Acts Lesson 9: 18.24-28, 19.1-7
LAST WEEK: In Acts 17 we heard Paul's sermon at the Areopagus, a council of educated Greeks who made decisions on various legal matters, including religious activities. In his sermon, Paul mentions a number of things with which these Athenians would agree. Although the sermon was based upon Hebrew Scripture and Paul's personal experience with the risen Christ, he makes many of his points using Greek philosophical reasoning methods in order to better connect with this learned audience. Although few responded to the sermon in faith, it makes some important points on how we can reach people who are civilized and educated but are ignorant in matters about the one true God. Three Points-to reached educated pagans: (1) we must try to find a common ground with them; (2) we must show them God's supremacy as creator and sovereign over everything; (3) call them to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is our spiritual battlefield. If you witness to these people, many will sneer at you and tell you to buzz off, but some will believe and be saved. God expects us to sow abundantly.
THIS WEEK: We move into Acts 18:24-28; 19:1-7, at the early part of Paul's Third Missionary Journey in 53 A.D. The general theme of the lesson is evangelizing those whose faith is still incomplete. In Acts 18: 24-28, we hear the story of a Jew from Alexandria named Apollos who has come to Ephesus. He is a man with two important skills: (1) persuasiveness in speaking and (2) a comprehensive knowledge of OT Scripture. At the same time, he had only been instructed in the baptism of John (the Baptist) and believed in Jesus as Messiah; however his knowledge of the work of Jesus is incomplete. Before we criticize Apollos for his ignorance, we need to stop and remember that he couldn't go to his local bookstore and buy a Bible with a complete story in the NT, but that everything about the life and work of Jesus was passed by word of mouth in those days. In Acts 19:1-7, we see Paul arrive in Ephesus and encounter "12 disciples" whose situation was similar to that of Apollos.
Read Acts 18:24-26 - Helping Those Whose Knowledge of Christ Is Incomplete
24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
v. 24: "Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures" - By "eloquent," Luke is saying that Apollos' method of speaking was clear and understandable to those listening to him. There is certainly some natural talent involved, but it takes much practice and preparation to develop skill as an effective speaker and communicator. And Apollos' knowledge of scripture didn't just happen because he lived in a place of great learning; it required a considerable personal commitment and self-discipline, not to mention countless hours of time and effort. This is a model every one of us should follow: not to just simply read the Bible, but to spend time focusing on the deeper meaning of it, seeing the connections in the text, and discovering truth you missed before.
v. 25: " He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John" - (Notice small "s" in spirit). Though Apollos was a powerful speaker and was learned in OT Scripture, his knowledge of the gospel was incomplete. The only information Apollos had about Jesus was what he had heard from John or his disciples; thus, he knew Jesus was the Messiah but apparently knew nothing of Jesus' sacrificial death and resurrection. Since he only knew of the work of John the Baptist, it's likely that he preached repentance but lacked complete knowledge of the full person and work of Jesus Christ.
v. 26: "He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately" - Aquila and Priscilla, his wife, tentmakers by trade, were Jewish Christians who first met Paul at Corinth during the Second Missionary Journey. Paul took them with him to Ephesus and left them there when he returned to Jerusalem. Notice here we see that Apollos was teachable. It's a fact that every 'knowledgeable' person is not necessarily teachable; if he or she becomes arrogant in their learning they develop a "know-it-all" attitude that it might shut them off from further learning. Not Apollos, fortunately; he had a willing and honest heart and listened. Afterward, he fully understood and received the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Aquila and Priscilla, his wife, tentmakers by trade, were Jewish Christians who first met Paul at Corinth during the Second Missionary Journey. Paul took them with him to Ephesus and left them there when he returned to Jerusalem.
Read Acts 18:27-28 - A Complete Witness for Christ
27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
v. 27: "And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed" - At some point after his training with Aquila and Priscilla, Apollos expressed a desire to go to Achaia, the southernmost province of Greece, with Corinth as its principal city. Luke doesn't tell us why he wanted to go there, but he had probably heard of Paul's work in Corinth and apparently wanted to minister there. As a Jew with a Greek background, he would have been well qualified to reach both Jews and Gentiles with the gospel. In any case, the elders at Ephesus sent him with a letter of recommendation. These letters were vital to the early churches to ensure all teaching and preaching accorded with sound doctrine. At Corinth, he made an almost immediate impact, and notice that he was leading people to salvation by grace through faith-the pure gospel.
v. 28: "for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus" - This shows another strength in Apollos' character: his power in refuting the Jews and demonstrating to them that Jesus was the Messiah foretold by OT prophecy not only required eloquence and knowledge but more importantly, a firmness of conviction and courage under fire. Everything in these four verses confirms that God accepted and prospered the life of Apollos through the saving grace of Jesus received by him through the activities of his ministry.
Contextual Note on Acts 19:1-7: The preceding story, which tells of Apollos who "knew only the baptism of John," is related to this one. As we saw in Apollos' case, Aquila and Priscilla gave him instruction in order to understand and receive the full person and work of Jesus Christ-saving faith.
Read Acts 19:1-7 - Incomplete Faith
And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." 3 And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" They said, "Into John's baptism." 4 And Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus." 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
v. 1: "And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples" - After Apollos left for Corinth, Paul, now on his Third Missionary Journey, returns to Ephesus, where he will remain for the next three years. As to the "disciples" he found there, the text doesn't make it clear whether they were disciples of John the Baptist or of Jesus, i.e.,
true Christians? Bible scholars have debated this issue over the centuries.
v. 2: "And he said to them, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?' And they said, 'No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit'" - Whoa! This was not the standard question that Paul would normally ask believers in his travels but here, he must have noticed some kind of deficiency-something missing-in this group. Luke has been reporting on the Holy Spirit all through the Book of Acts. The mention of the Spirit reminds us over and over of the importance of the empowering of the Spirit in the work of the early church. The reply of these disciples-"we have not heard that there is a Holy Spirit"-confirms that their understanding of salvation was incomplete. As we know from NT scripture, both salvation and the Holy Spirit are received simultaneously when a person believes in Jesus Christ as Lord. Thus, these people were not as yet true believers in Jesus.
vv. 3-4: "And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" They said, "Into John's baptism." 4 And Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus" - John the Baptist, as reported in Lk. 3:3, came into the region around the Jordan, preaching the "baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." He was the "forerunner" and made it clear to his followers that he was not the messiah but preparing the way for the Messiah. In Lk. 3:16, John said, "I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming.... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." So, Paul explains to them, that while John's baptism was a good thing, it was preliminary and incomplete-they needed more. We can encounter people like this too: they want to know Christ but need to be shown how to know Him.
v. 5: "On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" - This is the only re-baptism recorded in the NT. Though Apollos had received only the baptism of John, there is no mention that he was required to submit to another baptism. In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded His disciples to baptize "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28:19), and this formula is followed by most churches today; however, Paul baptizes these Ephesian disciples "in the name of the Lord Jesus," and there are two more instances in Acts where people were baptized "in the name of Jesus" (Acts 2:38; 10:48).
v. 6a: "And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them" - Notice that these people receive the Holy Spirit, not at the moment of salvation or when they are baptized, but when Paul lays hands of them. This happened earlier in Acts 8:17 when Peter and John laid hands on a group of Samaritans. On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were filled the Holy Spirit with no mention of baptism (Acts 2:4), then during Peter's subsequent sermon to the crowd, he called on them to repent and to be baptized to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). There is no explanation for this except to say that in the early days of the church, the sequence differed from time to time, depending on the circumstances.
v. 6b-7: " and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all" - Speaking in tongues and prophesying are two manifestations of the Spirit. On the day of Pentecost the apostles were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability..." (Acts 2:4). In Acts, receiving the Spirit and speaking in tongues were always group experiences (e.g., Jews, Samaritans, Greeks, etc.), related directly to salvation. With each group the miraculous sign of tongues demonstrated that God was giving that particular group the gift of the Spirit; however, it was a transitional sign limited to the early church and not a normative sign for all times. In v. 7, the number "twelve" has generated some scholarly commentary over the years. Most say the number is of no significance, but some say the number twelve points to the twelve tribes of Israel, but the fact that the number 12 is modified by the conditional adjective "about" supports first the view.
Sometimes there are those who need to be evangelized although they already believe and are in church. The only information Apollos had about Jesus was what he had heard from John or his disciples; thus, he believed in Jesus as the Messiah but apparently knew nothing of Jesus' sacrificial death and resurrection. Because he only knew of the work of John the Baptist, it's likely that he preached repentance but lacked complete knowledge of the full person and work of Jesus Christ. Aquila and Priscilla, relatively new Christians themselves, noticed Apollo's deficiency and took him under their wing and instructed him in the full person and work of Jesus, and he was saved-completed. And this is what Paul discovered when he returned to Ephesus and encountered the "disciples" reported in Acts 19:1-7. As Paul clearly discerned, these men sincerely believed in the message of John the Baptist but they had not heard how Jesus had fulfilled John's preaching-ergo, they weren't yet saved. And even today, there are some in the church who claim to be Christians but have never taken the fundamental step of repenting and establishing a personal relationship with Jesus. If you sense someone who may still be on the fringe, there are two diagnostic questions you can ask: (1) Do you know for sure that when you die you will be with God in heaven? And (2) If God were to ask you, "Why should I let you into My heaven," what would you say? If their answers are unsure, you can tell them that (1) he or she must believe that Jesus Christ, who is fully man and fully God, paid the penalty for the sin that we deserve when He died on the cross; and (2) personally receive God's free gift of eternal life by professing faith in Jesus Christ as yours personal Lord and Savior. Tell them that any trust in human goodness (i.e., works), even if coupled with belief in Christ, reveals that he or she does not understand the gospel and hasn't trusted in Jesus alone for salvation.
PRAYER: LORD GOD, our Father and Creator, we come before You this afternoon with humble and grateful hearts, thanking and praising You for Your love, mercy, and undeserved grace toward us. We thank and praise You for the countless blessings you give to us each day of our lives, but we thank You especially that You sent Your only Son, Jesus Christ, to give His life so that we may live-now and forever. We also thank You giving us the Bible as a guide for living. I pray, Lord, that the people watching and listening to this lesson today are being strengthened and encouraged by hearing the truth of your World. As we study the ministry of the apostle Paul in this lesson today in Acts, it reminds us that there may be people in the church-this church-who need to be evangelized because they have not fully repented and given their lives to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If any of us should encounter such people here or elsewhere, please help us to follow the example of Aquila and Priscilla and Paul to come alongside them and explain the full person of Jesus Christ so that they may be saved. I also pray that if any person listening to this lesson is unsure of his or her salvation, that you, Lord, will guide them and give them the courage to seek the help and advice of a Christian believer they trust. I ask all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our glorious Savior and Redeemer, AMEN.