These Jews who rejected Paul (v.8) were the ones who begged to hear more (18:19,20), but evidently they still didn’t want to hear the lowly carpenter was their Christ. So they hardened their hearts (cf.IIChron.36:11-13) against the truth, and spoke evil of “that way,” i.e., of the Lord (Jo.14:6cf.Acts 9:1,2). Some must have believed though, for Paul had “disciples” he took with him when he left (19:9). We don’t know if the school Paul joined was next to the synagogue, as in Corinth, but those unsaved Jews were surely provoked to envy when they saw the success of Paul’s school (v.10).
Once Paul popularized Jesus in Asia, men tried to capitalize on Him by associating with Him, so God gave Paul the power to do things they couldn’t (19:11,12). His old tentmaker aprons could cast devils out from a distance, something that made him stand out from the Jews in verse 13 in the way Moses stood out when God worked a special miracle by him (Ex.8:17-19).Only God could make life from dust (Gen.2:7).
These “vagabond” Jews were types of the nation Israel, who should have been in their homeland in the kingdom by this time in Acts (cf.Ezek.36:24,25). Cain was a type of them. He killed his brother, so God made him a vagabond (Gen.4: 9,12), and the Jews killed their brother Jesus, and God made them vagabonds. Judas was another type of them (Ps.109:8, 10cf.Acts 1:15-26). He had no physical kids to become vagabonds, so that psalm cursed his spiritual children, the children of Israel. The psalm’s reference to making them “desolate” should remind you of Matthew 23:37-39.
If that sounds harsh, remember, these Jews were using the name of the Christ they crucified and the apostle they persecuted to make money. But that’s the purpose of Acts: to show how low the nation of Israel had fallen, spiritually.
As the sons of a priest (Acts 19:14), these Jews should have been priests themselves in the kingdom by now, not exorcists, with Gentiles bringing them “riches” (Isa.61:6). They were exorcists before Paul (Acts 19:13), but once he made Jesus popular, they combined exorcism with His name, and regretted it (v.15,16). Possessed men had superhuman strength (Mark 5:2-4). The wounds of these men disqualified them from being priests (Lev.21:17-21). That’s where Israel stands today, defeated by the devil and disqualified from being the priests God wants them to be in the kingdom.
Job was a type of how Jews will be priests in the kingdom. He was his family’s priest and, like Sceva, had 7 sons (Job1: 2,5) who died (v.19); but after much tribulation he got 7 sons back in his “latter end” (42:12,13). Jews will get their priests back after they go through tribulation in their latter days. These Jews typified how Israel was just reaping what she sowed when one of their priests left a Gentile naked of God’s righteousness and spiritually wounded (Lu.10:30-34). As in Acts 13, Jews are judged while Gentiles are saved (19:18).
“Curious” arts (19:19,20) are black arts, i.e., dabbling with spirits—like these exorcists! Curio cabinets originally featured things people are curious about, like black arts objects. They must have been at it a long time to have that many books on it. The “deeds” they showed (v.18) were talismans they sold to ward off evil spirits. That means they “confessed” to doing what the exorcists were doing, combining Jesus with their black arts. Crucifixes are talismans that priests use to ward off evil spirits during exorcisms. When they heard what happened to the exorcists, they feared (v.17) that the devils they were trafficking with would turn on them.
If you think evil spirits can prevail (v.16) against you, v.20 says the Word prevailed against them. Of course, today they oppose us by duplicating the doctrines we teach, the way Pharaoh’s magicians withstood Moses’ miracles (IITim.3:8 cf.ITim.4:1-3). But their doctrines can’t produce eternal life, something that will be obvious in heaven, if not sooner.
A video of this sermon is available on YouTube: “Paul Goes Back To School” Acts 19:8-22