And He Came to Ephesus
Tom Wilson, Glasgow, Scotland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
As we have observed, the separating of the disciples from the increasingly-hardening synagogue proved a decisive act in the progress of the gospel in the idolatryblighted city of Ephesus. Daily the apostle taught with the result, concludes the inspired historian, 'that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks', Acts 19. 9-10. Once more the enemy had overreached himself.
The sons of Sceva. At Ephesus in a most outstanding way the power of the dark arts was to be seen and felt. The manifestations of demonism were not the product of 'the overheated imagination of Christians living in a pre-scientific age', as so many assume. Doubtless it was those manifestations of satanic power that drew to the city these Jews, the sons of Sceva, a chief priest, Acts 19. 13-14. It is indeed salutary to learn that demonism wore both a Jewish and a Gentile face in Ephesus.
The Talmud indicates that there were many Jews drawn to spiritism and to the kind of activity we find the seven sons of Sceva engaged in. Only here in the New Testament are any called exorcists. That there were seven would matter to the gullible; indeed even to our day the idea is acceptable of healing or special powers belonging to the seventh son of seven sons. Were their links with the priesthood a good selling point? We know from Matt. 12. 24-28, that the 'sons' of the Pharisees cast out demons. We do not know what name they used.
We note that imitation lacks power and is easily overcome by the enemy. As the exorcists used the name of 'Jesus whom Paul preacheth', v. 13, the man leaped on them like a panther and left them both naked and wounded. He overcame and he prevailed. Taken together the two verbs tell how the demon-possessed man claimed as his property the would-be exorcists, through strength that could not be resisted. It could not be said of these that they had, 'the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith’, 1 John 5. 4, never mind overcoming the invisible world.
The consequences of the unveiling of their fraudulent ways were considerable. Many believed and confessed their involvement in the magic arts; many burned books and 'mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.'
The burning of the books. The converts came and made a public confession of their faith and made known their spells. These manuals of enchantment, from their very nature, would be costly, all books in that age bore a value, which is far above any standard with which we are familiar. These manuals of magic were much sought after.
Men consider the burning of books as the most despicable act of vandalism, even if it is in the name of censorship. Here the mighty action of the Spirit produced immediate evidence of the power that was present and active in Ephesus. As J. N. Darby remarks, 'There were no long inward arguments; the presence and power of God produced their natural effects. And the effects were prolonged as the imperfect tense of the verb 'to burn' indicates. The burning and the blazing went on for some considerable time'.
We recall that when Joshua invaded Canaan, Josh. 15. 13-19, two cities were captured, thus giving Judah a hold in territory which had remained under the control of the Jebusites, Josh. 15. 63. One was Hebron, the place of fellowship renowned from the days of Abraham; the other was Debir, previously known as Kirjath-sepher. The ancient name of the city Kirjathsepher means 'city of the books'. It took courage to bring down a city like Kirjath-sepher. But it was not an unrewarded battle that Othniel, nephew of Caleb, fought. It brought him a wife, Achsah, Caleb's daughter and an estate and water rights to irrigate his estate. I am altogether certain that those, who at tremendous personal cost, burned their books, were richly blessed for doing so. What a price they paid to be clear of their satanic master and his minions. Luke estimates it at 50,000 pieces of silver. One scholar puts the sum in context by saying, 'this is the price of a large library'.
Little did the evil one know that Ephesus would be associated with good books, rather than bad. Probably as many as five sacred books of our New Testament would be associated with Ephesus.
The development and victory. At verse 20 Luke reaches another of those conclusions, which he identifies with his simple telling words, 'So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed’; see also Acts 6. 7, and 12. 24. With the great victory that Ephesus represented, Paul, 'purposed in the spirit' to journey to Jerusalem and thereafter to Rome. We learn a little later that he felt, 'bound in spirit', Acts 20. 22. He felt an inner compulsion that is not of the flesh but of the Spirit. No Alexander (of Macedonia), no Caesar, no other hero, approaches the large-mindedness of this little Benjamite. He could see that there were still strongholds to be pulled down.
As Pentecost neared, Paul had announced to the Corinthians that he purposed remaining at Ephesus 'till Pentecost', 1 Cor. 16. 9. Conybeare and Howson note that May was the month of Diana, Life and Epistles of Paul, London, 1862, page 84. Perhaps that was why Demetrius the president of the guild of silversmiths spoke so vehemently of the threat the gospel posed to both 'craftsmen', v. 24, who did the more delicate work, and the workmen, v. 25, who did the rougher work. And no doubt that was why the people were so easily stirred to riot. There came a point in Asia Minor when 'all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks', Acts 19. 10. What power! What penetration! What fruit! Demetrius the Ephesian silversmith, hardly an admirer of the apostle, had to own that 'almost throughout Asia' Paul was turning people from idols, Acts 19. 26. What a province to be in at the time when God was at work in this way though one man, who 'came to Ephesus'. In desperation Satan inflamed passions to the point of riot; miraculously God preserved His servant through the intervention of the disciples, of friendly members of the ruling class and even of the town clerk.
And also. Apollos and Paul were not the only ones to come to Ephesus. Clearly Priscilla and Aquila came to Ephesus from Italy, but via Corinth, Acts 18. 2. And Tychicus, a native of the province of Asia, Acts 20. 4, came to Ephesus on at least two occasions; see Eph. 6. 21-22. The first time he carried the epistle to the Ephesians. What joy there must have been when he came with this most elevated of New Testament epistles. Timothy too came to Ephesus; indeed remained there, as Paul had to cut short his third visit to Ephesus, 1 Tim. 1. 3. That visit culminated in the two letters to Timothy that enrich our understanding of assembly truth and other aspects of the testimony. And John the beloved apostle came to Ephesus, says tradition. Certainly we know that the letter the Lord dictated to John during his exile on Patmos, was delivered with six other letters to other cities of Asia, Rev. 2 and 3. How can we not but be grateful to God for those who 'came to Ephesus'.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Tom Wilson is an elder in the Springburn assembly in Glasgow and ministers the word throughout Scotland. He was for many years an editor of Believer’s Magazine and is principal of a specialist college in Glasgow.