increasing the time required to sail back to Israel. The second was to take a ship that was sailing directly to Phoenicia, which would make fewer stops and arrive quicker. Paul actually combined both types of vessels for the journey.

  • The journey from Miletus to Cos, Rhodes, and finally Patara was conducted on a coastal vessel. Each leg of the journey would take one day.
  • At Patara, they changed to a larger vessel that would take them on a direct route to Phoenicia. The leg from Patara to Tyre was about 400 miles in a straight line and would typically take five days if they encountered favorable winds. 
  • Tyre was the main port for cargo vessels between Asia and Palestine, which would make it a logical place for the ship to stop to unload its cargo.

Since there was now a delay in their journey as the cargo was unloaded, Paul and the team connected with fellow believers in the port city. Let’s take a closer look at Paul’s time in Tyre.

  • The Greek term used to denote “we found” was used to indicate people that Paul had not previously known, requiring Paul to search for other believers.
  • This Christian community was probably established by the Hellenist mission to Phoenicia mentioned in Acts 11:19.
  • The direct route taken by the ship allowed Paul to spend a week in Tyre with other Christians and still get to Jerusalem before Pentecost.
  • The Holy Spirit, through the believers in Tyre, was warning Paul about the journey to Jerusalem. Once again, we have this seeming conflict between the warnings not to go and a clear command, in Paul’s mind, that he had to go to Jerusalem. How is this tension deconflicted?
    • Paul was convinced that God was directing him to Jerusalem.
    • At the same time, the warnings were a means for Paul to prepare himself for what was waiting for him.
      • Imprisonment.
      • Hardship.
    • This duality also convinced Paul that God was the orchestrator behind it all.
      • Going in the face of danger was not difficult for Paul to accept. At the same time, Paul never deliberately sought out difficulty, and he didn’t have a martyr complex.
      • Paul accepted suffering as part of his witness and often implied it in his letters.
    • The Holy Spirit’s role was to prepare Paul for what was coming.

Paul’s departure from Tyre is reminiscent of his parting with the elders from the Ephesian elders. 

  • The scene is filled with emotion.
  • All the disciples escorted Paul and his companions to the boat.
  • This scene is one of the few in Acts where entire families are referenced, both the wives and children.
  • They all kneeled on the beach to pray.
    • We shouldn’t overlook this as merely believers praying together.
    • The entire Christian community was aware of the difficulties that Paul would face in Jerusalem.
    • They also understood that prayer was the best defense in times of suffering and trial.
  • It’s likely that the “goodbye” was a lengthy one. 
    • The Christians in Tyre didn’t want Paul to leave them.
    • However, they accepted Paul’s conviction that he must continue his journey
  • Once Paul and his companions boarded the ship, the Tyrian Christians returned to their homes.

The next stop on the journey was at Ptolemais, about twenty-five miles south of Tyre and the most southern of the Phoenician ports.

  • It was an ancient city, referred to as Acco in Judges 1:31, a name it is known by today.
  • It was later a famous crusader site known as Acre.
  • It was named after Ptolemy II Philadelphus.
  • Paul spent one day with the believers there, likely bound by the ship’s schedule.

Paul’s Arrival Back in Israel

Paul was already very familiar with the church at Caesarea (Acts 9:30 and 18:22). He may have previously met Philip, the evangelist, who had settled in the city. On this occasion, Philip plays host to Paul and the rest of the entourage. We are then given the interesting and rather abstract comment about Philip’s daughters. Nothing further is mentioned about them, but there is some information in church oral tradition.

  • At some point in the future, they moved or served in Asia Minor.
  • They were viewed as important witnesses and preservers of traditions from the apostolic period.
  • Eusebius claimed these women provided Luke with information about the early days of the Jerusalem church.
  • The most significant point to note from this passage is that there were women in the early church who were recognized as having the gift of prophecy.

The scene then shifts to the arrival of Agabus, who had traveled from Judea. Agabus had previously prophesied the coming famine to Judea, which had prompted the collection initiated by the Antioch church in Acts 11:27-30. Now, Agabus makes another prediction.

  • In a symbolic act that reminds us of Old Testament prophecies, Agabus predicts Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem.
  • Much like the prophet Ezekiel, he took Paul’s belt, a long cloth that would be wrapped several times around his waist, and bound Paul’s hands and feet with it.
    • Agabus then, just like an Old Testament prophet, gives an interpretation of what he had just done.
    • Agabus uses the phrase, “This is what the Holy Spirit says,” which is equivalent to “Thus says the Lord.”
    • Paul would be bound by the Jews and then delivered over to the Gentiles.
  • The parallel to Jesus is clear (Matthew 20:18-19, Luke 18:32).
  • The proclamation from Agabus shouldn’t be viewed as a warning but rather a prediction.
  • In contrast to the Christians in Tyre, Agabus didn’t tell Paul not to go.
  • Instead, his prophetic utterance was to let Paul know what would happen to him in Jerusalem.
  • The prophetic statement established the reality of the event and the certainty that it would occur.
  • It also prepared Paul for the event and assured him that God would be with him during the trial.

Just like the believers in Tyre, Paul’s companions and the Christians in Caesarea were of the opinion that Paul shouldn’t travel to Jerusalem. Luke includes himself in this opinion by the use of “we” in verse fourteen. The continued pleas from Paul’s fellow believers only added to the conflict Paul was experiencing. Paul firmly believed that God was leading him to Jerusalem, yet he understood the anguish his companions felt as they heard about what would happen to Paul once he got there. Regardless of how his friends felt or the arguments presented, they tried to dissuade him from going; Paul was prepared to die for the cause of the Gospel if necessary. 

Paul was finally able to convince those with him that he would continue on to Jerusalem. In effect, this stopped their protests. Although they didn’t want to lose Paul, they also respected his resolve and conviction that continuing to Jerusalem was God’s will. They then joined in corporate prayer for Paul.

Many refer to the group prayer at the end of verse fourteen, “The Lord’s will be done,” as Paul’s Gethsemane. 

Applications

  • When we move or are traveling, do we make a conscious effort to connect with other believers?
    • If you are moving to another location, do research before you move to see which churches might be a good fit. With the internet and technology today, there is no good reason for a delay in connecting with a church in your new location.
    • When you take a trip or vacation, do you check ahead of time about churches in the location(s) you’ll be visiting? Often you can make new connections and connect with other believers. 
  • If given the opportunity, do you host other believers or missionaries if they are in your location? One of the characteristics of the church in Acts was a strong sense of hospitality towards other believers. Hospitality is a timeless principle all believers should practice.
  • Do we engage in earnest prayer with other believers, especially as they face trials? The early church was known for prayer. Our present church should also be known for prayer.
  • Do you help other believers as they wrestle with a decision?
    • Pray with them.
    • Help them discern God’s will.
    • Support them once it is clear what God wants them to do.

Acts Lesson Forty-three

Acts Lesson Forty-three: Acts 20:17-38 – Paul Addresses the Ephesian Church

17 Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time — 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and with the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews — 20 and that I did not shrink back from proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching it to you in public and from house to house. 21 I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God  and faith in our Lord Jesus. 

22 “And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit,  not knowing what I will encounter there,  23 except that in town after town the Holy Spirit testifies to me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me.  24 But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course  and the ministry  I received from the Lord Jesus,  to testify to the gospel of God’s grace. 

25 “And now I know that none of you will ever see my face again—everyone I went about preaching the kingdom to. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent  of everyone’s blood,  27 for I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole plan of God.  28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock  that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers,  to shepherd the church of God,  which He purchased with His own blood.  29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 And men will rise up from your own number with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them.  31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears. 

32 “And now  I commit you to God and to the message of His grace,  which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance  among all who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.  34 You yourselves know that these hands have provided for my needs and for those who were with me.  35 In every way I’ve shown you that by laboring like this, it is necessary to help the weak and to keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, for He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” 

36 After he said this, he knelt down and prayed with all of them.  37 There was a great deal of weeping by everyone. They embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 grieving most of all over his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they escorted him to the ship. (HCSB)

I’ll divide this lesson into four parts.

  • A review of the past – verses 17-21.
  • A testimony of the present – verses 22-27.
  • A warning about the future – verses 28-31.
  • A final blessing – verses 32-38.

A Review of the Past

Once the elders from the church in Ephesus arrived, Paul began his address to them. The opening section reminded them of how Paul had conducted himself during his time with them in Ephesus. Paul pointed to three basic characteristics of his ministry.

  • Humility.
    • The language Paul uses reminds us of the language in his epistles.
    • He often spoke of serving, douleuo, the Lord.
      • 1 Thessalonians 1:9 – “for they themselves report what kind of reception we had from you: how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.
      • Colossians 3:24 –  “knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.” 
    • Paul often described himself as a slave or servant, doulas, of Christ.
      • Romans 1:1 – Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news.
      • Galatians 1:10 – “For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.” 
      • Philippians 1:1 – Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus: To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.
      • The proper demeanor of a servant is humility, and Paul frequently pointed to that quality as a major indicator of the Christian life.
        • Philippians 2:3 – Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 
        • Colossians 3:12 – Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
        • Ephesians 4:1-2 – Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience,  accepting one another in love.
  • The openness of his proclamation.
    • Paul kept no secrets and held nothing back.
    • Whatever was true to the Gospel and helpful to the believers, he preached both in public and in the more intimate setting of individual homes.
      • The reference to public teaching reminds us of Paul’s time in the synagogue and the lecture hall of Tyrannus.
      • The reference to homes reminds us of Paul’s time in the house church meetings of the Ephesian Christians.
    • Paul’s methodology reminds us when we are faithful to proclaim the truth, there is nothing to hide.
  • The inclusiveness of his witness.
    • Paul preached to everyone.
      • He preached to the Jews.
      • He preached to the Gentiles.
      • Even though Paul recognized his special calling as being an Apostle to the Gentiles, he never abandoned the Jews.
      • Paul realized, probably more than anyone else, that God is the God of everyone.
      • Romans 3:29-30 – Or is God for Jews only? Is He not also for Gentiles? Yes, for Gentiles too, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 
      • There is no room for exclusiveness in the Gospel.
        • It is for Jews and Gentiles.
        • It is for slaves and free people.
        • It is for men and women.
      • However, the Gospel is exclusive in its claim.
        • Acts 4:12 – There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.
        • Salvation is only through faith in Jesus.

A Testimony of the Present

Paul now prepares the elders of the Ephesian church for his impending absence. Paul was getting ready for the next stage in his journey to Jerusalem, not fully knowing what would happen, yet understanding through the revelation of the Holy Spirit that persecution was in his future. Let’s look at some features from this section of the passage.

  • Paul and the team still had the offering they had collected and were transporting to the church in Jerusalem.
  • Paul knew there would be some type of trouble once he arrived in Jerusalem.
    • Romans 15:31 – Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, that the gift I am bringing to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.
    • Paul knew there was a personal risk from non-Christians.
    • Paul had at least some doubt about how the offering would be viewed by the Jerusalem Christians.
  • The Holy Spirit was warning Paul of the dangers yet was also directing him to go. There is no contradiction between these two facts.
    • God had a purpose for sending Paul to Jerusalem.
    • The warnings were to prepare Paul to face what was coming.
    • The message was also an assurance that regardless of what happened, God was involved in it.
      • Paul would face server trials in Jerusalem.
      • Through these trials, Paul would ultimately bear his witness in Rome, which he deeply desired.
        • Acts 19:21 – 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!” 
        • Romans 1:9-12 – For God, whom I serve with my spirit in telling the good news about His Son, is my witness that I constantly mention you, 10 always asking in my prayers that if it is somehow in God’s will, I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I want very much to see you, so I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, 12 that is, to be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 
  • In verse 24, Paul states the reason he was willing to travel to Jerusalem and face the dangers waiting for him there.
    • Paul was ready to give up his life for the sake of the Gospel.
    • Paul referred to his life’s ministry as “the race.”
      • 2 Timothy 4:6-7 – For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time for my departure is close. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
      • The race Paul referred to was the ministry calling he received from Jesus.
  • Paul then gives his final farewell to the Ephesian elders.
    • Paul was on his way to Jerusalem.
    • Danger was waiting for Paul in Jerusalem.
    • Paul had completed the work given to him in the east.
    • His new mission would be in the west, Rome.
    • Paul then declares he is innocent of anyone’s blood.
      • Paul preached the Gospel wherever he went, never shrinking back from that calling.
      • There is a subtle reference to Ezekiel 33:1-6 – The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to your people and tell them: Suppose I bring the sword against a land, and the people of that land select a man from among them, appointing him as their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows his trumpet to warn the people. Then, if anyone hears the sound of the trumpet but ignores the warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head. Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but ignored the warning, his blood is on his own hands. If he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. However, if the watchman sees the sword coming but doesn’t blow the trumpet, so that the people aren’t warned, and the sword comes and takes away their lives, then they have been taken away because of their iniquity, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.
      • The watchman blows the trumpet as a warning.
      • Once the watchman has warned the people, he is no longer responsible.
      • Paul had preached the Gospel and had called people to repent.
      • The responsibility now rested with those who had heard Paul’s message.
      • This is also the calling of all followers of Christ. We are to proclaim the message. Once we have done that, the responsibility rests with those who have heard the message.

A Warning About the Future

Now, Paul warns the Ephesian leaders of future threats, threats which we still face today. As we look at the structure of Paul’s warning, let’s note the features it contains.

  • It’s important to note the order which Paul uses in the warning.
    • The first area to guard is the elders.
      • Leaders are the most important element within any organization.
      • Attacking or eliminating leaders can often bring disarray or defeat to an organization.
      • This is especially true in ministry. Discrediting or causing ministry leaders to have moral or ethical failings can often have broad and far-reaching impacts.
    • Once the leaders have prepared (safeguarded) themselves, they can effectively guard the flock that’s been entrusted to their care.
    • What is the role of the Holy Spirit in verse 28?
      • It is likely that Paul appointed the initial elders of the Ephesian church.
      • However, as the church grew and Paul wasn’t there, the responsibility would belong to the congregation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
      • Those who were gifted as teachers and leaders would be appointed to the office of elder.
    • What is meant by “overseer?”
      • The Greek word is episkopos, which is translated as “overseer” in some translations and “bishop” in others.
        • A monarchial bishop that ruled over more than one congregation doesn’t make sense in this context.
        • The monarchial structure didn’t exist until the second century.
      • In the New Testament, when the term episkopos is used to describe a function within the church, the term is interchangeable with the term presbyteros, which is called an elder.
        • This is clearly the case here. The Ephesian leaders were called “elders” in verse seventeen.
        • However, the term may be better understood to describe a function, overseeing the flock, rather than an office.
      • The Ephesian leaders were elders whose function was to “shepherd the church of God.”
    • Whose blood was the church purchased with?
      • The reading of the text seems to point to God’s blood, and there are differing views by scholars on what is meant.
        • It could be a reference to the Trinity, but there isn’t anything else in the New Testament that corresponds to this phrase.
        • Some manuscripts read “church of the Lord,” but that doesn’t appear to be the original writing.
        • Some believe that Christ is implied in the passage.
        • Some recent translations and commentaries have taken the position that the blood is Christ’s, and since Christ is God’s own beloved Son, there is a connection.
      • The last position would appear to be the best solution to a difficult verse.
  • Now, Paul goes on to warn the leaders of a time when predators would attack the church.
    • Savage wolves describe those who will attack the church from the outside.
      • This would include false teachers or cults.
      • The term “wolves” is often used in Jewish apocalyptic and early Christian writings to describe false teachers and prophets.
      • Jesus warned the disciples of this danger in Matthew 7:15 – Beware of false prophets  who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. 
      • There are several references to this fact in New Testament writings.
        • Ephesians 5:6-7 – Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient because of these things. Therefore, do not become their partners.
        • Colossians 2:8 – Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.
        • Revelation 2:2 – I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not,  and you have found them to be liars. 
      • However, the danger wasn’t just from outside false teachers. There were some within the church who would fall away from the true Gospel and lead others astray.
        • 1 John 2:18-19 – Children, it is the last hour. And as you have heard, “Antichrist is coming,” even now many antichrists have come. We know from this that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us.
        • 3 John 9-11 – I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have first place among them, does not receive us. 10 This is why, if I come, I will remind him of the works he is doing, slandering us with malicious words. And he is not satisfied with that! He not only refuses to welcome the brothers himself, but he even stops those who want to do so and expels them from the church. 11 Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.
  • Paul concludes with reference to the three-year ministry in Ephesus.
    • It wasn’t just a reminder of his warning.
    • It was an appeal for them to be faithful to the teachings he brought to them.
    • It was a warning to stay alert and not become careless.

A Final Blessing

The conclusion to Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders in Miletus included both a benediction on the elders and an exhortation to them, followed by a final farewell.

In some ways, the benediction also included warnings.

  • The sin of shallowness. We can’t build the church unless God is building our lives daily.
    • Time in prayer.
    • Time in studying God’s Word.
  • The sin of covetousness. 
    • A consuming and controlling desire for what others have and more of what we already have.
    • “Do not covet” is the last of the ten commandments. If we break this commandment, we will likely break all the other ones.
      • We will steal, lie, and murder to get what we want.
      • We will end up dishonoring our parents.
      • Covetousness is idolatry.
      • One of the qualifications for an elder is that he must not be guilty of covetousness.
  • The sin of laziness.
    • Paul worked as a tentmaker to support himself, even though he could have used his apostolic authority to justify support from the church.
    • When we work, we are able to help those in need.
    • However, we must remember that it isn’t wrong for Christian workers to receive a salary, as noted in Luke 10:7, but they need to earn their salary.
  • The sin of selfishness.
    • Gospel-centered living means to give, not receive.
    • It means following the example of Jesus.
    • Blessing comes from sharing what we have, not hoarding it for ourselves.
    • Those in ministry leadership positions are to be servants, a giver, and not a taker.

Paul then kneeled down to pray with them. Knowing it was the last time they would see each other in this life, they shed many tears as they parted ways. As painful as partings can be, as followers of Jesus, we have the assurance that we will be reunited in our eternal home!

Applications

  • Leadership within the church is a special calling. This calling requires the following characteristics.
    • Individuals who are committed to spending time with God and investing in their spiritual growth.
    • A feeling of contentment with what they have. This includes both their worldly possessions as well as their ministry position. Ministry leaders can “covet” a higher or more prestigious position instead of being satisfied with where God has planted them.
    • Embracing the hard work that is required with Kingdom-building. While it’s true that most of us won’t have the level of energy and passion that Paul exhibited in Scripture, we still need to work hard at the calling God has placed on our lives.
    • Leaders need to be generous with their time, talent, and possessions. Sometimes this can be challenging, but it’s what Jesus calls us to do.
  • Followers need to exhibit the same characteristics. All followers of Christ have a priestly identity. When we don’t exhibit the characteristics listed above, we can often display a witness that harms the church instead of advancing the church.
  • We need to challenge each other as we walk the path given to us. If we see others failing, we need to come alongside them and correct them in the spirit of love. At the same time, if we are the ones falling short, we need to be accepting of the correction extended to us. We shouldn’t get defensive or be hurt. All of us make mistakes and stumble. It’s how we respond to the stumble and correction that exposes where our allegiance lies.

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 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.