Lesson 5: Comparing The Principle To The Experience – Acts 18:24-19:7
It is very possible for a person to know they are wrong but not understand why or what to do about it. The Bible implies this psychological dilemma when it refers to non-Christians as “lost.”
Like getting sand in your eye – Jesus talked about a beam – you only have a vague sense of where you are and where you’re going.
The same thing is true when it comes to religious truth. A person can know that one thing is wrong without knowing what is right. This can be particularly frustrating if the tradition you follow has been historically true to God.
This was the case with the Jews in Jesus day. They knew that God had led them in the past but they also knew that God had done very little with them for several hundred years (approximately 400). They had been used to a regular diet of prophets, priests and miracles. Silence for so many years was a threatening state of affairs. They looked for and needed a fresh manifestation of God which Jesus was but unfortunately, when He came they were looking in the wrong direction.
There’s no excuse for that. The Scriptures are full of references giving details of his coming and even suggesting the timing but all of this information only got in the way of their religious agenda. Jesus was more of an inconvenience than an answer.
Israel had become obsessed with following a set of rules as if the rules were God. They were really just doing their own thing, changing and adding laws as they pleased. Once one set of rules became “easy” they stiffened things up by expanding the regulations. That was their way of feeling a sense of commitment.
That, of course, describes the nature of all religion. “Rules” make us feel “in.” The more aligned with the rules one is the more “in” they think they are.
This was why John Baptist’s message had such an impact. The Jewish leadership had become oppressive and the Jewish masses knew something was wrong but no one knew how to address the problem or had the courage to speak up.
To the greater populace John was fresh. To the religious establishment he was a challenge to the status quo.
Repentance was the first thing needed and when John showed up preaching with power many people responded positively to his ministry but, his ministry departed extensively from tradition. He was completely separate from the religious mainstream.
- He did not associate with the Temple – it was corrupt.
- He did not associate with the Jewish leaders – they were a big part of the problem.
- And he wasn’t bashful about confronting the hypocrisy and legalism so prevalent in the system.
John actually called the religious leaders snakes and told them to repent. Strong language for leaders that most people feared.
But, even though John didn’t get along with the religious institutions he was well received by everyone else. He wasn’t connected to “all the right people” but he definitely had God’s power and everyone’s attention.
The Prophets of the Old Testament always worked to change the nation of Israel by addressing the various institutions, religious and political. John, however, never approached or addressed these institutions. He spoke to individuals. He didn’t even approach the religious leaders, they approached him (John 1:19-28) and when they did, he dealt with them as common individuals not as respected leaders.
You could say that John had separated himself from mainstream Israel. He ministered at a distance, completely apart from her institutions.
John’s ministry was not a secret. In fact, it received a great deal of public attention. Not everyone heard John personally but Jewish people all around the world had heard about John. His ministry and message brought a great sense of relief to the Jewish faithful. The corruption of the Jewish system and its leaders was well known.
The lack of spiritual power had moved many Israelites to pray earnestly for God to make His presence known to them again. John was the evidence that their prayers had been heard.
One question we should ask is, who actually heard John preach? The Bible gives us the answers to this question:
1) Matthew tells us “locals” came from three different areas to hear John preach (Matt 3:5): Jerusalem, all Judaea and all the region round about Jordan.
This last group would include Samaritans and Galileans. The Gospel of John actually mentions two of the disciples from Galilee who heard and talked with John (John 1:35-42). All of the people mentioned in Matthew 3:5 would be classified as “locals.” No disciples were from Samaria but Jesus ministered to them during His ministry and there is no reason to think would have ignored John.
2) “Non-locals” also heard John. Many Jews from around the world made pilgrimages to Jerusalem as often as they could.
The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible says:
“The scattered Jews maintained strong ties with Jerusalem and the Temple. Frequent pilgrimages were made to Jerusalem for the religious festivals. Gifts of money were sent regularly to the Temple. A half-shekel was expected from the Jews of the Diaspora, but no doubt many people sent much more. Nearly every country had a collection point where the gifts were gathered, awaiting the annual journey to Jerusalem.”
The Jewish people passing through Jerusalem during the time of John’s ministry would have heard his preaching and carried his message with them as they left. In fact, one Jewish person in particular heard John preach and had even been baptized by John but had moved on to other regions before the ministry of Jesus. His name was Apollos and a brief description of his character and ministry are given in Acts 18:24-28.
APOLLOS: BELIEVED THE PREACHING OF JOHN
- He was Jewish, v. 24
- Born in Alexandra, v. 24
Alexandria was established by Alexander the Great, it was the location of the worlds first major university, the curriculum was developed by contributions from scholars from all over the world and was, therefore, very cosmopolitan.
This made Apollos more broadminded in his relationship to Gentiles. He would not have been well received by the Jews of Palestine but he was well received by the Jews dispersed throughout Gentile territory.
- He was eloquent, v. 24
- He was mighty in the Scriptures, v. 25
He had been well trained in the Scriptures, he was a capable debater and he could argue his point well.
- He taught the things of the Lord, v. 25
The question is , what things of the Lord did he teach? What did he know and where did he get his information?
- He knew only the baptism of John, v. 25
To say he knew the baptism of John is the same as saying he understood the message of John. Baptism is the means by which we identify ourselves with the message of the gospel. John’s message included the following:
- The Lord was at hand, v. 26-27
- Repentance is a requisite to salvation, Luke 3:8
- Believer’s baptism, Mark 1:5
- Principles of Christian living, Luke 3:10-14
- The preeminence of Christ, John 1:30
- The baptism of the Holy Spirit, Matthew 3:11
- Impending judgment, Matthew 3:12
- What John could not have preached were: the facts of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, the teaching of the New Testament church and the teaching on New Testament missions.
Apollos was a believer but he lacked information. He had believed what John preached and was baptized under his ministry.
Aquila and Priscilla only gave him the information John couldn’t have taught. He needed no repentance or baptism. He accepted what they told him and included the information in his message.
- His response to this additional instruction was, “he mightily convinced the Jews and that publicly, showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was Christ.” v. 28
Apollos never spoke in tongues nor did he witness anyone speaking in tongues. He didn’t need to. He accepted the truth he heard and moved forward with it.
Question: Why did Apollos go to Ephesus?
- Ephesus was a seed bed for religious activity and thought.
- There was a large Jewish community there.
- It had a synagogue.
- The largest religious shrine in Asia was built in Ephesus known as one the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
This shrine attracted many people to Ephesus to express their religious devotions making Ephesus a tremendous fishing ground for any evangelist. In fact, Paul later established a school in Ephesus in which he trained many for the ministry and even sent out many to other parts of Asia to start churches, Acts 19:9-10.
3) Jews living in distant areas were a third class of individual who heard John’s message but only through intermediaries.
John the Baptist had made a tremendous impact in a very short period of time. He preached a powerful message which changed the lives of many people and his message was carried to every community of Jews around the world.
Acts 19:1-7 describes some Jewish people who had heard about John and had begun, in their own way, to follow what they believed was John’s message. As we read the passage we realize they had not heard all the truth.
DISCIPLES: BAPTIZED IN THE NAME OF JOHN
- They didn’t hear John personally. “We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit,” v. 2
Since John mentioned the Holy Spirit, if they had heard John personally or had received complete information about his preaching they would have known of the Holy Spirit. Instead they confess that they had not even heard of Him.
- They were followers of John not Jesus, vs. 3-5
These people had been baptized in the name of John not Jesus (v. 3). Identifying with John wasn’t a bad thing to do but it wasn’t enough. John was not Jesus. These people had started in the right direction by identifying with John but needed to go further. To stay where they were would have only resulted in a “John the Baptist Cult.”
These people had heard only part of what John preached and had gotten baptized on the strength of what they had been told. So the question we would ask is: What had they heard
- What had they heard?
John was the first “man sent from God” in four hundred years, and when he began ministering he did so very convincingly. In fact, he was so powerful that some people thought he might be the Messiah. John, of course, denied it but not everyone was convinced. Several disciples continued to follow John even after Jesus began his ministry (Matt. 9:14).
Jewish people hungering for evidence that God was among them would jump at the chance of identifying with John’s ministry. The primary and dominant theme of his message was REPENTANCE and the means by which you identified with that message was BAPTISM.
These disciples are probably representative of a whole class of Jewish people who had identified with and were following John but obviously at a distance.
- They knew Judaism in principle was right.
- They also realized that Judaism in practice was faulty.
- They realized the need for repentance and had been baptized themselves to show their repentance. They were identifying with John’s separation not with Christ’s salvation. They had left Israel but had not come all the way to Christ.
- They clearly indicate that they had not heard about Christ. When Paul preached Christ to them they believed and the Bible says they were baptized (vs. 4-5).
- Paul laid hands on them to demonstrate acceptance of these people into the community of faith and they spoke in tongues.
- Why did these people speak in tongues?
Many Jewish people had become disillusioned by the hypocrisy and corruption of the Temple. Seeking something better, many had begun searching for the right way. In fact, Jewish people are mentioned several times throughout Acts 19 and in every case the context was not spiritually complementary.
Some were hardened (v. 9), some tried to usurp Apostolic authority to exorcise demons (vs. 17-19) and some were trying to publicly disassociate with Christianity (vs. 33-34). All of these experiences demonstrate a searching on the part of many Jews for some spiritual reality. Only one group is said to be identifying with a ministry that was truly from God and tongues was God’s sign indicating they were on the right track.
By this experience a “new class of Jew” would see that John’s ministry was transitional and that Christ, and later the Apostles, represented the continuation of that ministry.