Within the Kingdom changes we have been discussing over the last few days there will be an increasing emphasis on the regional apostolic church. Recently in this series of teachings I have looked at the regional centers of Jerusalem and Antioch.
So, let’s turn our attention to the third apostolic regional center found in the city of Ephesus.
But first remind you of where we have been in this discussion…
God is changing the Church.
He is breaking off those things that were not part of His design for the Church that Jesus came to establish.
He is breaking off old traditional mindsets
He is calling us back to His original plan
We live in a day when religion and rituals and “doing what we have always done” is no longer working – if it ever really did work
God wants the Church to rise up with power, so nations and regions can be transformed by the power of the Gospel of the Kingdom.
We have caught a glimpse of how the Early Church operated through apostolic centers in Jerusalem and Antioch, to impact their regions.
The next apostolic center we want to look at was in Ephesus. This is the third apostolic center to be established and we find the story in the book of Acts, chapter nineteen.
Acts 19:1-6 “And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all.”
With a population approaching 500,000 people, Ephesus was the 4th largest city in the world
Located in the Roman Province of Asia Minor, in what is now western Turkey, Ephesus was also a great commercial, trade and business center.
The city’s main claim to fame, however, was the Temple of Diana, or Artemis – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Diana’s massive temple was three times the size of the Parthenon of Athens.
People came from all over the Roman Empire just to see it
Ephesus was not only a hub for pagan religion, but it was also known as the center for magic and the occult in the Roman Empire
When we say “magic” we are not talking about slight of hand
We are talking about witches and warlocks, sorcerers and casting spells
Spiritually, Ephesus was a dark place
In the Roman world, books of spells, incantations, and magical formulas were called “Ephesus writings.”
This was the city’s main reputation
In the ancient world, if you wanted a spell cast on someone, or if you wanted to be delivered from evil spirits, you would go to Ephesus, in hope that its magicians would have the power to help you
Ephesus would have been an intimidating place for someone planting the seeds of the Gospel of the Kingdom – even someone like Paul, the apostle
It was a huge city
It was a proud and prosperous city
And it was overrun with the occult and pagan religions
Yet, in the dark city of Ephesus, God chose to establish a light that would influence and impact the whole region – the whole trading area
In fact, Ephesus became one of the most important apostolic centers in the Early Church
The growth of the Church in Ephesus was explosive
In Acts 19 Paul and his team come to Ephesus, ministered by the side of the river, saw their first converts from among the disciples of John the Baptist, and the Church began
Paul remained in the city of Ephesus for two years teaching the converts
During that two year period, the entire city of Ephesus was evangelized. Close to half a million people received the Gospel of the Kingdom and many became believers.
Not only was that amazing and supernatural – but “all of the cities and the surrounding province” were reached with the message of this new life
Revelation, chapters 1 to 3 lists the seven churches in the province of Asia Minor. Those churches are most likely planted by apostolic teams from Ephesus, during this two year period
The Ephesian Church grew so rapidly during this time that the economy of the city was disrupted
One of the major industries in Ephesus was the manufacturing and selling of images of the goddess Diana.
By the end of Paul’s two years of ministry in the city, so many people were turning to Jesus that the industry of making and selling of idols was in major trouble. The idol makers and sellers literally rioted in the streets to protest their loss of business
By the time Paul set Timothy (another apostle and disciple of Paul) in place as the church’s apostolic leader around AD 62, the Ephesian Church may have had as many as 100,000 members.
This might be why Timothy felt intimidated when he was first given the opportunity to oversee this work
Some historians estimate that at its height, half the population of the city was saved and in the Church
About 50 years after Paul’s visit to Ephesus, the Roman writer Pliny wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan complaining about the situation in the Ephesus region
He wrote, “Temples to heathen gods are almost totally forsaken and Christians are everywhere in multitude.”
The church at Ephesus literally transformed the territory – That dark, occult region was changed
As we look at Acts 19, there are several things we need to notice
1> Paul began with those who were hungry
Acts 19:1-6 as we saw earlier …
Paul located some disciples of John and brought them into the fullness of the Gospel of of the Kingdom
They went from hungry for truth and seekers to born again, baptized in the Holy Spirit, empowered believers
From pagans to prophesying in one afternoon
These men would then form Paul’s prayer and financial base for the work he was called to do there as well as the initial “workers in the harvest field”
2> We see that Paul then continued his work in the synagogue
Acts 19:8 states, “He entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the Kingdom of God.”
Again, he went to the place where people might be open to the Gospel. In the synagogue he would find Jewish people who believed in the Living God and who might be open to hearing the Good News that the long awaited Messiah had come
It was a very practical place to share his message as in the synagogue he would find people who already had some knowledge of the true God
The pagan Greeks had no idea what God was like
They did not know that there was a holy, righteous, all-powerful God who created the universe
Greek gods were more like human beings with superpowers, and many of them were morally depraved
If you went up to a Greek pagan and started talking about God, their first question would be, “Which one?”
But God had spent 2000 years teaching the Jews what He was like
They were prepared to receive the good news
When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming, he didn’t have to spend two hours explaining who the Messiah was and what His sacrifice would mean
He just said, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
The crowd knew what he meant
Because of this, Paul established his new work in the synagogue as soon as possible. For three months he talked with them and many responded
The Church in Ephesus was established
3> Next, Paul started a training center
In Jerusalem the apostles had begun with a season of intensive training and teaching
The same thing happened in the city of Antioch
“Acts 11:25-26 “So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”
In Acts 19, we see that pattern again.
For a period of two years, Paul taught the disciples daily at the School of Tyranus (Acts 19:9-10)
As the saints were discipled, trained, and equipped they were able to move out and minister in power
Average, ordinary, Christians began doing the works of Jesus as Jesus said they would (John 14:12)
Acts 19:11 says, “God was performing extraordinary miracles.”
Not just “ordinary miracles” but super, extraordinary miracles of note!
Then an even took place that shook the city of Ephesus
The magicians of Ephesus heard that people were finding deliverance from demonic oppression through the church, and decided to check it out
They observed that Christians used the Name of Jesus to heal and deliver, so some of the famous Ephesian magicians tried to use Jesus’ name as an incantation to drive out a demon
“In the Name of Jesus whom Paul preached, I command you to come out.”
The evil spirit, speaking through the demonized man replied, “I recognize Jesus, and I know who Paul is, but who are you?”
Then the demonized man leaped on them and overpowered them
They fled from the house naked and wounded
We are told that word of this incident quickly spread through the city
Acts 19:17 tells us, “Great fear came upon them all.”
The result was that, “Many who practiced magic brought their books and began burning them in the sight of everyone” (Acts 19:19)
What was happening?
The Ephesian magicians saw that the Christians in Ephesus had something more powerful than anything they possessed, so they repented and turned from their magic
As a result, “The Word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.”
In other words, the Gospel went viral
“Going viral” is a phrase used in internet marketing. When people get excited about a product today, they share with their friends through social media. Those friends then share it with their friends, who share it with their friends. When this takes place, huge numbers of people can be affected in a very short time.
Normally evangelism looks like this…
Start with an evangelist. They draw the biggest crowd they can, and preach the best message they can, and some respond. This is good as people do get saved!
But evangelism in Ephesus went far beyond this
Ephesus experienced viral evangelism
As every member of the church was equipped by the fivefold ministry to heal and cast out demons, the city took notice. People who were healed or delivered got so excited that they told their friends. The excitement spread.
This is how the original small group of disciples evangelized a half-million people in two years
The good news went from person to person, and from friend to friend, to reach the city of Ephesus and every other city in the region
This is what happened in the United States and Canada during the Jesus Movement. In the days of the Jesus Movement, an entire generation was hopeless, living in fear, and held in bondage to addiction. Then the Jesus Movement began, and people started telling their fiends, “Turn to Jesus! Get filled with the Holy Spirit and get an instant cure for addiction.” The word spread from person to person and a great harvest came in. Some estimate that the total harvest from the Jesus Movement worldwide was over two million people.
Back to Ephesus:
As a major hub for the occult, people in Ephesus had been held in terrible bondage. Horoscopes and witchcraft might seem interesting at first. The occult may grab your attention for its novelty, but when you go far enough into it, you end up in bondage. In Ephesus the word spread that Christians had the power to bring freedom
Many times Christians today look at people in the occult as enemies
We see them as evil and dark, and this is true of some of them
But we need to remember what happened in Ephesus
The magicians and sorcerers in Ephesus were in deep darkness
They were known all over the world for their occult powers
But when they saw the power of the Holy Spirit demonstrated by common, ordinary Christians, they burned their books of witchcraft and spells
Their response revealed their true motivation
Their goal was not to do evil
They just wanted to experience spiritual power and the occult was the only place they knew to find it
When they saw that the Church had a power greater than the devil’s, they were quick to shift
Many people today get into the occult for the same reason
Many who are sorcerers, witches, and warlocks today actually attended church at one point in their lives
But when they didn’t see any power in the church, they turned to the occult
For many of them, when they see a Christianity with more power than the occult, they will be quick to repent and return to the Church that Jesus is building – the new wineskin
As new wineskins are established, don’t be surprised to see people coming in out of the occult.
The regional, apostolic church in Ephesus has much to say to the Church today!