Acts 18:23 – 21:16
Paul embarked on this third journey from Antioch in the spring of A.D. 53. Once again he headed north through the Cilician Gates to visit the churches of southern Galatia and Phrygia that he had established already on his first missionary journey. His ultimate destination, though, appears to have been Ephesus.
It was the foremost city of Asia Minor in Paul’s day, and was situated on the mouth of the Cayster River, which empties into the Aegean Sea. The importance of the city was threefold – commercial, religious, and political. The city was directly on the great trade route that passed through Asia Minor from Mesopotamia.
Its magnificent harbor was dredged regularly to maintain against silting so that the ships would not get stuck. The harbor was ideally situated on the north-south route along Asia Minor’s coast. Eventually, though, neglect of the harbor led to the demise of the city itself.
As a religious center, Ephesus was the guardian of the temple of Artemis (Diana), the mother goddess of the region. According to legend, her image fell from heaven and was maintained in a splendid temple. An annual spring festival devoted to the worship of Artemis included athletic, dramatic, and musical contests.
The city was politically important as the capital of the Roman province of Asia, and it was there that the Roman governor resided. Its theater seated 25,000, and the marble-paved Arcadian Way led westward to the harbor directly from the theater.
Paul spent about 3 years ministering in Ephesus, which was longer than any other city. He obviously recognized the strategic importance of Ephesus for reaching all of the province with the gospel. The Bible says that during his two years of teaching in the school of Tyranus, “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10).
Paul had a team that helped him in this outreach that consisted of: Timothy, Erastus, Gaius, and Aristarchus. It was probably during this period that the churches of the Lycus Valley were founded. These were: Hierapolis, Laodicea, and Colossae.
In the spring of A.D. 56 during his ministry there, Paul responded to some troubling reports he had received concerning the church at Corinth. It was from Ephesus that Paul wrote what we now know of as First Corinthians. He rebuked the church divisions and disorders and replied to a number of questions the Corinthians had raised.
After a successful time of teaching and preaching at Ephesus, there had been many people saved. Some of the silversmiths that made idols were hurting financially because of the vast number of Christians. They decided to cause trouble for him, which eventually led to his departure from the city.
He then went to Macedonia and visited the churches at Philippi and Thessalonica that had been established on his second journey. He wrote what is now Second Corinthians while he was in Macedonia in the autumn of A.D. 56. This letter was to correct some misunderstandings regarding his authority and ministry and to encourage them to save money to donate to the Jerusalem saints when he came.
After a stay in Macedonia, he journeyed south to Corinth, and it was here that he wrote his Epistle to the Romans some time during the winter of A.D. 56/57. His purpose in writing this letter was to set forth a thorough statement of the gospel message and to prepare the church for his intended visit.
Paul then headed north again from Corinth to Macedonia, and sailed from Philippi to Troas, where he spent a week ministering before he continued south by ship along the coast. His destination was Jerusalem, and he wanted to arrive in time for the feast of Pentecost. He did pause long enough, though at Miletus to summon the elders of the church at Ephesus and bid them farewell.
He departed there and sailed to Caesarea, ministering there for several days before going on the Jerusalem. He arrived in the Holy City in late May, A.D. 57.
His third journey from Antioch to Jerusalem, had taken four years and he had traveled approximately 2,700 miles.
Below is a map.