11. Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul,
That God is working with Paul during these two years cannot be doubted, for here we read that God worked unusual miracles through Paul’s agency during this time. The Greek is “no chance miracles,” but the meaning of this is that they were not ordinary miracles. Imagine a time when miracles were so prevalent that you could speak of “ordinary” ones and “unusual” ones. This shows us once again how different from today the Acts period really was! But again apparently these were not the typical miracles that Paul did in other places he went, but ones that were special even for him.
12. so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.
Here we find out what these unusual miracles were. It seems that, since Paul was not traveling around Asia as he did in other places, the people who heard of his ability to heal and hoped for healing from him could not necessarily get the sick folks they knew and loved to Paul, since sometimes the journey would be great and the sick would be in no condition to undertake it. Therefore, to meet this need, God produced this unusual miracle. He had Paul make skin contact with handkerchiefs or aprons. These were probably everyday articles Paul had on hand. The Companion Bible suggests that these “aprons” were those used in the art of tentmaking, which we know Paul engaged in with his friends Aquila and Priscilla. Then, those who were concerned for their sick friends or relatives and who came to Paul could take this handkerchief or apron back to their sick, and when the sick would receive the cloth from Paul, their diseases would leave them, or the evil spirits that were plaguing them would go out of them.
Now this was a most unusual miracle, and it was tailor-made for this situation, when Paul was staying in one place and yet ministering to people in many different places. We have no record of anyone but Paul doing this, and no record of even him doing it in any place but here in Ephesus. Yet this has not stopped some arrogant men from vainly imagining themselves to be like Paul in this situation, and claiming that they can send pieces of cloth out to the sick to make them well. There is no indication that Paul charged anything for these pieces of cloth, and since concerned friends or relatives were carrying the cloths back to the sick, no “shipping” fees had to be charged to anyone either. Yet the men who claim to have this power today always charge for these handkerchiefs, and enrich themselves off of the gullibility of those who are seeking healing. This is a sad and un-Biblical practice, and those who have partaken in it need to submit themselves to God and the truth, and leave behind such foolish and inappropriate actions. No one has any right to claim the powers given to Paul, not to mention special ones that even he only received in a certain case. This is simply not something that anyone can perform or practice today.
13. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.”
Now we read of certain itinerant Jewish exorcists. These seem to have been men who traveled from place to place in this region and attempted to cast out evil spirits from whoever was plagued with them. Probably there were not enough people who had evil spirits for them to make a full-time living of this in any single town, and so they had to travel around to find enough work.
These men did not have any real authority in the spirit world, as the Lord Jesus Christ did, or as Paul His chosen representative did. Therefore, it seems they relied on certain methods and tricks that were supposed to entice a spirit to come out of one possessed with it. One of these tricks was to command the spirit by some name that was considered powerful or threatening. In some way, this was thought to give them some power over the spirit and some advantage in getting it to come out. How much of truth there was behind this we find hard to say, not being familiar with any spirit-possessed men in our day.
So these particular exorcists decide to attempt to beef up their method by using the name of the Lord Jesus as a name of power to command these spirits with. No doubt they knew of Paul, his message concerning Jesus Christ, and the power that was attached to it. They thought they could get in on this power if they used His name in exorcising. So they try this, claiming to exorcise the evil spirits by “Jesus whom Paul preaches.”
14. Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.
We learn that the men who tried this were all brothers, seven sons of a man named Sceva. This name means “Mind-reader” in Greek, so it seems likely that this type of scamming had been going on for a long time in this family. This Sceva was a chief priest among the Jews, and so we can see these men were not without a good reputation. The Companion Bible suggests that every town with at least 120 Jews had a Sanhedrin of twenty-three members, or a Sanhedrin of three members if there were less than 120 Jews there. So this Sceva was probably a member of this Sanhedrin at Ephesus.
15. And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”
The evil spirit answers these would-be exorcists. Probably he spoke through the organs of speech of the man he was possessing, for a spirit has no fleshly body with which to make sound otherwise. Yet speak he does, and tells them that he knows Jesus and he knows Paul. Yet this translation is somewhat misleading, for the spirit actually used two different words for “know.” The first word is ginosko, that he knows Jesus. The second word is epistamai, and perhaps has more the idea that he has gotten to know Paul, or that he is acquainted with Paul. We might say he is familiar with the name. Yet then the spirit asks them this question: who are they? If the Lord Jesus was standing there, or if Paul was standing there, then the spirit would pay attention. But these men who are trying to name drop: who are they? And the answer apparently is: nobody much. At any rate, this spirit is simply not impressed.
16. Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
Now the spirit-possessed man attacks them, leaping upon them. Though he is one man against seven, it seems that with the spirit possessing him, this man possesses superhuman strength. We have seen that in Mark 5:3-4, when a spirit-possessed man could break chains when others sought to bind him. So this spirit-possessed man overpowers these seven itinerant Jews, and defeats them. In the struggle, the man rips off their clothing and wounds them. At last, they flee desperately out of the house, naked and wounded. It turns out to have been a very bad idea indeed for these men to take it upon themselves to command spirits in the name of “Jesus whom Paul proclaims.”
This events shows us that the man in Mark 9:38 and Luke 9:49 who was casting out demons in the name of the Lord Jesus but was not one of His disciples, must nevertheless have had the Lord’s permission to do this. No one can cast out demons in the name of the Lord Jesus unless the Lord gives him the right to do so. This these seven Jews found out the hard way.
17. This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
The story of this event spreads rapidly through the city, until all the Jews and Greeks there know of it. The result is that they fear. This word phobos (like our word “phobia”) can mean to reverence someone or something, or to be afraid. No doubt both fear and reverence were present in these men when they heard this story. It was clear to them now that the name of the Lord Jesus was nothing to be trifled with. It was a name of power, but not one to be used lightly!
Yet how lightly is the name of the Lord Jesus often taken today. People swear by this name, cry out this name in emotional fits, and otherwise throw it around like it means very little. For those of us who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, however, His name should not be something we take lightly. Let us always use this name with the respect and admiration it deserves.
His name being magnified meant far more than that just that single word “Jesus” was magnified. Someone’s “name” has to do with his reputation, and a true name has to do with a true reputation based on a person’s true character. It was the reputation of the Lord Jesus that was increased by this story, not just the word “Jesus.”
18. And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.
Many of those who have believed through Paul’s proclaiming now come. In this case, “came” seems to have to do with making a public appearance, for what they now do when they come is to confess and tell the things they have done. Apparently these were wicked deeds done in secret, which up to now had been hidden from the world. Yet now emboldened by their new-found faith in Jesus Christ, those who had done these deeds come forward and admit to the evils they have done.
Though we do not live in the Acts period, I do not believe that this aspect of a true faith in Jesus Christ has changed. When one truly comes to faith in Christ, one will have a new relationship with the wickedness done in his past. No longer will a believer feel right about hiding the destructive and sinful things he has done, particularly not if there is anything he can do to help atone for them. Bringing these things forward, admitting to them, and taking responsibility for the consequences of them is something that the Lord will work in a person’s heart to cause him to do.
This is not to say that a new believer should bring forth every wicked thing he has ever done, even if bringing that thing to light will only cause pain and destruction. An example may be an affair carried out many years before, and long since over with. If the person has not engaged in such behavior since, and the affair has never come to light before, then it is quite likely that bringing the affair to light now will only bring the cheated-on partner much pain and distress, and will not do anything constructive to the marriage or the lives of those involved. Although it may clear the conscience of the person admitting to the affair, it will do so at the cost of much pain and distress to everyone else involved. In this case, a believer is not obligated to speak a truth that will do no one any good, and it would be best if he make his confessions only to God, and bear his own guilty conscience without hurting others with it.
So confessions should not be entered into carelessly, but still they are a very good thing for a new believer to be involved in. I teach a prison class, and have been pleased to see some of the believers there are quick to admit their own sinful actions, and that they did do things that brought about their incarceration. We have probably all heard the statement that prisons are full of innocent people, at least if you listen to the prisoners. Yet it is not good if a believer continues to try to cover up his past sins. A follower of Christ should leave lying behind him, and admit to the sins that Jesus Christ has washed away. That is what these people were doing in Ephesus.
19. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.
Other new believers were formerly practitioners of magical arts. Yet now upon coming to Christ, these no longer have any interest in such forbidden knowledge. So these men get together and collect all their books of magic and burn them publicly. The value of these books, for magic secrets were highly treasured and expensive, was figured at fifty thousand pieces of silver. That is quite a sum indeed! Yet these men knew now that these things were sinful. They had no desire to mitigate this loss. They did not sell the books to get their money back, thus passing on these wicked secrets to others. They were willing to lose something in exchange for their faith in Christ.
Is this true of men today? It seems that all too often, people who wish to make professions of faith in Christ want to do so without making any personal sacrifice whatsoever, or without experiencing any kind of loss. They want to indulge in the same behaviors, live the same kind of lifestyle, and commit the same sins as before they ever claimed faith in Jesus Christ. The genuineness of the faith of all such must be seriously questioned. One does not come to Jesus Christ and continue to live the same kind of lifestyle of sin as he did before. A true faith in Christ will result in changes like happened in the lives of these Ephesians. A believer will have a new relationship with the sins of his past, as well as the sinful possessions he has in the present. All simply cannot continue as it was before. If it does, then there can be little doubt but that nothing has changed, and the faith professed in Christ is nothing but an empty profession.
20. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.
The result is that the word of the Lord grows mightily and prevails. This is the same word as that used for the spirit-possessed man prevailing over the seven sons of Sceva in verse 16. The Lord’s word grows to the point where it is winning handily in Ephesus. Yet there can be no doubt but that this was only among the Jews and ancestral-Israelite Greeks dwelling in that city. The picture we get in verse 29 and following in this chapter is not of a city where the word of God is dominating the scene, and the unbelievers are now in the minority. Quite the opposite, it is clear that the believers are still a small minority. So it was among the Jews and Greeks that the word was winning the day, not among the common, Gentile inhabitants of the city. That is what this verse means. To try to make it to mean anything else is only to promote confusion.
21. When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”
Paul has now been two years in Ephesus, and this great victory of the word of the Lord has taken place. His mission that God had for him in Asia is completed. Now his thoughts turn to what he must do next. The Spirit does not leave him without guidance, but provides him with an itinerary. He will head west, and pass once more through Macedonia and Achaia, where Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth are located. No doubt he plans on revisiting all these places to help and encourage the believers in them. Then, having done this, he will return to Jerusalem. That was truly the center of the world for the Israelites at that time, was where the twelve had their base of operations, and where the temple was located and all its rites and services performed. Finally, he decides, after he has been in Jerusalem, he must also go to see Rome. He has not yet been there to minister, though Rome is the capital city of the empire and the center of the world outside Israel at that time. Now at last the Lord has work for him to do there, once he has accomplished these other tasks he has to perform.
22. So he sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time.
Paul is not yet quite ready to leave Asia, so he sends two of those serving him, Timothy and Erastus, ahead of him into Macedonia. The word is apostello, so he sends them with his authority to act on his behalf. They will go before him and prepare the way for his arrival, and will discover for him what issues he will need to deal with when he arrives. Having sent these two, Paul stays at Ephesus for a while longer to finish up his work there.
Timothy, of course, we have come upon before, and know him as one of Paul’s closest companions since chapter 16. This is the first we read of Erastus, however, and the only time we read of him in the book of Acts. His name means “Beloved.” There is an “Erastus” listed as the “treasurer of the city” of Corinth in Romans 16:23. Would a man of such importance have left Corinth and traveled to Ephesus with Paul? Perhaps, if God willed it, but it also could be that this is a different man with the same name. If so, it is very difficult to say which Erastus is meant in II Timothy 4:20, where Paul says, “Erastus stayed in Corinth.” The context seems to imply that this Erastus was one of Paul’s servants at one point who is no longer with him, and so it seems likely that this at least is the same Erastus that we have listed here. Other than these three passages, we know nothing else about this man.