What does Acts 20 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
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).
Verse Context:
Acts 20:1–6 records a very short summary of Paul's travels after he leaves Ephesus during his third missionary voyage. He sails to Macedonia and visits the churches there before going south to Corinth where he spends three months. He wants to sail directly to Judea, but a plot against his life forces him to retrace his footsteps to Macedonia and Troas. He and his team will spend one week—including one infamously long sermon—in Troas then travel south to Miletus where they will meet with the Ephesian elders one last time (Acts 20:7–38).
Acts 20:7–12 records a famous story from Scripture which is often referenced in humor. Paul is in Troas on his way back to Jerusalem. On the first day of the week, he meets with the church in a third-story room, and proceeds to lead a discussion that lasts for hours. One of the young men falls asleep by the window and tumbles out to his death. Paul brings him back to life, takes a meal that likely includes communion, and resumes the conversation. When dawn breaks, he and his team continue their journey.
In Acts 20:13–16, Luke shows his love for the sea by including an inordinate amount of detail about the journey. Paul, Luke, Timothy, and companions from all over Macedonia and modern-day Turkey leave Troas for Jerusalem. Most of them board a ship directly; Paul joins them down the road in Assos. Ephesus, where Paul had recently spent three years, is along their route, but Paul doesn't want to get distracted. Seeking to arrive in Jerusalem by Pentecost, they sail past to Miletus, and the Ephesian elders join them there (Acts 20:17).
In Acts 20:17–27, Paul begins his farewell to the elders of Ephesus. He and his team leave Troas and sail to Miletus, south of Ephesus, where Paul requests the Ephesian elders meet him. He reminds them how he served with dedication and self-sacrifice, and he also relays disturbing news. When he gets to Jerusalem, he will be imprisoned, and they will never see him again. Next, he will challenge them to protect their church from false teachers and to emulate his humble leadership (Acts 20:28–35).
Acts 20:28–35 records Paul's last words to the elders of Ephesus. He has reminded them of his own faithful service to them and the church. He has told them he is going to Jerusalem where he will be imprisoned; they will never see him again (Acts 20:18–27). Now, he exhorts them to follow his example in leading the church, protecting their people from false teachers, and sacrificing worldly gain to bring others to Christ. Paul will live out this last point as he spends the next five years in custody but still preaching and writing to the churches (Acts 28:30–31).
Acts 20:36–38 records the end of Paul's missionary journeys as recorded in the book of Acts. He is already on his way to Judea but stopped at Miletus to speak with the elders of the church in Ephesus. He has told them he will soon be imprisoned and that they will not see him again (Acts 20:22–25). Shortly after he reaches Jerusalem, Paul will be wrongly arrested and held in custody for two years before taking a dangerous sea voyage and spending another two years under house arrest in Rome, with likely another year traveling in between.
Chapter Summary:
Acts 20 finishes Paul's third missionary journey. He leaves Ephesus after three years and travels to Macedonia and Corinth. Threats from the Corinthian Jews send him and his team back to Macedonia and Troas. In Troas, Paul gives a very long sermon and raises Eutychus from the dead after he falls—both asleep and out a window. In Miletus, Paul meets with the Ephesian elders. He reminds them to beware of false teachers and tells them he is going to be imprisoned and will not see them again. After a tearful farewell, he boards a ship for Judea.
Chapter Context:
Acts 20 records the last stages of Paul's third missionary journey. He started by visiting the churches he and Barnabas had planted in central modern-day Turkey (Acts 18:23). From there, he traveled southwest to the province of Asia, where he established a church in Ephesus (Acts 19). In Acts 20, he visits the churches in Macedonia and Greece before returning to Judea. When he lands, he meets briefly with Philip the Evangelist in Caesarea Maritima before going to Jerusalem and getting arrested. He will stay in house arrest for the next two years before embarking on a dangerous sea voyage to Rome (Acts 21—28).
Book Summary:
The summary of the book of Acts is provided in Jesus' words in Acts 1:8: ''But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'' In Acts 2:1–13, the Christ-followers receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:14—7:60 describes the rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem. Chapters 8—12 find Jewish persecution inadvertently spreading the gospel throughout Judea and Samaria. And in chapters 13—28, Paul and his companions spread the good news throughout the Roman Empire.
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