And He Came to Ephesus
Tom Wilson, Glasgow, Scotland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
We must never underestimate what occurred in that commercially vibrant but morally vile seaport in the first century, when for the second time ‘Paul . . . came to Ephesus’1. Luke’s historical note shows Paul taking the highland route to Ephesus. It would most likely be the direct overland route from Antioch to Ephesus. He would pass through Galatia and Phrygia. The record of subsequent events occupies over two chapters of the Acts and is also referred to by Paul as he writes his two inspired letters to the Corinthians. How significant must have been Paul’s coming to Ephesus. Acts 19 tells of the assault upon Satan’s territory, causing us to recall Mount Carmel and Gadara. But from the Corinthian correspond-ence2 we learn that the apostle paid dearly for entering in by the door that the Lord opened and no man could shut.
These references do not fill out the detail we would long to know, but they do give the sense of what Paul suffered. We know from Acts 20. 19 that the three years had been difficult because of ‘the lying in wait of the Jews’. Certainly we know that Alexander attempted to intervene in the riot3 and that Jews from Asia had stirred up the people to a point that Paul might have been torn limb from limb in the temple in Jerusalem4. However, the record of chapter 19 does not seem to portray the riot as Jewish opposition. Clearly there had been Jewish pressures on top of which came tremendous demonical pressure. Whatever its many manifestations, the events of Ephesus left a permanent mark on Paul. The pressures had been immense when he was ‘pressed out of measure, above strength' in so much that 'he despaired even of life’5. Perhaps it would be wrong to limit these unqualified words to a particular day such as the day of the riot at Ephesus. However, John Heading in his commentary on Acts concluded that the reason Paul ‘himself stayed in Asia for a season’6 was ‘that he was not well enough to make the journey’, when Timothy and Erastus left for Macedonia. We know that it would be at this period that Priscilla and Aquila ‘laid down their neck’ for Paul’s life.
There were other pressures too. Just after leaving Ephesus Paul would write about ‘the care of all the churches’7. While he was at Ephesus the problems of Corinth were coming to a head. We know that those problems caused him considerable anguish, so much so that Paul sent Titus to Corinth to deal with difficulties there.
One important point that so often is missed is that this was not only the high-water mark of Paul’s public ministry; it was also the last gentile stronghold his public ministry brought down. Were the terms he used a few months later, in 2 Corinthians 10, references back to Ephesus? The narrative of the Ephesian years should be read then with a deep joy but tinged with no little sorrow. Paul did not know it but the Lord was moving him to other duties. This last mission was to redound to the glory of God, but it was the last. How much we thank God that ‘he came to Ephesus’8.
It would seem from Acts 19. verses 1-7 that the disciples Paul met were where Apollos was when he came to Ephesus. We do not here comment on that remarkable incident, except to note that it is no accident that this incident is the very threshold over which the reader must venture to see something of the power of the risen Christ. The power of the Spirit is evidenced here as is the place of the apostle as the minister of God.
The timetable of Paul’s visit is set out clearly:
1. speaking boldly in the synagogue for three months, v. 8;
2. teaching in the school of Tyrannus for two years, v. 10;
3. remaining for a season, v. 22;
4. warning night and day with tears for three years, 20. 31.
Three months in the synagogue
Luke employs a number of imperfect tenses to show the repeated and patient activity of Paul and the persistence of the unbelieving: ‘spake boldly’, ‘were hardened’, ‘believed not’, vv. 8, 9. But the qualifying present participles are also important: ‘disputing’ perhaps in the sense of teaching through question and answer, ‘persuading’, ‘disputing’, vv. 8-9. The testimony was to the Jew first and this eventually brought opposition. Some were becoming ‘obstinate’ or making ‘themselves difficult’, and 'becoming disobedient' (as in Acts 14. 2. at Iconium).
Two years in the school of Tyrannus
Paul’s schedule after the move into the school of Tyrannus would be demanding. It seems likely that Tyrannus probably gave his lectures before eleven in the morning, after which time public life in the Ionian cities came to a halt. Paul would spend from dawn until eleven at his manual labour and then devote the next five hours until four in the afternoon preaching and teaching. One wonders at the energy of his listeners, who fastened on to his every word at the very time when others were asleep. Indeed normally more people in Ephesus would be asleep at 1 p.m. than 1 a.m. It was from that lecture room that men and women emerged to rout possibly the fiercest opposition any met in the book of Acts, and to see many trophies of grace won for their Master. How the word of God must have affected them.
The events that surround Paul’s visit to Ephesus testify clearly to the importance of the visit:
1. the special (better read as ‘unusual’) miracles God wrought, v. 11-12;
2. the imitation of the Jewish exorcists, vv. 13-16;
3. the burning of the books of spells, vv. 17-20;
4. the testimony of Demetrius the silversmith, v. 23-28;
5. the riot of Ephesus, vv. 29-41.
The unusual miracles
There is no doubt as to the source of the miracles that are associated with Paul. It was God that wrought the miracles. Luke observes that they were ‘special miracles’, Acts 19. 11. The adjective ‘special’ carries the sense of ‘extraordinary’. Robertson9 notes the phrase literally means ‘powers, not the ones that happen by chance’. How true of what God did!
It is interesting to note also that according to verse 12 the items of clothing taken from Paul to the sick and demonpossessed were those that would be used by a working man and linked physically with sweat – handkerchiefs and linen work aprons, which working men wore. Given that the heathen society of the day frowned on physical labour, Paul was setting them an example. This was the period about which Paul could say, 'these hands have ministered unto my necessities and to them that were with me’10. In so doing he had shown them by example ‘how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak'.
We recall that Paul later confesses that part of his mission was to ‘turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God’11. Luke carefully distinguishes between diseases and demon-possession, which helps us to understand Paul’s later assertion. He did more than alleviate men’s physical conditions; he also cast down ‘imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God’, 2 Cor. 10. 5. He shook the kingdom of Satan when he ‘came to Ephesus’.
1 Acts 19. 1.
2 1 Cor. 15. 32; 16. 9; 2 Cor. 1. 8.
3 Acts 19. 33-34.
4 Acts 21. 27ff.
5 2 Cor. 1. 8.
6 Acts 19. 22.
7 2 Cor. 11. 28.
8 Acts 18. 19.
9 A. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Concise Edition; edited by James A. Swanson; published by Holman Reference, Nashville 2000; p. 321.
10 Acts 20. 34-35.
11 Acts 26. 18.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Tom Wilson is an elder in the Springburn assembly in Glasgow and ministers the word throughout Scotland. He was for many years an editor of Believer’s Magazine and is principal of a specialist college in Glasgow.