What happened on Paul's third missionary journey?Here is a map to help the reader follow along:
After updating his home church in Antioch in Syria of the things God had done during his second missionary journey, Paul departed again on a third journey to strengthen the churches he had planted previously. This journey is recorded in Acts 18:23—21:17.
In approximately AD 52, Paul went through Galatia visiting the churches in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in Turkey which he had planted during his first missionary journey five years before. He then went to Ephesus where he had spent a significant amount of time during his second missionary journey. There, he met twelve men who had been instructed by another Jewish believer, Apollos. Unfortunately, at the time, Apollos only knew Jesus' story up to John's baptism, so he had only taught the twelve men about the baptism of repentance. The twelve men had not been born again by faith in Christ's sacrifice on the cross, nor had they received the Holy Spirit. Paul explained to them the complete gospel message. The men were baptized "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:5). Paul then laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit, spoke in tongues, and prophesied as a sign of their new life in Christ.
Paul spent three months preaching in the synagogue in Ephesus, but when the people "became stubborn and continued in unbelief," Paul withdrew with the disciples and began "reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus" (Acts 19:9). He continued teaching and doing extraordinary miracles there for two years until all the people in the area had heard the word of the Lord. During this time, seven sons of the Jewish high priest Sceva tried to capitalize on Paul's fame by using Jesus' and Paul's names to perform an exorcism. The evil spirit acknowledged the authority of Jesus' name and knew of Paul, but it did not know or submit to the sons of Sceva. Instead, it attacked the seven men who eventually fled the house naked and wounded. When the Ephesians learned of the incident, Jesus' name was revered all the more and many who practiced magic arts repented of their ways and even burned their books (Acts 19:13–19). It is also during this time in Ephesus that Paul wrote the letter that is First Corinthians.
After these events in Ephesus, Paul felt led by the Holy Spirit to continue his missionary journey, then return to Jerusalem, and eventually make his way to Rome (Acts 19:21). In preparation, he sent Timothy and Erastus ahead to Macedonia. While Paul stayed behind in Ephesus, a silversmith, Demetrius, who made his living fashioning idols to the goddess Artemis, incited a riot against Paul because Paul's preaching threatened their way of life. After several hours of rioting, the town clerk was able to calm the crowd and send everyone home, instructing them to bring their grievances against Paul to court for a proper hearing. Paul then quietly bid farewell to the disciples in Ephesus and sailed to Macedonia where he wrote his letter that is Second Corinthians while visiting the churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, before finally making his way to Corinth. (Acts 19:23—20:3).
After three months in Corinth, where Paul wrote the letter that is Romans, he planned to sail to Syria. However, he discovered a plot by the non-believing Jews to waylay him on the voyage, so he decided instead to return through Macedonia, retracing his steps through Berea, Thessalonica, and Philippi. In Philippi, he met up with Luke and observed Passover. The two then set sail to Troas where they met up with traveling companions on their way to Jerusalem from various churches. These church representatives were probably bringing monetary gifts to the persecuted church in Jerusalem. They spent one week in Troas and on the final day Paul preached late into the night. A young man, Eutychus, who had been listening from a third story windowsill, fell asleep and plummeted to the ground below where he died. Paul, however, raised him from the dead, served communion, and continued preaching until daybreak. This miracle was a great encouragement to the believers in Troas. (Acts 20:3–12).
Paul walked to Assos while the rest of the traveling companions sailed to that port and took Paul aboard there. They then sailed to Miletus near Ephesus making a few stops along the way. Paul was in a rush to arrive in Jerusalem in time for Pentecost, so rather than visiting Ephesus where he would feel compelled to stay longer than he wished, he chose to have the elders of the church in Ephesus meet him in Miletus for a final word of encouragement and farewell. (Acts 20:13–38).
Paul, Luke, and their companions then continued to sail to Tyre in Syria making short stops in Cos, Rhodes, and Patara along the way. They stayed in Tyre seven days. Many disciples there urged Paul not to go into Jerusalem where he was sure to face persecution. Paul, however, continued on his journey, sailing to Ptolemais and then to Caesarea. During his stay in Caesarea, a Jewish prophet named Agabus prophesied that Paul would be bound and delivered into the hands of the Gentiles when he went into Jerusalem (Acts 21:10–11). The disciples continued to try to dissuade Paul from entering Jerusalem, but Paul declared, "I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 21:13). Seeing that Paul could not be persuaded, the disciples stopped arguing with him and said, "Let the will of the Lord be done" (Acts 21:14). Paul and the disciples then entered Jerusalem where the fellow believers received them gladly. Thus ended Paul's third missionary journey around AD 56, approximately four years after he had left his home church in Antioch in Syria.
Paul's third missionary journey is an example for believers in many ways. His visiting churches he had previously planted shows the importance of reconnecting with and encouraging new believers. Paul's interaction with the twelve men in Ephesus shows how different people can be instrumental in the process of bringing others to faith. The incident with the seven sons of Sceva shows the importance of partnering in relationship with God to do His work rather than simply trying to use His name. The fact that many who practiced magic arts turned from their ways and repented shows that anyone can repent and be saved no matter their past. Paul's reliance on the Holy Spirit to direct his travel plans and tell him when to move on exemplifies the extent to which all believers should trust God's direction. The encouragement the disciples in Troas received from witnessing the miracle of Paul raising Eutychus from the dead should be an inspiration to all readers to trust our miracle-working, life-giving God. The Ephesian elders' willingness to travel to Miletus to bid farewell to Paul should encourage others to leave their comfort zone to both receive teaching from and be a blessing to leaders in the faith. Paul's time in Tyre where he refused to be dissuaded from following God's plan is an example to stand firm against opposition. His commitment to obey God even in the face of persecution and extreme danger should inspire believers to continue to walk with God even into hard situations. And finally, the warm reception Paul received from the persecuted and impoverished believers in Jerusalem should remind readers to be hospitable even when there is not much to offer.
Although Paul was eventually imprisoned and turned over to the Gentile authorities just like Agabus had prophesied, in Acts 23:11 God confirmed that it was all part of His plan and that He would safely deliver Paul to Rome to continue sharing the good news of the gospel. Thus readers can be assured Paul's third missionary journey, including its end in Jerusalem, was just as God deemed it should be.
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