Paul having passed through the upper coast “came to Ephesus” (Acts 19:1). This return visit to Ephesus was in fulfillment of a promise, which Paul had made to Aquila and Priscilla. The promise is recorded in chapter 18, verses 20-21—”When they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not; but bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.”
While Paul was away keeping the feast in Jerusalem, visiting in Antioch and making his third missionary journey, which carried him “all over the country of Galatia and Phyrgia” (Acts 18:21-23), “a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus” (Acts 18:24). This man Apollos “began to speak boldly in the synagogue” at Ephesus. There he “taught diligently the things of the Lord,” but he knew “only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25-26). Since he, as a preacher knew only the baptism of John the baptist, he could not lead his disciples into truth concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
John had only baptized “with water” that Christ might “be made manifest to Israel” (John 1:31); however, he had promised his converts that One would come after him who would baptize them “with the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 3:11).
John’s “water baptism,” which was “unto repentance,” was all that Apollos knew while he was preaching in the synagogue at Ephesus. It is true that Aquila and Priscilla heard him, took him unto themselves and “expounded unto him the Word of God more perfectly;” but after he had heard the Word more perfectly and accepted the additional truth, “he was disposed to pass into Achaia” (Acts 18:26-27). This left the disciples which Apollos had made in Ephesus knowing only what their teacher had taught them before he was instructed by Aquila and Priscilla. Therefore, they knew “only the baptism of John.”
For some reason, which is not explained in the Word, God moved Apollos on from the disciples which he had made in Ephesus and then brought Paul back to Ephesus to instruct these disciples in the truth concerning the baptism of the Holy Ghost.
“Have Ye Received the Holy Ghost Since Ye Believed?”
When Paul arrived in Ephesus and found these “certain disciples” who knew only the baptism of John, he immediately blazed before them the question—”Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” The answer came back—”We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost” (Acts 19:1-3).
These disciples were made during that transition period between the old and the new testaments. Under the old testament, John baptized “with water” and “unto repentance.” Under the new testament, Christ baptized with the “Holy Ghost.” During this transition period there were both preachers and disciples who were well grounded in the truth concerning John’s baptism, but who did not even know about the Holy Spirit baptism. Such is not the case today. We are not living in a transition period, but we are living almost two thousand years this side of John’s kingdom ministry of water baptism unto repentance. Hence, there is no place in this dispensation of the mystery for the question—”Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?”
All present-day believers are acquainted with the Holy Ghost. Indeed, it was the Holy Ghost who first moved in their hearts before they believed causing them to realize their lost and undone condition and their need of the Saviour (John 16:8-9). It was the Holy Ghost who conducted them to the cross of Calvary and opened their eyes that they might behold the Lamb of God, who took away their sins (John 6:44). It was the Holy Ghost who baptized them into the one body, which is the church (I Cor. 12:13 with Ephesians 1:22-23 and 4:4-5). Therefore, there is no grounds whatsoever, in this dispensation, for any believer to say—”We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.”
“Baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus”
Let us carefully read the following quotation from verses 1 to 5 of this 19th chapter of Acts—”And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have you received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, we have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people that they should believe on Him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
These “certain disciples” had been baptized “unto John’s baptism” before they heard Paul explain why John baptized unto repentance. Then why were they baptized again “in the name of the Lord Jesus?”
Some who have come to realize that the so-called “Great Commission” of Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15-20 cannot be the marching orders for the church of our present dispensation, will argue that since these “certain disciples” were baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus” present-day believers should also be baptized likewise. They argue that undoubtedly Paul baptized them, therefore, present-day ministers should practice water baptism.
Let us remember that at the same time these “certain disciples” were baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus,” Paul also “laid his hands upon them” before they received the Holy Ghost, and after they received the Holy Ghost they “spake with tongues.” We cannot consistently claim the baptism “in the name of the Lord Jesus” unless we take also the laying on of hands and the speaking with tongues. If one of these externals, which was connected with Israel’s religion, has passed away; then all of them have passed. If we are to hold on to one of them, then let us be consistent and hold on to all of them.
In this 19th chapter of Acts, Paul was still being made “all things to all men” that he might “by all means save some” (I Cor. 9:19-22). The time had not then come for him to turn from national Israel and declare the truth that he later declared in Ephesians 4:4-6 concerning the “one baptism” of the Holy Spirit. Throughout the book of Acts period we find two baptisms recognized: namely, water baptism, as referred to in I Cor. 1:14-17, and Holy Spirit baptism as referred to in I Cor. 12:13. However, after the nation of Israel was temporarily set aside, in the closing chapter of Acts, there is room in Paul’s message for but one baptism (Ephesians 4:5), and that one baptism is the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
A careful study of the book of Acts will reveal that Paul did not carry these “certain disciples” of the 19th chapter into truth concerning the body of Christ. This is evident from his clear statement in chapter 26 and verse 22—”Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come.” This proves that Paul’s ministry to national Israel was limited to that which was spoken by Moses and the prophets. When we compare this truth with Colossians 1:24-28 we learn that the mystery dispensation in which we now live was not revealed to men of other ages. Therefore, Moses and the prophets could not have known about this church age. Therefore, Paul, while preaching “none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come,” could not have given Israel truth concerning the church, the body of Christ, which is being called out in our present day.
Paul’s Disciples Separated From the Synagogue
After Paul had instructed the “certain disciples,” about twelve in number (Acts 19:1-7), “he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the Word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:8-10).
We call attention to a few of the high points in these verses. First, we note that Paul, in the synagogue, disputed and persuaded concerning “the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). The word “disputing,” means to “reason” and is so translated in Acts 17:2 and Mark 9:34. Paul did not enter into a public debate in the synagogue over questions pertaining to the kingdom of God. He reasoned with the people and persuaded them.
When divers (some) hardened their hearts against the truth and “believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude,” Paul departed from them and “separated the disciples” from the synagogue also. He then began “disputing,” or reasoning daily “in the school of one Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9). In other words, when some in the synagogue began to speak evil of that “WAY,” which is Jesus Christ, the one and only way into the kingdom of God, Paul refused to debate with them before the multitude. Indeed, he links the sin of “debate” along with that of envy, murder, deceit, etc., in Romans 1:28-32.
Paul urges the brethren to “all speak the same thing” (I Cor. 1:10), but nowhere in the Bible are we told to enter into debate. We are told to “preach the Word,” but the Word of God is not a debatable question. On the other hand, it is entirely settled. We heartily agree with the motto—”God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”
We also call attention to the fact that Paul continued his ministry in his new meeting place in Ephesus “by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the Word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). The Jews were able to disturb Paul’s ministry inside the synagogue until he was forced to move out into new quarters; but they could not keep him from giving the Word to both Jews and Greeks throughout all Asia. God opened a door unto him which no man could shut. In these days many God fearing, honest ministers of the gospel and teachers of the Word of God are disturbed within the organized churches until they are forced to seek other meeting places for their preaching and teaching. Just as it worked out for God’s glory in Paul’s day, so it is working out for God’s glory in our day. The organized churches like the organized synagogues are doomed. Their form and their ceremony, their ordinances and their ritualism, together with their commercial-minded leaders, are stifling the spiritual life of God’s children within their ranks. It is God’s order for those who are spiritual to follow the example set by Paul and his disciples and follow Christ outside the camp.
“So Mightily Grew the Word of God and Prevailed”
The “vagabond Jews, exorcist” (those who pretend to expel evil spirits), tried to perform the miracles which Paul performed. They called over those who were possessed with evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “we adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth” (Acts 19:11-13). This thing was tried by the sons of one “Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests” (Acts 19:13). The evil spirit answered these sons and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them and overcame them, and prevailed against them so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded” (Acts 19:15-16).
The supernatural strength of the evil spirit within this man was worked out through the victim in such a way as to overcome these seven sons and literally tear their clothes off of them and cripple them. They left the house “naked and wounded.”
God used this incident for the furtherance of His cause. When He cannot rule, He always over-rules. The thing that took place in this house “was known to all the Jews and Greeks” which dwelt at Ephesus; “and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many that believed came, and confessed, and showed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious art brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mighty grew the Word of God and prevailed” (Acts 19:17-20).
An Assembly in a Theater
The mighty growth of the Word of God in Ephesus turned multitudes from the worship of idols to the worship of the true and the living God. About the same time of the victory which God wrought, as recorded in verses 11-20, “there arose no small stir about that way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen; whom he called together with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have made our wealth. Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hash persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands: so that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and all the world worshippeth” (Acts 19:23-27).
This clever speech made by Demetrius, the silversmith, was welcomed by his craftsmen and by other workmen of like occupation. They all realized that their business of manufacturing idols had gained for them much wealth. These men were the kind whose pocketbook was their principle. They stood ready to defend their ungodly business.
When they heard the message delivered by Demetrius, “they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians. And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre” (Acts 19:28-29). Paul would have entered in to stand with his companions but the disciples suffered him not, and “certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him, desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the theatre” (Acts 19:30-31).
The meeting ran wild with uncontrollable enthusiasm. “Some therefore cried one thing, and some another.” However, the majority “knew not wherefore they were come together” (Acts 19:32). So great was the confusion that the town clerk had to come in to “appease the people.” He said, “ye man of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter? Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly. For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess. Wherefore if Demetrius, and the craftsmen which are with him, have a matter against any man, the law is open, and there are deputies: let them implead one another. But if ye enquire anything concerning other matters, it shall be determined in lawful assembly. For we are in danger to be called question for this day’s uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse. And when he had thus spoken he dismissed the assembly” (Acts 19:35-41).
Again we see the efforts of the evil one powerless to overthrow the work which God was doing through His chosen few in Ephesus. It reminds us of the eternal truth—”If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).