For an introduction to this series, click here.
June 21, 2007
This chapter starts with what has to be one of the weirdest stories in the Bible: "And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?' And they said, 'No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.' And he said, 'Into what then were you baptized?' They said, 'Into John's baptism.' And Paul said, 'John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.' On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all." (19:1-7)
I don't think any passage better demonstrates what a unique time the apostolic age was than this passage. These men apparently were converted by Apollos, who came from Ephesus to Corinth, where Aquila and Priscilla opened his eyes to the complete truth. There were all sorts of incomplete ideas and incorrect approaches to the truth going around. That is why the apostles needed special gifts - miracles, tongues, etc.- so they could prove that they had a special anointing from God and they had the true way of Christianity. Now that we have about 1900 years of church history with a complete New Testament, there is no need to have these gifts.
Next we have one of the funniest stories in the Bible: "Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, 'I adjure you by the Jesus, whom Paul proclaims.' Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, 'Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?' And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded." (19:13-16) These guys apparently had some experience as exorcists. I don't pretend to understand hardly anything about demons. I do know they are powerful evil spirits, not to be toyed with. I happen to think that we read about demonic activity more in the New Testament because God allowed Satan more leeway during this time so that He could use Jesus and the Apostles to demonstrate His power, although there is no scripture to prove that.
The rest of this chapter has to do with the riot in Ephesus. Ephesus was the center of worship of Artemis, a goddess of fertility. I don't think I need to go into detail about what kind of things went on in the worship of this goddess: let's just say it wasn't good. Well Demetrius was the leader of a group of silversmiths who made lots of money selling statuettes of Artemis, and Paul was ruining his racket. Demetrius led a huge crowd of his supporters into the amphitheater. The ruins of the amphitheater are still there, and experts estimate it might have held as many as 10,000 people. The best part of this story is the town clerk, who tried to get the crowd to disperse:
"Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion." (19:35-40, ESV) Spoken like a true politician.