A Commentary by John Stott

Acts. 20:1-21:17. More about Ephesus.

Luke now narrates how Paul left Ephesus (20:1), having spent the best part of three years there during his third missionary expedition, and then travelled from place to place until at last he reached Jerusalem (21:17). True, Luke has let us into the secret that Paul was intending after visiting Jerusalem to make for Rome (19:21). Nevertheless, it was Jerusalem which filled his vision at this stage.

In fact, it is hard to resist the conclusion that Luke sees a parallel between Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, which is prominent in his first volume, and Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, which he describes in his second. Of course the resemblance is far from being exact, and the mission of Jesus was unique; yet the correspondence between the two journeys seems too close to be coincidence. (i) Like Jesus, Paul travelled to Jerusalem with a group of his disciples (20:4ff.; cf.Lk.10:38). (ii) Like Jesus he was opposed by hostile Jews who plotted against his life (20:3, 19; cf.Lk.6:7, 11; 11:53-54; 22:1-2). (iii) Like Jesus he made or received three successive predictions of his ‘passion’ or sufferings (20:22-23; 21:4, 11; cf.Lk.9:22,44; 18:31-32) including his being handed over to the Gentiles (21:11; cf.Lk.18:32). (iv) Like Jesus he declared his readiness to lay down his life (20:24; 21:13; cf. Lk.12:50; 22:19; 23:46) (v) Like Jesus he was determined to complete his ministry and not be deflected from it (20:24; 21:13; cf. Lk.9:51). (vi) Like Jesus he expressed his abandonment to the will of God (21:14; cf. Lk. 22:42). Even if some of these details are not to be pressed, Luke surely intends his readers to envisage Paul as following in his Master’s footsteps when he ‘steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem’ (Lk.9:51, AV).

*When the uproar had ended* (1), and public order had been restored to the city of Ephesus, *Paul sent for the disciples* to come to him (was he still in hiding?) *and, after encouraging them, he said good-bye*. I image that his encouragement took the form of an exhortation similar to the one he would later give to their pastors in Miletus (20:17ff). He will have urged them to remain loyal to Christ in spite of continuing persecution and ‘to live a life worthy of [their] calling’ as God’s new and holy people (Eph. 4:1ff). Then he *set out for Macedonia*, intending to catch up with Timothy and Erastus, whom he had sent on ahead of him (19:22). Whether he went by sea or by road, he must have journeyed north, and his first main stop is likely to have been Troas. Here he had expected ‘to preach the gospel of Christ’, and indeed he ‘found that the Lord had opened a door’ for him there (2 Cor. 2:12). Unfortunately, however, he was unable to exploit this opportunity. For he had also expected to find Titus in Troas, whom he had recently sent on an important fact-finding mission to Corinth. But Titus was not there to meet him, and so, because he ‘had no peace of mind’, instead of staying to evangelize Troas, he ‘went on to Macedonia’ (2 Cor. 2:13). It was later probably in Philippi that Paul’s longed-for rendez-vous with Titus took place and his anxiety was transformed into joy (2 Cor. 7:5-16). The good news Titus brought, along with other information, prompted Paul to write what we call his second letter to the Corinthians (which was actually his fourth).
Tomorrow: Acts 20:2-6. 1). Paul in northern and southern Greece.

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.