III. Kingdom Witness beyond Jerusalem (Acts 8:1–20:38)
III. Kingdom Witness beyond Jerusalem (8:1–20:38)
A. Kingdom Witness in Judea and Samaria, and the Conversion of Paul (8:1–9:43)
8:1 Saul had watched the garments of those who stoned Stephen (see 7:58) and agreed with putting him to death. The murder set off a chain reaction of persecution . . . against the church. All of the disciples except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. Nevertheless, the Jewish leaders were playing right into God’s hands, though they didn’t realize it. Jesus had promised his disciples that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem and “in all Judea and Samaria” (1:8). Thus, God was using this persecution to send his people out to spread the gospel and grow the church.
Remember this when hardship comes into your own life because of your faith in Christ. Your circumstances are not outside of God’s sovereign control and care. He can use your adversity to glorify himself, accomplish his purposes, bring others to Christ, and strengthen you in your faith.
8:2 Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. The loss of a beloved Christian friend or family member can bring great pain and sorrow, but the apostle Paul reminds us that, though we grieve, we don’t do so like unbelievers “who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13). At the moment of his death, Stephen was with his Lord in heaven. That transition is called falling asleep (see the CSB note on 7:60).
8:3 Saul, on the other hand, was ravaging the church. He began to enter the houses of Christians and drag off men and women to prison. He was making it his personal agenda to stamp out Christianity before it spread any further. But God had other plans for him. Soon he would be pursuing another agenda, a kingdom agenda.
Saul hated Christianity, rejected Jesus, and persecuted Christians. So, in light of what happens to him in Acts 9, don’t ever tell yourself that an unbeliever you know could never become a Christian. Saul was as opposed to Christ as a person can be. But God converted him, and he became the greatest missionary the world has ever known.
8:4-8 The Christians who were scattered as a result of the persecution went on their way preaching the word (8:4; see 8:1). The persecutors certainly didn’t intend this consequence, but God used their wicked actions to fulfill his purposes.
One of those who left Jerusalem for Samaria was Philip (who had been chosen along with Stephen and several others to serve; see 6:1-6). He proclaimed the Messiah, cast out unclean spirits, healed the sick, and spread great joy (8:5-7). The miracles served to give visible validity to the gospel message.
8:9-13 In the Samaritan city where Philip was preaching and ministering, there was a man named Simon practicing sorcery and making quite a name for himself among the people who called him the Great Power of God (8:9-10). But when Philip preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, many people believed and were baptized, including Simon (8:12-13). Afterwards, he followed Philip everywhere and watched him perform signs. This former magician was amazed when he saw genuine miracles accomplished by a follower of the true God (8:13).
8:14-17 Once the apostles heard that Samaritans had believed the gospel, they sent Peter and John for a visit (8:14). The Samaritan believers had not yet received the Holy Spirit, so Peter and John prayed for them and laid their hands on them, and they did (8:15-17).
Today, when a person trusts in Christ, he receives the Holy Spirit at that moment (see 1 Cor 12:13). But this Holy Spirit activity in the book of Acts represented a unique moment in the early church. As each new group came to believe the gospel (Samaritans, Gentiles, etc.), they received the Holy Spirit when the apostles were present. This demonstrated the unity of the believers and that all were embracing the same faith (see 10:44-46; 19:1-7).
8:18-20 When he observed that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, Simon’s old sorcerer’s ways kicked in (8:18). He wanted to be able to do the same thing. So he offered them money, thinking he could purchase and exercise this power of God (8:18-19). But Peter condemned his attitude: May your silver be destroyed with you! God’s gift cannot be acquired with money but is sovereignly and freely given. (8:20). The Holy Spirit cannot be bought.
8:21-24 Peter urged Simon to repent of this wickedness so that he might be forgiven, because his heart [was] not right before God (8:21-22). Simon then asked Peter to pray for him, so that he wouldn’t be destroyed (8:24). Repentance is God’s means to limit or reverse the consequences of sin.
It is clear that Simon was a believer (see 8:13)—though one in extreme error. Years of practicing magic and claiming to have divine power (see 8:9-11) had resulted in bitterness and wickedness in his heart (8:23). Repentance and prayer were needed (8:22) to root out the evil ways and desires that had so long been a part of his life. God is not a slot machine to be used to fulfill our carnal desires.
8:25 On the way back to Jerusalem, the apostles proclaimed the gospel in other Samaritan villages. The good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God was being preached across racial lines, and barriers were falling.
8:26-29 After his successful ministry in Samaria (8:4-13), Philip received a message from an angel of the Lord, telling him to go to the road between Jerusalem and Gaza (8:26). There he encountered an Ethiopian man. He was a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury (8:27). In ancient times, a eunuch was a castrated man—usually a slave who was used to watch over a harem or a treasury. However, the practice of a eunuch serving as a treasurer became so common that frequently the title “eunuch” was used even for treasurers who were not physical eunuchs. So it may be that the term simply denotes his high position in the queen’s administration. Regardless, he had obviously come to believe in the God of Israel because he was returning home after worshiping in Jerusalem (8:27-28).
When he saw the chariot, Philip heard two voices: the Ethiopian man’s as he read from the prophet Isaiah and the Holy Spirit’s, telling him to join the man (8:28-29). Philip didn’t have to be told twice. He sprang into action.
8:30-35 When Philip asked the man if he understood the passage he was reading, the Ethiopian confessed his ignorance and invited Philip into his chariot to explain it to him (8:30-31). The passage was from Isaiah 53:7-8, speaking of the Suffering Servant of the Lord who would be led like a sheep to the slaughter (8:32). The man asked, Who is the prophet saying this about? (8:34). You don’t get a much better opportunity to share the good news about Jesus than that. And that’s exactly what Philip did (8:35).
This story is a good reminder to us to be ready to share the gospel with those whom we encounter and to be open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Pray regularly for God to bring someone across your path with whom you can share the love of God in Jesus Christ. There are people out there whom the Spirit has prepared. Like the Ethiopian man, they’re asking themselves, “How can I understand unless someone guides me?” (8:31). Believers are to know the Scriptures so that they are prepared to help unbelievers properly understand and respond to the gospel, as well as to help fellow believers grow in their faith (see 1 Pet 3:15).
8:36-40 The eunuch had become a believer in Jesus. Seeing some water, he asked Philip about being baptized. So they stopped, and Philip baptized him (8:36-38), thus identifying him as a public follower of Christ (see Rom 6:1-7). Then the Spirit supernaturally carried Philip away to preach the gospel in more towns (8:39-40). But the eunuch continued home to Ethiopia, carrying his faith with him and rejoicing (8:39).
This account of the Ethiopian official is significant for three reasons. First, it acknowledges the existence of a royal kingdom of dark-skinned people at the time of first-century Christianity. Second, it records the continuation of Christianity in Africa after having been initiated through the first African-Jewish proselytes who were converts at Pentecost (see Acts 2:10). Third, it verifies God’s promise in Zephaniah 3:9-10 about followers of God who would come from Cush (that is, Ethiopia). God desired to call to himself peoples from the African continent to serve him in brotherhood with all men.
9:1-2 Last we heard of Saul, he had approved of the death of the first Christian martyr and was dragging Christian men and women off to prison (8:1-3). Here we see that he received letters from the high priest to go to the synagogues in Damascus (a city about one hundred and fifty miles north of Jerusalem in Syria) to find Jews who belonged to the Way and bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem (9:1-2). “The Way” was an early name referring to Christianity (see, e.g., 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22), because Jesus was “the way” (see John 14:6). “The Way” also represented the new life of believers as they followed the pattern of their Messiah. The gospel was expanding outside of Judea (see 1:8), and Saul had become a religious bounty hunter to put a stop to it.
9:3-5 On his way to Damascus, Saul had an unexpected encounter. A bright light from heaven . . . flashed, a light more brilliant “than the sun” (26:13), and the voice of Jesus said, Saul, why are you persecuting me? Please don’t miss this. Jesus so identifies with his people that to persecute them is to persecute him. The church is “the body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:27). So anyone who attacks God’s people is attacking the one who loved them, died for them, and united them to himself.
9:6-8 Jesus commanded Saul to go to Damascus to learn what [he] must do (9:6). Though his companions heard a sound, they couldn’t see anyone (9:7). The resurrected Lord Jesus was revealing himself to Saul alone. But the encounter left him blind, a physical reflection of his spiritual blindness, so that the men had to lead him by the hand. And for three days he couldn’t see and refused to eat or drink (9:8) as he reflected on his supernatural encounter. The Lord Jesus wasn’t happy with what Saul had been doing to the church, his body. Saul had good reason to be uneasy. Jesus was taking his actions personally.
9:9-14 While this was happening, the Lord spoke to a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, told him in a vision where he could find Saul, and commanded him to go and heal his sight (9:9-12). But Ananias wasn’t exactly ready to jump at the opportunity. He had heard that Saul was causing much harm to the saints in Jerusalem and had come to Damascus to arrest others (9:13-14). Ananias was probably thinking, “You want me to go talk to the man who’s in town to arrest believers—like me?” But even when it looks like obedience could result in trouble, God calls us to trust and obey. He is usually up to something much bigger than we realize.
9:15-19 The Lord revealed to Ananias that Saul was his chosen instrument to speak about him to Gentiles, kings, and Israelites (9:15). Here is another indication, then, that divine election is to service and not eternal life. Saul would suffer for the name of Jesus (9:16). So Ananias went to Saul, explained that he had been sent by the same Lord Jesus who had appeared to him, and put his hands on him so that he would be healed and filled with the Holy Spirit (9:17). Then Saul regained his sight and was baptized (9:18).
God used a faithful (though frightened!) disciple to launch Saul into a sudden new direction in life. A menace was about to become a missionary. If you know someone whom you think could never be converted, don’t forget what the grace and mercy of God accomplished in the life of a wicked man named Saul.
9:20 What did Saul do after a supernatural encounter with Jesus? Immediately he began proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues, saying, He is the Son of God. He didn’t waste any time. So, once again, we see the fulfillment of Jesus’s words (see 1:8).
Saul was filled with the Spirit and became a vocal and formidable witness for Jesus. Anyone who walks around bragging about being filled with the Spirit, but who does not bear testimony to Jesus Christ, is a walking contradiction.
9:21-22 Everyone who heard Saul was shocked, asking, “Isn’t this the man who’s been making prisoners of Christians?” (9:21). He was confounding the Jews . . . by proving that Jesus is the Messiah (9:22). Saul was a Pharisee (see Phil 3:5), and he knew his Old Testament well. His encounter with Jesus made the Scriptures come together for him. Everything made sense.
9:23-25 Saul’s zeal, however, wasn’t winning him any friends among the Jews. They wanted to kill him (9:23). Their star persecutor of Christians had switched his allegiance, and now he was a liability to them. So they were watching for him to pass through the gates, which would have been the only way in or out of the walled city of Damascus (9:24). But Saul’s disciples helped Saul escape through an opening in the city wall (9:25; cf. 1 Cor 4:7-12). Those whom he had previously come to imprison were saving his life.
9:26-27 When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he couldn’t find any disciples willing to take him in. They did not believe he was a disciple (9:26)! Everyone feared him—everyone except Barnabas, whose name meant “Son of Encouragement” (see 4:36-37): that name described him well. He took [Saul] to the apostles, described his conversion, and testified to his gospel ministry in Damascus (2:27). Barnabas was willing to embrace the work of grace that God was doing in Saul’s life.
9:28-30 As Saul began speaking boldly in Jerusalem, the Jews there wanted to kill him too (9:28-29). So the brothers . . . sent him off to Tarsus (9:30), Saul’s hometown (see 9:11). It was located in the Roman province of Cilicia (in modern south-central Turkey).
9:31 Luke tells us that the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was strengthened. As believers lived in the fear of the Lord and received encouragement from the Holy Spirit, the church increased in numbers. But wait a minute. What about the “severe persecution” (8:1) that had broken out against the church? How could things be going so well for Christ’s followers when their external circumstances were so bad? In God’s sovereignty, the period of persecution actually caused the church to increase and grow stronger. True Christianity, in fact, prospers in spite of outward pressure when believers depend on God’s peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7), receive comfort that only the Holy Spirit can provide, and take God and his Word seriously.
In many places in the world today, Christians are persecuted and even killed for their faith. Though believers in many places may not face such severity, they can still undergo persecution in other forms: rejection, mocking, ostracism, and discrimination by employers to name a few. Paul writes, “All who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). However, if a believer experiences no form of persecution, it may mean that he doesn’t have a faith worth persecuting. Don’t be a secret agent Christian: go public with your trust in Christ.
9:32-35 As Peter was traveling, he encountered a man named Aeneas who had been paralyzed for eight years (9:32-33). Peter told him that Jesus Christ had healed him, and Aeneas stood up (9:34-35). As a result of this public miracle, many people in that region turned to the Lord (9:35). Obviously, the miracles the apostles were performing were not merely for shock and awe. Their purpose was to draw people to Christ.
9:36-43 In Joppa, northwest of Jerusalem on the Mediterranean Coast, a faithful believer named Tabitha, who was known for her good works, became sick and died (9:36-37). Since the disciples in Joppa knew that Peter was nearby, they urged him to come (9:38). When Peter arrived, there was much weeping over this generous saint (9:39). So he prayed, told Tabitha to get up, and her life was restored (9:40-41). As a result, many believed in the Lord (9:42).
This was the first time that one of the apostles, like Jesus, had raised the dead back to life (see Luke 7:11-15; 8:50-56; John 11:1-44). But it wouldn’t be the last (see 20:7-12). Once again, a miracle served as confirmation of the gospel and brought many to saving faith. In addition, God brought Tabitha’s good works back to her. She had sacrificially served others, and here God showed mercy to her. Our God is a God of reciprocity (see Luke 6:38).
B. Peter’s Kingdom Witness to the Gentiles and Escape from Prison (10:1–12:25)
10:1-8 Luke introduces us to a key figure: Cornelius, a Roman centurion (10:1). He was a Gentile “God fearer”—that is, he believed in the God of Israel. But he was not a Jewish proselyte—that is, he was not circumcised as a full-fledged convert to Judaism. He engaged in charitable deeds for the Jewish people and always prayed to God (10:2). One day, he had a vision in which an angel commended him for his devotion and told him to send for a man named Peter in Joppa (10:3-6). It’s not every day that someone receives a visit from a heavenly being, so Cornelius didn’t waste time obeying! Representatives were soon on their way to find Peter (10:7-8).
10:9-16 Here the scene cuts to Peter in Joppa, praying on the roof about noon (10:9). Hungry and waiting for lunch to be prepared, he fell into a trance (10:10). He saw a large sheet . . . lowered from heaven to earth with all kinds of animals in it that were unclean for Jews to eat (10:11-12). When he heard a voice tell him to eat, he refused (10:13-14). Peter was a good, faithful Jew who had always obeyed the Jewish food laws (10:14). But the voice said, What God has made clean, do not call impure (10:15). After seeing two reruns of this message (two or three witnesses are God’s method of divine confirmation; see, e.g., Deut 17:6; 19:15; Matt 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19), Peter woke up.
Peter had been faithful to the dietary restrictions God had given Israel under the old covenant (see Lev 11:1-47). But during his ministry Jesus had “declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19). The previous standards Peter had learned, then, were irrelevant in light of what God had done and was doing. The Lord was getting ready to teach Peter about more than mere changes to his diet. He was about to break down racial divides and signal the dawning of a new day.
10:17-23 At that moment, Cornelius’s men showed up (10:17-20). They explained that a holy angel had commanded Cornelius to send for Peter and hear a message from him (10:22). So he agreed to go with them (10:23). Though Cornelius was a Gentile, Peter wasn’t going to ignore the combination of the two messages from heaven. He knew God was trying to tell him something (see 10:28-29).
10:24-29 When they arrived, Cornelius was waiting along with his relatives and close friends, and he fell down and worshiped Peter (10:24-25). But Peter would have none of that: he lifted him up and addressed the large gathering (10:26-27). He got right to the point: It’s forbidden for a Jewish man to . . . visit a foreigner. Indeed, Jews didn’t associate with those who lived on the other side of the tracks, so to speak. But God had just revealed to him that he shouldn’t call any person impure or unclean, and that’s why he was willing to go into this Gentile’s home without objection (10:28).
At a clear word from God, Peter had changed his convictions on a matter and obeyed at once. Given the Bible’s clear teaching on racial equality, since all people come from one source (see 17:26) it doesn’t require years of training and seminars to embrace the truth. It simply requires a quick willingness to take God at his Word. We must see people as God sees them.
10:30-33 Cornelius explained his own heavenly revelation that had prompted him to send for Peter. Then he concluded, So now we are all in the presence of God to hear everything you have been commanded by the Lord to share (10:33). What other message could God possibly want Peter to proclaim to this crowd but the message of the gospel? God had sovereignly orchestrated events so that Peter had been invited to his own evangelistic crusade with a crowd ready and willing to listen.
10:34-35 Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism. Peter had come to understand what Paul would later write: “Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too” (Rom 3:29). No ethnic or racial group is superior to another or gets preferential treatment from God. He accepts all who come to him on his terms (10:35).
10:36-43 Then Peter launched into the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all (not of Jews only) (10:36). He began with the baptism of John, reviewed the details of Jesus’s miraculous life and ministry, and culminated with his crucifixion and resurrection—to which many (including Peter) were eyewitnesses (10:37-41). This is what Peter and the other apostles had been commanded . . . to preach, because the risen Lord Jesus is coming back one day to judge the living and the dead (10:42). Forgiveness of sins is available to everyone who believes in him (10:43).
10:44-48 At that moment, the Holy Spirit came down on all of the Gentiles who heard the message (10:44). And the Jewish Christians with Peter were amazed as they heard them speaking in other tongues (10:45-46)—just as Peter and the other apostles had done on the day of Pentecost (see commentary on 2:1-11). Since they had received the Holy Spirit just as the Jewish believers had, Peter knew they could do nothing other than baptize them in the name of Jesus Christ (10:47-48). This was a Gentile Pentecost, an event bringing Jews and Gentiles together into the family of God.
When an Olympic athlete wins a gold medal, they do not ask the athlete what song he or she would like to hear played at the award ceremony. They play the anthem of the country that the athlete represents. No matter how diverse the athletes are from a given country, they compete under the same flag. Similarly, believers in Jesus Christ come from every tribe, tongue, nation, race, and gender. These different aspects of humanity are part of God’s creation and, therefore, are not obliterated by the gospel. But they are not the most important things about us. We do not primarily represent our race; we represent God’s kingdom. We live, work, and worship together under his banner, not our own.
11:1-18 All the believers in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God (11:1). But those who were members of the circumcision party criticized Peter for fellowshipping and eating with Gentiles without having required their circumcision first (11:2). So Peter explained everything that had happened, including a detailed account of his heavenly trance, the angel’s message to Cornelius, and the Holy Spirit’s baptism of the new Gentile believers (11:3-16). He concluded, If, then, God gave them the same gift that he also gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God? (11:17). In other words, Peter was saying, illegitimate racial divisions stand in God’s way and oppose the truth of the gospel (see Gal 2:11-14). To oppose something that so clearly had a divine stamp of approval on it would be to oppose God. Peter’s explanation caused the other Jewish believers to give glory to God for granting repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles (11:18).
11:19-21 The persecution that began because of Stephen caused believers to be scattered . . . as far as Phoenicia (on the Mediterranean Coast in Syria), Cyprus (an island south of Asia Minor), and Antioch (in southeast Turkey). Antioch would become a dominant church, sending missionaries (including Paul) throughout the Roman Empire. Up to this point, the Jewish believers who been scattered to these places had only preached the word to Jews (11:19). But now believers began speaking to the Greeks about the Lord Jesus, resulting in many conversions (11:20-21).
11:22-26 The church in Jerusalem heard about these Gentile conversions and sent Barnabas to Antioch (11:22). As he saw evidence of the work of God and people being saved, he encouraged them to follow God with devoted hearts (11:23). Then Barnabas sought out Saul in Tarsus and took him to minister to the church in Antioch (11:25-26). This was the second time that Barnabas had served as a bridge to help Saul get connected to other believers (see 9:26-30). Do you make opportunities to facilitate and encourage the ministries of others?
It was in Antioch that disciples of Jesus Christ were first called Christians (11:26); they were named for the one whom they worshiped and obeyed. If we are going to bear his name in the world, then we must likewise bear his attitudes and actions, his character and conduct.
11:27-30 During this time, a prophet named Agabus came from Jerusalem to Antioch predicting an empire-wide famine while Claudius was the Roman emperor (11:27-28). So each believer in Antioch, according to his ability, set aside funds to be delivered by Barnabas and Saul to relieve the suffering saints in Judea (11:29-30).
Initially, the Jewish believers were reluctant to have anything to do with the Gentiles (see 11:1-3). Then, prompted by divine initiative, Peter proclaimed the gospel to Gentiles and watched them receive the Holy Spirit just as Jewish believers had (see 11:4-17). Now, recognizing that they were all part of the same family of God, Gentile believers in Antioch provided loving support to Jewish believers in need. Regardless of past divisions, these people saw Christians from another race as their brothers and sisters, and they acted accordingly. Do you?
12:1-5 Wherever the Holy Spirit is at work and believers are living in faithfulness to God, ungodly resistance will eventually rear its ugly head. On this occasion, resistance manifested itself as King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the church (12:1). This man was Herod Agrippa I (grandson of Herod the Great; see Matt 2:1-23). He ruled over Judea from AD 41–44. He leveled persecution at the church and executed the apostle James, the brother of John (12:2). Since this made the unbelieving Jews happy, Herod also tossed Peter in jail during the Festival of Unleavened Bread (12:3). The wicked ruler’s plan was to hold a public trial after the Passover and execute Peter too (12:4). In response, the church prayed fervently for Peter in prison (12:5).
As we’ll see in the following verses, their prayers for Peter were answered. But what about James? Why wasn’t he delivered? Such difficult questions still arise today. Why does one believer undergo intense suffering, while another believer does not? Though the Bible does not enable us to answer such questions, Scripture does assure us that all suffering falls under the sovereign purposes of God (see, e.g., Rom 8:28-39). We can be certain that whatever he does or allows to happen is ultimately for our good and his glory. We can trust him to do what is right.
God’s purposes are not the same for each Christian. That’s why we must never compare our circumstances to those of others (see John 21:21-23). Rather, we ought to ask ourselves, “Am I, to the best of my ability, following the Word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit in determining God’s will for my life?” James and Peter were both operating in the will of God, but God had different plans for how each would bring him glory on earth.
12:6-10 Clearly, Peter was securely imprisoned. He was bound with two chains, asleep between two soldiers, and behind a door guarded by sentries (12:6). He wasn’t going anywhere. Yet “the church was praying fervently” (12:5). Prayer is the divinely authorized method for accessing heavenly authority for earthly intervention. And heaven certainly intervened here. An angel of the Lord showed up, woke Peter, and caused his chains to fall off (12:7). As he followed the angel, Peter assumed he was seeing a vision (12:9). Surely attaining freedom couldn’t be this easy! But after they had miraculously passed the guards and gotten into the streets, the angel departed, and Peter realized that he wasn’t dreaming (12:10). He was free.
12:11-14 Realizing that he had just benefited from a divine rescue mission, Peter went to the home of the mother of John Mark (author of the Gospel of Mark), where he knew that the believers were gathered to pray for him (12:11-12). He knocked at the door, and a servant named Rhoda answered (12:13). But she was so full of joy when she saw him that she left poor Peter in the cold and ran back inside to tell everyone that he was knocking (12:14)!
12:15 Notice the church’s response. They had been “praying fervently to God” for Peter (12:5). But when God miraculously answered, they couldn’t believe it and told Rhoda, You’re out of your mind! They assumed that it was just his guardian angel.
Do you ever pray because you know you’re supposed to, but you don’t actually expect God to answer? Don’t put God in a box. Believe that he “is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us” (Eph 3:20).
12:16-17 Meanwhile, as the church responded with skepticism (and told Rhoda she was crazy!), Peter . . . kept on knocking, wishing someone would let him in! Finally, they opened the door and were amazed (12:16). Then Peter explained what had happened, urged them to tell everything to James (the brother of Jesus; see 15:13; 1 Cor 15:7; Gal 1:19) and the brothers, and departed (12:17). When the Lord answers your prayers, be sure to give testimony about it so that others are encouraged and God receives the glory he deserves.
12:18-19 Imagine the surprise of the soldiers when they found Peter missing in the morning (12:18)! But their consternation was nothing compared to Herod’s. After his search for Peter turned up empty, he had the guards executed and then left town for a change of scenery at his palace in Caesarea (12:19). Yet, this despot would soon give an account to God for his arrogance.
12:20-23 We learn that Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, Phoenician cities north of Caesarea on the Mediterranean Coast that he supplied with food (12:20). But they asked Herod for peace, so he delivered a speech to them (12:20-21). No doubt seeking to flatter the king, the people shouted, It’s the voice of a god and not of a man! (12:22). But when Herod received this blasphemous praise and failed to give the glory to God, he was struck by an angel and died (12:23).
When King Nebuchadnezzar arrogantly claimed credit for the glory of Babylon, God made him insane and caused him to live with animals, until the king was willing to humbly praise and honor the Lord who alone deserves glory (see Dan 4:28-37). God declared through Isaiah, “I will not give my glory to another” (Isa 42:8). Pride is an ugly sin and will come under the Lord’s just condemnation—perhaps in this life, but definitely in eternity. When you are tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought, remember that you have nothing which has not been given to you by God. Humble yourself before him.
12:24-25 Contrast the downfall of Herod with the flourishing and growth of the word of God (12:24). This narcissistic king had attempted to stop the spread of the gospel by murdering and imprisoning the church’s leaders (see 12:1-4). Instead, Herod had become worm food (12:23), the gospel continued to spread (12:24), and the church’s leaders were successfully serving God and his people (12:25).
C. Paul’s First Missionary Journey (13:1–14:28)
13:1-3 The church at Antioch had several prophets (who carried on an itinerant ministry) and teachers (who instructed in the local churches) serving in leadership. In addition to Barnabas and Saul, there were two black leaders. Their names were Simeon who was called Niger (meaning “black” or “dark”) and Lucius of Cyrene (a city in North Africa). When the Holy Spirit told the church to set apart . . . Barnabas and Saul for mission work, these two black men assisted in their ordination and commissioning (13:2-3). Clearly, then, black people were not only leaders in the culture of the New Testament era, but they were also leaders in the church itself. The church of Jesus Christ was becoming the racially mixed group that it was intended and destined to be (see Rev 7:9). Note that the Holy Spirit spoke in the context of corporate worship and fasting. The laying on of hands gave official recognition of the Spirit’s ministry call and endorsement (13:3).
13:4-5 Barnabas and Saul went to Seleucia on the Mediterranean Coast, and from there they sailed to the island of Cyprus (13:4), Barnabas’s home territory (see 4:36). After they arrived, they began preaching about Jesus in the Jewish synagogues (13:5)—something that would become their standard practice.
13:6-8 When they reached Paphos on the western side of the island, they encountered a man named Bar-Jesus (meaning “son of Jesus),” who was also known as Elymas (13:6, 8). He was a sorcerer and Jewish false prophet, having mixed Jewish religion with pagan practices (13:6). Elymas was hanging out with the island’s intelligent proconsul (a governor of the province under Roman authority), Sergius Paulus. He was trying to keep him from listening to the word of God spoken by Barnabas and Saul (13:7-8).
13:9-11 Saul was a Hebrew name, and Paul was a Roman name (13:9). From this point forward in Acts (and in all of his letters), the man who would become known as the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom 11:13) is called Paul.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul saw that Elymas was operating in sync with the devil (13:9-10; just as Jesus had detected in Peter; see Matt 16:23). Therefore, the apostle took action and pronounced blindness on Elymas. Since he had embraced spiritual blindness, he would now be physically blind (13:11).
13:12 When he saw this, the proconsul believed. Although Elymas had tried to prevent Sergius Paulus from becoming a Christian, God used what happened to Elymas to bring the proconsul to faith. There is no doubt that the Lord will fulfill all of his sovereign purposes. The question is this: Will he accomplish his will through your obedience resulting in your blessing, or in spite of your rebellion resulting in your shame? It’s your choice.
13:13 From Cyprus, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). John (that is, John Mark, author of the Gospel of Mark) had been accompanying them. But at this point he returned to Jerusalem. Apparently, the intense mission work had proven to be too much for him. In the future, Paul and Barnabas would go their separate ways because Barnabas wanted to give John Mark a second chance and Paul did not (see 15:36-40). Eventually, though, Paul would be reconciled to John Mark and find his ministry helpful (see 2 Tim 4:11).
13:14-15 In Pisidian Antioch (not to be confused with Syrian Antioch where their sending church was located; see 13:1), they entered the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath and were invited by the leaders to speak.
13:16-25 Paul wasn’t about to pass up an invitation to proclaim the gospel, so he started with the Old Testament and worked his way to Jesus. Along the way, he emphasized the sovereign hand of God in Israel’s history. He reminded his Jewish listeners of how God made the Israelites into a prosperous nation in Egypt and rescued them from slavery there (13:17). He destroyed wicked nations in Canaan, gave his people the land, and appointed for them leaders—judges and later kings (13:18-22). From the descendants of King David, God brought Israel the Savior, Jesus, just as he promised David (13:23; see 2 Sam 7:11-16). Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promises to send a Messiah.
13:26-37 Though God had sent Israel salvation through Jesus, the residents of Jerusalem and their rulers rejected him and handed him over to the Romans to be put to death on a cross (13:26-29). But God raised him from the dead, and he appeared to many witnesses—including Paul (13:30-31). The Lord had prophesied through David of the resurrection. However, David had not been speaking about himself rising from the dead but about his descendant, the Messiah, God’s Holy One (13:34-35; see commentary on 2:24-31). David decayed in his tomb; Jesus did not decay and walked out of his (13:35-37).
13:38-41 Having explained how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament, Paul applied his message to his Jewish listeners. Through [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed (13:38). If a person believes in Jesus as the one who died for his sins, he is justified through him from everything that one could not be justified from through the law of Moses (13:39). The law was unable to set anyone free. All it could do was show people the problem of sin in their hearts. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can justify—make us right before God.
Paul concluded by warning them not to scoff at what God was doing, like many of the Jews in Jerusalem had done (13:40-41).
13:42-45 Those who heard Paul urged him and his companions to come and speak again on the following Sabbath (13:42). You didn’t have to tell Paul twice. The next week almost the whole town showed up at the synagogue to hear the word of the Lord (13:44). Paul’s message had earned him quite an audience. But just as the Jewish leaders had been jealous of Jesus (see Mark 15:10), these Jews were jealous when they observed Paul drawing larger crowds than they ever had. So they contradicted Paul’s message and insulted him (13:45).
13:46-47 That was the last straw for Paul. He had delivered the gospel message to the Jews first (13:46) because God had made a covenant with them, given them his Word, and brought the Messiah into the world through Israel. But since they considered themselves unworthy of eternal life by rejecting God’s offer, Paul determined to take the gospel straight to the Gentiles (13:46). It had always been God’s plan to bring his salvation to all people (13:47; see Isa 49:6). And here, through the apostle Paul, the Gentile mission was about to start in earnest.
13:48-52 The Gentiles were overjoyed (13:48). Even though the Jews incited people to persecute Paul and Barnabas and kick them out, the word of the Lord spread throughout the whole region (13:49-50). Don’t miss that the gospel prevails in spite of opposition. No matter how much unbelievers seek to silence Jesus’s followers, God’s Word can’t be stopped. So Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet—a sign of the coming judgment against these unbelievers because of their rebellion—and departed (13:51). The new disciples, however, were filled with joy. When the Holy Spirit is doing his work within you, you can experience internal peace and joy regardless of your external circumstances (13:52).
14:1-7 In Iconium they once again spoke in the synagogue, leading to the conversion of many Jews and Greeks (14:1). When unbelieving Jews opposed them, Paul and his companions spoke boldly for the Lord and were enabled to perform signs and wonders (14:2-3). God, then, backed up their preaching with supernatural authority to verify the truth of their message. As a result, the city was divided, some backing the Jews and some backing the apostles (14:4). When the believers learned of a plot to stone them, they fled to nearby towns and preached the gospel there (14:5-7).
Knowing when to stay in spite of persecution (see 14:2-3) and when to leave to escape it requires wisdom. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. We need to follow the Spirit’s leading.
14:8-10 In Lystra, as Paul was preaching, there was a man listening who had been lame from birth, and Paul saw that he had faith to be healed (14:8-9). It’s one thing to believe God is able to do amazing works; it’s another to believe that he is willing to do them in and through you. Aware of the man’s faith, Paul called him to his feet, and the man stood and walked for the first time in his life (14:10). As you follow Jesus in discipleship, believe the truth that “with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26)—even and especially in your own life.
14:11-13 When the inhabitants of the city saw this supernatural display, they thought the Greek gods had come down . . . in human form (14:11). They assumed Barnabas was Zeus (the king of the gods) and Paul was Hermes (the messenger of the gods), because he was the chief speaker (14:12). They intended to offer sacrifice to them (14:13) because their superstitious, pagan worldview left them with no alternative way to interpret and respond to this miracle.
14:14-18 Unlike Herod, who foolishly embraced being treated like a god (and paid the price for it; see 12:20-23), Paul and Barnabas were horrified at being mistaken for gods. They tore their robes in grief and shouted, We are people also, just like you (14:14-15). While the crowd wanted to glorify these two men, Paul and Barnabas deflected the glory to God. They told them to turn from these worthless things (their polytheistic worship) and turn to the living God who created all things (14:15). As David explains in Psalm 19:1, God testifies to his own existence through the world he made: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” He did not leave himself without a witness (14:17). Nevertheless, they barely talked the people out of offering sacrifices to them (14:18).
14:19-20 Notice the fickleness of sinful human hearts. When Jews from the previous cities followed Paul and Barnabas to Iconium, they turned this crowd against them until they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city (14:19). Human devotion can quickly turn to animosity when it’s not tethered to truth. The crowds that hailed Jesus as the Messiah (see Matt 21:8-11) were shouting for his crucifixion a few days later (see Matt 27:20-23).
Though Paul was presumed dead, he got up, moved on to the next town (Derbe), and preached the gospel again (14:19-20). There was no stopping him. Paul had been a vile persecutor of the church, but when the Lord shook him to his senses and poured out his mercy on him, there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t endure for the sake of the gospel. What about you?
14:21-22 After making many disciples in Derbe, Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps, passing back through the towns they had visited, strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith. God doesn’t merely want to punch our tickets to heaven; he wants us to “continue in the faith,” following his kingdom agenda while we’re on earth. Walking as a kingdom disciple of Jesus, however, is challenging because it is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God (14:22). Although not all believers will experience the same kinds of problems or the same level of persecution, “all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). So we need the encouragement of a community of disciples to help us “continue in the faith” and spiritually grow as kingdom disciples.
14:23-28 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in every church they founded. Jesus’s church polity calls for a plurality of elders (governing body of male spiritual leaders; see 1 Tim 3:1) in each local church. Then they prayed, fasted, and committed these new believers to the Lord (14:23). Eventually, they made their way back to where they had started, the church in Antioch (14:24-26). There they reported to all the believers how God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles (14:27). Just as God had promised, he was bringing his blessing to all peoples of the earth through the offspring of Abraham, Jesus Christ (see Gen 12:3; Gal 3:16). Paul had completed his first missionary journey proclaiming this truth; it wouldn’t be his last.
D. The Jerusalem Council (15:1-35)
15:1-3 Some men came down to Antioch from Judea and were teaching that unless men were circumcised according to the law of Moses, they couldn’t be saved (15:1). Thus, they were making this requirement a part of the gospel. To be saved, they argued, one had to believe in Jesus and be circumcised. After Paul and Barnabas had engaged these men in serious argument and debate, the church sent them to meet with the church leaders in Jerusalem (15:2). This controversy would be the basis of Paul writing his letter to the Galatians.
In this fallen world, the church won’t be free of controversy. When theological controversies arise, godly church leaders need to come together in submission to Scripture and openness to the Holy Spirit’s direction. Many times throughout history, church councils have assembled to address difficult theological issues. The first of these met in Jerusalem.
15:4-5 The church in Jerusalem welcomed Paul and Barnabas and listened as they reported all that God had done with them on their mission work to the Gentiles (15:4). But members of the party of the Pharisees insisted that the Gentiles would have to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses (15:5), thus placing a burden on the Gentiles that God had not placed on them. We are not saved by trusting in Christ and keeping the law. The message of the gospel calls people to believe in Christ and his substitutionary atonement alone to be saved.
15:6-11 The apostles and the elders debated the matter extensively. Then Peter stood up to remind them of what God had done through him (15:6-7; see 10:1-48). God had chosen Peter to preach the gospel to a group of Gentiles—all of whom believed and received the Holy Spirit without being circumcised or keeping the law (15:7-8). God made no distinction between us (the Jews) and them (the Gentiles), Peter said (15:9). Ethnic distinctions should not matter within the body of Christ (see Gal 3:28; Eph 2:11-22). If God had not made an additional requirement of the Gentiles, why were these men testing God by putting a yoke on their necks that the Jewish ancestors themselves couldn’t bear? (15:10). The Jews had been unable to keep the law, so what made them think the Gentiles could? “The law,” Paul writes, “was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24). With this, Peter agreed: We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way that [Gentiles] are (15:11). We are saved by grace through faith in Christ—not through law-keeping.
15:12-18 Next Barnabas and Paul described their missionary journey and how God had performed signs and wonders . . . through them among the Gentiles (15:12). Then James stood up to speak (15:13). This James was the half brother of the Lord Jesus. He became a believer after the resurrection, rose to leadership in the Jerusalem church, and wrote the New Testament letter that bears his name (see Matt 13:55; Acts 12:17; 21:18; 1 Cor 15:7; Gal 1:19; Jas 1:1).
James reminded them that God had intervened to save the Gentiles through Simeon (Peter), just as the prophets had promised long before (15:14-18). He quoted from Amos 9:11-12 to show that Scripture testified to God’s comprehensive plan of redemption for all people. James sets a good example for us all. Many of our questions would be answered if we would look to the Bible more than we look to human opinions.
15:19-21 James’s judgment was that the church should not cause difficulties for the Gentiles who were turning to God by requiring them to keep the law. Instead, he advised that they write a letter to send to the Gentile churches, urging them to abstain from things polluted by idols . . . from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood (15:20). These were all things forbidden to Jews in the law of Moses and were also linked to Gentile idolatry (see 1 Cor 10:19-20). Abstaining from these actions would not save the Gentile Christians or cause them to break fellowship with God (see 1 Cor 10:28-32), but it would prevent them from unnecessarily offending Jewish Christians and would facilitate fellowship with them. The directive to abstain from sexual immorality (15:20) is a natural outworking of the gospel. Many Gentiles would have had low standards regarding sexual purity, so James knew they needed exhortation on this matter.
15:22-35 The apostles and the elders agreed with James’s proposal, so they wrote a letter along the lines outlined by James (15:23-29) and sent it to Antioch by means of Paul and Barnabas, accompanied by representatives from the Jerusalem church: Judas and Silas (15:22). When they delivered the letter to the believers in Antioch, they responded with great rejoicing and encouragement (15:30-31). Judas and Silas taught and strengthened the Christians there and then returned to Jerusalem in peace (15:32-33).
What had started as controversy ended in unity, edification, and joy. This is what happens when godly leaders address problems in obedience to God’s Word, recognizing how God’s Spirit has been at work, and encouraging God’s people to seek one another’s well-being.
E. Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (15:36–18:21)
15:36-38 After some time passed, Paul suggested to Barnabas that they visit all of the churches they had started to see how they were getting along (15:36). Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark . . . but Paul disagreed since he had deserted them on their previous missionary journey (15:37-38; see 13:13). The work had apparently been too much for John Mark, and he had thrown in the towel. Ministry is hard business because it necessarily involves people and their problems. For the missionary serving in a foreign culture and away from family and friends, the difficulties are compounded.
15:39-41 Paul wanted a reliable and effective missionary team, and he didn’t have confidence that John Mark wouldn’t bail out on them again. So he and Barnabas had such a sharp disagreement over this issue that they decided to go their separate ways. Bar-nabas took Mark and left for Cyprus (15:39). But Paul chose a Christian brother named Silas and went through Syria and Cilicia (15:40-41).
Notice how God used the conflict that arose between these two godly leaders. Paul rightly concluded that John Mark had failed, so he didn’t want to take the risk that he might quit again. But Barnabas, the “Son of Encouragement” (see 4:36), saw potential in Mark and wanted to give him another chance. Both men had a point and neither was wrong, yet they couldn’t convince one another. Therefore, they split into two missionary teams. God took their disagreement, then, and used it to expand their gospel reach. In spite of their dispute, more ground would be covered and more lives transformed for Christ. Though Paul and Barnabas would part ways, in God’s providence their gospel impact would be doubled. God knows how to take a mess and make a miracle.
16:1 While ministering in Lystra, Paul met a believer named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish Christian, and his father was a Greek. Thus, Timothy was the son of what might be called an interracial marriage. We learn elsewhere that his mother and grandmother had a significant influence on him, teaching him the Scriptures from childhood (see 2 Tim 1:5; 3:14-15). Paul would come to call Timothy his “true son in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2) and his “dearly loved son” (2 Tim 1:2); therefore, it’s likely that Timothy had been converted during Paul’s first visit to Lystra (see Acts 14:8-20; also 1 Cor 4:17). The men would serve together for years, and Paul would frequently mention Timothy in his correspondence to churches (see Rom 16:21; 1 Cor 4:17; 16:10; 2 Cor 1:19; Phil 2:19-22; 1 Thess 3:2, 6). In time, Paul would assign Timothy to lead the church in Ephesus under difficult circumstances because of his trust in and respect for him (see 1 Tim 1:3-4; 4:11-16).
16:2-3 As Paul got to know Timothy and saw how everyone spoke highly of him, he wanted to take him along on his missionary team. So Paul circumcised him because of the Jews (16:3). Now wait a minute. We just read the outcome of the Jerusalem Council (see 15:1-35). They (including Paul) concluded that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses in order to be saved. So why would Paul have Timothy circumcised?
Paul didn’t do this so that Timothy could be saved but so that he could effectively minister among the Jews. He didn’t want Timothy to be a stumbling block to them. Having an uncircumcised man as part of his team would have distracted Jews from the gospel; therefore, Paul was willing to be flexible on non-essential issues for the sake of his gospel ministry: “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some” (1 Cor 9:22; see 9:19-23). Paul didn’t want to hinder the message of Christ. Do you put any roadblocks in front of unbelievers that prevent them from coming to Jesus? Adopt Paul’s attitude and flexibility (apart from sin).
16:4-5 As they went from town to town, Paul faithfully delivered the decisions reached by the leaders in Jerusalem (16:4; see 15:23-29), and the churches were edified and grew larger, both numerically and spiritually (16:5).
16:6-7 A strange thing happened after they had traveled through Phrygia and Galatia. The Holy Spirit forbade them to speak the word in Asia (16:6). When they tried to go to Bithynia . . . the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them (16:7). (Notice an implicit affirmation of the Trinity here: the Holy Spirit is also “the Spirit of Jesus.”) Why wouldn’t God want them to proclaim the gospel in these places? Because he had other plans for them.
We ought to seek to be open to the Holy Spirit’s leadership in our lives. One of the primary ways the Holy Spirit guides believers is by his ministry of illumination, enabling us to understand and apply biblical truth in our lives. The more Scripture we know, the more material the Spirit has to work with in our hearts and minds. The Spirit also provides guidance by stirring up inner convictions about decisions we need to make. He will never lead us to do anything contrary to Scripture. But within the framework of God’s moral will, he can place within us a burden that doesn’t go away. If this happens, slow down, get quiet with God, and ask him to help you understand how he’s trying to guide you. One primary way the Holy Spirit provides guidance is through the confirmation of two or three witnesses (see Deut 19:15; 2 Cor 13:1). Notice Paul was twice forbidden to more forward.
16:8-10 As they spent the night in the port city of Troas (in modern Turkey), Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man . . . pleading with him to come to Macedonia (across the Aegean Sea) to help (16:8-9). After the Holy Spirit had communicated where they were not to go, then, God gave Paul a clear vision that directed them to their destination. They knew that God wanted them to preach the gospel there, so they immediately sailed for Macedonia (16:10). The gospel moved westward, connecting Asia and Europe.
Notice that this is the first instance in which the author of the book—Luke—uses the pronoun we. Thus, Luke had obviously joined Paul in his mission work at this point (see the authorship discussion in the Introduction).
16:11-15 They sailed from Troas and eventually arrived in Philippi, a Roman colony and a leading city of the district of Macedonia (16:11-12). The church in Philippi would be the first one Paul would start in Europe, and he would pen his letter to the Philippians about a decade or so later.
On the Sabbath, Paul and his companions went outside the city . . . to find a place of prayer (16:13). They met a God-fearer (a Gentile believer in the God of Israel who had not become a proselyte—that is, a convert to Judaism) named Lydia. She was a dealer in purple cloth and, thus, a businesswoman of some means. As she listened to Paul talk about Jesus, the Lord opened her heart and she believed, along with her whole household (16:14-15). They were all baptized, and then she invited Paul and the other disciples to stay at [her] house (16:15). Clearly her business had produced some wealth if she had a home large enough to house all of the missionaries in Paul’s group.
16:16-18 Then they encountered another woman—a slave girl inhabited by a spirit that enabled her to tell fortunes and make large sums of money for her owners (16:16). For days she followed Paul around the city, telling everyone that these men were servants of the Most High God who were proclaiming . . . the way of salvation (16:17-18). But Paul was greatly annoyed; he didn’t want a demonic, fortune-telling spirit shouting about his work and marketing the gospel in such a manner. So he commanded the spirit to come out of her (16:18).
16:19-24 The poor slave girl was set free, but her owners were not happy when they realized that their hope of profit was gone. So they dragged Paul before the chief magistrates and accused him and the others of creating a disturbance and advocating customs that were illegal for Romans (16:19-21). Notice that they were unconcerned with their religious message. Instead, they were trying to pit the disciples against Rome. Without giving them a trial, the chief magistrates had them stripped and beaten with rods (16:22). Then they threw them in prison and put their feet in . . . stocks (16:23-24). Paul would later write that they “were treated outrageously in Philippi” (1 Thess 2:2). Little did the Philippian magistrates realize that they were in for a shock.
16:25 How would you have responded if you were treated this way? About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. So, at their dark moment (physically and figuratively), Paul and Silas weren’t weeping or complaining or feeling sorry for themselves. In the middle of their pain and difficulty, they were praising! Their external circumstances did not dictate their internal disposition. Moreover, the other prisoners were listening to them. Such peace and hope coming from the mouths of those with bloody backs in a jail cell wasn’t natural! Paul and Silas were demonstrating to those around them that King Jesus wasn’t just ruling their message; he was also ruling their lives. As you encounter troubling times, pray for God to help you bring him glory as you praise him in the midst of your pain. The world is watching.
16:26-27 At that moment, there was a violent earthquake that rocked the jail, opened the doors, and loosed their chains (16:26). When the jailer saw what had happened, he prepared to fall on his sword because he thought they had escaped (16:27). If prisoners escaped in that era, the one guarding them was subject to capital punishment. Remember the fate of the soldiers who had been guarding Peter when Herod locked him up (see 12:6-10, 18-19).
16:28-34 Paul immediately urged him not to harm himself, saying, We’re all here! (16:28). And in that instant, Paul’s prison time turned into an evangelistic opportunity because the man on the verge of suicide was looking for salvation. The jailer . . . fell down trembling before them and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? (16:29-30). Paul and Silas didn’t waste time: Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household (16:31). Typically, when the leader of the household believed, the family would follow. That’s what happened here, as the jailer and his whole family became disciples of Jesus Christ and were baptized (16:33).
Afterwards, the jailer, his heart transformed, washed Paul and Silas’s wounds and served them a meal in his house (16:33-34). A hardnosed man had been changed by the love of God and rejoiced over the salvation of his family (16:34).
16:35-37 The next morning, the chief magistrates gave orders for Paul and Silas to be released (16:35-36). But Paul would have none of it. These city officials had beaten Roman citizens publicly without a trial, put them in jail, and were now trying to secretly get rid of them. The believers hadn’t broken Roman law; government leaders had. So, since they had been unjustly and publicly humiliated, Paul insisted that things be publicly made right. They demanded that the magistrates come and escort them out of the jail to demonstrate their innocence (16:37). Having just established a new church in Philippi, Paul didn’t want the citizens to think that its founders were disreputable men. This illustrates the legitimacy of righteous social protest; Paul essentially conducted a sit-in against injustice.
16:38-40 When the magistrates learned that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were afraid (16:38). They went from being arrogant authorities to humble beggars, escorting them from prison and urging them to leave town (16:39). With the disciples vindicated and the reputation of Christianity cleared, they encouraged the brothers and sisters further and then departed (16:40).
17:1-4 The next missionary stop was Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia. The city had a Jewish synagogue (17:1), so Paul began there, according to his custom. Since the Jews believed in the Old Testament, he could start there and show them how Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures. He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and reasoned with them from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah and that he had to suffer and rise from the dead (17:2-3). As a result, some Jews and a large number of God-fearing Greeks believed (17:4).
17:5-9 But the Jews didn’t like this. Out of jealousy, they gathered some wicked men, started a riot, and dragged a man named Jason and some other Christian brothers before the city officials (17:5-6). Jason had welcomed Paul and the others into his home, so the Jews were holding him responsible. Like the antagonists in Philippi (see 16:19-21), they tried to make the Christians political opponents of Rome by claiming that they were acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees and following another king—Jesus—who was proclaiming another kingdom (17:7). They wanted to discredit Christianity by politicizing it. So they made Jason post a security bond (17:9), probably agreeing to send Paul and Silas away.
Similar attempts to discredit the Christian faith happen today—not on religious grounds but for political expediency. Traditional Christianity is deemed unacceptable because its adherents’ moral views prevent them from affirming, for example, abortion and homosexual marriage. Thus, followers of Christ can find themselves running afoul of the law for standing true to their Christian convictions. Here we must follow the apostle Peter’s counsel by regarding Christ as holy and giving a defense for our faith “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15-16). “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Pet 3:17).
17:10-11 This time, Paul and Silas went to the city of Berea and, again, began preaching in the synagogue of the Jews (17:10). After their difficult experience in Thessalonica, Berea surely seemed like a breath of fresh air. The Bereans were of more noble character; they were willing to hear the disciples out and evaluate their message objectively. They received the word with eagerness and examined the Scripture daily to see if these things were so (17:11).
How a person receives the Word of God will determine the effect that the Word has on him. God will not hide the truth from the one who honestly seeks it (see Jer 29:12-13). All believers, then, should seek to be like the Bereans, welcoming God’s Word with anticipation and regularly mining it for God’s truth in order to be transformed by it through obedience.
17:12-15 As a result of this attitude toward Scripture, many were saved, including prominent men and women (17:12). But the opponents from Thessalonica couldn’t leave well enough alone. They came and stirred up the Berean crowds against them so that the Christians there had to send Paul away. While Silas and Timothy stayed behind for a while, Paul journeyed on to Athens (17:13-15), always ready to proclaim the truth of Christ in places where he had never been named.
17:16-18 In Athens (located in modern Greece), Paul became deeply distressed because of the idols filling the city (17:16). So whether in the Jewish synagogue or in the city marketplace, the apostle reasoned with anyone who happened to be there (17:17). He considered no location off limits for sharing the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. So Epicurean and Stoic philosophers decided to debate with him, thinking he was an ignorant show-off (17:18).
Epicureanism and Stoicism were two popular schools of philosophical thought. The former was founded by Epicurus, who did not believe in the afterlife and emphasized the pursuit of pleasure and freedom from pain. Founded by Zeno, Stoicism was pantheistic and emphasized the pursuit of virtue.
17:19-21 They led Paul to the Areopagus, meaning “Mars Hill,” a place where philosophical and religious beliefs were debated and discussed, and they asked him to explain his strange teaching to a wider audience (17:19-20). Those who came loved to spend time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.
Some things never change. There will always be people who love to debate theology and spirituality but who are never willing to commit. They like to know about new religious and philosophical ideas. But God wants us to know him (see John 17:3).
17:22-23 Paul began by observing how extremely religious they were (today, he might say, “spiritual”) based on their objects of worship. They even had an altar honoring an Unknown God, just to make sure they had all of their bases covered! So Paul took this as an open-door opportunity. That which was unknown to them, Paul would be happy to explain (17:23).
17:24-29 Paul proclaimed God as the Creator of all things in heaven and earth (17:24). He is the source, ruler, and sustainer of life. He neither dwells in temples nor depends on humans to serve him because he is transcendent—above, beyond, and independent of the physical universe that he made. God needs nothing (17:25). From one man (Adam), he created all people so that they might seek God (17:26-27).
This affirms that the human race exists because of a personal Creator, not some random, impersonal evolutionary process. It also affirms the historicity of Adam and the essential unity and dignity of the human race, leaving no basis for racial superiority.
Paul said, In him we live and move and have our being (17:28). Thus, God is not only transcendent, he is immanent—he is present within and interacts with the world he has made. He exists outside of time and space yet is closer to you than your own breath. Since God is the sum total of all of life, it is in getting to know him intimately that you truly come to know who you are and what you were created to be.
Paul even quoted one of their poets to make his point that God is our Creator (17:28). Given this role, we shouldn’t represent the divine nature using gold or silver or stone (17:29). Idols are any nouns (person, place, thing, or thought) that you look to as your source. They misrepresent and diminish the glory of the living and true God.
17:30-31 Such idolatry must be put aside because God now commands all people everywhere to repent—to turn from sin (in this case, the particular sin of idolatry) and turn toward God (17:30). Why? Because judgment day is coming, the day when God will judge the world . . . by the man he has appointed. Who is he? God has confirmed his identity by raising him from the dead (17:31). Having begun with the truth of God’s nature and work, Paul made a beeline to Jesus Christ.
When evangelizing Jews, Paul sought to show them from Scripture that Jesus is the Messiah. When evangelizing Gentiles who didn’t know the Bible, Paul started with their general interest in religion, moved to the living and true God who created the world, explained human sin and accountability before God, and then made his way to Christ. His approach serves as a good model for our own evangelism efforts. We must tailor our methods to meet our listeners where they are and take them to what they need—the gospel, the free gift of eternal life through faith alone in Christ alone.
17:32-34 Paul received varied responses to his preaching: some believed, some mocked him with ridicule, and some wanted to hear more (17:32, 34). As we share the gospel, then, we can expect the same kinds of reactions. Whenever and wherever you have opportunity, be faithful to make Jesus known and invite people to place their faith in him for the gift of eternal life. Then leave the rest in God’s hands as the Holy Spirit works in their hearts.
18:1-4 From Athens, Paul traveled to Corinth in the Roman province of Achaia in the southern region of ancient Greece (18:1). Corinth was a significant city located along important trade routes with close access to port cities. It also had multiple pagan temples and was known for its immorality. Paul obviously saw the city as strategic for his ministry since he remained there for “a year and a half” (18:11).
In Corinth Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, Jews who had recently come from Italy. The Roman emperor Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome in AD 49 (18:2). According to Roman historical sources, the expulsion was because of riots over someone named “Chrestus,” probably a garbled reference to “Christos,” the Greek rendering of “Christ.” Either Aquila and Priscilla were Christians when they left Rome, or they became believers through Paul’s ministry. Regardless, they shared his trade as tentmakers, worked together (18:3), and eventually became ministry partners (see 18:19, 26; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19). Thus, Paul made tents to pay the bills so that he could engage in his primary work: trying to persuade both Jews and Greeks to believe in and follow Christ (18:4).
18:5-6 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia (Paul had left them in Berea; see 17:14-15), Paul was able to devote himself full time to preaching the word and convincing Jews that Jesus is the Messiah (18:5). Yet, finally, after he encountered much resistance, he shook out his clothes. This was a symbolic gesture like brushing the dust from his garment (cf. 13:51). By it Paul was communicating that he was innocent of responsibility for the judgment they would incur for scorning God’s Messiah. From now on he would focus on the Gentiles (18:6).
18:7-11 So Paul stayed in the home of a Gentile convert named Titius Justus, who lived next door to the synagogue (18:7). In addition, the leader of the synagogue became a believer, followed by many others (18:8). So though the Jews as a whole had rejected Paul’s message, the Lord saw to it that Paul’s base of operations moved right next to their gathering place. Not only did God deal with Paul’s external problems, but he also addressed his internal struggles. In a night vision, he told Paul, Don’t be afraid, but keep on speaking, and he promised to be with him (18:9-10). Fortified by God’s encouragement, Paul ministered in Corinth for a year and a half (18:11).
Modern-day believers sometimes think of Paul as a missionary superman, but he was as human as the rest of us. Yes, he faithfully served God. But, if the Lord had to tell him not to be fearful, apparently Paul struggled with fear. When you similarly find your emotions getting the better of you, heed God’s Word and go to him in prayer, accessing his heavenly resources for your earthly circumstances so that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, [can] guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).
18:12-13 The Jews made a concerted effort to attack Paul when Gallio was proconsul in Achaia (the Roman province in which Corinth was located). Archeological evidence verifies that Gallio became proconsul in AD 51. As a result of this Jewish assault, Paul was taken before the tribunal to face charges of persuading people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.
“Tribunal” translates the Greek word bema. It refers to the seat on which an authority figure sat to render judicial judgments (see, e.g., Matt 27:19; John 19:13). Archeological excavations have unearthed the Corinthian bema in the marketplace; this is probably the site at which Paul’s encounter with Gallio took place. Regardless, Paul would later tell the Corinthians that all believers will “appear before the judgment seat [bema] of Christ,” so that he may judge our work on earth to determine our rewards (see 2 Cor 5:10).
18:14-17 As before, there was an attempt to put Christianity at odds with secular authorities (see commentary on 16:19-24; 17:5-9). But if the unbelieving Jews thought they were going to receive a sympathetic hearing from Gallio, they were sadly mistaken. Had they brought Paul to the proconsul on charges of wrongdoing or of a serious crime, he would have taken their concerns seriously (18:14). But since they were simply riled up about their own religious law, he wanted nothing to do with it and drove them away (18:15-16). In other words, Gallio said, “This man has committed no crime against Rome. So quit pestering me with your religious squabbles!” Then the leader of the synagogue received a beating for good measure (18:17). And once again Paul was vindicated and freed.
18:18-21 Eventually, Paul set sail for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila, so that he might return to his home church in Antioch. In Cenchreae (a port city near Corinth) Paul shaved his head . . . because of a vow, which is probably a reference to a Nazirite vow (see Num 6:1-21). In Ephesus, he debated with the Jews for a time. Then he left Priscilla and Aquila there, told the believers he would return if God wills, and departed (18:19-21).
Notice Paul’s phrase, “if God wills.” It was no mere pious sentiment but Paul’s humble acknowledgment that his life and plans were in God’s hands. Similarly, James warns his readers not to boast arrogantly about their intentions, schedules, and efforts. Instead, he urges them to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (see Jas 4:13-17). It wasn’t to be merely a religious saying Christians were to quote, but a heart philosophy they were to adopt. The same is true of us. It’s okay to make plans; in fact, we ought to make wise plans (see Prov 16:9; 19:21). But we must allow for divine flexibility, welcoming God to disturb our plans when he has other purposes for us.
F. Paul’s Third Missionary Journey (18:22–20:38)
18:22-23 When Paul landed at the port city of Caesarea, he traveled to Jerusalem to greet the church, and finally returned to Antioch—thus completing his second missionary journey (18:22). Yet, Paul was not the kind to stay at home when churches needed strengthening and the lost needed the gospel. So, after some time, he began his third missionary journey, traveling through . . . Galatia and Phrygia in Asia Minor (18:23).
18:24-26 Before picking up again with Paul in chapter 19, Luke tells us about a Jew named Apollos who came to Ephesus (where Paul had left Priscilla and Aquila; see 18:18-19). He was both an eloquent speaker and very competent in the use of the Scriptures (18:24). He had been instructed well about Jesus but was only familiar with John’s baptism—that is, he had not yet heard about the coming of and baptism of the Holy Spirit (18:25).
When Priscilla and Aquila heard him speak, they took him aside and filled in the blanks for him, explaining the way of God . . . more accurately (18:26). Thus, men and women in the body of Christ can discuss and explain Scripture to one other. This is distinct from the restriction on women serving in the office of elder / pastor (see commentary on 1 Tim 2:11-12). Notice also that they didn’t embarrass Apollos by correcting him publicly; they addressed him privately.
18:27-28 As a result of Priscilla and Aquila’s teamwork, Apollos was better equipped. So the church sent him to Corinth in Achaia (see 19:1) where he helped believers and refuted the Jews . . . demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah.
Believers today should likewise seek to be equipped to explain the Scriptures. How sad it is to see Christians who are unable to use their Bibles to explain the gospel to an unbeliever! All of us who claim the name of Christ should have a growing knowledge of God’s Word and an ability to defend what we say we believe (see 1 Pet 3:15).
19:1-7 As Paul traveled through the interior regions of Asia Minor (see 18:23), he eventually came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples who had not yet received the Holy Spirit (19:1-2). Paul had expected all Christians to receive the Spirit (notice he said, when you believed). But, we must remember that the books of Acts chronicles a unique transition stage after the death and resurrection of Jesus (see commentary on 8:14-17). As different groups came to believe the gospel, their reception of the Spirit came later when an apostle was present: this showed the unity of their faith.
This particular group was comprised of those who had only received the baptism of John (the Baptist) (19:3-4). So Paul provided a full explanation of Jesus, the one to whom John had pointed, and he baptized them into Jesus’s name (19:4-5). Then when he laid his hands on them, they received the Holy Spirit, began to speak in other tongues (i.e., languages) and to prophesy (19:6)—just as had happened to the apostles on the day of Pentecost (see commentary on 2:5-11). Thus, another band of disciples was brought fully into the new covenant age.
19:8 While in Ephesus, Paul spent three months in the synagogue trying to persuade them concerning the kingdom of God. The kingdom was the constant focus of Jesus’s teaching, from the start of his ministry (Mark 1:14-15) to after his resurrection (Acts 1:3). Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that it was the focus of Paul’s preaching through the book of Acts (see 28:30-31). The goal of redemption is that believers in Jesus Christ would live their entire lives under God’s sovereign rule as kingdom disciples.
19:9-10 As happened in the past, some unbelieving Jews became hardened and slandered the Way. “The Way” was an early title for Christianity (see, e.g., 9:2, 19:23; 24:14, 22). Believers in Christ were to follow a new way of life because Jesus is “the way” (see John 14:6; Rom 6:1-7). So Paul moved his teaching and discussions from the synagogue to the lecture hall of Tyrannus (19:9). How effective was that? He taught there every day (19:9) for a period of two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord (19:9-10). Paul was incredible!
Notice that the opposition to the gospel drove Paul to a different setting that resulted in more ministry fruit than the original location. God knows how to take the actions of wicked men and use them to accomplish his good purposes.
19:11-12 The miracles that the Holy Spirit had enabled Paul to perform were indeed extraordinary (19:11). He healed the sick and cast out evil spirits. People even took the aprons he used in his tent-making trade to heal others of diseases (19:12). Paul was so devoted to the Lord that after a hard day’s work, he had sanctified sweat!
19:13-17 Some itinerant Jewish exorcists had seen the amazing power Paul displayed, and they wanted in on it. They decided to imitate him, using Jesus’s name like a magical formula to wield power against evil spirits (19:13). They didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah, but they didn’t mind using his name for their benefit. But understand this: Jesus won’t be used for our selfish ends. Seven sons of a Jewish high priest tried this approach (19:14). However, after they pronounced the name of Jesus over a demon-possessed man, the evil spirit answered, I know Jesus, and I recognize Paul—but who are you? (19:15). Then, as these exorcists were probably staring wide-eyed at each other, the man with the evil spirit attacked them (which was not the response they were anticipating!) until they fled naked and wounded (19:16). When news of this spread, people held the name of the Lord Jesus . . . in high esteem (19:17). God was using even fools to magnify his Son.
19:18-20 Many of those who practiced magic like these men became believers, confessed their sins, and burned their sorcery books (19:18-19). They no longer wanted to be associated with false and deceptive spirituality. Such idolatrous practices were good for nothing. When they rid their lives of these things, the word of God flourished and prevailed even more (19:20).
Christian, are you dabbling with horoscopes? Tarot cards? Palm reading? God doesn’t work through superstitious practices. The only way for the power of God to be present in your life is for you to leave them behind. “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
19:21-23 Paul had determined to pass through Macedonia and Achaia again (the territory he covered during his second missionary journey; see 16:9–18:22) and then go to Jerusalem. After that, his goal was to visit and proclaim the gospel in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire (19:21). But before he departed, a major disturbance occurred about the Way (19:23; on “the Way,” see above on 19:9-10). Wherever Paul preached, two things would regularly happen: people got saved, and people got mad. That pattern was about to repeat itself.
19:24-27 Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, and his fellow craftsmen were annoyed. Artemis was a Greek goddess (known among the Romans as “Diana”), and Ephesus was home to the great temple of Artemis—one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was the major Ephesian tourist attraction; people from all over Asia visited it to worship. But a problem arose, an economic one. As a result of Paul preaching that gods made by hand are not gods, many people had stopped buying the idolatrous trinkets produced by Demetrius and his comrades (19:25-26). People were coming to Christ and tossing their Artemis statues in the trash. Thus, these craftsmen were watching their religion suffer and their business flat line—and they weren’t happy (19:27).
19:28-34 Demetrius worked the crowd into a frenzy so that they began shouting, Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! (19:28). This created much confusion in the city. People wanted to know what was going on. So they started streaming into the amphitheater, which seated approximately 24,000, and dragged along two of Paul’s traveling companions (19:29). When Paul wanted to go in with them, other believers restrained him (19:30-31). The townspeople had lost it! The atmosphere was no longer safe. Confused shouting continued, and many people didn’t even know why they were there (19:32). They were just going with the flow. When a Jewish believer named Alexander attempted to talk, they simply shouted him down (19:33). They didn’t want to hear about this Jewish Messiah who was a rival to their goddess. Instead, they shouted about Artemis’s greatness for two hours (19:34).
19:35-41 Finally the city clerk, who was responsible for keeping the city records and managing the temple funds, appeared before the crowd in an attempt to pacify them. First, he was conciliatory. He said, in essence, “Of course Artemis is great. Everyone is on the same page about this, so please chill!” (19:35-36). Next he urged Demetrius and any others who had a case against anyone to bring it to the courts and follow the legal process (19:37-39). Finally, he told them that if they wanted to worry about something, he could give them something to worry about: We run a risk of being charged (by Rome) with rioting (19:40). Nobody wanted Roman legions coming against the city! So with these words, the city clerk calmed the assembly and dismissed them (19:41).
The word translated “assembly” here is the Greek word ekklesia. When it refers to the assembly of believers, it’s translated “church.” So when Jesus and the apostles started speaking of the church, they were not coining a new term. It was a common word used to speak of a gathering of people to address an issue, especially one legal in nature. The church of Jesus Christ is God’s legally authorized assembly on earth to draw down heaven to execute the will of God in history (see commentary on Matt 16:16-20).
20:1-6 After these events, Paul departed as planned (see 19:21) for Macedonia (20:1). He stayed in Greece for three months and then had to reroute his travel plans because of a Jewish plot against him (20:2-3). From Philippi in Macedonia, he sailed to Troas on the coast of Asia Minor. Notice the first-person plural we appears again (20:6). Therefore, Luke, the author of Acts, had once again joined Paul (see commentary on 16:8-10).
20:7-12 One Sunday, they had gathered to break bread together. It must have been an evening service because Paul . . . kept on talking until midnight (20:7). About that time, a young man named Eutychus was about to suffer the consequences of choosing a back row seat for the church service! He was sitting on the window sill, fell into a deep sleep, and dropped from the third story. But Paul embraced the dead boy and raised him back to life (20:9-10). Then they returned to the room and Paul talked until dawn (20:11). Just as Jesus had done before them, both Peter and Paul raised the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit (see 9:36-43).
20:13-17 From Troas he sailed on, making multiple pit stops, until he came to Miletus, the port city for Ephesus, which was about thirty miles to the north. Paul was afraid that traveling to Ephesus would delay his journey to Jerusalem because he wanted to arrive by Pentecost (20:13-16), so he summoned the elders of the Ephesian church to come to him at Miletus (20:17).
20:18-21 The remainder of chapter 20 relates Paul’s visit with and farewell address to the Ephesian elders. It was an emotional time. Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, opposition awaited, and he realized he might never see the Ephesians again. Therefore, he wanted to give them a final exhortation so that they might continue the work to which God had called them, teaching and leading his people.
Paul began by reminding them of how he had served the Lord among them with humility, with tears, and in spite of Jewish plots against his life (20:18-19). He taught them everything profitable from Scripture, both publicly and from house to house (20:20). What did he proclaim? Repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus (20:21). Repentance is an internal decision and determination to turn from sin. To have faith in Jesus is to trust in Christ alone for the gift of eternal life.
20:22-24 After describing his past ministry, Paul explained his present circumstances. He was traveling to Jerusalem, compelled by the Spirit (this is when God puts a vice grip on your soul, confirming his purpose for you and urging you in a particular direction) (20:22). He was unaware of exactly what lay ahead, but he knew it would involve chains and afflictions (20:23). Yet, despite his trials and uncertainties, Paul had an eternal perspective: I consider my life of no value to myself. Instead, what he valued above all things was the ministry he had received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace. Therefore, Paul wanted to faithfully finish his course, to reach the finish line (20:24).
Are you prepared to live the rest of your life the same way? Or is your testimony instead, “I haven’t even tried to determine God’s will for my life”? Don’t let your days pass you by. Pursue God and his plans for you. Whatever the future held, Paul wanted to complete his life, saying in essence, “I have done what God put me on earth to do” (see 2 Tim 4:6-8).
20:25-27 Paul was confident that the Ephesian elders would never see him again, given the doubts surrounding his own future. Nevertheless, he knew he had faithfully proclaimed the kingdom—the rule of God—among them (20:25). Therefore, he was innocent of their blood (20:26), like the “watchman” the prophet Ezekiel spoke of (see Ezek 3:16-27). Paul had never failed to take advantage of a gospel opportunity. If someone needed to hear truth from God’s Word, he avoided nothing and exhorted everyone (20:27). No one could blame Paul for failing to talk about Jesus.
What about you? Do you have family members, friends, or co-workers with whom you’ve never shared the gospel? Take advantage of God-given opportunities to make Christ known to people in your circle of influence. Don’t shrink back from helping someone understand how to know God and escape eternal judgment, as well as how to live under his rule as a kingdom disciple.
20:28 Paul warned the elders, Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock. The Holy Spirit had appointed them as overseers, to shepherd or pastor the church of God. It is a pastoral duty to guide the people of God in biblical truth and protect them from error—to provide spiritual direction and warn against dangerous spiritual influences. To fail at this is to fail as a spiritual shepherd.
Notice that Paul says God purchased the church with his own blood. This is a clear affirmation of the deity of Jesus Christ. God the Father is spirit (see John 4:24); he has no body and therefore no blood. So this is obviously a reference to God the Son, who “became flesh” (John 1:14)—that is, became incarnate. Jesus is the God-Man, fully divine and fully human.
20:29-31 Paul urged this obligation on them because he knew that when he departed savage wolves would enter the church, not sparing the flock (20:29). Some would even rise up among their own number—that is, among the elders—to distort the truth and to lure the disciples away (20:30). So Paul admonished the elders to be on the alert and remember the example he had set for them, as he warned them night and day for three years . . . with tears (20:31). Paul cried over the people in the church at Ephesus. He wasn’t in the ministry for power or glory. He genuinely cared about the well-being of those under his care.
Protecting the flock sometimes means confronting wolves, people who don’t have the best interests of others in mind but only care to satisfy their own desires. They might be people who are not grounded in Scripture and are simply looking for attention. Or they may be those propagating false teaching, preying on people in the church who have genuine needs and are too trusting. That’s why the church needs spiritual men to serve as pastors who know God’s Word, can discern negative influences, and will step in to guard the flock that God has entrusted to them. These leaders should also be motivated by a deep love for God’s people.
20:32 As he prepared to leave them, Paul committed the Ephesian elders to God and his word, which was able to build them up. Pastors, don’t sacrifice the ministry of the Word. No matter how eloquent you are as a preacher, dynamic as a leader, or competent as an administrator, never forget that you are nothing without the Word of God. The church is founded on and edified through the Bible. Let it be at the center of your ministry.
20:33-35 Paul had neither coveted nor taken anything from the Ephesian church. He had supported himself (20:33-34). He didn’t simply talk a good game; he labored hard among them (20:35). Beware of those who seek to use the church merely to line their pockets. A faithful pastor / elder is worthy of his wages (see 1 Tim 5:17-18), but that’s quite different from someone who is fleecing the flock for personal gain.
Paul reminded them, It is more blessed to give than to receive (20:35). Indeed, in God’s economy you will be more blessed if you’re a spiritual conduit rather than a spiritual cul-de-sac. God wants to work through you so that you will be a blessing to others. If you have the capacity to address a need (with your money, your time, or your encouragement), be used by God to give to and meet that need. God will return the favor (see Luke 6:38).
20:36-38 When he had finished addressing the elders, Paul knelt down and prayed with all of them (20:36). This was an emotional time. They wept over, embraced, and kissed him, knowing that they would probably never see his face again (20:37-38). Paul had the heart of a shepherd; that truth was reflected in the response to his departure.