Paul goes on a third missionary journey (Acts 18:23–20:38). The brief report on the ministry at Ephesus, a city well known for practicing sorcery, follows Paul’s initial contact there in Acts 18:19. It is sandwiched between two accounts of deficiency—those deficient because of ignorance, the disciples of John (Acts 19:1–7) and those who were deficient because of fraudulent imitation, the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13–20). Some interesting contrasts are found here.
Paul tells the former group about Jesus, urging them to believe. The presence of the Holy Spirit comes upon them when they believe in Jesus (Acts 19:4–6). The latter group fails in trying to imitate Paul. They cannot have the Spirit’s power apart from relationship with Jesus (Acts 19:13–16).
The evil spirit is not fooled. It knows who the genuine followers of Jesus are. The Holy Spirit’s superior power (Acts 1:8) working through the disciples stands in contrast to the powerless, superstitious spirituality of the fraudulent exorcists.
The resultant destruction of the magic scrolls (words of sorcery) from fear of the Lord stands in sharp contrast with the power and growth of God’s Word (vv. 18–20). Besides these contrasts, notice that Paul’s church planting activities at Ephesus follow a familiar pattern (vv. 8–12). He begins at the synagogue, focusing persuasively on the kingdom of God. Then there arises Jewish opposition. Paul moves elsewhere to teach, proclaiming “the word of God”, and God does extraordinary miracles through him.
The Gentile antagonism at Ephesus is both commercially and theologically driven. Paul’s insistence, that “gods made by human hands are no gods at all” (v. 26), is bad news for the sellers of the silver shrines of Artemis. But Demetrius is also concerned that the goddess’ divinity will be stripped away and she will be reduced to nothing (v. 27).
The resultant outcry from the crowd gathered in the theatre, thought to hold 24,000 people, leads Luke to record two interesting events. The Jews, fearing blame, push Alexander forward as their spokesman to disassociate themselves from Paul, a fellow Jew. But we will never know what he was going to say because he is drowned out by the crowd when they recognise him as a Jew. Perhaps they think he is there to defend Paul. The city clerk calms everyone down by reminding them of the proper legal channels for action against Paul (v. 35).
Note how the seven sons of Sceva and the evil spirit refer to Jesus in verses 13 and 15. Compare this with how Luke refers to Jesus in verses 13 and 17. What is the unique element in a proper recognition of Jesus?