Following the Journeys of Paul
When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. The next day, Paul went with us to visit James, and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law…”Acts 20:17-20
Paul’s Third Missionary Journey
The “third” missionary journey (18:23-21:16) starts in Antioch and ends in Jerusalem. This missionary journey begins in the region of Galatia and Phrygia as Paul travels around supporting the disciples (18:23). We are introduced to Apollos and others who needed and received Christian instruction (18:24-19:7).
The rest of the nineteenth chapter is devoted to the events in Ephesus, where Paul stayed for two years and three months (19:8, 10). It is assumed that Paul’s disciples founded churches at Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis during this period. Acts only summarizes this by reporting “that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (19:10).
Very few details are given about the visit to Macedonia and Achaia (20:1-6). The trip from Troas to Caesarea primarily includes the words of Paul to the elders from Ephesus (who came down to Miletus at Paul’s request) to hear what were to be his final words to them before Paul’s expected arrest in Jerusalem (20:1-21:16).
Scripture Notes on Paul’s Third Missionary Journey
Paul returns to Ephesus, traveling overland through the interior of Asia Minor, the region of Galatia and Phrygia (18:23). In Ephesus, Paul encounters disciples who have not received the Holy Spirit. These twelve are members of a sect of John the Baptist. Paul characterizes John’s baptism as a ritual of repentance and shares with them the whole message of Jesus as the risen savior. These disciples are baptized in the name of Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit after the laying-on of hands.
Paul preaches in the synagogue. He then moves his preaching and teaching to public places. Paul preaches from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. – the time of leisure when an audience is available. Paul stays in Ephesus for two years and three months.
While in Ephesus, Paul encounters a group of Jewish exorcists. The story has parallels to the miracles of Peter (Acts 5:12-16), where handkerchiefs or aprons carried a healing power that exuded from Paul’s body (literally “skin”). These exorcists want to use the power of Paul and Jesus to their advantage.
The demon’s response, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” indicates that the name of Jesus is mighty but can not be separated from faith. Only those who have accepted the name dare use it.
News of this bizarre incident brings about conversions among the magicians. The books (scrolls) which are burned probably record their charms and spells. Ephesus was famous for magical writings, some of which were called “Ephesian scripts or letters.” Augustus had established a precedent for burning unfavorable books. The total value of the literature is said to be fifty thousand pieces of silver – presumably drachmas – or in today’s currency, about $5 million.
Paul’s travel plans are disclosed in what is almost an outline of the rest of the book. His trip to Macedonia and Achaia takes place in 20:1-2, and his journey to Jerusalem in 21:17. The purpose of the latter is to take an offering to the Jerusalem church (Romans 15:22-29).
This section focuses on a riot at the Temple of Artemis. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, began to stir people against Paul because his preaching was hurting business. He and the other local silversmiths made small souvenir temples used as charms. In addition, they probably made miniature images of the goddess Artemis. Artemis was the Greek virgin hunting goddess and the goddess of fertility. It was a growing and thriving business.
The temple dedicated to Artemis was the largest structure in the Roman Empire. About 340 by 160 feet in dimension. The temple displayed over 100 columns, some 60 feet high. According to some reports, its marble blocks were cemented with gold instead of mortar. The riot stirred up by the silversmiths was massive, filling the whole temple.
The plan was to arrest Paul and his companions or, at the very least, run them out of town. The chief authority breaks up the gathering with a speech in Paul’s defense. The speech’s main point is that Paul and his companions are not guilty of any civil offense. They are not sacrilegious or blasphemers of the goddess. If Demetrius and the other silversmiths had reasonable charges, they should follow legal procedure (24:19).
Paul’s trip to Macedonia and Greece fulfills the plans of 19:21 (I Corinthians 16:5). His route is through Troas (II Corinthians 2:12-13) to Philippi (II Corinthians 7:5-7) and from Macedonia to Corinth. During his stay of three months in Achaia, he writes Romans.
Paul’s original plan seems to have been to sail from Corinth directly to Palestine to take the monetary collection from his churches to Jerusalem. Since Macedonia and Achaia have already contributed (Romans 15:25-26), a trip through these provinces is unnecessary. According to Acts, Paul sailed past Ephesus because he was hastening on to Jerusalem to arrive by Pentecost. However, he takes time at Tyre (21:3-4) and Caesarea (21:10)—probably to take another offering.
Next, Paul shares that he is being led to Jerusalem under the guidance of God (Acts 19:21). Paul is ready to lay down his life to testify to the gospel. This revelation, together with the statement that they should see his face no more (verse 38), indicates the author’s knowledge of Paul’s death even though it is not included in the book of Acts.
Finally, Paul shares a farewell in the form of a last will and testament. He commends the church to the grace of God. He commends them to help the weak and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus.
The farewell scene is portrayed with affection. After prayer, the elders embraced Paul (literally “fell on his neck” – an Old Testament expression used in the parable of the lost son in Luke 15:20, which indicates great affection). Although the Christians’ concern moves Paul, he is ready to be imprisoned—and even to die—in Jerusalem for the name (or “sake”) of the Lord Jesus. Paul is determined to follow the will of God.
Bridges for Today
At the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, he knew he would soon be imprisoned and probably killed. His final words to the church at Ephesus display his devotion to Christ. These words stand as a challenge to us in the 21st century. Paul knew the dangers that awaited him, yet he continued by faith.
I do not believe that as Paul addressed his followers, he wanted them to make the same sacrifice he was willing to make with his life. I believe that Paul called them to live a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ and let nothing get in the way of where God is leading.
In the same way, I believe God calls us to measure how we live as an example of what we believe. Let nothing get in the way of our witness for Christ in our actions and words.
All that mattered to Paul was that the good news of God’s grace be seen in him.
You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus. And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.Acts 20:18-24