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The Spreading Flame - Series 5: Episode 6

Preaching and miracles at Ephesus

| Martin Charlesworth
Acts 19:1-20

Paul, and his team, spend a long time in Ephesus. He speaks to the synagogue but then holds discussions with others in an educational setting. The gospel spreads out from Ephesus as people experience miracles and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul, and his team, spend a long time in Ephesus. He speaks to the synagogue but then holds discussions with others in an educational setting. The gospel spreads out from Ephesus as people experience miracles and the power of the Holy Spirit.


Thank you for joining us for this episode which is the last episode in Series 5. Series 5 was about how God led Paul and his missionary team to start preaching the Gospel in Europe for the first time, having previously been in Israel, then the countries north of Israel and then into Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey. They have moved over to the area which we would call Greece, Macedonia and Greece and Achaia.

Background and Introduction

Through this series, we have seen some incredible developments as Paul boldly goes from place to place, places he has probably never visited before, and preaches the Gospel fearlessly with his team alongside him and helping him in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea and in Athens. In the last episode, the final major destination of this European element of his mission at this time was the city of Corinth. In this city, Paul spends eighteen months with his team, Priscilla and Aquila and Timothy and Silas, and they establish a church there. The text tells us that many people believed and there were many baptisms. So, a significant church is established in Corinth.

Towards the end of the last episode, we saw that Paul then decided he wasn’t going to travel any further into Europe. He was going to head back to his home base in Antioch in Syria. If you’ve followed through the earlier episodes, you’ll know that this is the base from which Paul went out for each of his three main missionary journeys. The church there supported him, prayed for him, financed him, and sent people with him. Towards the end of chapter 18, we saw how Paul went through the city of Ephesus and then sailed to Judea, to Caesarea, travelled down to Jerusalem, went back to his home base in Antioch and then from there set out again, going back into Asia Minor to revisit some of the churches he had planted on his first missionary journey. There’s a lot of travelling involved in this story. Now the focus is on the city of Ephesus. We found out that Paul strategically left a team in Ephesus, a husband-and-wife team who’d been with him in Corinth, by the name of Priscilla and Aquila. He asked them to travel with him to Ephesus and he asked them to stay there with the expectation that he would one day come back and work with them to establish a church.

Paul Returns to Ephesus

Meanwhile, while he’d been away, an evangelist and preacher by the name of Apollos, had passed through Ephesus and had gone on to the area around Corinth. Paul returns to Ephesus for what proves to be a very significant church planting adventure. This city was famous for its religious focus. It had a huge temple in the middle of the city and there Artemis of the Ephesians, a goddess, was worshipped. It was a religious centre, a commercial centre, a large population centre and an administrative centre for the Roman Empire. It is a very significant place for Paul to go to. Acts 19: 1 - 7,

1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we’ve not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

John’s baptism,” they replied. 4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

Acts 19:1-7, NIV

He arrives back in Ephesus. Priscilla and Aquila are there and we find out later on in this chapter, that he’s travelling with Timothy and Erastus, they’re mentioned in verse 22. So, he has a team formed in Ephesus.

Followers of John the Baptist

At the very beginning, he encounters an unusual group who have some spiritual background but they don’t have a full Christian faith. We need to think about these people. What’s going on in this discussion? Who are these people, these ‘disciples’, as they are described? They seem to be following the teaching of John the Baptist, so they were probably people who heard John preach near the River Jordan in the early days, before Jesus’ ministry got established, and they were very influenced by John. They must have left the country and followed John’s teaching, believing him to be a great Jewish prophet. These were Jewish people, who probably heard John but were now living in the Jewish community in Ephesus. They were very impressed with John and we find out in the Gospels that John was a very impressive preacher who was calling the Jewish people to get out of their casual religious ways, to take God seriously, to undergo water baptism as a sign that they wanted to follow God more wholeheartedly. John then said to them that somebody’s going to come after him who would be the Messiah. It appears, amazingly, that these people had missed that message. They must have left the country before Jesus came to the River Jordan, was baptised by John and John said “This is the one. This is the Messiah. This is the one coming after me. I’m not even worthy to untie his sandals.” John made that public announcement and everybody who heard it knew that the focus was going to be Jesus but this group of people were not there, they must have missed that message because it was such an obvious part of John’s message. How could they possibly have missed it? Only by not being there. Jewish people did travel round from country to country, and they went from Jewish community to Jewish community, for reasons of commerce, family, trade and jobs. These people knew half the truth.

When Paul met them, he was puzzled. He asked them these questions. John had said, “I baptise in water but there’s one coming after me who is more powerful than I, who is going to baptise in the Holy Spirit.” They haven’t even heard of the Holy Spirit, so they must have left John’s ministry before he made that announcement about Jesus. They’ve been baptised with John’s baptism. Paul pointed out that John’s ministry was to point people to Jesus. So, he filled in the gaps in their knowledge, and he said, “After you left the country, the Messiah, Jesus, came to the riverside: John identified that he was the Son of God, the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove, the voice of the Father in heaven spoke and said, ‘this is my Son’ Jesus was baptised, and then started his ministry.” Paul filled in the story and as a result of that they were baptised. Paul laid his hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. The evidence of that were the spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy. So, they joined the church community that Paul wanted to establish. There were a few other people there already and these were gathered in, and then Paul proceeded to reach out to many other people.

Paul has dealt with the disciples of John the Baptist, essentially by pointing out that to believe in Jesus there are four dimensions. This is something I’ve mentioned on a number of occasions, but I’ll mention it again so that we’re clear about this. There needs to be repentance from our own sin and unbelief, a genuine faith in the work of Jesus on the cross and in his resurrection, a baptism in water - a believer’s baptism of immersion and then a conscious prayer that we receive the Holy Spirit - that he comes and lives in us fully. That’s what happened to these few believers in the work of John the Baptist.

Paul’s Ministry in Ephesus

Let’s read Acts 19: 8 - 12, because Paul now starts his work in earnest and things begin to develop very quickly in Ephesus.

8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate, they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. 11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

Acts 19:8-12, NIV

In these few verses, there is compressed an incredibly dynamic phase of Paul’s evangelistic ministry. There’s hardly any statement in all of the book of Acts that is so dynamic as this one. The things that happened were amazing, and as always, as you will have noticed if you have been following through this teaching through the book of Acts, it begins with the synagogue. Paul preaches, first to the Jew and then to the Gentile. He gives the Jews an opportunity to believe but, in that three-month period of coming and going every Sabbath and talking to the Jews informally, the resistance grew stronger and stronger until eventually, Paul left. He had given them an opportunity but in general they had not believed. He had a few disciples, it says clearly in verse 9. He had those who had previously been John the Baptist’s disciples, Priscilla and Aquila, his own team of Timothy and Erastus and he might have had a few others. He used an interesting strategy.

Paul’s Point of Contact

Paul was always looking for somewhere to go. What is the connecting point? The connecting point with culture was different in different places. Here, he saw an opportunity because he noticed there was a university-type institution called ‘The Lecture Hall of Tyrannus’. Education was highly valued amongst the citizens in Ephesus, as in many of the cities of the ancient world, and many people set themselves up as tutors and teachers in all sorts of different subjects and disciplines. In this case, there was a building where they could go and do their teaching and training. Some people did it in households but in this particular case, there was a place where people could go and various education was provided, probably by individual tutors for which you paid. Paul thought, ‘What a great place to go, a big building in the middle of the city’. It says here that he had discussions daily. That means he must have booked a room, this couldn’t have happened by accident. I imagine something like this: Paul may have booked a room from say to 2 – 3pm in the afternoon, Monday to Friday, and advertised the fact that he was there, open for discussions. Notice the word ‘discussion’ rather than preaching. It would involve preaching the Gospel but it was like a teacher discussing with questioners about the message that he was bringing. He already had his discipleship group, so, the little church was forming but they advertised around the city the fact that Paul was available for discussion about the Christian faith on a regular basis at a certain time and in a certain place - ‘The Lecture Hall of Tyrannus’. It was an interesting strategy and it worked in Ephesus because people came.

This went on for two years but alongside there was also a miraculous dimension going on; Paul didn’t just lecture about the Christian faith, he prayed for people. We see this pattern elsewhere, and it’s something we struggle to reproduce in the modern church. It’s a great way of extending the Kingdom, to offer to pray for people. Paul, as an Apostle, believed that God had given him the authority to perform significant miracles which are described as ‘signs’. The ‘signs of an Apostle’ is how Paul describes it in 2 Corinthians 12. Apostles were given particular power to perform miracles, to open the way up for the Gospel. Paul performed many miracles and, particularly, he did so here in Ephesus. People would come to the lecture Hall of Tyrannus, or to the place where he was staying, and would ask Paul to pray for the sick and many remarkable miracles took place. So remarkable was this, that people would come and want to touch Paul and bring a handkerchief or an apron - just to touch him because they believed there was power in him to heal the sick, and miraculously, God used that method to enable miracles to happen, without Paul necessarily meeting that particular person. Very remarkable! This must have happened many times.

The Gospel Spreads

Astonishingly in verse 10, Luke records that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. This doesn’t mean every single person, it means all the communities of both the Jewish community and also the local Greek speaking communities, heard about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This means that people would go from Ephesus into the surrounding district. They would have encountered the Gospel and Paul in Ephesus and they would go back and tell people what was going on and tell people the message. The message went out from Ephesus. Because Paul was there for such a long time, two years, and because there were so many miracles and so many people had discussions with him in the lecture hall of Tyrannus, the impact grew and grew and more and more people heard about the Gospel. It is a remarkable situation in Ephesus, where God blesses Paul’s ministry in an unique way.

We even know that churches were planted from Ephesus without Paul having even visited places. There is an example in the New Testament. Colossians 1:7 describes how a man called Epaphras, heard the Gospel and went to his home city, Colossi, which was 200 km away from Ephesus, going east into the interior of the province, and he planted a church there on the basis of what he heard of the Gospel in Ephesus. He travelled all the way back home and planted a church. Many years later, Paul wrote that letter to the Colossian church. He writes to a church he’s never visited, identifying Epaphras as the person who connected what he did in Ephesus with what happened in Colossi. That must have happened with many other places as well that are not recorded. That’s remarkable. That’s Paul’s strategy because he always wanted to have a good urban base in a big urban area and then for the Gospel to spread out. It happened in all sorts of different places but more so here than probably anywhere else in Paul’s ministry. For two years there was hardly any effective resistance to Paul and he just kept on preaching, kept on praying for the sick, kept on telling the message. Many people came to Ephesus for trading and also for religious purposes. They would come to pay tribute to Artemis of the Ephesians, the goddess who was worshipped in the huge temple, high up above the city of Ephesus, very similar to the way Athena was worshipped in the Acropolis above Athens. People came in their thousands. There was a great movement of people around Ephesus but some of these people came to worship Artemis and left the city worshipping Jesus because they encountered Paul on the way. There were consequences to that which we’ll discover in the next episode. Miracles, teaching and discussion, witness and community life all together.

Spiritual Opposition

Then a difficult situation arises, Acts 19:13 - 19:

13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. 17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honour. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.

Acts 19:13-19, NIV

Jewish exorcists were trying to use the power of Jesus but they didn’t believe in Jesus. It was a mechanism, it was a formula, it was a ritual that they were using, and it didn’t work. Here we see the reality of spiritual warfare coming to the front. We realise that there is a spiritual battle going on for the Gospel. As the Gospel goes forward, there are demonic forces that resist it going forward. This theme has been there throughout the book of Acts and it has manifested itself in a number of different incidents that take place. Here, some Jews who were unbelievers in the sense of not believing in Jesus, tried to use his power to get involved in dealing with evil spirits in other people, and they totally failed. They were humiliated because the evil power in this particular person was so great that he used violence against them, beating them, tearing their clothes off them. This reveals the reality of spiritual warfare that was going on. Paul was familiar with these things. This story had an incredibly positive impact because it made people realise that the name and the authority of Jesus was of a different character, quality and power to any spiritual power invoked by either the Jews, or those who went up to worship Artemis of the Ephesians in her great temple. Such was the influence of Paul already, through the events I described a moment ago, that the word about the Gospel and Jesus Christ was everywhere in the community of Ephesus. The Gospel had penetrated the community and it was like a revival situation. The presence of the Holy Spirit was felt in the community really powerfully and so fear came upon people. They realised that Paul’s message was one of great significance and great power.

Many people wanted to get rid of the occultism and the sorcery that was in their society, like it is in many societies today. They wanted to renounce it because they realised that to follow Christ means that you turn away from these things in a specific and definite way. So, they brought scrolls with incantations, charms, messages and formulas that were worth a lot of money, and they burnt them publicly. There was a big bonfire somewhere in Ephesus that really made people sit up and think. These people said, “We don’t follow this anymore. We’re following Jesus, the Son of God, who has real power to change people’s lives”. What a dramatic moment that was. Paul’s mission has been astonishingly successful. It is not the end of the story. There’s another challenge coming to Paul in the second half of this chapter, and that’s the subject of our next talk.

Summary Statement

This episode ends with one very significant verse, Acts 19: 20,

20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.

Acts 19:20, NIV

In that brief statement we have a summary of the work of Paul up to this point, and particularly reflected in what has happened in Ephesus, and what has happened in his European ventures in Series 5. Luke places summary statements all the way through the book of Acts to indicate markers of different phases of the spread of the Gospel. Every series has a summary statement at the end. Series 1 was Acts 6:7, Series 2 Acts 9:31, Series 3 Acts 12:24, Series 4 Acts 16:4 and 5. If you have followed these series through, you’ll remember them. Here is the next summary statement, Acts 19: 20:

20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.

Acts 19:20, NIV

Paul’s Vision for the Future

From this point onwards, Paul has another goal. We find that in the final two verses that we’re going to read today, Acts 19:21 - 22,

21 After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. “After I have been there,” he said, “I must visit Rome also.” 22 He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer.

Acts 19:21-22, NIV

This is a very important statement. Paul sets his sights on the capital city of the Roman Empire, a long way further west than he’s ever been before. This is his ultimate goal. He started in Jerusalem and in Damascus, right on the eastern fringe of the Roman Empire, and he’ll take the ministry of the Gospel right to the door of the Roman Emperor himself. We’re going to move to Series 6 in the next episode, where the ultimate destination is Rome. On the way, he wants to revisit the churches in Macedonia and Greece, and go to Jerusalem to make a financial gift there, which we’ll tell you more about in a future episode. Ultimately, he’s heading to Rome.


As we conclude this episode, some reflections. The first part of this episode tells us that we need a full understanding of the Gospel, repentance, faith in Jesus, believer’s baptism, which is very important, and receiving the Holy Spirit. The New Testament teaches us very specifically that until the Holy Spirit is living inside a person they are not truly in God’s Kingdom, not truly, in the words of Jesus, born-again or born anew, or born from above. The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us power and also an inner sense of certainty that we are saved - as the Holy Spirit within us connects us to God the Father, and enables us to really believe in the forgiveness of Jesus.

Another reflection is the central place of miracles in the advance of the Gospel. We have a very dramatic example of this here. But for us Christians who live ordinary lives, in ordinary places, in ordinary churches, how can we learn from this? We can learn that we must play our part in believing for God to do miracles by praying for the sick, praying for people in need, praying for people with financial difficulties, praying for people with family problems, praying for people outside the Kingdom, personally, with them as far as possible whenever the opportunity comes, and see what God might do.

My final and third reflection is that this episode tells us of the reality of the spiritual battle that is always there in the background. As the Gospel advances, there will be hostile spiritual responses from demonic forces. In every case, when this happens, God comes in with even greater power and overturns that attack, if we have faith and trust him to do that. We’ll see another example of that in our next episode and I hope you’ll join us again as we continue the story of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. What miracles are you praying for?
  • Discipleship
    1. Discuss the role of the Holy Spirit in re-birth. Martin Charlesworth is clear about the role of the Holy Spirit. Do you agree?
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. What aspects of the Christian journey are seen in Ephesus?
    2. Read the book of Ephesians, written by Paul at a later stage. How does this new church mature
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