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Acts 19:17-41 by Robert Dean
"Don't come preaching that and take away my business," was the strident cry of a frenzied, mindless mob in Ephesus. This ancient city was renowned for its pagan worship of the goddess Diana and the practice of the occult black arts. Listen to this lesson to learn that many Ephesians, however, listened to Paul and accepted the Lord Jesus. Hear how they brought their expensive books of magic and incantations to be burned. See how cultures can change for the better or worse depending on what people believe. Find out how Paul took the time to train young men such as Timothy and Erastus for the ministry.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 8 mins 43 secs

Expansion: Impact, Opposition
Acts 19:17-41

This chapter continues the story of the expansion of the church. This is one of the greatest times of expansion of the Christian church under Paul's ministry. This is a long period of time when He is in Ephesus. Paul stayed here for from two to two and a half years and it is from Ephesus that he trained men who went out to all of the major towns and cities throughout Asia in order to take the gospel and to establish many of the churches.

This event where the sons of Sceva have been embarrassed by the demons has caused word to spread beyond Ephesus. Remember that as Paul left on his second missionary journey and arrived in Greece and then went to Philippi and to Thessalonica word had already spread before him about the miracles that had been performed in Asia Minor, and they were considered to be troublemakers. In passages like 1 Corinthians 14:21, 22 the focus is on the problem of tongues being in the church …

Tongues was a legitimate spiritual gift but it didn't mean speaking in ecstatic utterance or gibberish. It meant speaking a known language. There was ecstatic utterance in the ancient world but it was never described with the word glossa, the word for languages.

The problem in Corinth was that they were hearing about this spiritual gift of languages and they are confusing it with what they had seen in their pagan practices, this kind of mystical ecstatic utterance, and were trying to blend it together. Paul corrects them on that and their usage of this, and right in the middle of his discussion on that in 1 Corinthians 14 he gives us the biblical or divine purpose for tongues. And this isn't only true for tongues but there were certain gifts that were sign gifts. They signified something: that something different was happening—healing, casting out demons, and speaking in tongues. These were sign gifts. And they are signs of what? They were signs that the kingdom was present in the person of the King and that the offer was present. Once that was completely rescinded then these sign gifts were retracted.


So the Lord is speaking. He says that He is going to speak. He is going to communicate to His people Israel via the Gentile languages (in the context of Isaiah 28 it was talking about the Assyrian invasion). Israel would hear Gentile languages on the temple grounds. It was a sign of judgment. It was predicted in Deuteronomy. It was fulfilled not only in the ancient world when Israel was overrun by the Assyrians and the southern kingdom in 586 BC, but it would happen again in AD 70. So hearing, especially revelation, any of the teaching of the Scriptures of God in a Gentile language is a sign that judgment is coming. That is the function of tongues.

That is why Paul says, 1 Corinthians 14:22 NASB "So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy {is for a sign,} not to unbelievers but to those who believe."

According to the context of Isaiah 28:11 who is it a sign to? Jews. So is Paul thinking in terms of Jews or Gentiles? He doesn't say, but we can infer from the context of Isaiah 28 that he is talking about it being a sign for the Jews—not just for anybody. Gentiles have no background. They have no idea what is going on as Gentile unbelievers. But Jews should, because they were given the Old Testament.

Tongues were a sign for unbelievers. This was why tongues was not really to be practiced in the church. The church was supposed to be a meeting place of believers.

That is something lost in our culture today and has been lost in American evangelicalism for a number of years. They think that Sunday morning is the time to evangelize people, where as the meeting of the church according to Scripture is for the edification of believers, not the evangelism of the unsaved. So the purpose for the meeting of believers is to equip saints to evangelize the unsaved, and then they go out to their jobs, their neighborhoods and communities and evangelize them in order to bring them to church and get trained. They don't go out and try to recruit people to come to church so the pastor can save them. That is completely backwards, not biblical and is not the function of the church. The meeting of the church is not for the evangelizing of the lost, although the gospel should always be presented.

The reason for pointing out that tongues are for a sign is because what is happening here is a good example of how people everywhere, Jew and Gentile, heard what had happened to these so-called exorcists. And it became a testimony to all of the Jews and to all of the Greeks dwelling in Ephesus. They didn't even have to be a personal witness of it to have heard about it. And the point being made from 1 Corinthians 14 where it says tongues are for a sign, is that you don't have to be present. If you hear about it you have heard about it. You have heard the evidence and you don't have top be a personal witness as long as you heard what had happened.      

Acts 19:17 NASB "This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified." There we have that phrase, "the name of the Lord." And there are many passages throughout Acts where this is used.

In Peter's initial sermon on the day of Pentecost he said, "And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." What does the name of the Lord mean? Is that just using it as a label? Does it mean something? A lot of times in our culture we think of the name of something as something divorced from essence. And yet in Scripture the name indicates the character and quality of what it names. Here is Scripture believing in the name of Jesus means believing in who He is and what He did. It is not just believing in a name or some kind of nomenclature.

In Acts 2:38 Peter said, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." So at the time of baptism it is identification with Christ. In the name of Jesus Christ means identification with His person and His work.

Acts 4:12 NASB "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."

Again, that is representing His person and His work, all bundled up in that concept of the name of Jesus.

Now a result. There are three basic parts to Bible study: Observation, interpretation, and application. Observation asks the question: "What do I see?" The more time you spend on that the more accurate your interpretation is going to be. Interpretation answers the question: "What does this mean?" And there is only one interpretation. Any document only has one meaning, and it means what the author intended it to be. Application means that once you understand the significance of something it should have an impact on changing your thinking and changing the way you live.

What we see here is that people observed something. They saw what had happened in terms of the miracles that were performed with Paul, the fact that even when people touched his sweat cloths and aprons that they were healed—not because they had a special quality in them but because they were trusting in the power behind Paul. It wasn't Paul that did it.

When people observe something they basically come up with one or two interpretations. One is that God is working through Paul, God is validating what Paul is teaching. Therefore what Paul is teaching is true and Jesus is unique, the savior of the world, the Old Testament prophesied Messiah, and we must believe in Him. That is option one. Option two would be it is just another magical trick.

With he people who understood what was going on, had observed it and believed that this was God working through Paul and believed Paul's message, it didn't just stop there. That is a great thing that has happened. What a historically unique event! Look at this. God has penetrated into human history and miracles are being performed! See, it didn't just stop there with an academic knowledge; it changed them. It changed their thinking and it changed their behavior, and as a result of their changed behavior it had an economic consequence in the culture. It isn't going out and marching on Washington DC. In our culture, because it is set up differently, there is a time and place to be actively involved in the political process. But we dare not forget that the real issue is the change in hearts and minds. Without a change in hearts and minds the rest is, just as J. Vernon McGee would say, polishing brass on a sinking ship.

What transformed the culture of Ephesus and Thessalonica and Corinth and Rome and Western Europe is that when people heard the gospel they believed it, and it changed their behavior. That is what we see happening here.      

Acts 19:18 NASB "Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices." They understood that this was truth. People today have a problem. From the get-go they don't believe there is absolute truth. They believe that what is true for you is true for you, and I'm glad it works for you. But don't invade my space with your truth. In the ancient world they still believed there was absolute truth. "Many also of those who had believed" is a participle describing a group of people. Not everybody who believed was armpit deep in the occult. But many of them were because that was part of their culture. It is a perfect tense, indicating it is a completed action in the past continuing into the present. They were already believers when they see what happens with these seven sons of Sceva and they suddenly realize that what they have relied upon to make life work was completely and totally wrong and contrary to what Paul was teaching, contrary to the Scriptures.  

They "kept coming." This is an imperfect tense and it is not saying that they were individually continually coming but that they were individually coming at different times. The imperfect tense usually portrays some sort of dramatic continuous activity and grammarians would call this a distributive iterative imperfect. Distributive means that it is not just one person but it is distributed over a group of people. Iterative means that they are coming at different times. And in this verse the word "confessing" is not the word homologeo, it is the compound word exhomologeo. homologeo is the word we are familiar with in 1 John 1:9 –"If we confess our sins…" We have a prefix here and it may or may not involve a profession, a public confession of public admission; but we know that it does because the next word "disclosing" is from the root verb aggelizo, which has to do with telling or explaining something. So many who had believed came, over a period of weeks probably, admitting to others in the church, not from a sense of guilt but more of a sense of wonderment: "Wow! Can you believe what happened? It just showed how false everything is that we had given our lives over to. I'm just clearing out everything related to that former life before we were saved." And we have the same word for confession as public confession that we have in several places, like Romans 14:11—"Every tongue shall confess to God"; Romans 15:9; Philippians 2:11. But it is not always public; sometimes it is private.

Acts 19:19 NASB "And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and {began} burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver."

This wasn't something that they were told to do, it was something spontaneously generated from the life of the people. They saw that there was no value in this anymore and so they just brought all of their stuff together to get rid of it. "Praticed magic" is a combination of the word prasso, which means to practice something on a regular basis, something which was very much a part of their life, and another word periergos, which has the idea of meddling, gossiping, being a busybody, getting involved in people's lives. It is a very old word in Greek and originally had the idea of somebody who was a busybody talking about all the trivial details going on in other people's lives. From that it began to develop the idea who was overly curious. So this kind of a person was someone who was curious about magical things, mystical and metaphysical things, and it picked up a technical sense of the idea of some kind of relationship to magic.

There is a group of papyri that has been discovered archaeologically which talks about slips of parchment that had various symbols or magical sentences on them, and they were called the Ephesia grammatica. These little pieces were worn as amulets or magical charms that would help deflect evil spirits and give people health, good luck, and things of that nature.

People in Ephesus were really immersed in this. We didn't see this kind of activity in Corinth or in Athens, but it shows that different cultures in different places had different issues. If Paul had gone to Ephesus talking to them like the Athenians it would have been a very different scenario. You have to know your audience. Too many people in evangelism just memorize the four spiritual laws and shoot them at people. Then they go away feeling self-satisfied that they have evangelized somebody when they haven't done anything at all except create problems. You have to understand your audience and address the gospel and target it and package it, as it were; shape it to your audience to help them answer the issues in their life, not somebody else's life. 

Here there has been this emphasis on magic and it is countered by a true, genuine emphasis on the miracles: the signs and wonders, and the casting out of demons by the apostle Paul, which countered the false and lying signs and wonders that were predominant because of the demonism and idolatry in Ephesus.

This changed their life overtly, with the result that …

Acts 19:20 NASB "So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing." Growing mightily indicates that it changed people, and it stayed that way. Prevailing has to do with the fact that it continued, it persevered, and people's lives were changed. The Bible teaches that our lives can truly change on the basis of God's Word. A lot of people doubt that, and looking at a lot of Christians they think that God's Word really doesn't help them change. They don't really understand it, they really haven't had an impacted study of the Word, and so they just kind of brush it off. They might have a lot of intellectual knowledge but it doesn't change their life. But in Ephesus this not only changes their life, it comes along and changes the culture in a dramatic way.   

There is a little interlude in the narrative in vv. 21 and 22. 

Acts 19:21 NASB "Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, 'After I have been there, I must also see Rome.'"

Notice the phrase, "purposed in the Spirit." We must pay attention as we go through these clues. This is the first time it addresses this. Paul is thinking of doing some follow-up and he is going to go to Macedonia and Achaia. He purposes to go to Jerusalem. It is not just Paul's decision though. Notice, he purposes in the Spirit. He is making his plans following the leading of God the Holy Spirit. He purposes by means of the Spirit. Later on people get ideas that because the Spirit warns Paul about all of the things that are going to happen. We have to investigate this because this passage makes it very clear that the Holy Spirit is leading him to go to Jerusalem. How are we going to understand that? We will address it as we go forward.

As part of this plan Paul is sent into Macedonia.

Acts 19:22 NASB "And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while." Here we have the Greek word apostello from where we get the noun "apostle", and it shows again that there are some people who are sent by Jesus—Apostles with a capital A—and others are sent by local churches or by Paul and don't have the gift apostleship like Peter and Paul. The word "ministered" is the same word we have run into before, diakoneo, which is where the noun deacon comes from. It really just means to serve somebody. This is part of this entourage that travels with Paul and takes care of a lot of the logistical issues in life so that he can focus on studying and teaching the Word. It is also made up of young men who want to be pastors. I think this really presents a biblical model for pastoral training. God brings young men into a pastor's sphere of influence and he needs to help train them and give them responsibility so he can oversee that—oversee their seminary training and their education—and guide and direct them and mature them to the point where they can eventually take on the responsibilities of being a pastor.

Paul does this with several others. The two that are listed here are Timothy and Erastus. There is an identification of a man named Erastus who was in Corinth. There is a depiction of an inscription in rock of a man who was the director of public works in Corinth. Paul was in Corinth before he came to Ephesus and it is possible (we can't say for sure because Erastus was a common name in the ancient world) that this Erastus is the one who became a believer and joined Paul. It may not be him at all, it is not positive. There are only a couple of places where he is mentioned, here in Acts 19:22 and Erastus is mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:20 where Paul says he left him behind in Corinth.

Now we come to the stage of opposition. This is mostly narrative and it tells the story of a riot that occurs. There are a lot of lessons that can be learned here in terms of rioting, in terms of the public lie, and in terms of how people react to the truth. This is another example of how those who reject Christianity suppress the truth in unrighteousness—Romans 1:19. They don't want the truth and so they are going to come up with an alternative and they are going to react, because when the Bible takes a hold of people and changes the way they think and live it is going to have an economic consequence.

On the other hand, if people reject the Bible it has another kind of consequence. Think about what has happened economically in many communities and ethnic groups in this country as a result of the loss of absolutes in relationship to the family and marriage, the ease of divorce, and the licentious attitude toward adultery. As a result there are numerous women who have multiple children out of wedlock who don't have a father in their life at all. The children grow up in many ways confused without any kind of stability in the home. There is an enormous financial consequence to the nation because we end up paying for all their mistakes, and many people end up being excessively taxed in order to take care of these poor. All of that is because of a breakdown in the divine institutions of marriage and the family. And once we give up marriage between one man and one woman the family breaks down, and once the family breaks down then the culture breaks down. And in order to maintain some semblance of stability we end up throwing enormous amounts of money at it in order to maintain a semblance of we are just as stable as we were thirty or forty years ago. If we are it is at the expense of both parents working 60-70 hours a week, whereas forty years ago the father only needed to work forty hours a week. 

They are feeling this impact in Ephesus because it is the center of a religious system. And as part of that system which is the worship of Diana (Artemis). She was a tremendously popular deity throughout the ancient world. Her worship spread because her worship centered upon sex.  

Acts 19:23 NASB "About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way. [24] For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen…"

Demetrius is all upset because they were losing profits. As people are becoming Christians they are not buying the little silver shrines, they are not going into the temple of Artemis to worship anymore. It changes the economic dynamics of the culture and they are going to riot. They are like a lot of people in our country: If you don't do things the way we want you to economically we are going to force you to. 

So he calls out all the workers.

Acts 19:25 NASB "these he gathered together with the workmen of similar {trades,} and said, "Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. [26] You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods {at all.}" There is an economic and cultural impact.

Acts 19:27 NASB "Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence. [28] When they heard {this} and were filled with rage, they {began} crying out, saying, 'Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!'" The whole crowd gets worked up to where they just lose control.

Acts 19:29 NASB "The city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia. [30] And when Paul wanted to go into the assembly, the disciples would not let him. [31] Also some of the Asiarchs who were friends of his sent to him and repeatedly urged him not to venture into the theater. [32] So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion and the majority did not know for what reason they had come together."

Trust me. When you have a million-man march on Washington DC probably the conservatives have an idea why they are there but the liberals don't have a clue. In most controversies only a small minority know what is going on. Most people are too busy living their lives to be aware of what the issues are and all they do is emote. That is what is going on here in Ephesus.

Finally the town clerk comes forward. This is another example of how Luke tells a story that rings true historically. He starts to calm them down and he basically says everything must be done according to law, according to standards and according to culture. While it is true that some of these charges that have been brought can't be denied he says you can't go about it the wrong way. 

Acts 19:38 NASB "So then, if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a complaint against any man, the courts are in session and proconsuls are {available;} let them bring charges against one another. [39] But if you want anything beyond this, it shall be settled in the lawful assembly. [40] For indeed we are in danger of being accused of a riot in connection with today's events, since there is no {real} cause {for it,} and in this connection we will be unable to account for this disorderly gathering." In other words, the Romans would come and discipline them if they didn't mind their own business. [41] "After saying this he dismissed the assembly." He calms everybody down and they all went home. 

What is the point? The point that Luke is making is that the gospel changes people, it changes culture, and it changes economics. When people get away from the gospel the same thing happens. It destroys a culture, it destroys economics, it destroys the family, and it destroys individuals' lives. The only hope that we have is a return to the Scripture, a return to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without that there is no hope.