|(a) Acts 18:1-19:7|
(b) 1 Corinthians 16:19
(c) Romans 16:3-4
(d) 2 Timothy 4:19
Occasionally like to do a biographical series on the great heroes of faith in the Bible, people like Moses, or Elijah, or the Apostle Paul. The series I have chosen for the coming weeks is on heroes of another sort, the great unknown heroes, those whose names pop up only once or twice in the Bible, people who are generally ignored in our neatly packaged Sunday School lessons, because they are not associated with any miracle or any other sort of spectacular event. Some were well known in their day, but virtually unknown in our day, while others worked quietly behind the scenes, making an extraordinary difference in the life and history of the church, but receiving very little credit.
The folks I would like to have us look at this morning are such a couple, husband and wife, quietly working in the background, shunning the public recognition they well deserve. They are Aquila and Priscilla.
We first meet them in Acts 18, during Paul's 2nd missionary journey....
You may want to follow along with me on the map inserted with your bulletin, or better yet, if your personal Bible has a map of Paul's missionary journeys, use that.
Just to review basic geography here, you are looking at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. At the bottom of the map you see the north coast of Africa, with Libya in the middle, and Egypt on the right. The three prominent pieces of land in the top part of the map, are Italy on the left, Greece in the middle, and Turkey on the right. Greece was called Macedonia in the north and Achaia in the south. And Turkey wasn't called Turkey in those days. Rather, it was made up of a lot of smaller provinces, including Pontus in the north east, Galatia in the middle, and the province in the west was called Asia.
The starting point for all three of Paul's mission trips was Antioch, in Syria. On his second trip he went north, overland, through his home town of Tarsus, and then west along the southern edge of Turkey. It was his intent simply to travel around the perimeter of Turkey, counter clockwise. But as he approached Asia, the Spirit of God convinced him that he was not supposed to go that way. So simply headed north toward the Black Sea, toward what he intended to be his next stop. But again the Spirit of God stopped him and convinced him that he wasn't suppose to go there, either. Well, he wasn't ready to go back home again, so he turned and headed west once again, and wound up at the sea coast in a town called Troas. There the Lord showed him quite clearly that he was suppose to go over to Greece, and bring the Gospel to them. Which he did.
Paul had some pretty spectacular experiences in Macedonia, one of which you got in your Sunday school lessons,. Then he went south, and preached a rousing sermon to the intellectuals of Athens, and got a very lukewarm response. The he came to Corinth, a city of commerce and culture, the best and the worst of both, where the story now picks up.
1 After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth.
2 And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them.
3 So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers.
4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.
Here we first meet Aquila and Priscilla. And in just two verses we have significant information about them, and we also now know something about Paul that we didn't know before, something that is never mentioned again anywhere else in the Bible. Paul was a tentmaker by trade, as were Aquila and Priscilla. They had so much in common: Like Paul, Aquila and Priscilla were devoted Jews. Like Paul they were originally from eastern Turkey, calling home an area outside of Israel. Like Paul they were well educated international travelers, fluent in several languages. Like Paul they had the same profession. And like Paul, they worshipped the Lord Jesus as Messiah, and they had a passion for sharing Him with others, as we will see as we go on. No wonder they hit it off so well.
There are some things about Aquila and Priscilla we don't know. If they were from Pontus, why were they living in Rome? And if they were Christians, when did they become Christians? And why did Emperor Claudius expel them and all Jews from the city of Rome? Ah, for the answer to that question we go to the history books, particularly the ancient historian of Roman history, Cornelius Tacitus, who reports that Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because the Jews were embroiled in a public squabble over the leadership of someone named Christ.
Who were these Jewish Christians in Rome? How did the Christian faith get planted there so early after the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus? Paul hadn't been there yet. If you look in the list of nations and international cities represented in the Pentecost converts in Acts chapter 1, you find there a contingent of Jewish Romans who took their faith back to Rome with them. And there the Gospel spread, and touched many, including Priscilla and Aquila. And when those who stood with Jesus and those who stood against Him became a public spectacle, Emperor Claudius order all the Jews to leave Rome. Aquila and Priscilla where heading back east, when they ran into Paul in Corinth. And since they didn't have anything else demanding their time and attention at the moment, they worked in support of his missionary efforts.
Reading on Acts 18:
5 When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.
6 But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, "Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles."
7 And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshipped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue.
8 Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. [A ruler of the synagogue had two primary responsibilities. One was the care of the building and property. The other was that he appointed people to read the Scriptures and pray. He usually invited qualified visiting teachers, such as Paul, to give a sermon. As we will soon see, it appears that the Corinthian synagogue was large enough to require the services of two or more “rulers.”] And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.
9 Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent;
10 "for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city."
11 And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
12 When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia [the southern province of Greece], the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him to the judgment seat,
13 saying, "This fellow persuades men to worship God contrary to the law."
14 And when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, "If it were a matter of wrongdoing or wicked crimes, O Jews, there would be reason why I should bear with you.
15 "But if it is a question of words and names and your own law, look to it yourselves; for I do not want to be a judge of such matters."
16 And he drove them from the judgment seat.
17 Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, [or in our way of stating it, we might say, other ruler of the synagogue, since there was very likely more than than one] and beat him before the judgment seat. But Gallio took no notice of these things.
18 So Paul still remained a good while. Then he took leave of the brethren and sailed for Syria [i.e. Antioch], and Priscilla and Aquila were with him....
19 And he came to Ephesus, and left them there; but he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.
20 When they asked him to stay a longer time with them, he did not consent,
21 but took leave of them, saying, "I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing." And he sailed from Ephesus.
Paul, Timothy, and Silas continue their journey back to Antioch, while Priscilla and Aquila stayed to teach and firmly establish the church in Ephesus. Elsewhere in the Bible, we are told that Ephesian church continued to meet in Priscilla and Aquila's home. While Paul is away, something interesting happens.
24 Now a certain Jew named Apollos [Another Jew with a Greek name], born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus.
I shall refrain from saying much about Apollos at this time. We will do a study about him in the future. Suffice it to say that hee was a good speaker, and a good teacher. He not only knew the OT scriptures, but he knew how to teach it, and he apparently loved to teach.
25 This man had been instructed
in the way of the Lord;
and being fervent in spirit, he spoke
and taught accurately the things of the Lord [Jesus*],
he knew only the baptism of John.
(*as several manuscripts say)
What's happening here? Apollos comes to town teaching about Jesus, but He has only part of the story, the part that he had gotten either from John the Baptizer, or from one of John's disciples.
Let me illustrate the situation this way:
You recall from your lessons on American History, that at in 1775, on the two days before the Battle of Lexington and Concord, where the first shots were fired in the American Revolution, one silversmith and patriot named Paul Revere road though the streets and down the highways shouting, “The Redcoats are coming! The Redcoats are coming!” alerting the citizen militia, the Minute Men, to prepare themselves for battle.
Now imagine with me that some boy hears that cry of Paul Revere as his horse gallops down the main road, and that the boy immediately thinks of some folks he knows who live on one of the back roads who needs to know the news. So the boy gets on his pony and gallops down the back road repeating Paul Revere's cry, “The Redcoats are coming! The Redcoats are coming!” And then someone who hears the boy's announcement thinks of someone else further inland who needs to know, and they get on their horse...
Now let's jump ahead twenty years to 1795. The war is over, the US Constitution has been ratified as the law of the land, George Washington is serving his second term as President, and settlers are beginning their westward migration. Imagine now, one of those settlers meeting an exciting messenger carrying the news, “The Redcoats are coming! The Redcoats are coming!” Hey, fella, I got news for you. The Redcoats already came and went. The war has been fought and we won!
Thanks kind of the situation that Priscilla and Aquila faced when they first met Apollos. He had the message of John the Baptizer, “The Messiah is coming! The Messiah is coming!”
26 So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
Notice what Aquila and Priscilla didn't do. They didn't run out and compare notes with their other Christian friends and commiserate and critic Apollos behind his back. They didn't publicly rebuke him. They didn't take notes on Apollos' errors and have them published for criticism and ridicule.
they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
After Paul left, the Church in Ephesus met Aquila and Pricilla's home. In all likelihood, they invited Apollos to their home, fed him dinner, and simply shared with him the rest of the story, The Messiah has come. He was crucified for our forgiveness, sacrificed as the perfect Lamb of God, just as John had predicted. He was raised again on the third day, and showed Himself alive to many. He ascended into heaven, sent the Holy Spirit to all who believe in Him, and He will return again as Judge and Savior at the end of the age.
And no doubt, Apollos responded with an Alexandrian form of “Yee-Ha!” Just as with Paul, when first became a Christian, all those prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament finally became so obvious, so clear, so good. And immediately started teaching what he had just learned.
27 And when he desired to cross
to Achaia, the brethren
[i.e. Aquila, Priscilla, and others we
will meet in a moment] wrote, exhorting the
disciples [in Corinth]
to receive him; and when he
arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed
28 for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.
Apollos was able to pick up where Paul had left off. Paul was forced to leave by hostile unbelievers. Apollos was able to encourage the Christians with the clear evidence of Scriptures that what Paul had taught them about Jesus was absolutely true.
Notice that Aquila and Priscilla knew the Lord Jesus and the Scriptures as well as Apollos. They could have taught the masses as well as Apollos. But they didn't. That wasn't their calling. No doubt they led small Bible studies in their home. But the evidence of their primary roles in the New Testament Church were to be supporters and encouragers for those whom God had called to be in public view. And they served well.
Now to finish the story:
1 And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples
2 he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" So they said to him, "We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit."
3 And he said to them, "Into what then were you baptized?" So they said, "Into John's baptism."
4 Then Paul said, "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus."
5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
6 And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.
7 Now the men were about twelve in all.
While Apollos was following in Paul's tracks in Corinth, Paul was following in Apollos' tracks in Ephesus. Paul had the privilege of doing for these twelve what Priscilla and Aquilla had done for Apollos, introducing them to the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Lord Jesus Christ, and a baptism that unites them not with Israelites fleeing Egypt, but with Jesus.
Paul worked in Ephesus from two and a half to three years....
21 When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia [Corinth], to go to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome."
Paul didn't leave right away. He continued to serve in Ephesus for a while, and then he did as he planned: He went up to Macedonia, then down to Corinth. There he stopped long enough to dictate a long letter to the church in Rome, alerting them that he planned to come visit, and to let them know what they could expect from him: Basic LAW and GOSPEL. And that is our New Testament letter to the Romans in our Bible.
Turn with me to the last chapter of Romans, where Paul is extending greetings to everyone he knows who lives there. Look who's first on the list:
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus,
4 who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.
5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.
From Pontus, to Rome, to Corinth, to Ephesus, now back to Rome. Priscilla and Aquila were not the couriers of Paul's letter to the Romans. In verse one you see that a lady named Phoebe served as letter carrier. Priscilla and Aquila were already back in Rome, and using their home again. It is my guess that the Jews returned to Rome after the demise of Emperor Claudius, and Rome had a new Emperor, one named Nero. Little did anyone know...
By the way, if you read that long list of greetings in Romans 16, you meet a large number of Paul's own relatives, about whom nothing else is said in Scripture. It sure does pique my curiosity.
When Paul finally did arrive in Jerusalem, he was arrested, and held in prison for two years, before being shipped off to Rome for a trial before Emperor Nero. After another two years, Paul was granted his freedom, and he resumed traveling as a missionary of the Gospel. The book of Acts does not give us any more information, but we do learned quite a bit about Paul's travels, and his traveling companions.
Aquila and Priscilla appear one more time in Paul's
the end of his life, he sends
greetings to them through Timothy (2 Timothy 4:19), who is serving
somewhere in province of Asia. My
guess is that Aquila and Priscilla were forced to flee Rome at the
onset of Nero's persecution of
Christians in Rome.
Now that's more than you ever wanted to know.
We tend to raise people like Paul on a pedestal, forgetting the host of folks who made his work possible, folks like Aquila and Priscilla are mature in faith, unstoppable in their commitment, unfailing in encouragement and support of the church and her pastors, teachers, and missionaries. Such are many of you.