What does Acts chapter 20 mean?Acts 20 records the last part of Paul's third missionary voyage. He started by traveling over land to Galatia in central modern-day Turkey where he revisited the churches he and Barnabas had planted during his first journey (Acts 13:3—14:26). During his second, the Holy Spirit prohibited him from ministering in the province of Asia in southwest modern-day Turkey (Acts 16:6), but this time he is free to go to Ephesus on the coast of the Aegean Sea where he stays for three years (Acts 19; 20:31).
Acts 20:1–6 gives a very short summary of Paul's travels after Ephesus. He first intends to sail straight west to Corinth, but news of their divisions and acceptance of sin troubles him so much he decides to go to Macedonia first (2 Corinthians 1:15–24). After visiting the churches there, he makes his way south to Corinth, where his travel plans are again disrupted. He wants to sail directly to Syrian Antioch but when he hears the Jewish leaders in Corinth have plotted to harm him, he travels back north through Macedonia, sails across to Troas, and makes his way down the western coast of Turkey.
Acts 20:7–12 suggests one reason God may have redirected Paul's voyage: he and his companions are able to spend a week in Troas. On the first day of the week, he converses long into the night in a third-story room. A young man named Eutychus sits by a window until he falls asleep and tumbles three stories to the ground. The church members rush downstairs and discover the fall is fatal, but Paul brings him back to life, perhaps encouraging the church more by that act than by his words. The church takes communion and Paul resumes his teaching until daybreak.
In Acts 20:13–16, Luke's relative burst of detail shows he loves a sea voyage. While Paul and a few companions walk from Troas to Assos, Luke and others sail there. At Assos, everyone gets on board and the ship stops at three islands—bypassing Ephesus—and lands south of Ephesus at Miletus.
Acts 20:17–27 records the beginning of Paul's farewell speech to the Ephesian elders. He doesn't want to go to Ephesus because he knows he'll stay too long and miss getting to Jerusalem for Pentecost. When the ship lands in Miletus, he sends for the Ephesian elders to meet him there. He begins by reminding them how he ministered to both Jews and Gentiles. He then explains that the Holy Spirit has told him that he will be imprisoned soon, and he will never see them again. It is not his life he values, however, but the fact that he faithfully gave them Jesus' message of salvation.
In Acts 20:28–35, Paul finishes his farewell address to the Ephesian elders by warning them of coming deceptions and reminding them of their responsibilities. False and abusive teachers will spring up from their own congregation to try to draw people away from following Christ. Paul also reminds the elders of his character while he served them—that he did not teach for money, suggesting that the false teachers will. His words will strike home; Jesus will praise Ephesus for their wisdom in the face of deception (Revelation 2:2). Paul concludes that Jesus and others are best served by those who live a humble and generous lifestyle.
In Acts 20:36–38, Paul and the Ephesian elders say their goodbyes. Paul spent three years with them, perhaps more time than any of the other churches he planted, but he will never see them again. Everyone weeps, and then the elders accompany him to the ship.
Acts 21 will finish Paul's journey to Jerusalem where the Romans promptly arrest him due to a malicious misunderstanding. Paul tries to defend himself to the Jewish leadership, but to no avail (Acts 21:27—22:21). By the end of Acts 23, the Roman tribune must move Paul to Caesarea Maritima to protect him from Jews who have vowed to kill him. Bureaucracy and a corrupt governor keep Paul under house arrest for two years (Acts 24). When a new governor shows no signs of setting him free, Paul appeals his case to Caesar. Before he leaves, Paul is able to give a defense to Agrippa II. Then he, Luke, and a few others set sail on a harrowing sea voyage (Acts 25—27). After a shipwreck and a bite by a viper, Paul finally reaches Rome (Acts 28).