Paul's Third Missionary Journey

Luke describes Paul's final journey as a free man working primarily in Ephesus establishing the church that would eventually spread the gospel throughout Asia Minor.
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The last scene that Luke describes in Acts 18 is Paul's brief visit to Ephesus at the end of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19-22). The people there asked him to stay longer but he did not, promising that he would return at a later date. This return would take place on his third missionary journey.

Let us look at our outline and note that this will be Paul's final evangelistic trip before his arrest and imprisonment in various locations.

  1. Peter's First Sermon – Acts 1:1-2:47
  2. Peter's Post-Pentecost Ministry – Acts 3:1-4:37
  3. Persecution of Peter and the Apostles – Acts 5:1-42
  4. Persecution of the Church – Acts 6:1-7:60
  5. Persecution of the Church Part II – Acts 8:1-9:43
  6. Peter Preaches to the Gentiles – Acts 10:1-12:25
  7. Paul's First Missionary Journey – Acts 13:1-15:35
  8. Paul's Second Missionary Journey – Acts 15:36-18:22
  9. Paul's Third Missionary Journey – Acts 18:23-21:14

Third Missionary Journey - Acts 18:23-21:14

Paul Revisits Churches

And having spent some time there, he left and passed successively through the Galatian region and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
- Acts 18:23

We see in this brief statement Paul's mission work strategy in starting each journey with a visit to congregations he had planted during previous mission trips. He used these visits to encourage, teach and strengthen their faith in the Lord.

Apollos at Ephesus

24Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. 25This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; 26and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, 28for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
- Acts 18:24-28

Apollos was a Jew who was born in Alexandria, the city in Egypt that had been founded by Alexander the Great, the Greek leader and conqueror. Alexandria had a university and library, and it was here that the Septuagint (the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language) was completed in 132 BC.

Luke describes Apollos as being:

  1. Eloquent: Not simply a good talker but a trained speaker and debater.
  2. Mighty in the Scriptures: Well versed in the Hebrew Bible and able to use his debating and speaking skills in the teaching of the Scriptures.
  3. Not Fully Trained: He had been taught about Jesus by some of the disciples of John the Baptist and thus was teaching effectively what John had taught: that Jesus was the Messiah promised by the Scriptures. The fact that he only knew the baptism of John suggests that Apollos may have become a disciple of John receiving John's baptism, but was not aware of the complete ministry of Jesus that included His death and resurrection as well as the great commission to the Apostles to go preach the gospel and baptize all repentant believers in the name of Jesus. This may explain why after being taught more fully about the "Way" (which was the expression used to describe Christianity at that time) he was not re-baptized. This was similar to the Apostles who had all received the baptism of John and in doing so had fulfilled God's will in this matter, not needing to be re-baptized after the day of Pentecost.

The idea here is that all those who received baptism before Pentecost (i.e. the Apostles, disciples of John the Baptist, Apollos, etc.) did not need to be re-baptized after Pentecost Sunday. Only those who were hearing the gospel for the first time needed to repent and be baptized as Peter instructs in his sermon on Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2:38). Luke inserts this episode concerning Apollos because he was a high profile teacher and preacher (some scholars believe that he was the author of the epistle to the Hebrews), but also because his short time in Ephesus sets up the next scene where Paul returns to the city to continue the work he had begun there during his second missionary journey.

We see that Apollos receives the necessary instructions from Priscilla and Aquila. Note that Luke names the woman, Priscilla, first indicating that she was the more able teacher of the two (Lenski, p.775). This did not contradict Paul's instructions restricting women from teaching men in the assembly (I Timothy 2:11-15), since this was a private matter and not taking place while the church gathered for public worship. Armed with the complete gospel message, Apollos continues in ministry but more powerful and effective than before.

Paul in Ephesus (19:1-41)

Re-Baptism of the Twelve

1It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." 3And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" And they said, "Into John's baptism." 4Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. 7There were in all about twelve men.
- Acts 19:1-7

Many people assume that these men were originally baptized by Apollos but there is nothing in the passage that supports this. The main difference between these men and Apollos was that he was mighty in the Scriptures and they were not (i.e. they knew nothing about the Holy Spirit). The similarity was that they knew and had received the baptism of John as had Apollos, and while he was at Ephesus Apollos had not required them to be re-baptized. We can conclude, however, that they received John's baptism some time after Pentecost because after having taught them more completely about Christ and the Holy Spirit, Paul re-baptized these 12 disciples (followers of Jesus).

It is interesting to note two things here:

  1. Paul bases his questions about the reception of the Holy Spirit on the kind of baptism they had, not the kind of experience or feeling they had. Here he is talking about the "indwelling" of the Holy Spirit which is given and received through Jesus' baptism, not John's baptism (Acts 2:38).
  2. Paul transfers the "empowerment" of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of his hands, and the evidence of this is that these men begin speaking in tongues and declare God's word with knowledge and power, something they were unable to do before Paul, with his apostolic authority, laid hands on them.

These then become the first legitimate converts at Ephesus.

Paul Establishes the Church in Ephesus (19:8-22)

8And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. 10This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
- Acts 19:8-10

We see the familiar pattern of preaching to the Jews who reacted negatively, and Paul turning next to the Gentiles. Luke records that Paul spent a long time in Ephesus (two years) preaching exclusively to Gentiles with success since Luke says that the gospel radiated out from this economic and political center to all parts of the surrounding Roman province, probably through the efforts of various workers trained and sent out from this location.

Luke mentions that many miracles were performed by Paul and that God was using him in mighty ways, to the point where some were trying to copy and use his name to produce similar miracles but to no avail. The results of his ministry were not only seen in conversions and healings, but many who practiced the black arts of magic and the occult burned their books of magic and turned to the Lord in faith. Paul, seeing his work and the church well established, begins to make plans to revisit churches he had planted in the region of Macedonia (Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea) and the region of Achaiah (Corinth, Athens) before returning to Jerusalem and beginning a possible fourth missionary journey to Rome.

He is contemplating these things when trouble springs up, not from the Jews who have been his usual opposition, but from the Gentiles in the region whose livelihood has been affected by his preaching and the teachings of Christ.

Riot in Ephesus (19:23-41)

Ephesus was an important city of that region and time, and served as a major port of entry for Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey. There was a great boulevard 70 feet (21 meters) wide that ran through the entire city, and the population at that time was approximately 300,000 people. Many streets were lined with marble and had public baths, and the theatre in the city could hold 50,000 spectators. The temple of Diana (Artemis in the Greek) was located here and considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. In Greek mythology, Diana was described as the daughter of the gods Zeus and Letto, and the twin sister of Apollo. She was venerated as the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth and protector of young virgins. Situated around the temple area was a community that housed artisans who earned a good living making coins, statues and other artifacts in honor of Diana. These people were organized into a guild or union and had considerable influence in a city like Ephesus where culture, religion and politics were mixed together to form the whole of that society.

Into this culture comes Paul the Apostle who for two years preaches and teaches that there is only one God (and it is not Diana), and that worship and obedience to God are expressed by obeying Jesus. Part of the Christian lifestyle required one to abandon worthless idols, like Diana, and devote one's life and resources to Jesus, not the temple of Diana or the religious trinkets sold there. There was bound to be trouble.

23About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way. 24For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; 25these he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, "Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. 26You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. 27Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence."
- Acts 19:23-27

Luke describes the riot and threats against Paul that ensue with the crowd dragging some of his associates into the theatre accompanied with shouting and confusion. Eventually, a city official quiets the crowd and warns them that they could be in trouble with the Roman overseers because of their unlawful assembly. This event signals to Paul that it is time to leave and move on to another place to carry on his ministry.

Paul in Troas (20:1-12)

Luke summarizes Paul's journey through Macedonia encouraging the churches there while avoiding another Jewish plot to harm him. He eventually finds his way to Troas, the place where he had received the vision that led him to the fruitful ministry in Macedonia and Achaia years before.

7On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. 8There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. 9And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead. 10But Paul went down and fell upon him, and after embracing him, he said, "Do not be troubled, for his life is in him." 11When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left. 12They took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted.
- Acts 20:7-12

Luke describes this miracle in such an ordinary way (a boy is killed in a 30 foot fall (9 meters) and brought back to life with only a word). Luke's skill is that he is able to describe in detail great spiritual events, but make them look natural, familiar and real. Even though this took place in a culture and time far removed from us, we can still relate to the Bible study, the crowd, even the boy's sleepiness.

Paul's Farewell to Ephesus (20:13-38)

The writer continues his meticulous accounting of Paul's movements by describing the details of the Apostle's trip from Ephesus through Macedonia, back to Troas and now on to Miletus, a coastal city south of Ephesus.

In Acts 20:16 we learn that Paul's goal is to be back in Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost, a journey that will eventually bring him much suffering. Once in Miletus, Paul summons the elders from Ephesus to come and meet with him to discuss several important issues.

Personal Situation

17From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 18And when they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; 20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 24But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.
25"And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. 26Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.
- Acts 20:17-27

He begins by reviewing and confirming the basis of his ministry among them which was the preaching of the gospel. He declares that he has done this in full confidence of its truth and power. He also reveals that the Lord is directing him to return to Jerusalem (if it was up to him, he would stay in the field planting and growing churches; Jerusalem is Peter and the other Apostles' area of work). He also reveals that trouble and imprisonment await him there. Paul then declares that this is a final farewell and reminds them that he has preached the full gospel and confirmed it with his good life so that no one can blame him if they miss out on salvation.


28Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
- Acts 20:28-32

Paul's comments on his personal work and conduct are not a boast, they are an encouragement to these men on how they should act as leaders in the church. Paul, in effect, tells them to, "Do as I have done." In these verses he also gives them a warning to be careful and tend to their main responsibility as elders, which is protecting the church against false teachers and false teaching. It is interesting to see Paul use three different terms in referring to these men and their ministry:

  1. Verse 17: Elder/Presbyter - mature/older man
  2. Verse 28: Overseers/Bishops - guardian/leader
  3. Verse 28: Shepherd/Pastor - caregiver/leader

In the early church all of these terms referred to the same persons: those charged with leadership in the local church. Elder/presbyter denoted their age and experience. Overseer/bishop referred to their authority and responsibilities. Shepherd/pastor described their work and ministry. Only much later did churches, contrary to the Scriptures, appropriate these names to describe different positions of authority. For example, a pastor or priest referred to a local minister or evangelist, and a bishop was a man who was responsible for several congregations or a geographical region. With time, new titles were invented that described men who exercised authority beyond the local congregation: Arch Bishop, Cardinal, Pope, etc. Today, this departure from Scripture has led some groups to have women as well as practicing homosexuals and lesbians serve as bishops for various denominations.

The New Testament, however, teaches that each congregation is to have its own elders/bishops/pastors along with deacons and evangelists/preachers, and these people have leadership responsibility for only one congregation. Part of the effort made by the congregation that I belong to and serve (Choctaw Church of Christ) is to restore the structure and order of the church as it was designed and described in the New Testament. This idea of following carefully God's word is exactly what Paul encourages the Ephesian elders to do if they want to maintain the spiritual and biblical integrity of the church for which they were made leaders by the Holy Spirit. Every elder/bishop/overseer/pastor since that time has been charged by God through His word to take up the same task of guarding the teachings of the New Testament and maintaining the plan for local church organization and growth found in the New Testament. This is the only way that we can reproduce the New Testament church similar to the one we read about in the Scriptures in this modern age and every age to come until Jesus returns.

32And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33I have coveted no one's silver or gold or clothes. 34You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 35In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" 36When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.
- Acts 20:32-38

Luke finishes the chapter with Paul's final encouragement to these elders to serve as he has served (not for financial gain) and be generous (he quotes Jesus, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" - verse 35). The scene ends with an emotional farewell as Luke notes that this will be the last time these brethren will see Paul.

Journey to Jerusalem (21:1-14)

Luke lightly sketches out the journey returning Paul to Jerusalem and the trouble awaiting him there. He receives several warnings not to return but is adamant in reaching the city.

7When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day. 8On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. 9Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. 10As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, "This is what the Holy Spirit says: 'In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'" 12When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13Then Paul answered, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." 14And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, "The will of the Lord be done!"
- Acts 21:7-14

Notice that Luke includes himself in the group warning Paul (he writes "we"), and thus places himself in the narrative. This explains how he obtained the details of Paul's journey.


I want to draw a few lessons from our study, but each is related to Apollos, the well educated professional speaker and teacher who was instructed in the gospel by a lowly tentmaker and his wife, probably with the wife taking the lead in teaching him the whole gospel.

God Lowers His Servants No Matter How Great They Are

For Apollos to go higher in his service to God, this great man had to first go lower to receive what he lacked. Humility is a requirement for one who wants to minister effectively in the name of the Lord.

Preach and Teach What You Know Because You will Never Know Everything

Apollos lacked some important information about Jesus and the gospel, but he launched out nevertheless and God added what he needed in due time. Unfortunately there are times that we use our lack of knowledge as an excuse not to serve at all.

Discussion Questions

  1. Explain the difference between John's baptism and Jesus' baptism. Why did the 12 disciples need re-baptising and Apollos did not?
  2. How would you explain that the ability to heal miraculously or speak in tongues is no longer available? In your opinion, how do you explain the fact that many still believe that miraculous power is available today?
  3. Explain how the Bible replaces the ability to do miracles or prophecy in the ongoing work of the church.
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