A Profile of Revival in Ephesus: Lessons from Acts 199 min read
In examining revival lessons from Acts 19, the first thing we notice is that only Paul and not Apollos had the privilege in God’s sovereign purposes to see revival in Ephesus. Apollos had his work in Corinth. Paul had his in Ephesus, and it was there that the Word spread like wildfire. Was the work in Corinth of less dignity? Was God less in it? Obviously not. The lesson we learn from this is that revival cannot be expected for every preacher and every place. God’s sovereignty is specific in choosing the time and place of revival. Revival cannot be manipulated or assumed as being our right. Wonderful if it should happen – and we pray for this! – but let us not think we should expect the exact same result as Paul had. It does not mean God has failed us, nor that He is absent from our work. It just means we are given a different ministry than some may have. Whatever our capacity is in serving God’s people, let us hold that with the highest dignity.
Divine Truth Brought to the Fore – v. 2-10
Revival can never be separated from the promulgation of truth. If revival is built on anything less than truth, it has error as its foundation; and that certainly isn’t divine. Notice where revival started in Ephesus: ignorant followers of John the Baptist were set aright by the truth of the Holy Spirit. After, they spoke in tongues, which served as a confirmation to their faith. There were twelve people altogether, yet this was the beginning of revival across Asia Minor. Truth has power, regardless of its breadth. No doubt we have influence on twelve people at the very least. Some may be Sunday School teachers. Some may have a Bible class for young people. Whatever the breadth of our influence may be, let us never forget this: revival starts with small numbers. What is the key? Consistent teaching of God’s Word – no matter the number influenced.
Obviously when God works that number will increase, as well as opportunities for teaching. For Paul, he had opportunity in the synagogue to teach there for three months. Then, when opposition struck, he taught and debated in the school of Tyrannus for two years. This was his platform for publicity. Over time all Asia Minor heard “the Word of the Lord Jesus,” whether they were Jews or Greeks, whether they were religious or philosophical (telling us we should be competent in reaching both). Notice that the center stage was held by God’s Word specifically. Paul didn’t have anything to preach of himself: he was a vessel. God received the publicity, as it were; such will be the case with true revival in our day. We can’t revive people with ideas, experiences, or entertainment. When God speaks with power, then we have revival. If we want to be part of this process, we must take the opportunities before us to hold forth the Word.
Divine Work Among the Counterfeits – v. 11-20
Just as Samuel’s legacy was “the Lord was with him,” so will any large-scale work of God have this seal upon it. “Except the Lord build the house, they that build it labor in vain.” So we see with Ephesus that God was working through Paul different miracles: both demons and disease were addressed (Often these two things are correlated in Scripture). Obviously we won’t find these same things today, though some would think so, but the principle remains that God made His hand known in Paul’s ministry. The same will be true for us today: revival is God’s work.
But where there is a work of God, there is always a Satanic or pseudo-Christian counterpart to oppose it. Sometimes this gives a bad name to Christianity. Other times it sets the truth apart all the more, as we see here. In verse 13, we are introduced to vagabond Jews, who were acclaimed exorcists (they were known to cast out demons). Hearing the success of Paul’s casting out demons by the name of Jesus, they figured it might be profitable to try this too. They tried, and this was the outcome: “And the evil spirit answered and said, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?’ And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” This should be a warning to the Charismatic movement: using the name of Jesus flippantly does not secure blessing or miracle, but rather danger. As to our chapter, we see that this failed exorcism set apart Paul’s ministry as being true, since it actually succeeded in casting demons and diseases out. This brings us to four results, which will always be the case with true revival:
- Error was falsified. Revival and error do not go together. Revival exposes error and strips it of its power. This was the case with the false exorcists, and it will be the case today. Collective spiritual restoration will not come by joining forces with erring movements; it will not come by ignoring heresy. It comes when we care for integrity in our doctrine and exposure of lies.
- Christ’s Name was magnified. Is not the revival for Him anyway? If the Name of Christ is not magnified, what is the point? To God be the glory! If this is our true attitude, we will be unsatisfied with anything less than His own means of reviving us. And our care will not be so much for popular preachers and bestselling books as it will be for God to be exposed in all His beauty and power. Revival is not about us or our efforts to see mass conversion; true revival mentality looks up, sees a God Who is worthy of all glory, and bows the knee to His Word and purposes. His glory is His goal; why should it not be ours?
- True repentance was exemplified. The occultists in Ephesus showed this by burning their books or magic scrolls, even in spite of the monetary value of them. Fifty thousand pieces of silver would have been the equivalent of about 135 years’ wages for the average man. For us, this would be in the millions of dollars. This was definitely true repentance. Old, sinful ways will not be tolerated in revival; men will want radical change when God does a work in the heart.
- Scripture mightily grew and multiplied. This is the key. The point really cannot be overemphasized. God’s Word and its faithful preaching is the center point of revival. It is not being seeker-sensitive in our churches. It is not looking more like the culture. It is not signs and wonders. It is the plain, old-fashioned preaching of Scripture. There is no new need today than there was 2,000 years ago. The same Word that changed hearts then is the same we need today.
Society and Its Response – v. 21-41
After Paul’s two years of preaching, he still saw the fields as white and ready to harvest; thus he sent Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia, while he temporarily stayed behind in Ephesus. Clearly a man God uses in revival is a man who always sees gospel work before him; ambition is key.
During Paul’s final days in Ephesus, a riot broke out in opposition to the prominence of Christianity and its anti-pagan effects in the city. Christianity was clearly a major and recognizable force in society; this is a mark of true revival. Christianity will not be silent nor obscure in such a work of God’s Spirit. In Ephesus, this “way,” as it was called at first, was actually threatening the economic prosperity of pagan merchants. Everyone was turning from idolatry, which obviously meant there was no need for idol craftsmen anymore. This is where the uproar began.
For our purposes, the details are not so important as the principle, which is this: revival will not only be recognized by God’s people, but by society on a large-scale. This is a point which needs to be balanced out. On the one hand, we must never think that revival will automatically result in a “Christianized” society. Sometimes regions can indeed become mainly Christian in profession and have radical morality change. But this present evil system will not cease to exist should revival come to us. Christianity is made up of a people called out of the culture; our call is not to change it. On the other hand, we should expect that society, while it may not become “Christianized,” will recognize a growth in true Christianity and perhaps even see it as a threat to its ungodly agendas. This balanced approach is what we see in Ephesus. The whole region heard the Word of God, yet the leadership and culture of the society was still committed to its idolatry – enough to cause a riot. Revival could be recognized by the prominence of Christianity in society, though the society did not turn “Christian.” In searching for revival, let us not look for culture to like us more or conform to our standards: we will always have the world against us. Rather, let us look for God’s people as a whole to rise out of mediocrity and serve as a threat to Satan’s agendas and culture’s norms. Basically, we need to become salt and light again. That is revival.
Time to Go, Paul – 20:1
The work in Ephesus came to an end for Paul, and the time came to entrust the work to a local assembly, which was no doubt formed over the two years Paul spent preaching in chapter 19. The excitement, as it were, was over; and now regular assembly commitments had to be upheld. In other words, life went on. God had worked, and the time came for that work to be acted upon in consistent, day-to-day godly living. This is a lesson we need to learn. Revival is an event that has its peak for a few years or so; then, when its peak is over, it is the responsibility of God’s people to preserve the effects of that work by teaching the newly converted and establishing the next generation in the truth that has been freshly revived. It seems some have the mistaken idea in their idealistic thinking that if we saw revival, all persecution would end, unity would be achieved, society would be moral, and we would see zealous Christianity left, right, and center until the day we die. That isn’t the case. Revival serves its purpose by giving an awakening. Once woken up, it is time to work. How strange to be in a constant state of waking up! Ephesus did not always have radical response to the gospel, but a long-lasting and effective assembly was established. This movement of God’s Spirit certainly had something to show for itself. This is what we are looking for: a revival that brings us to a mindset of consistent Christianity, Christianity that does righteousness, loves mercy, and walks humbly with its God. So then, let us yearn for revival. But if it comes, let’s be ready for the responsibility that comes with what it produces.