Chapter 19 finds Paul in ancient Ephesus. In New Testament times, Ephesus was a Roman city in Asia Minor. It is now part of modern day Turkey.
As Paul converts people to the Lord in Ephesus, another new congregation is established. The church in Ephesus will be a powerful influence for good. Paul will later write a letter to the church in Ephesus that becomes a part of the New Testament. Also, in Revelation 2 and 3, when seven churches in Asia Minor receive letters from the Lord, Ephesus is one of those congregations (Revelation 2:1-7).
The chapter begins (verses 1-7) as Paul finds twelve men who had been baptized with John’s baptism. Upon further teaching, they are baptized in the name of the Lord.
Paul preaches for three months in the synagogue of Ephesus and then sets up a teaching situation in a local school for two years. This allows the whole province of Asia to hear the gospel (verses 8-10).
After performing many kinds of miracles (the Bible calls them “unusual miracles”), Paul casts out a demon which some “itinerant Jewish exorcists” had failed to remove. These miracles have their intended effect (John 20:30-31) and many people come to faith. Their repentance is shown by their willingness to burn many expensive books of magic. The Bible makes this powerful statement: “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”
One more incident concludes chapter 19 (verses 21-41). A man named Demetrius, along with others of his fellow silversmiths, recognizes the danger to his trade caused by former idol worshipers converting to Christianity. So they put together a protest against Paul and his companions. For a long time, they cry out “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” (Some Bible translations call her “Artemis of the Ephesians.” Diana was her Roman name and Artemis was her Greek name.) The whole city is in an uproar and chaos is reigning with some citizens not even knowing what is happening. Finally, the city clerk resolves the crisis by telling the silversmiths to pursue legal action against Paul and his friends or else to simply drop the matter.
Paul’s journey takes him next to Corinth, an ancient city of immorality and depravity. If the first century had a place that could be called “Sin City,” it would have been Corinth. It seems like an unlikely harvest field for the gospel and yet, the Lord makes it clear to Paul that “I am with you” and “I have many people in this city.”
One of the most encouraging things that happens in Corinth is Paul’s providential encounter with Aquila and Priscilla. They work together as tentmakers and will continue to be a constant source of encouragement throughout Paul’s life. Everyone should have such faithful companions in the gospel as Aquila and Priscilla. And everyone needs to be that kind of friend for others.
Paul preaches in Corinth for a year and six months. “And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.”
But once again, a group of Jews arrests Paul and take him this time to Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia. He refuses to hear the case and Paul eventually leaves Corinth. He travels to Syria, then to Ephesus and Caesarea, finally returning to Antioch, where this second journey had started.
Acts 18:23 marks the beginning of Paul’s third preaching journey. He begins by revisiting the regions of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening the disciples everywhere.
A side note involves Aquila and Priscilla, whom Paul had left in Ephesus. An eloquent preacher named Apollos comes to Ephesus and begins preaching, although he is only familiar with the baptism of John. Aquila and Priscilla take him aside and teach him the full truth he does not know. When Apollos goes into Achaia, specifically Corinth, he powerfully preaches that Jesus is the Christ, using the Scriptures as proof.
We must always use the Bible when we teach others. The gospel is God’s power of salvation.
Paul’s second preaching journey continues in Acts 17 as he and his companions travel to Thessalonica, Berea and Athens, establishing new churches in each of these metropolitan areas.
Their first stop in this chapter is Thessalonica, where they spend three weeks teaching about the Christ in the Jewish synagogue. They convert “a great multitude,” mostly Gentiles along with a few Jews. (Wouldn’t it be interested to know exactly how many were baptized into Christ there? We will have to wait until we make it to heaven to ask.)
Thessalonica is the local church that will receive two letters from Paul. They are perhaps the earliest epistles he wrote (Galatians may or may not have been first?). Paul wanted to spend more time with them but could not so he wrote them to try to strengthen them spiritually.
Soon, a group of jealous Jews gather some evil men from the marketplace (“certain lewd fellows of the baser sort,” KJV) and they run Paul out of town. His next stop is Berea.
The Jews at Berea are described as being “more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” Again, we are told that “many of them believed,” both Jews and Gentiles alike. Jews from Thessalonica hear about Paul’s success and send more troublemakers to force Paul to leave Berea also. He leaves Silas and Timothy there to help the new disciples and moves on to Athens.
Athens was the center of Greek philosophy, culture and learning. Paul speaks to the Jews in the synagogue and to the Greek philosophers in the Areopagus, also known as Mar’s Hill. He tells them about “the unknown God” whom they were worshiping in their ignorance. He calls them to repentance and a few are converted.
Nothing further is revealed about the churches in Berea and Athens.
After Paul and Silas have gone through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches, they come to Derbe and Lystra. Here they add a young disciple named Timothy to their evangelistic team.
The relationship between Paul and Timothy was strong, and it would continue to grow and develop through the years. Paul would later say that he knew no one else so “like-minded” and commended him for his “proven character” (Philippians 2:20, 22). Timothy has the distinction of receiving two personal letters from Paul that became part of the New Testament, including the final letter Paul wrote shortly before his own death.
Not allowed by the Lord to go to Asia or Bithynia, the team comes to Troas where Paul receives what has been referred to as “the Macedonian Call” and so they travel to a Roman colony called Philippi. There are three major events in Philippi – the conversion of Lydia (verses 13-15), the arrest of Paul and Silas for casting a demon out of a young girl (verses 16-24), and the conversion of the Philippian jailer and his household (verses 25-34). Each of these accounts teaches us some important lessons.
In verses 13-15, we find that the church in Philippi begins with the conversion of some devout women, including Lydia. There is no Jewish synagogue there, which means there are not ten faithful Jewish males in the area. Paul preaches to a group of women who had gathered at the river side to pray, the gospel touches and opens their hearts and Lydia and her household are converted. Later, the church at Philippi had both elders and deacons (Philippians 1:1; all men – see 1 Timothy 3:1-13), but they started with women.
In verses 16-24, Paul casts a demon out of a young fortune teller who was making a lot of money for her owners. Incensed by this loss of income, they have Paul and Silas imprisoned. This shows us that God can use difficult circumstances to accomplish His will, as is seen in the next section of the text.
In verses 25-34, through a providential earthquake, Paul and Silas have the opportunity to teach the jailer and his household. They are baptized “the same hour of the night” and the Philippian church continues to grow.
The next morning, Paul and Silas are released. They spend a little time encouraging the new Christians and then move on with the gospel. Luke remains behind to further strengthen the church.
Jesus came to break down barriers that had long existed, including male and female, rich and poor and, especially, between Jews and Gentiles (Galatians 3:28). He broke down “the middle wall of separation,” made “one new man from the two,” and reconciled them “both to God in one body through the cross.” The purpose was to make “peace” and welcome everyone from every possible background into His universal kingdom (Ephesians 2:14-17).
That was not easily accomplished. There were centuries, at least 15 or more, of hatred between the Jews and everyone else. Long engrained enmity dies hard. To sit beside a Gentile Christian in a worship service was a very difficult concept for a Jewish Christian to contemplate.
There was one issue that was especially contentious, the question of circumcision. For many generations, the Jews had considered circumcision to be a symbol of acceptance before God. A circumcised male was pleasing to the Lord; an uncircumcised person never would be acceptable.
While many Jews were willing to accept the idea that Gentiles could become Christians, this problem of circumcision remained. The solution that some came up with was simple. Gentiles who became Christians had to be circumcised. The only problem with that was that it was a “human wisdom” answer, not one that came from God. So when these “Judaizing teachers,” as they are often called, began to insist, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1), the unity of the body of Christ was in danger.
It was left to the inspired apostles to sort through this matter. This chapter shows us how they solved the dilemma, by appealing to command, apostolic example and inescapable conclusion (often called necessary inference). Using these standards of authority, it was determined that circumcision was not essential for salvation after all. Please notice that they did not take a vote of the attending parties to determine God’s will.
At the end of Chapter 15, Paul and Barnabas decide to go on another preaching tour. A disagreement arises between them about whether to take John Mark with them. In the end, Barnabas takes Mark and sails to Cyprus. Paul chooses Silas and goes a different direction. The inspired record follows the progress of Paul as he begins his second preaching journey.
Chapters 13 and 14 relate the details of Paul’s first preaching journey.
In Iconium, Paul and Barnabas speak in the Jewish synagogue and convert “a great multitude” of both Jews and Gentiles. They stay “a long time” until some local unbelievers want to stone them, so they flee to Lystra and Derbe, preaching the gospel in both places. In a later chapter, we will be introduced to a young disciple named Timothy, who lived in this area and was probably converted to Christ on this part of Paul’s journey. Paul will refer to him as his “son in the faith.”
Paul performs a miracle of healing on a lame man who had never walked. This causes the people of Lystra to believe that Paul and Barnabas are gods, Zeus (Barnabas) and Hermes (Paul). When the Lystrans try to offer sacrifice to them, they are barely able to convince them to stop (verse 18).
One verse later (verse 19), Jews from Antioch and Iconium come and persuade the Lystrans to stone Paul to the point of death. He mentions this stoning in 2 Corinthians 11:25. Paul immediately arises and goes with Barnabas back to Derbe, where they make many disciples.
As the next phase in their ongoing mission, Paul and Barnabas revisit many of the cities where they have been before and strengthen the Christians to encourage them to remain faithful to the Lord even through difficult times. And they take the amazing step of appointing elders in every church that they have planted.
Visiting a few more cities, Paul and Barnabas sail back to Antioch of Syria, where this first preaching journey began.
“Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.”
God’s plan is for the gospel to be taken “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The church in Antioch of Syria is going to be the launching pad for this worldwide evangelization of all the nations.
The church at Antioch is spiritually strong. They have five primary Bible teachers – Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen and Saul. Of this group, the Holy Spirit chooses Barnabas and Saul to lead God’s assault on the gates of hell. After the church has fasted, prayed and laid hands on them, they are sent on their way, taking John Mark with them.
They first go to Seleucia, then to the island of Cyprus, where they visit Salamis and then Paphos. Beginning in verse 9, Saul will be called Paul.
As they leave Paphos, they sail to Perga in Pamphylia. It is here that John Mark leaves them and returns to Jerusalem. We are not told why, but we do find out later that it displeased Paul (see Acts 15:38).
Next Barnabas and Paul come to Antioch in Pisidia and go into the synagogue on the Sabbath Day. They were not “keeping the Sabbath” as they had under the Mosaic Law, but they went where the people were, when they were there, to have opportunity to teach them the gospel. Given a chance to speak publicly, Paul reviews much Old Testament history with them. Notice how this breaks down.
*13:17 – Genesis and Exodus
*13:18 – Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy
*13:19 – Joshua
*13:20 – Judges and Ruth
*13:21-22 – 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles
In six verses of the text, Paul covers the first fourteen books of the Old Testament. He then begins to tell them about Jesus who was the fulfillment of these and other Old Testament passages (verses 23-41).
A week later (verses 44ff), he continues teaching them, both Jews and Gentiles, about the Christ. The Jews become jealous and expel them from the region. Their next stop will be Iconium.
In Chapter 12, Herod the king turns up the persecution. The events of this chapter take place in approximately A.D. 44. The Herod referred to, in this chapter, is Agrippa I. He kills James, the brother of John, making him the first apostle to die for his faith. When he realizes that the Jews are pleased with this action, Herod also arrests Peter.
The church prays for Peter and God sends an angel in response to those fervent, righteous prayers to free him from prison. This should remind us that prayer is a powerful tool in the battle against sin and unrighteousness. We should always pray when times are difficult and the challenges to our faith are great. Prayer must never be looked at as a last resort, only when all else fails. It is interesting that, although the disciples were praying for Peter’s release, when he is set free, some of them don’t believe it.
As an interesting side note, in verses 18-19, the New Testament tells us that “there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter.” Herod gets personally involved in the case and, after searching for him in vain, orders that the guards who let him escape be executed.
Chapter 12 concludes with the account of Herod’s death. While he is giving a speech, the people of Tyre and Sidon refer to Herod as a god. When he fails to give the proper glory to the one, true God, he is “eaten by worms” and dies. (Herod Agrippa I is the father of King Agrippa II, who will tell the apostle Paul in Chapter 26, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”)
Barnabas and Saul return to Antioch from delivering the assistance to the region of Judea, bringing with them, John Mark. The work of taking the gospel to the whole world continues.
As Chapter 11 begins, Jewish brethren are upset with Peter for what has happened. When they hear that the Gentiles have had the gospel preached to them, those of the circumcision contended with him saying, ‘You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!’ (verses 2-3).
It is difficult for those of us who live two thousand years after these events to realize how deeply engrained in the Jewish people was their hatred for Gentiles. They have been persecuted, mistreated, taken into captivity, killed and tortured by Gentiles for centuries. The animosity between Jew and Gentile will not be easily forgiven by either side. The Jews simply could not believe that God would ever accept these uncircumcised heathens.
Faced with this intense opposition, Peter recounts for his fellow Jews the events that had occurred and tells them about the Gentiles’ Holy Spirit baptism (Acts 11:15-17). And what was their response? “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life’” (Acts 11:18).
In Acts 8:4, we were told that the church in Jerusalem was scattered due to intense persecution. The text continues with details about four men, Philip, Stephen, Saul and Peter. During this period of time, Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles have had the gospel preached to them.
As Luke continues in Acts 11:19, we are told of disciples who went to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch (in Syria). Antioch will now be a focus of the inspired record.
Men from Cyprus and Cyrene preached the Lord Jesus in Antioch. “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). When the church in Jerusalem (mostly the apostles, perhaps) hears of these many conversions, they send Barnabas to encourage and strengthen the new followers. Barnabas goes to Tarsus to find Saul and brings him to Antioch where they work together for a full year. “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26).
A famine arises in Judea and the relatively young church in Antioch sends relief to help these needy saints.
One of the common threads of Old Testament prophecy about the coming kingdom dealt with its universal nature. It was to be a kingdom of all nations, all races, all languages, all people.
That’s why the Great Commission was to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15b). It was God’s plan that the good news of salvation should be taken from Jerusalem, to all Judea and Samaria and then “to the end of the earth” (remember Acts 1:8?).
In God’s plan, the gospel was first preached to the Jews and only when they rejected the Messiah, to Gentiles (Matthew 21:33-43, for example). Romans 1:16 points out that the gospel of Christ is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”
Acts 10 is a significant turning point in the spread of the gospel as it records for us the first occasion on which the message is taken to the Gentiles. Finally “the promise” has reached those “who are far off” (Acts 2:39; see also Ephesians 2:14-16).
Peter is the preacher, as he was in Acts 2, and the household of Cornelius provides the audience. Miraculous circumstances on both sides ultimately bring them together.
An angel of God speaks to Cornelius to tell him to call for Simon Peter, in the city of Joppa, staying with a tanner whose name was also Simon. Verse 4 tells us that Cornelius’ prayers and alms (gifts to the poor, NIV) have been heard by God. Cornelius, a Roman centurion, sends two of his household servants and a devout soldier under his supervision to bring Peter to Caesarea.
The apostle Peter, at the sixth hour (noon), on the same day has gone up on the housetop to pray and sees a vision from God of unclean animals, according to the Law of Moses, being let down from heaven on a sheet. The voice of God tells him to kill and eat them as He has made them clean. This symbolizes the breaking down of the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14-16). Only at the culmination of these events does Peter realize that God is teaching him that the Lord truly shows no partiality.
As Peter preaches to Cornelius and those of his household (family, servants, etc.), they are baptized in the Holy Spirit, the second and final case of such in the Bible. Peter then commands them to be baptized in water for the remission of sins (compare verse 43 with Acts 2:38).