What does Acts chapter 19 mean?Acts 19 is the story of Paul's three-year stay in Ephesus during his third missionary journey. Paul had visited Ephesus for a very short time at the end of his second missionary journey. He entered the synagogue, as usual, and explained how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah as given in the Jewish Scriptures. The synagogue members wanted him to stay longer and explain more fully, but he wanted to get to Jerusalem, possibly for the Passover. He told them he would return if he could. He sailed from Ephesus to Caesarea Maritima on the coast of Judea, then visited the church in Jerusalem before heading north. After an extended stay in Syrian Antioch, Paul—and presumably unnamed companions—traveled northwest again, into the provinces of Galatia and Phrygia in central modern-day Turkey (Acts 18:19–23). While there, he strengthened the churches he and Barnabas had planted in his first missionary journey (Acts 13:3—14:28) and that he and Silas had visited on his second (Acts 16:1–5).
In Acts 19:1–7, Paul meets twelve men in Ephesus who, like Apollos (Acts 18:24–28), are ardent followers of John the Baptist's teaching of repentance but don't know about the baptism of Jesus. Paul explains that John was the herald of the Messiah—Jesus of Nazareth—and if they are baptized in Jesus' name it means publicly declaring their allegiance to Jesus. Faith brings the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They agree and become the first brought to Christ in Ephesus by Paul.
Acts 19:8–10 is a very short synopsis of Paul's three years (Acts 20:31) in Ephesus. The fact that it can be summarized so quickly suggests Paul's time there is much like his stays in other cities. He first goes to the synagogue where he expounds on his initial message that Jesus is the Messiah. After a while, this time three months, many agree with him, but those who don't harass him and his followers so much they leave. He finds another place to teach the new believers and welcome new-comers, and usually stays until either the Jews drive him out of town, or the Gentiles realize his ministry is costing them money. After the summary, Luke elaborates on two specific consequences of Paul's ministry in Ephesus.
Acts 19:11–20 records the first of these outcomes. Paul's strong witness that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures is validated by the work of the Holy Spirit in him, particularly in his ability to heal physical conditions and exorcise demons. Itinerant Jewish magicians, not unlike Elymas in Cyprus (Acts 13:4–12), notice how powerful Paul is when he invokes the name of Jesus. They attempt to emulate him when faced by a demon-possessed man. The demon is not cowed by the mere mention of Jesus' name without the authority of Jesus. It attacks the magicians, so they run naked and wounded from the house. When the people of Ephesus realize Paul has real power over demons, they burn their books of magic and follow Jesus.
Acts 19:21–27 begins the second situation. Like in Philippi (Acts 16:16–24), Paul faces Gentiles whose livelihoods are threatened by his message. In Ephesus, the silversmiths realize the more people turn away from their worship of Artemis to follow Jesus, the fewer idols they will be able to sell. Demetrius, one such silversmith, points this out to the other artisans in the city, adding—almost as an afterthought—that Ephesus' pre-eminence as the home of the worship of Artemis is at risk.
In Acts 19:28–34, Demetrius's fellow craftsmen respond. They capture two of Paul's companions, Gaius and Aristarchus, and drag them to the local theater. A mob forms, most of them ignorant of what started the confusion. The church members hold Paul back, keeping him from entering the theater, while the mob shouts "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" for two hours.
In Acts 19:35–41, the town clerk takes control. He manages to quiet the crowd enough that he can speak reason to the mob. He reminds them that Ephesus will always be known for Artemis worship and that starting a riot is not the proper solution for sophisticated people. If Demetrius has a complaint, he should formally charge the men before the proconsuls at court. The crowd disperses with no further injury.
After the riot, however, Paul decides he needs to leave. He returns to Macedonia, likely visiting the churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea that he planted during his second trip (Acts 16:11—17:15), and then spends three months in Corinth. When he discovers he cannot safely sail from Corinth to Syrian Antioch, Paul retraces his steps through Macedonia and Troas and briefly meets with the Ephesian elders in Miletus. During their few hours together, he tells them he is going to Jerusalem where he suspects something tragic will happen; they will not see him again (Acts 20). Indeed, when he arrives in Jerusalem, he is arrested, sent to house-arrest in Caesarea Maritima, and taken to Rome in a harrowing sea voyage. Jesus will later have a message for the Ephesian church. He will say the Ephesians do well at detecting false teachers but have lost their love of Him. The one-time idol worshipers readily turn away from pagan worship but forget the joy of worshiping Christ (Revelation 2:1–7).