This brief report on the ministry at Ephesus follows Paul’s initial contact there in Acts 18:19. It is sandwiched between two accounts of deficiency—those deficient because of ignorance, the disciples of John (19:1–7) and those who were deceitfully deficient, the seven sons of Sceva (19:13–16).
Paul does not tell the former group about the Spirit, but about Jesus (vv. 4–5). The latter group wants to “use” the power of the Spirit, apart from relationship with Jesus.
The devil is not fooled. He is the master of fakery. His superior power stands in contrast to their powerless, superstitious spirituality.
The resultant burning of the magic scrolls, out of fear of God, and the contrasting health of the Word of the Lord provide a further, rich distinction (vv. 18–20).
Paul’s church planting activities at Ephesus follow a familiar pattern (vv. 8–12). He begins at the synagogue, focusing persuasively on the kingdom of God. Then there arises Jewish opposition. Paul moves elsewhere to teach, proclaiming “the word of the Lord” and God does “extraordinary miracles” through him.
The Gentile antagonism at Ephesus is both commercially and theologically driven. Paul’s insistence that “manmade gods are no gods at all” (v. 26) is bad news for the sellers of silver shrines of Artemis. But, Demetrius is also concerned that the goddess will be “robbed of her divine majesty” (v. 27). The irony is that of all people, it would be hardest for the silversmiths themselves to believe that they were making gods with their own hands.
The resultant outcry from the crowd gathered in the theatre, thought to hold 24,000 people, leads Luke to record two interesting events. Alexander (v. 33) is pushed forward by the Jews, but we will never know what he was going to say because he is drowned out by the crowd. The city clerk calms everyone down by reminding them of the proper legal channels for action against Paul (vv. 35–41).
The seven sons of Sceva, like Ananias and Sapphira before them (Acts 5), are playing a part. Note how they and the evil spirit refer to Jesus in verses 13 and 15. Compare this with how Luke refers to Jesus in verses 13 and 17. Who is fooled? How are they exposed? What results follow?