The Necessity and Finality of Christ Jesus


I. Paul’s Work at Corinth and brief stop at Ephesus – Acts 18:1-21

A. Paul meets Aquila and Priscilla. They, like Paul were Jews and tentmakers.

  1. They had been driven from Rome by an anti-semitic decree of Claudius.
  2. Paul resided with them and evidently worked for them in their tent-making business. It was good that their trade was mobile for otherwise the decree would have been an even more severe hardship. In God’s providence, however, their hardship was for the well-being of Paul. He could support himself as he evangelized.
  3. Paul went to the Synagogue, and, according to his pattern, reasoned from the Scripture each Sabbath with the intent of persuading both Jew and Greeks who were there that the promised Messiah had come, and Jesus of Nazareth was he.
  4. We are not told about the religious persuasion of Aquila and Priscilla, but at some point during this time, they believed the message (they probably attended synagogue on Sabbath and heard Paul), and became devoted followers of the way of the Lord.
  5. Also, from what follows, they paid careful attention to the method of argument of Paul and to the fullness of theology he taught, applying the Old Testament to his knowledge, revealed by God, of the person and work of Christ. They began to imbibe the fullness of the apostolic doctrine.

B. The Arrival of Silas and Timothy (5). When Silas and Timothy came, Paul was able to devote himself fully “to the word.” The text indicates that he worked intensely and with unrelenting earnestness concerning the message. His method was the same in testifying that “Jesus was the Christ.” The full Old Testament witness to the Christ was true of Jesus: He was born of a virgin, lived righteously, taught with absolute truthfulness and authority all that the Old Testament taught about both law and the necessity of ransom and resurrection, was crucified in giving himself for our sins, was raised on the third day, presently lives with the Father in heaven as Son of God and Son of Man, and will come again to receive his saints, judge the nations, and of his kingdom on the throne of his father David there shall be no end.

C. Opposition from the Jews.

  1. Soon, even as in the life of Jesus, the Jewish leadership began to oppose his teaching even to the point of blasphemy. Paul’s dramatic visual manifestation of shaking off responsibility for them (6) shows his sense of having performed the call of a faithful watchman to Israel (Ezekiel 33:7-11)—If you “do not speak to warn the wicked . . . his blood I will require at your hands. Nevertheless, if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does snot turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your soul” (Ezekiel 33:9).
  2. To this result of his teaching, Paul referred in 1 Corinthians 1 when he wrote, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles.”
  3. In response to the violence of Jewish opposition to this message earlier in Thessalonica, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16).

D. Paul’s vision of encouragement (7-10).

  1. Among the early converts was a man named Titius Justus in whose house Paul went to continue his teaching about Jesus. This man is described as a “worshiper of God,” meaning a Gentile who had embraced the truth of the Old Testament witness to God. Also, Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue and his entire family believed. It seems that this cost him his position among the Jews for later Sosthenes is mentioned as ruler (17). Also “many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized” (8). Paul baptized Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:14-17). His helpers baptized others.
  2. The assurance that God would protect him and that no one would harm him indicates that Paul did not take the violence and opposition that surrounded his preaching with an utterly detached, unrippled heart; he had that natural instinct of self-preservation that he would invoke at times (See Acts 9:25, 29-30; Also see his request for prayer in Romans 15:31, “That I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea”).
  3. Beyond that God told him that “I have many people in this city.” The operations of sovereign, effectual grace would accompany his ministry. The confidence in this was his highest motivation in life. This assurance and the results of its truthfulness Paul noted when, again in 1 Corinthians 1 he wrote, “”But to those who are called, both Jew and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. . . . Consider your calling brothers; . . . God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1: 24, 26, 27).
  4. Paul stayed for 18 months “teaching the word of God among them.” Aquila and Priscilla certainly absorbed the fullness of apostolic doctrine during this time. They would have grasped a mature understanding of the gospel not only Christologically, but in views of sin, the operations of grace, the nature of the atonement, the doctrine of the resurrection, the centrality of the cross as the point that brings coherence to all revealed truth, etc.

E. The Jews sought legal action against Paul. The Jews, “with one accord” took Paul and sought to get the Proconsul, Gallio, to make a judgment against him because his teaching was upsetting them. He refused, rightly so, and drove them away from him. Mysteriously, they began to beat Sosthenes. Perhaps they suspected that he too had become a follower of The Way and did not participate with them in bringing charges against Paul. It is clear that he did become a believer for he was with Paul in Ephesus when Paul wrote his first letter to Corinth. Probably Sosthenes brought news to Paul from the church.

F. Paul, along with Aquila and Priscilla, go to Ephesus (18-21).


II. The Meeting between Aquila and Priscilla and Apollos – Acts 18:24-28

A. A Description of Apollos.

  1. He was “mighty in the Scriptures.” This is a goal to which we all should aspire. How did Apollos become so well-trained in the Scriptures?
  2. It seems that the parents of Apollos were thoroughly Hellenized, so they named him Apollos, a derivative of Apollo, the Greek god of poetry, music and speech. Accordingly, taking advantage of the intellectual climate of Alexandria, it appears that they gave him training in these classical disciplines, so that in rhetorical skill he was greatly advanced.
  3. In addition, though Luke does not tell us how or where, he had “been instructed in the ways of the Lord.” Jews from Egypt were present when Peter preached at Pentecost (Acts 2:10). Possibly, a believers’ community had been established in Alexandria very early, Ifg so it would likely have engaged in biblical interpretation interacting with the Jewish allegorist/philosopher/theologian Philo. The constant challenge to understand the Jewish Scriptures as they relate to other systems of thought would have provided fertile ground for Christian development of Christ-centered interpretation.
  4. It is puzzling as to why Apollos would have known only the baptism of John. See Acts 2:38. This could be an indication that he was unaware of the completed ministry of Christ, though he knew clearly all the teachings of John about the superiority of Christ’s person and the uniqueness of his work.

B. The actions of Apollos – Both his training and his Christian commitment showed up prominently in his appearance in Ephesus.

  1. He was unafraid to speak with fervency and boldness. The root of the matter from a fundamental spiritual standpoint seemed to be vibrant. He was speaking and teaching “accurately the things concerning Jesus.” He was not giving a false theology, and all that he said was consistent with the messianic material of the Old Testament. Apparently, he knew well the message of repentance, and related it to Jesus much in the way that John the Baptist had done. He would have emphasized also the place of Jesus as the Son of God, his heavenly origin, that he is the lamb that takes away the sin of the world, and that he gathers a new people by the work of the Holy Spirit. (Luke 3:7-22; John 1:19-37).
  2. In spite of much that was accurate and stated fervently, Apollos lacked some complementary points about Christ. His love for Christ as viewed through the teaching of John the Baptist and the rudiments of the gospel was sincere and he was willing to be instructed by those who understood these issues more clearly.

C. The advice of Aquila and Priscilla. Aquila and Priscilla had learned from hearing Paul preach for these eighteen months. After hearing Apollos, “They took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

  1. We are never beyond the necessity of learning the way of God more accurately. Being correct in doctrine is not an anti-spiritual condition. It is necessary. The revelation of God concerns mysteries that are now disclosed and they cover more of the truth about God and ourselves than we could ever master in ten life-times. We must never stop learning the way of God more accurately. We must always be willing to be instructed in everything that the Bible says.
  2. Differences in denominations come because people have disagreed, and continue to do so, about certain doctrinal issues. People who believe that the Scripture teaches that only those who have believed the gospel should be baptized would find it difficult to be in a denomination that insists that baptism of infants is a biblical idea.
  3. Even within the same denomination, some may disagree over various aspects of the doctrine of salvation. Some might have a very strong view of the person of Christ, his substitutionary death on the cross, the resurrection and the necessity of repentance and faith, but have a strong conviction that the human will has been largely unaffected by the fall and can operate independently of any effectual work of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Confessions of faith serve the purpose of establishing a goal for doctrinal instruction and doctrinal unity in a congregation and a denomination. Such a well-constructed document sets before us an arrangement of biblical truth that has been discerned and developed through the centuries by the combined insights and disciplined study of gifted teachers among the people of God.
  5. Peter recognized that Paul taught with the “wisdom given to him” some things that were hard to understand. Since ignorant people twist some of these things, as they do the rest of the Scriptures “to their own destruction,” we should be steadfast in our attention to divine truth and always be ready to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:14-18).

D. The Subsequent ministry of Apollos. Having received the message of the gospel more in depth, and understanding more clearly the great commission of Christ, Apollos went to Corinth. He was recommended by the brethren in Ephesus, including Aquila and Priscilla, as profitable for ministry. Under the ministry of Paul, God’s rich grace had brought many people to believe; now Apollos “greatly helped those who had believed through grace.” Evidently the believers had been harassed by the Jews who had opposed Paul before he left (18:12, 13), and now Apollos, instructed in Pauline theology, “powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” In 1 Corinthians, Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:5-8).


III. Paul goes back to Ephesus – Acts 19-He had promised, “I will return to you again if God wills.”

A. Jesus and the baptism of John – 1-7: It seems to me that the case of Apollos and the case of these “disciples” are virtually identical.

  1. Luke brings us into the middle of a conversation and gives a brief summary of what had to be a significantly longer engagement. Paul had been in Ephesus earlier and knew the disciples that had attended his ministry. These clearly were people professing to follow the teaching of John the Baptist about the coming Messiah. They believed his message that one would come after him who would be the Lamb of God, and who would baptize with the Spirit and with fire. Paul discerned that they had not become familiar, however, with the progress of doctrine and information subsequent to the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost.
  2. This explains why Paul asked them the two questions:
  • “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Paul is asking specifically if their becoming disciples involved the external manifestation of the Spirit coming with new covenant intent, and granting them evidences of his embracing them in the newly forming body of Christ. No longer ethnicity or ceremony were to serve as identifying factors, but the purifying operation of the Spirit (Matthew 3: 8-11). This had happened at Pentecost in Acts 2, in Samaria in Acts 8: 4-8 and 14-19; and in the house of Cornelius in Acts 10: 44-48. Because John had spoken of the Holy Spirit and that the coming one would form a new people, they knew this was to happen, but they did not know that it actually had taken place. [None can believe or persevere in faith apart from the work of the Spirit in regeneration and indwelling (Romans 8:9; 1 John 5:4). This was true of Old Testament believers as well as of post-resurrection believers. This work of the Spirit is a greater quantitative effusion of the Spirit, the genesis of identifying the people of God through the work of the Spirit (John 4:23, 24; Hebrews 8:13; 1 Peter 2: 4, 5; 9, 10; 1 John 2:20, 21. By granting these extraordinary gifts, the Spirit gives clear and immediate evidence that these people have been included in that new community being formed (Acts 11: 15-18; 14:3; Galatians 4:6, 7)].
  • “Unto what then were you baptized?” If their knowledge of Christ did not include an awareness of the promised pouring out of the Spirit, then their entry into discipleship probably was prior to Pentecost and the initiation of baptism into full trinitarian doctrine through the acknowledgement of Christ’s completed work. When they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul knew, as did Aquila and Priscilla earlier concerning Apollos, that their discipleship was based on the prediction of Christ’s soon-appearing. John the Baptist, however, was beheaded before the fulfillment of Christ’s ministry, before his rejection and death, before his burial and resurrection, before his missionary commandment at his ascension, before the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. John himself, though the greatest of men to that point, looked for more events and manifestations of fulfilled prophecy for Jesus to fill out the entire picture (John 11:1-19). John was great because he was the final prophet making way for the Messiah and actually looked upon him, pointed to him as the Lamb of God, and had his ministry validated by the Messiah’s confirmation and submission to his message through baptism. Those, however, who enter the kingdom through faith in the completed work of Christ are greater, in that sense, than even John the Baptist (John 11:9-11).
  1. Paul explained that the one to whom John pointed had come. He identified him as Jesus of Nazareth. It would be hard to imagine that Paul did not give to them the full witness of the gospel as it filled out the prophecies of the Old Testament. They believed and were baptized with specific reference to having heard the word of truth in the gospel about Jesus Christ, and expressed their full satisfaction in Paul’s inspired explanation.
  2. As an apostle who confirmed the continued incorporation of diverse groups into the body of Christ, breaking down all walls of division, he laid his hands on them and they too manifested the special operation of the Holy Spirit in having been brought near by the blood of Christ. These spiritual gifts were granted as an indication that they now were baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).Perhaps to this event Paul referred when he wrote, “In him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13, 14).

B. Teaching and Preaching – Paul stayed for two years teaching and preaching.

  1. For three months he taught in the synagogue, reasoning and persuading those who attended about the kingdom of God. Jesus had come to inaugurate the kingdom by his redemptive death and resurrection and he would come again to judge the world and reign forever.
  2. Some became hardened, began to speak evil of “the Way.”
  3. Those who had believed moved then with Paul to the “school of Tyrannus” where Paul reasoned daily.
  4. During the two years so many people came from different parts of Asia that none of the provinces were without someone who had heard the gospel.

C. Apostolic signs – During this time, God was present mightily in Paul, doing the signs through him demonstrating that he was an apostle of God (verses 11-17). To this same phenomenon Paul refers in 2 Corinthians 12:11, 12.

D. The city arose in opposition. So mighty had been the manifestation of the power of the gospel in destroying superstition and idolatry (verses 17-20), that they feared that the devotion to Artemis might be completely eliminated.

  1. The speech of Demetrius – (Verses 23-27)
  2. A riot in the city – Verses 28-34)
  3. The Town clerk brings calm – Verses 35-40

E. Paul met with the church and left for Macedonia.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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