Acts 20

Chapter twenty shows Paul finishing his third tour as he made his way from Ephesus back through Macedonia and to Greece, “WHERE HE STAYED FOR THREE MONTHS” (Acts 20:1-12). During that time he ministered to the churches, having a companion with him from each of the major churches in the region. Due to a death threat, Paul returned the way he had come. One Sunday he taught in a house until midnight. The story of Eutychus falling asleep in a window and falling to his death is a common children’s story. Paul resuscitated the boy, continued to talk with the believers, and left around dawn. It was likely the last time he would see them.

The rest of the chapter is the farewell Paul gave to the elders of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:13-38). Needing to travel quickly, he knew that he could not spend time in Ephesus, so he called for them to come to him. When they did, he gave them final instructions on how to continue the ministry there. He was especially insistent that they focus on teaching solid doctrine, knowing that false teachers would certainly arise in that church, even from among their own ranks, if they were not diligent. It was a sad goodbye to a dear friend, not knowing all that awaited Paul in Jerusalem.

Acts 19

Chapters nineteen and twenty tell of Paul’s third and last recorded missionary tour. Leaving Antioch, he returned to the churches he had founded, “STRENGTHENING ALL THE DISCIPLES” (Acts 18:23), until he found his way back to Ephesus. Apollos had gone to Corinth, and Paul found a small group of believers that had heard the gospel but nothing more (Acts 19:1-7). When Paul laid his hands on them, they received the Holy Spirit, as demonstrated by speaking in tongues and prophecy. This event marks the third and final time speaking in tongues is mentioned in Acts (Acts 2:1-4; 10:46). Paul preached in the Ephesian synagogue for three months with a mixed response (Acts 19:8-10), so for the next two years he used the community lecture hall to preach and teach, a seminary of sorts for “ALL WHO LIVED IN THE PROVINCE OF ASIA.” 1

As a demonstration of the power that the Holy Spirit afforded to Paul, Luke recorded that Paul did many healings and exorcisms in Ephesus (Acts 19:11-20). It was apparently a place full of sorcery and dark magic, and God’s power was useful in proving Paul’s message to be true. At one point the believers in Ephesus destroyed nearly $3 million worth of spell and enchantment books, as they turned their lives to Jesus.

After those two years, Paul intended to return to Jerusalem, through Macedonia, and then to Rome (Acts 19:21-41). He sent Timothy and Erastus to prepare the churches in Macedonia for his arrival, while he continued his work in Ephesus. During this time there was a huge uproar and a riot against Paul, started by businessmen who crafted idols. Their business had suffered because of the number of Ephesians who had believed in Jesus. The mob did not know why they were rioting, but they loudly protested for two hours. Finally, an official got them to quiet down and dismissed the mob, stating that there was a proper way to file a complaint and that they businessmen were free to do so if they wished. It is a wonderful look into the ancient world, realizing that it is not much different than today.

Notes:

  1. The province of Asia included most of southern modern Turkey, including all the areas Paul had already preached in southern Galatia and places he had never been like Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis.

Acts 18

Chapter eighteen concludes the final leg of Paul’s second tour. After a disappointing response to the gospel in Athens, Paul moved west to Corinth, where he found a friendship with Aquila and Priscilla, Jews who had just been expelled from Rome (Acts 18:1-4). Not only did he share the gospel with them and the other Jews in the synagogue, but he was also able to work his trade with them. When Silas and Timothy finally arrived with good news from Macedonia, Paul’s mind was set at ease, and he threw himself into the work at Corinth (Acts 18:5-11). For at least 18 months, Paul preached the gospel with great response from both Jews and Gentiles.

Not everyone received his message well, though (Acts 18:6, 12-17). Some unbelieving Jews attacked Paul, dragging him to Gallio (around A.D. 52). As in Thessalonica, Gallio refused to get involved in a religious battle, so they beat one of the believing Jews right in front of him, while he ignored it. Shortly after this, Paul left Corinth (Acts 18:18-22). On his way back to Antioch and Jerusalem, he stopped in Ephesus, leaving Aquila and Priscilla there with a promise that he would return if God would allow him.

While Paul was back home, Apollos from Alexandria, Egypt, arrived in Ephesus. He was a brilliant orator and theologian, and he knew the facts about Christ but did not yet know of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 18:24-28). Aquila and Priscilla took him into their home and taught them what they had learned from Paul. This made him a powerful companion to the ministry, and he moved on to Achaia (Corinth and Athens) to serve the believers there.

Acts 17

Chapter seventeen continues the second missionary tour. It seems that Luke and Timothy stayed at Philippi while Paul and Silas walked the 100 miles to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9). Unlike Philippi, Thessalonica was big enough for a synagogue, and Luke noted that the apostles spent three Sabbaths there. Overall, they were probably in Thessalonica for a couple of months, because they also spent time in at least one home teaching the Gentiles as well. There was a great response from the Gentiles and a few of the Jews. This time it was unbelieving Jews who dragged Paul’s host, Jason, to the magistrates, charging him with treason against Rome. The magistrates, however, saw that this was a religious argument, not a political one, and let him off with only a fine. In order to not cause more trouble, the fledgling church sent Paul and Silas to Berea, about 50 miles away. Timothy may have joined them by this point and stayed to minister on Paul’s behalf in Thessalonica.

The Jews in Berea were more attentive than in Thessalonica, so they responded favorably to Paul along with many Gentiles (Acts 17:10-15). However, the unbelieving Jews from Thessalonica made the trip to harass them in Berea as well, so Paul left for Athens, leaving Silas and Timothy behind to serve the new Macedonian churches.

Although Paul received a hearing from some of the great philosophers and thinkers of the day in Athens (Acts 17:16-34), the response there was very weak. Paul had capitalized on the void in their religion, proclaiming to know the highest of gods, the creator of all things. It seems they were polite and attentive until he came to the message of Jesus’ resurrection of Jesus. At that point, most just scoffed and stopped listening, though a few believed.

Acts 16

Chapters sixteen through eighteen record Paul’s second tour. Paul and Silas visited the churches Paul had established previously (Acts 15:41; 16:1-5), especially encouraging the Gentile believers with the good decision from the Jerusalem Council. Along the way, they found young Timothy and invited him to join them as an apprentice. Because of their ministry and his mixed heritage, Paul thought it wise to have Timothy circumcised. This would both bring future benefits and cause future problems.

Although Paul wanted to move north out of southern Galatia “INTO BYTHINIA…THE SPIRIT OF JESUS DID NOT ALLOW THEM TO DO THIS” (Acts 16:6-10), so they continued west to the Aegean Sea between Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and Greece. It was at this point that Luke joined their team as well. Here Paul saw a vision of a Macedonian man asking him to come help his people, so they took that as God’s direction and embarked across the sea. Although Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia (and probably their primary destination), Philippi was a leading city as well, so they stopped there first. Because there was no synagogue, they knew the Jews would be praying by a river, so they met them there on the Sabbath (Acts 16:11-15). The first respondent was Lydia, a merchant from Thyatira in Asia Minor, who had a home in Philippi. She believed and welcome the apostles into her home as their temporary base.

At some point during their ministry, a demon-possessed slave girl began harassing the apostles, so Paul cast out the demon (Acts 16:16-24). This caused a great problem for her owners, so they brought Paul and Silas to the magistrates to have them arrested for stirring up trouble against Rome. Recognized only as Jews, Paul and Silas were severely beaten and secured in stocks in the maximum security prison. This did not dampen their spirits, though, and they continued to pray and sing praises to God throughout the night (Acts 16:25-34). At midnight, God sent a great earthquake that opened all the prison doors and unlocked all the prisoners’ bonds. The jailer, thinking he would be executed due to the loss of his prisoners, drew his sword to kill himself. Paul stopped him, and the man listened to Paul preach the gospel. He took Paul and Silas into his home, cared for their wounds, and his family believed in Jesus that night.

The following morning, when the magistrates sent word for Paul and Silas to be released, Paul revealed that they were Roman citizens, who had been arrested, beaten, and imprisoned against their Roman rights (Acts 16:35-40). Paul never hesitated to use the freedoms his citizenship afforded him, but he did not abuse them either. Not holding this violation against the magistrates, Paul and Silas left Philippi after leaving a word of encouragement with the infant believers there.

Acts 15

Chapter fifteen introduces the first major theological issue the early Church faced. About A.D. 50 (17 years after Acts 2), as the church at Antioch continued to grow with no sign of slowing down, some of the Jewish believers felt it necessary to “correct” an issue about which they had some concern. Specifically, the Gentiles were not being circumcised “ACCORDING TO THE CUSTOM OF MOSES” (Acts 15:1). In Exodus 12:48, circumcision was required of Gentiles for them to participate in Passover; spiritually, circumcision made them just like a natural-born Jew.

As Gentiles were being saved, many Jewish believers thought that they were essentially joining their Jewish Church, which required becoming a Jew (Acts 15:1-5). 1 To sort this out, Antioch sent “PAUL AND BARNABAS AND SOME OTHERS” to Jerusalem to meet with “BOTH THE APOSTLES AND THE ELDERS…TO DELIBERATE ABOUT THIS MATTER” (Acts 15:6). 2 During the discussion, Peter recounted what had happened to Cornelius (Acts 15:7-11), while Paul and Barnabas shared their ministry among the Gentiles (Acts 15:12). Finally, James spoke, the brother of Jesus and Chief Elder or Lead Pastor of the Jerusalem Church. After reminding the crowd that Gentiles were always part of God’s calling, he concluded that “WE SHOULD NOT CAUSE EXTRA DIFFICULTY FOR THOSE AMONG THE GENTILES WHO ARE TURNING TO GOD” (Acts 15:19). He suggested only that they refrain from a few things that were either blatant sin or that could cause Jews to stumble. So the church sent an official letter back to Antioch via Paul’s team, encouraging the believers and giving the results of their conference (Acts 15:22-35).

The chapter concludes with Paul making preparations for a second missionary tour (Acts 15:36-41). Barnabas wanted to include his nephew John Mark again, but Paul was vehemently against him because the young man had quit on the previous tour. The argument ended with the two apostles splitting ways. Barnabas took John to Cyprus, while Paul invited Silas to join him.

Notes:

  1. This group was probably the source of the Jewish opponents that Paul faced throughout his career, as they followed him around, adding the requirement of circumcision to his message of faith alone.
  2. The mention of elders here, distinct from the apostles, shows that the Seven from Acts 6 were not the only ones the apostles had placed into leadership in the Church. It is significant that they appointed “elders” to lead, not additional or new “apostles.” Thus, even this early, we see the two-fold distinction of elders and deacons that Paul taught further in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and mentioned in Philippians 1:1.

Acts 14

Chapter fourteen tells the second half of the first tour. Luke noted that “THE SAME THING HAPPENED IN ICONIUM,” that is, the legalistic Jews harassed those who did believe Paul and Barnabas’ message of the Messiah (Acts 14:1-7). Again, they performed miracles. This time, though, their lives were threatened (for the first time), and they had to leave quickly.

In Lystra (Acts 14:8-18) the welcome was not at all what they expected. Rather than rejecting the apostles, after seeing a man healed who had been “LAME FROM BIRTH,” the crowd instead began to worship them! Paul and Barnabas would not accept this, of course, but even then “THEY SCARCELY PERSUADED THE CROWDS NOT TO OFFER SACRIFICE TO THEM.” In what would become a trend (see Acts 17:13), the troublemaking Jews from previous places – both Antioch and Iconium in this case – had followed them to stir up trouble. Not only were they successful in threatening Paul’s life, this time they got the crowd to actually stone him, presumably to death (Acts 14:19-20). 1 He remained alive, however, and encouraged the believers before moving onto one more city, Derbe.

This concluded the first missionary tour. From Derbe, Paul and Barnabas circled back to the places they had already been where they “STRENGTHENED THE SOULS OF THE DISCIPLES AND ENCOURAGED THEM TO CONTINUE IN THE FAITH” (Acts 14:21-28). They also established formal leadership in the individual churches by appointing elders for them. Back in Antioch, they reported the wonderful news of what God had done and spent time recovering and preparing for their next ministry.

Notes:

  1. Some understand this to be the time Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians 12 when he went to heaven. However, Paul said that took place “FOURTEEN YEARS” before he wrote that letter, which would have been too early for this missionary tour.