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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Acts 19

Verses 1-7

The First Disciples in Ephesus

After the interlude on Apollos, Luke continues to describe the third missionary journey which Paul began in Acts 18:23. Apollos does his work in Corinth, separate from the apostle Paul, but completely in accordance with his teaching that he received through Aquila and Priscilla. While Apollos is in Corinth and there by grace is of great support to the believers (Acts 18:27), Paul fulfils his promise by going to Ephesus (Acts 18:21). He reaches Ephesus through “the upper country”, that is, through Galatians and Phrygians (Acts 18:23).

Perhaps the expression “upper country” already symbolically refers to the heavenly regions about which Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians. The heavenly regions are the area where Christ is, where the Christian has his blessings (Ephesians 1:3) and where the Christian’s struggle takes place (Ephesians 6:12). The latter would fit well with the spiritual darkness in which Ephesus found itself. Ephesus was known for its occultism and magic. Paul comes here in a fortress of Satan. In Acts 19:1-Proverbs : there is much talk about the Holy Spirit and about spirits and also about the Lord Jesus, the Conqueror of all evil powers.

Luke begins with the description of a remarkable event. Paul finds in Ephesus “some disciples”. In his contact with them it becomes clear to him that they are believers, but not Christians. Possibly they are followers of Apollos, before he was further taught.

To find out what their spiritual position is, Paul asks them some questions. The first question relates to the Holy Spirit. He asks if they received the Holy Spirit when they came to faith. It is not clear how Paul came to this question. He will certainly have told them about the Lord Jesus and everything that happened to Him. From their reactions to this he will have concluded that they could be lacking the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Their answer confirms that conclusion. These disciples are ignorant of the presence of the Holy Spirit on earth. Their answer is not about not believing in the Holy Spirit. They do. They know from the Scriptures that God would pour out His Spirit (Isaiah 44:3; Joel 2:28). They believe that the Holy Spirit has always been there, but they do not know that He has come to dwell on earth since the day of Pentecost as a result of the glorification of the Lord Jesus (John 7:39).

Because they have not received the Spirit, they are not Christians either (Romans 8:9). They have come to faith, but have not yet been sealed with the Holy Spirit. Someone receives the Holy Spirit when he has believed the gospel of his salvation (Ephesians 1:13). The gospel of salvation means that a person believes that Christ died for his sins according to the Scriptures and was buried and raised according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-Numbers :). This gospel of salvation has not yet been preached by these disciples and so they have not been able to believe it (Romans 10:14). They are in the condition of Old Testament believers, a condition we also encounter today in certain parts of Christianity.

Now that Paul knows that they have not received the Holy Spirit, he asks another question. This question is about baptism. He does not ask if they have been baptized, but into what they have been baptized. From the answer they give to that question it is clear at what spiritual stage they are. They are as far as Apollos was when he came to Ephesus (Acts 18:25). They have heard the message as John the baptist preached and they have repented. Paul can connect to this. When it is clear to him where they have got stuck in their spiritual development, he makes the full gospel known to them, for that is what they lack. He tells them that “Jesus” is the One to Whom John referred and he can announce to them that He has come.

We see here the enormous difference between the faith in the Messiah Jesus according to the Old Testament presentation and the faith in Him as the Christ Who has come Who is now glorified. The difference is the finished work on Calvary and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. These disciples have believed in John’s call to believe in Him Who came after him. That is what they have done, but that is where it ends. They have not received any further information about the rejection, death, resurrection and ascension of the Messiah and therefore not that He sent the Holy Spirit from heaven.

When they hear the full gospel from Paul, they accept the Lord Jesus as the Christ Who came, died, rose and was glorified. Then they are baptized to the Name of the Lord Jesus. Through this they are joined to a deceased Christ. So they are baptized again. Yet this is not a ‘rebaptism’, because the baptism they undergo now is a completely different baptism. They are baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus, that is to say, they are joined to the Lord Jesus, who was made Lord and Christ by God (Acts 2:36). By being baptized they express that they no longer want to live for themselves. They are baptized to His death and symbolically buried with Him in the water grave (Romans 6:3-Numbers :). From now on they recognize Him as Lord of their lives, they want to follow Him and live according to His will.

After they are baptized, Paul lays his hands on them. He makes himself one with them by this gesture. He acknowledges them by this as fellow Christians. Then God puts His seal on them by giving them the Holy Spirit. So the Holy Spirit does not come upon them through the laying on of Paul’s hands, but follows after that. With Peter and John, the laying on of hands is also not the means by which the Holy Spirit came, but the proof of unity between Samaria and Jerusalem (Acts 8:14-Esther :). This sign of unity expressed by the laying on of hands is confirmed by God by giving the Holy Spirit.

The course of events with the “about twelve men” is unique. The reason is the special intermediate position this small group held. Here, by apostolic authority, these believers who were still on an Old Testament basis had to be made New Testament Christians in the true sense of the word. The peculiarity of this event is underscored by speaking in languages and prophesying as we saw on Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2:4; Acts 2:17). The sign of speaking in languages underscores that it is about something entirely new that goes beyond the Old Testament and the faith that is connected to that. It is at this same time, that the last mention of speaking in languages is made in this book of the Bible.

Verses 8-10

The Synagogue and the School of Tyrannus

After his meeting with that special group of disciples, Paul goes to the synagogue in Ephesus. There he speaks and reasons and persuades people concerning the things of the kingdom of God, for that is present on earth, albeit in secret. So his subject is not so much the church. He does not preach the gospel of the kingdom. That was preached by John the baptist (Matthew 3:2) and then by the Lord Jesus (Matthew 4:23), because that has to do with the public reign of the Lord Jesus. Because the Lord Jesus was rejected, the public form of the kingdom of God has been postponed.

In another sense, the kingdom of God is also now the subject of preaching, not as imminent, but as present. The things of the kingdom of God are in fact all things that have to do with the authority of Him Who rules over the kingdom of God, that is the Lord Jesus. Although He is not visible as King on earth, He is already present and active in the hearts of believers. The teaching concerning the kingdom of God is therefore of great importance because it concerns the discipleship of all those who acknowledge Him as their Lord.

This message encounters increasing resistance from some Jews, which manifests itself in hardening, disobedience, and speaking evil of “the Way” before the people. “The Way” is the new doctrine, the new direction of faith that we call Christianity. It encounters opposition from the Jews, which only serves to separate the true disciples of that Way from the Jews. There is a break with the Jews.

Paul moves his location of teaching from the synagogue to the school of Tyrannus. This change is also a symbolic indication for the new that is being formed, the church. Here we see how the church forms a secluded community, separate from the Gentiles and separate from the Jews. It is a new group that consists of Gentiles and Jews who together form the church. This makes the church in Ephesus the prototype of the church. There is no letter in which Paul so clearly explains what the church is than in that sent to the church in Ephesus. There is also talk of “disciples”, which indicates that the characteristics of the kingdom are also present in this company.

Both the church and the kingdom belong to the power area of the Lord Jesus. This area of power expands through the daily teaching of Paul, no longer in the synagogue, but in the school of Tyrannus. ‘Tyrannus’ is derived from ‘tyrant’. A tyrant is someone who exercises power over others without compassion. In that school, where Satan exercises his power as a tyrant, the power of the Lord is unfolded opposite to the power of Satan.

Paul has thoroughly trained the disciples in the principles of the kingdom of God. Even longer than in Corinth he has worked and taught in Ephesus and has done so every day. This also proves the importance of the church in Ephesus.

The disciples did not only receive teaching, they also spread the Word in Asia. All who live in Asia have been reached with the Word of the Lord. All people have heard the Word concerning Him Who has authority over the kingdom. The spreading of the Word will not only have been done by Paul, but also by the disciples. Teaching leads to activity. Thus, separating the disciples in the school of Tyrannus did not mean isolation. Paul teaches in seclusion, but the testimony goes out to all Jews and Greeks.

Verses 11-17

Powers of God and Devilish Counterfeiting

God underscores the preaching and teaching of Paul by doing extraordinary miracles by his hands. What is happening resembles powers of paganism. It seems as if all kinds of materials are given a magical effect. In what Paul does, however, nothing of the devil is present. God is the origin of these miracles. It is not Paul’s doing that handkerchiefs or aprons provide healing – not the material – but God does it. God shows His power in an extraordinary way in the field where the devil thinks he is lord and master. It is a signal to his address and to all those who honor him, that all power resides with God.

God uses the hands and garments of the apostle Paul for the development of His power. Also with Peter we have seen a special revelation of God’s power (Acts 5:15). These are the signs of an apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12). Today we no longer have apostles and with them we do not have that revelation of signs and wonders and miracles. Nor are they all things the believers do at that time. Apart from the apostles, we only read that Philip and Stephen performed miracles and signs.

We do read that others wanted them too, but they were exposed as impostors, as workers of injustice. We have seen this with Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:18-Jeremiah :) and we see it here in the following history.

As a general remark this: The Lord enables us to do God’s work in faith and to overcome the power of Satan. The conditions are: prayer and fasting and faith and a mind of forgiveness (Mark 9:29; Mark 11:22-Lamentations :). At the same time, the conditions we have to meet make clear the great distance that exists between us and the Lord Jesus. For the Lord Jesus, every exercise of power was and is an unfolding of His own majesty.

The power of Satan tries to join the work of God and thus to infiltrate the kingdom of God in order to prevent its progress. It corresponds to what the spirit of divination wanted to do with regard to Paul’s preaching in Philippi (Acts 16:16) and also to what the sorcerers in Egypt did imitating the wonders of Moses (Exodus 7:10-1 Kings :). Here Satan uses Jewish exorcists.

God in His grace has given some in His people the power to cast out demons (Mark 6:7; Mark 9:38; Luke 10:17). However, there are also Jews who exercise this power, such as the sons of the Pharisees, i.e. disciples of the Pharisees (Matthew 12:27). The category of moderators also includes seven sons of a certain Sceva, a Jewish chief priest. This Sceva did not raise his sons directly in the fear of God, but rather introduced them into the dark practices of the power of Satan.

There are seven of them who have gone out to perform their occult arts wherever they can. On their roundtrip they also came to Ephesus. When they notice the success that Paul achieves there in using the name ‘Jesus’, they also take the name of Jesus in their mouths in an attempt to exorcise evil spirits. They use the name ‘Jesus’ – obviously without ‘Lord’ before it – as a kind of magic formula, a magical word. But only faith in what His Name means gives strength, and not the word as dead letters.

They appeal to the “Jesus whom Paul preaches”, which immediately makes it clear that there is no personal connection with the Lord Jesus. They use His Name without personal faith in Him, but only for what that Name works in others. Unfortunately, this is also what the faith life of many Christians looks like. There is a certain confession of faith, but it is not lived (cf. 2 Timothy 3:5).

That the evil spirit is not impressed by these people is evident from his answer and his subsequent act. He knows Jesus and also Paul. His knowing is a factual knowing, a knowing without any inner connection. The devil believes (cf. James 2:19) and has knowledge because he knows that he is dealing with undeniable Divine Persons, but he does not submit. He reveals a deep contempt to those in his power, just as he has a deep-rooted hatred towards the Lord Jesus and those who faithfully follow Him. We see here Satan’s contempt for his slaves whom he chases away as incompetent helpers, humiliating them spiritually and injuring them physically.

What was a ruse of Satan has the ultimate result that fear comes over all who live in Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, and that the Name of the Lord Jesus is being magnified. This does not mean that they all come to faith, but Luke mentions the testimony that emanates from this event. Thus, Satan’s striving to obstruct God’s work is used by God to make the testimony of His gospel all the more emphatic.

Verses 18-20

Effects of the Word of the Lord

The testimony also has the effect on many that they come to faith. In all who believe, the power of Satan is broken and his territory seized. There has been a breakthrough in this demonic city. The conversion to God and faith in the Lord Jesus is real. We see this when they come to confess and make known their deeds.

Those who have come to repentance and faith have nothing left to keep up appearances. All selfishness and everything that has kept them imprisoned is confessed as sin. Among those who have come to faith are many who have practiced magic. They had mastered these occult occupations by means of books. They collected those books and set them on fire. Because of this, no one else can be harmed by it.

Only after the books have been burned do they calculate their value. If they had calculated the value before they were burned, they might still have reconsidered. A fortune has therefore gone up in smoke. A silver piece can probably be compared to a drachma or a denarius. At the time of the Gospels, a denarius was the wages of a day laborer (Matthew 20:2). The gross minimum daily wage for someone 23 years of age or older is €61.62 at the time of writing this book. That amounts to just over €50.00 net. For convenience, let’s assume €50.00. The amount that goes up in smoke would then, converted to today, correspond to 50,000*€50.00 = €2,500,000.00. Fortunately, even today there are believers who show the authenticity of their conversion by burning or destroying demonic music, movies, and games that determined their lives before their conversion.

When the wrong things are removed, there is room for the Word, which here again is called the Word of the Lord. At the same time, Luke, with Acts 19:20, again gives an ‘in-between stand’, as we have seen before (Acts 6:7; Acts 12:24Acts 16:5).

Verses 21-22

Jerusalem and Rome

Then comes the time for Paul to say goodbye to Ephesus. He has another intention. Jerusalem keeps him busy. He would like to attend the feast of Pentecost there (Acts 20:16). He even thinks further. After he has been in Jerusalem he wants to go to Rome as well. There he will come too, but otherwise than he thinks, namely as a prisoner. Here he starts his journey toward Rome and at the end of this book he is there, as a prisoner. Jerusalem and Rome are the two places between which this book takes place. He yearns to bring the Word into the heart of the Gentile world, just as he brought it into the heart of the religious world.

He wants to go to Jerusalem because of a burning love for his people. He sends forward two of those who serve him, while he himself stays in Asia for a while. Of the two he sends ahead, we know Timothy. The other, Erastus, is unknown to us. Erastus, like Timothy, will have received teaching from the apostle. Together they will go to Macedonia, probably to Corinth, where they can pass on the teaching received from the apostle as his representatives. They may have taken with them the first letter to the Corinthians that Paul wrote at this time.

Verses 23-32

Demétrius Instigates a Riot

While Paul was preparing for his trip to Macedonia, a great disturbance arose in Ephesus. As in Philippi, this disturbance did not originate from Jewish sources, but from pagan sources. Luke describes the course of it in detail and vividly. He may do this to show that there is not only an inner urge to go to Jerusalem whereby Ephesus is to be left, but also an outer cause. The disturbance arises about “the Way”. By the Way is meant the Christian faith that is propagated by those who have come to faith in the Lord Jesus. This manifestation of faith is not so much in words as in deeds, in walking the Way of faith.

The consistent imitation of the Lord Jesus has completely changed the lives of many in Ephesus. Demetrius notices this in his wallet. Because of the many conversions, his business is no longer going so well. The demand for his silver temples drops dramatically. This makes the deep-rooted hatred against the gospel manifest in him. The whole system, through which he has made fortune, is shaky and so is the prestige that his trade gives him.

The temples he makes are dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. This mother goddess is the great opposite of the Father God of the Bible. We see here the great contrast between the Way of Christian faith, and paganism. Behind the idols are demonic powers. Behind the idolatry is also the god of the mammon. In Demetrius money and religion go hand in hand.

When he sees his profits dwindling, he responds to the economic decline as a business that affects everyone in the company and also the supply companies. People of the world cannot be hit harder than when they are deprived of prosperity and the luxury that goes with it. If that happens, there will be uproar. Demetrius appoints Paul as the culprit because he dares to claim that their gods are not gods.

The temples are therefore not merely souvenirs, but articles of religious significance. Paul’s message makes an end to this. Without being aware of it, Demetrius acknowledges in what he means as an indictment to the power of the gospel. The gospel must have been accepted by many if Demetrius can say that the industry is under threat – although he may have exaggerated it – because his images are no longer so popular.

Then he skillfully brings forward the waning tribute to “the great goddess Artemis”. In this way he shifts the attack from the economic to the religious field. There is nothing in which a man is more fanatic than in his religion. If you touch him in that, he becomes out of his mind and is no longer susceptible to any reason. That becomes apparent immediately after his words. They all become furious and deliriously crying out they declare their solidarity with the Artemis of the Ephesians. The whole city becomes full of confusion.

But the confusion is not that great, or their anger seeks a way out in tracking down the insulters of their great Artemis. It seems that they cannot find Paul. That is why they drag just two of Paul’s travelling companions along to the theater that is also used for holding a public assembly.

Paul wants to go among the people for the sake of his friends who have been dragged along because of him. The disciples prevent him from doing so by stopping him. It would not have been wise to do so. Some Asiarchs, i.e. political or religious officials of the province of Asia, who are friends of Paul underline the correctness of the disciples’ actions. They send a message in which they insist that Paul should not go to the theater. It takes a lot to stop Paul, but in the end he doesn’t go.

The fact that some officials are also in favor of Paul shows the enormous impact that Paul’s preaching has had under the blessing of the Lord. Whether these officials are believers is not clear. In any case they are on his side.

In the general turmoil most do not even know what is at stake, but are carried away by the general mood. When a person is in a crowd, there is a great danger that he will lose his personality and thus the ability to make a personal assessment of the situation.

Verses 33-41

Calming the Popular Rage

After Paul with the disciples and then the pagans, we see a third category, the Jews. They put Alexander forward. It seems that this Alexander is the coppersmith for whom Paul warns Timothy that this man very much opposed him (2 Timothy 4:14-Ezra :). Timothy is then in Ephesus and will have known him.

Alexander the Jew wants to defend himself, but against what? The most obvious is that the Jews are afraid that they could also become the target of the heathen’s hatred. Then it is very appropriate to make it clear that they have nothing to do with Christians. Once he would have the word, he could then, after his defense, point his arrows at the Christians in order to put them in a bad light, so that the popular anger will focus even more emphatically on them.

But the temperature has risen so high that Alexander has no chance to defend himself on behalf of the Jews. Whatever he wanted to tell them, when the crowd notices that he is a Jew, they burst into an ecstatic shout that they continued for about two hours. They didn’t sympathize with the Christians, but they didn’t sympathize with the Jews either, because they too don’t allow there to be gods other than the one God. Without God it is impossible to resist the devil as the Jewish conjurers tried and failed (Acts 19:13-Nehemiah :). It is equally impossible to stand up for the truth of the one God without God, as the Jews want to do here.

The only one who manages to calm the crowd is the town clerk. He is one of theirs. His tactics are very cunning. He starts from what they are completely sure of, from something that is acknowledged by everyone without contradiction. The fact that there are some Jews and Christians who do not know this or even fight it is not allowed to have a name, is it? Do they have to worry so much about that?

After having told them his statements, he urges them to keep calm and not to allow themselves to be carried away by their feelings. Then he points at the disciples they have taken with them. He is well aware of the activities of the Christians and knows that they are not iconoclasts and that in their preaching they did not rage against their goddess either. Paul and his people have proclaimed the Word without criticizing the religion the Ephesians practice. By the way, it is remarkable that in Acts the pagan authorities testify several times to the innocence of Christians.

As for Demetrius and the artists, they can bring their case before the courts on fixed days. There they can sue their opponent and the opponent will have the opportunity to defend himself. If they have other cases, it is laid down in the legal procedure that these will be decided in a legal meeting.

The word for ‘assembly’ is literally ecclesia. This word is also used for the community of Israel and for the church of the Christians. The word already existed. It means ‘a [somewhere] called out community of people’. It is the called out people from the city of Ephesus who meet in the city assembly to discuss the interests of the city.

This word ecclesia is an important word in connection with the church of the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus speaks in Matthew 16 for the first time in history about ‘My’ ecclesia. There he speaks about the church He will build (Matthew 16:18). The Gentiles have their ecclesia (here), Israel has His ecclesia (Acts 7:38) and now the Lord Jesus also has His ecclesia.

But what a difference there is between His ecclesia and the other two! When someone dies who belongs to the ecclesia of the Gentiles or the ecclesia of Israel, he ceases to belong to that ecclesia. However, whoever belongs to the ecclesia of the Lord Jesus will remain a part of it forever, even though he has died. That ecclesia cannot be conquered through the gates of hades (Matthew 16:18).

The last argument used by the town clerk to appease the heated emotions, is the lack of any legal basis for this uproar. If the town clerk has appeased the crowd with an appeal to their wits, he dismisses the assembly. This means that the crowd disperses and the people go home or back to work.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Acts 19". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/acts-19.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.