Monday, November 11, 2013

"Almost-Followers" of Jesus at Ephesus

Still filling in gaps in my Acts book... less than 4000 words from the target!
Acts tells us about several very interesting events during Paul’s stay at Ephesus. The first is an encounter he has with some more followers of John the Baptist, like Apollos had been. They have been baptized in the manner of John the Baptist. They are expecting the Messiah to come.

But they have not believed specifically on Jesus. Most importantly, they have not received the Holy Spirit. So Paul has them baptized in the name of Jesus. They receive the Holy Spirit. They even speak in tongues, as on the Day of Pentecost and like the first Gentiles who become believers.

Luke probably was making a point to his audience and to a group that must have continued to exist at least till the end of the first century. The Gospel of John traditionally comes from Ephesus as well, perhaps in the 90s. When we look at the way it talks about John the Baptist, it seems to distance him from Jesus.

The Gospel of John does not tell about Jesus getting baptized by the Baptist. It tells of Jesus’ disciples baptizing concurrently with him, and John immediately sends his followers to Jesus once he arrives on the scene. John the Baptist even denies being Elijah in John 1:21, something Jesus says he is in Matthew 11:14.

Why would the Gospel of John downplay John the Baptist in this way? Could it be that it was trying to make it clear to the followers of the Baptist at Ephesus that Jesus was the only way? Was the Gospel of John implying that it was not enough to follow the Baptist’s message or have the baptism of John the Baptist? You needed to follow Jesus and be baptized in Jesus’ name. “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).

These followers of John the Baptist were thus "almost-followers" of Jesus. They understood a good deal about the good news, but they had not sealed the deal. Some of them even had a fervor about what they knew. But they did not quite know enough.

There may be some in the church today who are also “almost-followers.” They may know a lot about Christianity. They may even have a zeal about what they know. But they are lacking the crucial element, the power of Jesus within them. Do they have the love of God poured out in their hearts? Do they have a form of godliness but not the power of a Spirit-led life?

We also hear about another group of “not-quite followers” at Ephesus. This is a group of Jewish exorcists. They go around casting out demons...

1 comment:

Susan Moore said...

It seems to me that Jesus is explaining in Matthew that John the Baptist is the fulfillment of Malachi's 3:1 prophesy about the coming messenger, (the coming prophet who is in the stature of importance like Elijah. The prophet's prophet, so to speak).
Those questions you ask at the end are the ones that pickled my mind the last 2.5 years. It's so sad that some of their eyes are so closed from pride that the one thing they most desire is yet the one thing they refuse to believe exists. Then without realizing it, they add insult to their own injury by refusing to acknowledge the woman that God gave to them to heal them.
We must please pray for them without ceasing.