8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. – Acts 19:8-20 ESV
In Ephesus, Paul would have one of his longest and most spiritually prolific periods of ministry. He would remain in the city, ministering among its people for two years. And Luke tells us that, during that time, “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul” (Acts 19:11 ESV), and he proceeds to describe just how extraordinary they were.
…even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. – Acts 19:12 ESV
This is unlike anything we have seen up to this point in Luke’s story. While both Peter and Paul had performed miracles of all kinds, including the healing of the lame, the exorcising of demons and, in Peter’s case, the raising of someone from the dead, we have no previous mention of anyone being healed by handkerchiefs or aprons. But we do have a precedent established in Luke’s gospel, when a woman was healed simply by touching the garment of Jesus.
42 As Jesus went with him, he was surrounded by the crowds. 43 A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding, and she could find no cure. 44 Coming up behind Jesus, she touched the fringe of his robe. Immediately, the bleeding stopped.
45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.
Everyone denied it, and Peter said, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.”
46 But Jesus said, “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” 47 When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed. 48 “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” – Luke 8:42-48 NLT
The key to this woman’s healing was her faith. She believed that Jesus had the power to heal her, but was only doubtful that she might be able to get His attention. So, she simply touched His robe and was completely healed, and Jesus commended her for her faith.
It would seem that the very same thing was taking place in Ephesus. We are not told why this particular form of healing seemed to be prevalent there, but it most likely had to do with the fact that Ephesus was a hotbed of demonic activity due to the large percentage of sorcerers and magicians who practiced their trade there. The people of Ephesus were used to seeing strange and inexplicable things take place. Some, no doubt, was the result of demonic activity, while much was the work of charlatans and religious fakes. So, it would seem that God was confirming Paul’s ministry and message through these out-of-the-ordinary signs and wonders. Luke even indicates that Paul’s reputation in the city had grown to such a degree that a group of traveling Jewish exorcists tried to improve their success rate at casting out demons by saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” (Acts 19:13 NLT). Here were Jews, who didn’t believe in Jesus trying to use His name to further their own ends. And as Luke indicated earlier in this chapter, Paul had found the Jews in Ephesus resistant to his message, forcing him to abandon his efforts to reach them. He had spent three months ministering in the synagogue but had been met with met with unbelief on the part of some, who had publicly ridiculed Paul’s message regarding Jesus. As a result of the stubborn resistance of the Jews, Paul had moved his daily discussions into a public hall owned by a man named, Tyrannus. And, for two years, Paul would continue to use this facility to hold meetings with all who were interested in hearing His messages about Jesus. Luke indicates “that people throughout the province of Asia—both Jews and Greeks—heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10 NLT).
Paul’s presence was having an impact. His preaching, teaching, and miracles, all done in the power of the Spirit of God, were setting him apart and drawing crowds to hear him, in much the same way as the messages and miracles of Jesus had done. But some were drawn to Paul’s power, not his message of salvation. They were attracted to his miraculous ability to perform signs and wonders, not his offer of eternal life through Jesus Christ. And Luke describes the seven sons of Sceva, whose father was a leading Jewish priest. These men were attempting to cast out demons in the name of Jesus, but had no relationship with Jesus. And it would appear that their efforts had been successful, until one particular occasion, when they met resistance from the demon there attempting to exorcise. Now, their previous exorcisms were most likely nothing more than shams. They were simply utilizing the name of Jesus in their fake exorcisms in order to attract the attention of the people and prove that they had the same power Paul had. Since these men were not believers in Jesus, they had no power to cast out demons. And if their efforts were demonic in nature, it would have made no sense for them to cast out a demon. Jesus made this point clear when He had been accused of casting out demons in the power of Satan.
24 But when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, “No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.”
25 Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart. 26 And if Satan is casting out Satan, he is divided and fighting against himself. His own kingdom will not survive. 27 And if I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said. 28 But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you.” – Matthew 12:24-28 NLT
These men had no power to cast out demons. Satan would not have empowered then to cast out one of his own. That would have made no sense. And, as unbelievers, they had no access to the Spirit of God, so they had no ability to cast out demons by the power of God. And when they eventually ran across a real demon, they were in for a real surprise. When they had tried to cast out the demon in the name of Jesus, it had responded, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” (Acts 19:15 NLT), and then, Luke records that the demon-possessed man attacked them. They ended up running for their lives, beaten and stripped of all their clothes. They discovered the true nature of spiritual warfare. It is not a show or a game to be played. And Paul would later write to the believers in Ephesus, warning them:
10 Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:10-12 NLT
Demonic activity must have been high in Ephesus. And with the increase in the number of believers, the resistance on the part of Satan grew in strength and intensity. The encounter of the seven sons of Sceva with the demon had made an impact. It left the people in even great awe of Jesus. It attracted more people to the teaching of Paul. And Luke indicates that many of those who had placed their faith in Christ confessed their sinful practices, most likely a reference to their participation in sorcery and the occult. No doubt, some of those who had been involved in exorcisms, witchcraft and demonic activity, had a change of heart when they saw what had happened to Sceva’s seven sons. And as these individuals came to faith in Christ, they were moved by the Spirit of God to change their behavior. And Luke reports that their life change was tangible and costly.
19 A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. – Acts 19:19 NLT
They were giving up their old ways. They were turning from darkness to the light. And Luke tells us that their visible signs of repentance and rejection of their former lifestyles caught the attention of others in the city. As a result, “the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect” (Acts 19:20 NLT). The message of the gospel was leaving its mark. Not only were people coming to faith in Jesus, they were experiencing remarkable transformations in the way they lived they lived their lives. It was not going to business as usual. The indwelling presence of the Spirit of God was empowering these people to experience new life in Christ. And Paul would later write about this life-transforming power.
17 …anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 NLT
New life. New nature. New hope. New power. The old life is gone; a new life has begun. That is the message of the gospel.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.