1. And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples
Now the record the Lord is giving us of these events through Luke turns away from Apollos, leaving him at Corinth. In fact, this is the last we will hear of Apollos in the book of Acts. For further information on him, we would have to turn to the books of I Corinthians and Titus. The only other place we will see him connected with is Crete, where he will pass through with the letter to Titus. At this point, he is apparently acting as one of Paul’s company. In Acts, the record now returns to Paul, and will stay with him for the remainder of the book.
Paul is coming from Phrygia, where we saw him last. He passes through the upper regions, we read, and arrives at last back at Ephesus. Upon his arrival, the first event we read of is him finding some disciples at Ephesus. Where they came from we are not told. Apparently, though, they had arrived in Ephesus from another place, just like Apollos did.
2. he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”
Apparently there was something about these disciples that didn’t seem quite right to Paul. The difference between them and what was expected perhaps was obvious, or else their words revealed something lacking in their knowledge. So Paul starts to suspect that something is missing in their experience. This leads him to ask this question. What he asks might be put thus: “Believing, did you receive spirit holy?” There are no “the”s in the Greek here, so it is plain that Paul is talking about the power of the Holy Spirit, not His Person. So it seems that this power was not evident in their lives, as it should have been.
Their answer reveals that Paul has indeed touched upon their problem. They respond that they have not so much as heard whether there is spirit holy. Again, though, their lack of knowledge was not so much about the Person of the Holy Spirit, as it was about the giving of His power. They had not heard about His power being poured out, or that it had been given to all who believe.
Now we might wonder how it was that these disciples were so behind the times, and why they lacked this knowledge. We might wonder, since this story comes so soon after that of Apollos, if perhaps they were connected to the same company of people as he was. Or perhaps they were even disciples of Apollos in the past, before he was further instructed by Priscilla and Aquila. It could also be that these men were just similar to Apollos, in that they had learned some of the truth from John the Baptist, but they had left Jerusalem and Judea before the pouring out of the power of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and had not been back since. Whatever the reason for it, however, these men clearly were lacking.
3. And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?”
So they said, “Into John’s baptism.”
Paul seeks to learn more exactly where these men were as far as their knowledge and standing was concerned. So he asks them into what then they were identified? What were they identified with, and what were they merged into? Their response is that it was John’s identification that they had been identified with. Again, this points to the fact that they had been in Israel, but had left before certain key events at the beginning of the Acts period.
4. Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”
Paul now knows what these disciples know, and what they need yet to be informed of. So he starts in to bring them up to date. First, though, he speaks of John’s baptism. His was a baptism of repentance, Paul tells them. The word “repentance” is again the Greek word metanoia, and has to do with having the after-mind. For example, one might look into joining a certain group, and yet when he learns of the price of membership, change his mind and no longer be interested. Yet what John was calling upon all those who were baptized by him to do was to make up their mind in advance. They were to decide to follow God, and whatever that might end up costing them later, they should be willing to pay that price, since they had decided in advance that the privilege of serving Him was worth any price. In other words, they were to have the same mind now as when they found out later what serving God would cost them. There was to be no wavering or turning back if the price was too high.
Now when John identified people as truly submissive to God and ready to serve him no matter the price, he then pointed them to what was expected of them next. That is, he told them to believe on Him who would come after him. We can see him declaring this in Matthew 3:11-12, Mark 1:7-8, and Luke 3:16-17. Then, John revealed Who was this One Whom they should believe on in John 1:29-34. That is, he revealed that they should believe on Christ Jesus.
Here we have an excellent example of the important principle of progressive revelation. We can see that the revelation John gave of a baptism of repentance, though it was the right message at the time he gave it, was not enough for the Acts period, when further truth had been revealed. So it is even today with many truths of Scripture. Many careless Bible students will make no distinction about which commands of Scripture are given them to follow. It is not that any of these are wrong, but that the truth God has given has been given progressively. What once was current truth might now be obsolete. That was the case with these disciples in Ephesus. And it is true of many passages which men quote and try to follow today. Like these disciples of old, we need to know what God’s truth is for the time in which we live. If we are stuck trying to follow some truth that applied to a past situation, we may find that we too are missing out on the truths God has for us today.
5. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
When these men hear this true message, given to them by God through Paul, they are baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. What this means is that they are identified with the true character of the Lord Jesus, for a name means far more than just a word or words by which a person is designated. A true name has to do with a person’s true character, and so it is with who and what Jesus Christ is that these men are identified. So they fulfill the purpose for which John had baptized them, believing in the One Who came after him, the Lord Jesus.
6. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.
Now Paul lays his hands on these men, and the result is that the Holy Spirit comes upon them. The words “Holy Spirit” here are to pneuma to hagion in Greek, or literally “the Spirit the Holy.” With the “the”s in place, this means the Person of the Spirit is what came upon them. However, the result is that they are given power, as we read that they then spoke with tongues and prophesied.
Paul’s actions here remind us of those of Peter and John in Acts 8. There, we read in verses 14-17:
14. Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15. who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
So we see that Paul here has the same power that Peter and John did earlier in Acts. He has the power to lay his hands on a believer, and that believer will receive the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. This was something that even Philip, one of the seven, could not do, yet Paul is granted this power. As Paul himself says in II Corinthians 12:11, “in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles.”
7. Now the men were about twelve in all.
Luke closes the story with a note telling us that the disciples in question were “about twelve in all.” This seems rather odd to us, for what is “about” twelve? Is it actually twelve, or is it actually eleven or thirteen? And if so, why not just say eleven or thirteen rather than “about twelve”? Yet the strangeness of this statement in our ears might not seem so strange at all to a reader with a Hebrew mindset. “About twelve” might be as satisfactory for him as for us to say a distance is “about twelve miles.” We see no reason to be more exact, and neither did they. Also, God uses numbers thematically in Scripture, and He probably just wanted to identify this event with the number twelve.
8. And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God.
It seems that Paul dealt with the matter of these twelve disciples almost as soon as he had arrived in Ephesus. With this matter taken care of, Paul now enters into the synagogue and speaks there. This was Paul’s usual procedure in all the towns he visited, as we have seen it throughout the book of Acts, and even as we saw him do it in Ephesus on his first, brief visit there in Acts 18. Now he continues the work he did then, and boldly proclaims the truth. This continues for a total of three months, as Paul reasons with his listeners and persuades them concerning the things of the kingdom of God.
We can only imagine what Paul’s teaching was, but no doubt he told them many truths about the kingdom of God and how it related to the Acts period in which they were living. They were living at a time when Jesus Christ had paid the price to redeem His people, so that He was now ready to bring in the kingdom. Yet the kingdom was there in only part, and only those who believed in the Lord Jesus were then entering it. No doubt Paul explained all this, why God was acting as He was acting, and what they could expect once the full kingdom at last appears.
Notice too that this tells us that Paul was teaching concerning the kingdom of God, as if that was his main message, which I believe it was. Even the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, as important as they are, are considered as a part of that overall theme. This shows us how important the kingdom of God really is, and illustrates once again my contention that the kingdom of God is the theme of the Bible. While Paul was teaching in Ephesus, while we would think that he would be “proclaiming Jesus Christ” or “preaching the gospel,” what the Bible tells us he was doing was “reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God.” The kingdom is indeed very important, and we would do well not to forget that.
9. But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.
After three months of Paul teaching, the opinions of his hearers start to solidify, some for him and some against him. This is very interesting, as many have the idea today that the gospel is something you proclaim very quickly, and people are expected to believe just as quickly. To proclaim it for three months, and to expect people to take three months to make up their minds, seems most foreign to our way of thinking. Yet it is clear that Paul did not think this way. Nor did the Lord, as we can see from Isaiah 28:16.
16. Therefore thus says the Lord GOD:
“Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation,
A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation;
Whoever believes will not act hastily.”
So the Lord does not expect believers to act hastily, yet the call of many modern-day evangelists is to urge people to make a decision quickly. Well, some will make such decisions when they are urged to in this manner, but it is clear that many will likewise abandon such decisions equally quickly. Our undue haste is not a good thing. We should be willing to allow people the time to make up their minds, and to believe.
So once those in Ephesus start making up their minds about what Paul is teaching, some of them end up deciding against it. These are hardened against the truth, and do not believe. The result is that they start to speak evil of the Way before the multitude. “The Way” here is another name for the Lord Jesus Christ, Who in John 14:6 said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Upon facing such opposition, Paul responds by departing from the synagogue that contained his enemies. He takes the disciples along with him, and they go off to meet elsewhere at the school of Tyrannus. Tyrannus means “Sovereign,” but other than that we know nothing more of the man. He may have been a man who believed the word when Paul proclaimed it, and thus made his school building available for Paul to proclaim the word in it. This may have been a Jewish school, as the Companion Bible suggests. Or it may be that this was a school of philosophy in Ephesus, and those who ran it for whatever reason allowed Paul to use their school to carry on his work. At any rate, this is where he goes with the disciples, and he continues reasoning daily in that school.
10. And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.
This continues for two years, with Paul proclaiming his message regarding the kingdom of God, now from the school of Tyrannus. Apparently word spreads far and wide of this, and those from other cities in that region come to hear Paul and the message he is proclaiming. This is a very different way of doing things than what we saw took place in other cities and regions. When Paul did his work in Lycaonia, for example, back in Acts 14, he started off at Iconium, the capital city of that region, and then went to Lystra, Derbe, and the surrounding little towns, proclaiming the word in each city as he went there. Here in Asia, however, he stays in one place in the city of Ephesus, and lets all those interested in hearing the word come to him. Yet this very different method produces just as effective results. Apparently word of Paul and his teaching spreads far and wide throughout Asia, and so all those who dwell in other cities eventually make their way to Ephesus to hear Paul., both Jews and Greeks.
Why was it that the Lord did things so differently here in Asia than He did it in other places? We cannot say for sure, for there is no particular reason we can see why Paul would go to various cities to speak to men in one region, and stay in one place and let those interested come to him in another. Ultimately, I think we need to mark this down to God’s choice. He does not have to do things exactly the same way every time. If He has reason to, He can change the way He does things in one place over the way He does them in another. This is a good message for us to remember in our day as well. Some people seem to have the idea that everyone’s salvation experience has to be the same, or there is something wrong. They expect everyone else to feel the same feelings they did, to go through the same chain of events, or to believe at the same speed. Yet God does not always work with every single person the same way. Though it is the same gospel and the same Lord Jesus they are believing in, not everyone has to believe in the same way. We need to be open to God working with different people in different ways. He does not have to always do everything the same way He did it with you.
Now this also shows us how interested in what Paul had to say these Jews and Greeks must have been. For people in that day, travel was most unusual. Though the Romans and their great system of roads had made travel much easier and safer than it had ever been before, still travel in those days was a dangerous and expensive undertaking. Most people did very little traveling in a lifetime. In fact, it would not have been too unusual at that time to find people who had been born in a certain city, had grown up in the same city, had lived out their adult lives in the same city, and finally who died in the same city, and who never left it or went further than that city’s suburbs.
Now that is not the way it was in Israel, for there all the Jews were expected to travel to Jerusalem three times in the year for the feasts, and so travel in the land was common. Yet this was not in the land of Israel, but in Asia, and doubtless many of the Jews there were like their Gentile counterparts in those places, and simply did not travel much at all. The fact that they would leave whatever cities they were from and come to hear Paul shows just how interested they must have been. Yet with the Lord working, there was such interest, and the results were just as good as if Paul had gone and sought these people out. They all came to him, and all heard the word, both Jews and Greeks.
Yet when this verse says “all who dwelt in Asia” and defines that as “Jews and Greeks,” does this mean the same thing as if we would say “Jews and Gentiles”? For if so, this would have to mean every single person in Asia. All people, of all nationalities and all religious persuasions, would have to have left their homes and come to hear Paul in the school of Tyrannus at one time or another in these two years. Yet that seems incredibly unlikely. While we can see why the Jews might well have been interested in hearing the words of this fellow Jew and his teaching about God and the Messiah, it seems highly unlikely that the Gentiles would have had the same attitude or amount of interest. We saw the attitude of your average, idol-worshipping Gentile toward what Paul was teaching in the Areopagus in Athens in Acts 17. The Gentiles there had little interest in what Paul was saying, particularly when they found out it contradicted their ideas about life after death. Why would the idolators in Asia have been any different? What could possibly have made them leave their homes in whatever city they dwelt to come to Ephesus to listen to this itinerant Jewish teacher? This just does not make any sense.
Not only so, but this also contradicts with what we see later in the passage. For in verses 35-40, when the town clerk argues that the Ephesians are still on the whole worshippers of the goddess Diana, he does not seem to think that Paul has won the interest of all those in the region, or that they are coming to Paul in droves to hear the word of the Lord. His argument is that all things continue as they were before. This could not be if Paul was in fact dominating the scene in Asia and turning the people as a whole away from idolatry. In fact, the whole tone of the latter half of this chapter is impossible if Paul was indeed reaching everyone in Asia.
So we see once again that we have a strong indication that “Greeks” here does not mean everyone who is not a Jew, or all the Gentiles in Asia. A “Greek” was one who lived the Greek lifestyle, and in this context, as in many others in the New Testament, it means the ancestral Israelites who had given up on living the Jewish culture and had instead adopted that of the culture around them. These Israelites by descent, however, were still interested enough in those things they had left behind to adopt the Greek culture and lifestyle to come and hear Paul, and many of them changed their minds and turned back to the true God when they did. However, all the Gentiles in Asia did not come to hear Paul or show interest in what he had to say, by any means.
One last thing to note about this passage is that I Corinthians, as far as we can tell, was written during the two years Paul spent here in Ephesus in the school of Tyrannus.