It would seem from the connection that the few disciples whom Paul found at Ephesus had been gathered by the preaching of Apollos. This man, a Jew of Alexandria, eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures, on his coming to Ephesus, spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John; and the twelve men, in reply to Paul's question, "Unto what then were ye baptised?" said, "Unto John's baptism." There was therefore entire correspondence between these converts and their teacher Apollos. It is quite true that the latter was subsequently instructed in the way of God more perfectly; but evidently the souls of his converts had been formed by his teaching at the outset. It is often so even now, that the gospel which is first used in the conversion of souls goes far to determine the character of their Christian life. The nature of the start frequently decides the whole of the believer's course, and hence the importance of the proclamation of a full gospel.
But these converts were not yet on Christian ground, and thus they were open to further teaching. They are called disciples, for they had received, through grace, the only testimony to Christ they had yet heard. It was on this account that Paul could illustrate in their case his own principle. "Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule," or, "in the same steps." He therefore sought them out, and, while bent on leading them on, acknowledged them as disciples. To discover their state, he tested them with the all-important question - a question which many professed believers of the present day would find it difficult to answer - Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" Their answer was, "We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost," or rather, "If the Holy Ghost is [come]?" Of the death and resurrection of our blessed Lord, of the gift of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, they had not heard; and consequently they were, if Jews, Jews still, in the same position as were those with whom the Lord, in His blessed grace, identified Himself when He was baptized. (Matt. 3.)
Paul seized the opportunity of unfolding to them the truths of Christianity, for doubtless verse 4 gives but a summary of what he explained. Their condition of soul is revealed by the fact that they instantly bowed to the new testimony, and "were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." When the servant is walking in communion with the mind of His Lord, he ever finds that the Holy Spirit has gone before him to prepare souls for his message. This is a great encouragement in the path of devotedness to His glory. Paul then laid his hands upon them, and "the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied." This marked sign and display of the Spirit's power and presence corresponded with His first bestowal on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:4.) In this manner these disciples passed off Jewish ground and became Christians, for they were no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit, because the Spirit of God now dwelt in them.* (Rom. 8:9.)
*As an instance of the perversion of Scripture to sustain special theories, it may be mentioned that one of the most popular preachers of the day adduces this incident to prove the difference between the ordinary reception of; and being filled with, the Holy Ghost. He says, in a little book which has been circulated by thousands, "The apostle surely did not mean to ask whether they had received the special gifts of the Spirit. Their reply, at least, does not indicate that they so understood him. He wanted only to learn whether they had received that filling of the Holy Ghost which was the main feature of Pentecost." In such a manner this writer entirely obliterates the distinction between the testimony and baptism of John the Baptist and Christian testimony and baptism, as also between the operations of the Holy Spirit in past dispensations and His indwelling now in believers!
An event of great importance is, in the next place, recorded. According to the custom of the apostle, he sought out the Jews in their synagogues, "and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God." But as in Corinth, so here, his faithful and persistent testimony excited the enmity of the carnal mind, for "divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude." This led the apostle to the decisive step of departing from them, and of separating the disciples. A new epoch was thus commenced. Hitherto the converts from among the Jews seemed to have maintained their place in the synagogue; but now the time had arrived when believers in Christ must be in distinct separation from His enemies, and must be gathered on the ground of the assembly. God had borne with His ancient people in much longsuffering; and Paul, animated with intense affection for his kinsmen according to the flesh, had gone in and out among them hoping against hope that their hearts would be opened to receive his message. But now even he was compelled to come to the conclusion that the Lord would have him, in his ministry, entirely apart from the synagogue, and consequently he withdrew the disciples from their old associations, and retired with them to "the school of one Tyrannus."
Ephesus is signalised therefore as being the first place where believers were gathered in separation. It was the church at Ephesus, moreover, which so prospered in the spiritual life as to be able to receive the epistle that unfolds to us the highest privileges of saints as members of the body of Christ. If, on the one hand, Christ is seen in it as set at God's right hand in the heavenlies, far above all principality and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that is to come, with all things put under His feet, and given to be Head over all things to the church; on the other hand, the church is presented as His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. (Eph. 1:20-23.) Alas! it was at Ephesus also that the bitter root of the church's decline and corruption was first unbared in the words, "Nevertheless I have against thee that thou hast left thy first love." (Rev. 2:4.) Laodicea, with all its nauseousness to Christ, because of its lukewarm condition, was but the full-blown development of Ephesus' loss of heart for Christ. Let us learn well that no amount of light and knowledge can compensate for the lack of spiritual affections. If Christ cease to have His due place in the heart, we are already, whether as assemblies or as individuals, in the path of the backslider.
It is not without significance that Paul's withdrawal from the synagogue was followed by a striking display of the Spirit's power. The word spread abroad, during the two years he continued in the school of Tyrannus, as never before - "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks." There was no need to adopt new methods of labour, or novel means of publicity; the Word of God was its own witness, accompanied as it was by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, and souls were attracted, as they will always be attracted, to the place where life and power are manifested. Secondly, "God wrought special miracles ("no ordinary miracles") by the hands of Paul: so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them." The reader will be interested in comparing with this statement the account of the extraordinary energy of the Spirit flowing out through Peter and the other apostles in Acts 5 (vv. 12, 16); and it is to be noted that there, as in Ephesus, the phrase is employed - "by the hands of the apostles" showing that, whoever the servant, he was but the instrument or channel of the divine power.
How different, how necessarily different, from the miracles of the Lord Jesus, who wrought them, while ever doing the will of God, in the rights of His own person! Even in Mark, where He is presented as the Servant, when the woman of Galilee came and touched His clothes, and was straightway healed, it is said "Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that virtue had gone out of Him;" and in the next chapter (6) He confers upon His disciples the power which He Himself possessed to cast out unclean spirits. It is the same, indeed, in every gospel; and in John He confronted the Jews with the challenge, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" - speaking of the temple of His body. True, blessedly true it is, that in coming into this world He took the place of perfect dependence and obedience; but it is also true that the lower the place He took the more fully His divine glory streamed out before the eye of faith. As another has said, "Grace is in the humbled and obedient Man; there it is what God is shines out. . . . God is revealed in what He was in a lowly Man, and by His being a lowly Man; and surely if grace is, that is grace." Understanding this, the difference between His miracles and those of the apostles will be at once appreciated.
The activity of the Spirit of God through Paul called forth the antagonism of Satan, and he attempted to discredit Paul's work through "certain vagabond Jews, exorcists," who "took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus." This machination was defeated, and Satan's agents were confounded by the very evil spirit they were seeking to expel. The effect was to further the gospel in a three-fold way; first, the tidings of what had happened to the sons of Sceva spread throughout the city, and fear fell on both Jews and Greeks, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified; next, those that believed were so wrought upon that they dissociated themselves entirely from their former magical practices, while some of them brought their costly books connected with their "curious arts," and burned them before all men; and, lastly, it is added, "so mightily grew the word of God and prevailed." Satan thus discomfited, after a pause during which mention is made of Paul's "purpose in the spirit" to visit Jerusalem and Rome, stirred up a popular tumult against the new teaching through Demetrius the silversmith. But He, who had formerly stilled the storm on the lake of Galilee, quelled also these angry billows, and delivered His servants and His people from the impending peril. The apostle's work, however, in Ephesus was now ended, and hence, "after the uproar was ceased," he "called unto him the disciples, and embraced them, and departed for to go into Macedonia." (20:1.)