Summary (See Acts 19)
The church at Ephesus brought revival to a pagan city and became a pillar of New Testament Christianity. It was born when Paul laid hands on twelve disciples who had only received “the baptism of John,” and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and brought into a dynamic relationship with Jesus and the Father. It is the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of Adoption,” who enables us to begin to truly know the Father and be “kept through His name,” as Jesus had prayed and Malachi had prophesied.
When Paul first came to Ephesus he found a group of about 12 disciples who had repented of their sins, been baptized by John, believed in the Messiah and the Kingdom that John had preached to them, yet had not encountered Jesus for themselves through the power of the Holy Spirit. As they said to Paul, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” Paul baptized them “in the name of the Lord Jesus,” laid hands on them, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke in tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19: 1-7). The Greek word eis, – in (the name of the Lord Jesus) – is a dynamic word, denoting purpose, entrance, and direction: they were baptised into the identity (the name) of Jesus. It does not mean that Paul was merely acting under the authority of Jesus to baptise them. Baptism into the name of Jesus was the entrance of the Ephesians into the person and authority of the Lord, and came with the full package of Holy Spirit enabling. Many churchgoers today have only really received “the baptism of John:” a repentance towards God, an intellectual belief in Christ but no dynamic relationship with Him, and no experience or understanding of the person of the Holy Spirit. But “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe.” (Prov 18:10) – or as the song translates it – “the righteous run into it and they are saved.”
Having been given the identity of Jesus, the Ephesians were able to receive His Spirit. The fruit that came from this seed was that “the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” (Acts 19:20), and included two years ministry in the city that established one of the “hub” churches of Asia, “unusual miracles” through Paul’s handkerchiefs and aprons, city-wide revival in a centre of idolatry (Ephesus was the location of the Temple of Diana, the goddess of love and fertility), the burning of many magic books, and the episode of the sons of Sceva “which became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus” with the result that “fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.” (Acts 19:17-18) In addition to the revival that took place at the time, the Letter to the Ephesians has been a pillar of New Testament Christian doctrine for centuries.
Declaring the Father
Jesus didn’t spend his ministry signing His own name on what He did: His desire was always to point to the Father. The last words of John 17 are: “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” His purpose in revealing the Father to us was, and still is, that the love that the Father has for His son Jesus will be in us as well. John 1: 12-13 says this: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Our faith towards Jesus gives us the right to call God our Father, and to take His name for ourselves as adopted children. The Son declared the name of the Father in everything He said – “whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak,” (John 12:50) and in everything He did – “the Father who dwells in Me does the works.” (John 14:10) – so that with Christ in us we can have a new identity, be filled with the Father’s love, and know “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
I’ve often heard it taught, and I’ve said it myself, that a poor relationship with our earthly father can make our heavenly Father seem remote. I no longer believe that this is true; in fact I would go so far as to say it’s a deception from the enemy. We don’t enter into sonship through a mental act of believing that God is our Father, but through the active ministry of the Holy Spirit: “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Unless we know our sonship through that witness of the Holy Spirit, we are just imagining it.
Ephesians 3:15 tells us that The Father is the one “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” Our understanding of fatherhood and our relationships with our earthly fathers are to be derived from knowing the “name” of our heavenly Father, not the other way round. Kingdom fatherhood has to be on Earth as it is in Heaven, and this can only be achieved through the infilling of the Holy Spirit. That these are the closing words of the Old Testament confirms how important it is that we understand this message, and how relevant it is for the church today:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet (the Holy Spirit)
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.
And he will turn
The hearts of the fathers to the children,
And the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4: 5-6)
The Spirit of Adoption
If we return to the beginning of this article and the first seeds of the Ephesian church, we see how baptism into the identity of Jesus is accompanied by the laying on of hands for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. As Paul is making his farewell to the Elders at Ephesus, he says: “I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27) We don’t know everything that Paul spoke about during his ministry at Ephesus, although I think it is likely that the letter to the Ephesians is a recap and pulling together of what he taught while he was there; but I think an important aspect of “the whole counsel of God” is this: faith towards and baptism into Jesus give us new wineskins that bear the name of the Father, but we need to be filled with the New Wine of the Holy Spirit as well if we want to get to know who our Father is. The twelve Ephesians received the Spirit of Adoption through the laying on of hands, and as a result many who walked in the darkness of the Temple of Diana saw the great light of Christ.
So Jesus manifested the name of the Father so that “many sons” could be “brought to glory.” (Heb 2:10) He also asks the Father to “keep” us through His name, as He also “kept” the disciples, so that we would be one as He is one with the Father: “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:11-12)
Kept by the Father
There can only be one way that Jesus kept His disciples from falling away, and that has to be by constantly revealing the Father to them through His words, and His works. As Peter said “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:68-69). The disciples weren’t “kept” by a set of beliefs and principles but by the presence and the reality of the Living God in their midst. Jesus asks His Father to carry on doing with us what He did with the twelve. We are weak and vulnerable: we cannot keep ourselves in the Truth, we cannot keep ourselves following the Way, we cannot keep ourselves in the Life. The Father has to keep us, by the power of His Spirit in us. We need to know that we depend on Him, which means listening to and doing what He says, and allowing the Holy Spirit full access into our lives. The Father who has given us His name wants us to explore our relationship with Him. The Spirit of adoption that He gives us is given without limit; all that the Father has belongs to Jesus, and we are co-heirs with Him, which means that all that the Father has is ours as well. As Jesus said right at the beginning of His ministry, the Father is “pleased to give us the Kingdom.”
We don’t get to know who the Father is through any earthly agency or in the mirror of our relationship with our natural fathers, but through the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit who pours out His love in our hearts (Romans 5:5). If we can really learn what it is to be children of God, kept by the name of the Lord of Heaven and Earth by the active agency of His own Spirit who dwells in us, we too, like those Ephesians, can turn our cities upside down through the power of the Son of God. But we won’t do it if we only operate in the baptism of John.