Apollos was from Alexandria (18:24), home of the world’s largest library. But being a bookworm of the Bible is what made him “mighty in the Scriptures.” Then, when he heard of “the baptism of John” (v.25), he knew it was time to go preach the kingdom he’d read about in Scripture all his life.
But if all he knew was John’s baptism, he didn’t know the King had come and been rejected, and the kingdom was on hold; but he met some grace folk who knew it (v.26)! Paul led them to Christ (18:1-3), and taught them all that Apollos didn’t know. Then they taught it to Apollos—including how God reacted to the Jews rejecting their kingdom by sending Paul to preach salvation without John’s baptism.
Once Apollos knew all that, he went to Corinth in Achaia (18:27cf.19:1), where he helped the grace believers there by convincing the unsaved Jews that Jesus was Christ (v.28). That made them stop persecuting them. That’s how Apollos watered the seed of the gospel Paul planted there (ICor.3:6).
Meanwhile, Paul met some believers who evidently couldn’t speak in tongues (Acts 19:1-3). He knew that Jews baptized unto Peter were baptized with the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38) and could speak in tongues (2:1-4), so he asked them what they were baptized unto. They replied they hadn’t heard if there “be any Holy Ghost.” The Spirit is mentioned in the Old Testament often, but the mystery is mentioned often in the New Testament, and many believers haven’t heard of it.
John mentioned the Spirit (Mt.3:11), but he didn’t start out saying Christ would come and baptize them with the Holy Ghost (John 1:35-42). So these Jews here were early converts of John who hadn’t heard of the Holy Ghost. That means they didn’t know John later baptized Jews in Christ’s name, so Paul brought them up to date (v.4), adding that when people heard John say that, they were baptized (v.5).
Why would Paul give them the Holy Ghost (v.6)? Why wouldn’t he? Wouldn’t you help Jewish kingdom believers in the Tribulation if God left you behind at the Rapture?
Some Bible teachers teach Paul rebaptized those Jews in verse 5, but John’s baptism was for salvation (Mark 1:4), and you only need to get saved once. There’d have been no reason for Paul to rebaptize them. Andrew and Peter were baptized by John (John 1:35-42), and they weren’t rebaptized. Verse 7 ends this passage by telling us that there were 12 of these Jews, and 12 is the number of Israel (Gen.49:28; Mt.19:28). This is to emphasize that John’s baptism was Jewish. Despite many Gentiles who look to him as the first Baptist, he only baptized Jews (Acts 13:24).
This passage starts with a man stuck on John’s baptism and ends with more men stuck on it. That’s a type of how this dispensation began with men who found it hard to leave baptism behind when the dispensation of grace began, and how it will end with more men stuck on it. They’ll depart from the faith Paul preached (ITim.4:1), salvation without baptism. Baptism has a form of godliness (IITim.3:1,2,5).
The middle of this passage also pictures what’s happening in between the beginning and end of this dispensation. Paul went to Ephesus (19:1), and later wrote the Ephesians that there’s only one baptism in this dispensation (Eph.4:4,5), the spiritual baptism of I Corinthians 12:13.
Paul had to pass through “the upper coasts” to get to Ephesus (Acts 19:1), and when Paul preached, he bought people into the upper heavens, the third heaven, as pictured when he preached in Acts 20:7-9, where it talks about “the upper chamber” and “the third loft.” Like Eutychus, the church of today is falling asleep under Paul’s preaching. And at the end of this dispensation, it will fall from the third heaven where Pauline preaching takes us, and they’ll go back to preaching baptism for the remission of sins again like John preached.
A video of this sermon is available on YouTube: “The Perfecting Of A Bookworm” Acts 18:24-19:7