The third missionary journey began as Paul left Antioch and went through the regions of Galatia and Phrygia. These are regions in the central plains of what was then called Asia and we now know as Turkey.
While Paul was gone, a man named Apollos came to Ephesus. Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt. He was a great speaker and knew the scriptures. He had come to believe in Jesus and was was a fervent speaker and teacher. He spoke in the synagogue in Ephesus, taking up where Paul left off, proclaiming Jesus from the Old Testament.
Apollos’s knowledge was incomplete, however: he only knew of John’s baptism. We do not know from whom Apollos heard the gospel, but he did not know of baptism in the name of Jesus as Peter proclaimed at Pentecost.
Priscilla and Aquila took him under their wing and explained Jesus to him more accurately. Luke did not elaborate on that by telling us exactly what Apollos did not know.
Apollos then left Ephesus, sailed across the Aegean Sea to visit Corinth in Achaia, the southern province of Greece. The believers in Ephesus wrote a letter of introduction to the church in Corinth so they would receive him. He built up the church and refuted the Jews in public debates, arguing form the scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah, or Christ. Paul wrote that he planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6)
Apollos was effective. When the Corinthians divided into followers of different people, Apollos was one who was followed, though there is no evidence he encouraged that. He was really a lot like Paul, traveling from town to town, preaching the gospel and showing that Jesus was the Messiah of the Old Testament prophecies.
Paul Comes to Ephesus
While Apollos worked in Corinth, Paul made his way through Asia to the port city of Ephesus. There Paul found some disciples, who had incomplete or defective knowledge. Paul discerned the defect: they did not know about the Holy Spirit and had on received the baptism of repentance of John the Baptist. John’s baptism was a baptism of preparation, demonstrating that one had repented and awaited the Messiah. Jesus’ baptism was one of fulfillment because the Messiah had come, died, and be raised from the dead.
Paul explained this to them. They believed and were baptized in the name of Jesus. Then they received the Holy Spirit, evidenced by their speaking in tongues and prophesying after Paul laid his hands on them. This may show another decisive moment in the growth of the church; Ephesus would become a new center for the Gentile mission, second only to Antioch.
Paul resumed his normal routine of entering the synagogue. He had told them on his earlier visit (18:19-20) that he would return to them if God allowed it. So he was able to preach Jesus to them for about three months. At that point, some of the Jews rebelled against Paul and began to speak badly of “the Way”, of salvation through faith in Jesus.
In response, Paul withdrew from the synagogue, taking the believers with him. He spoke daily in a lecture hall for two years. This was the longest stay for Paul in any city on his missionary journeys. He had stayed in Corinth for 18 months. But his total ministry in Ephesus was close to three years. It ended, therefore, in the summer of 55 A.D.
The result was that the gospel message spread out from Ephesus across Asia. Believers who heard the gospel from Paul and were saved proclaimed the gospel to other cities and towns as they believed.
The Sons of Sceva
In addition to blessing Paul’s preaching, God all empowered Paul to perform miracles. He healed and cast out demons. People would take cloths that Paul touched and carry them to the sick and they would be healed. God did this to authenticate Paul as his apostle and his message as the true word of God.
In the midst of this great work of God, some Jewish guys decided to get in on the action. There were Jews who traveled around claiming to practice magic. They had incantations that were supposed to cast out evil spirits.
The sons of Sceva did this also. They commanded some demons (evil spirits) to come out of a person in the name of the “Jesus whom Paul proclaims”. (13) That indicates these guys were not believers. The demon was not impressed, saying he knew Jesus and Paul but not these pretenders. Then the man who was possessed jumped the seven guys and beat them.
This event had a major effect on the people of Ephesus. They saw spiritual warfare up close. They saw the power of Jesus over the power of demons.
Believers realized they needed to give up their evil practices. Ephesus was known as a center for magic practice. Although they had converted, they had not given up all of the things they practiced before, including magic. They brought all their magic books out and burned them. They turned away from evil to follow the living God unreservedly.
There are a lot of things to day that Christians should avoid, but that some think are harmless. Astrology, numerology, and practices from eastern religions abound. Avoid them and practice what is taught in the Bible. When we open ourselves to evil, evil can come in and corrupt us.
Luke’s conclusion in verse 20 gives credit to the word of the Lord increasing and prevailing. It prevailed over magic words and pagan superstitions . It prevailed over ignorance. It increased by bringing more and more people into the kingdom.