We often view the city as a place of political, cultural, and economic power struggles. We know this is the case. But the book of Acts shows us that there is a more fundamental struggle going on. This is the struggle between light and darkness, between Christ and his enemies. The power struggle in the city is spiritual in nature.
Acts 19 is the account of the Apostle Paul’s two-year ministry in the city of Ephesus. During this time, he reasoned daily in the local lecture hall. The result was that people from the whole region heard the word of the Lord, and many came to faith in Christ.
Eventually, the truth Paul preached clashed with the powers of the city. A political struggle ensued. If people listened to Paul and confessed Jesus as Lord, were they violating some local ordinance or being disloyal to Rome?
The culture of the day was a way of life based on obtaining favor from the gods and power for living by keeping up a long-established system of religious observance. If people confessed Jesus as Lord, this culture was threatened. Some in the city fought for this culture to remain intact, which put them at odds with Christ.
The cultural and religious practices of Ephesus brought economic prosperity to the craftsman who provided trinkets to the masses that flocked to the city and the temple of the goddess Artemis. If Jesus is worshipped, Artemis isn’t, and the money dries up.
Do you see the common thread in these struggles? The confession that Jesus is Lord has political, cultural, and economic impact, but it is essentially spiritual in nature. The opposition that Paul faced in Ephesus was spiritual at the core. The spiritual forces of darkness opposed the lordship of Jesus and the message of salvation in him.
We know this not only from the narrative of Acts 19, but also from the letter written to the Ephesian church after these events took place. Paul directly tells the church in Ephesus that the main struggle in the city is not with flesh and blood (humans and human institutions), but with spiritual forces of darkness and evil that oppose Christ, and also the good of the people (Ephesians 6:12).
Since this is the power struggle of the city, Christians and the church must take up the right kind of weaponry for battle. What is that? Gospel truth. Christians, filled with the power of God’s Spirit, take up the truth of Christ, which is righteousness, peace, and salvation in him. We go with the word of God, called the sword of the Spirit, right into the cities in which we live. We confess Jesus as Lord and call others to join us by grace through faith.
Doing so amounts to a power struggle with the evil one, who seeks to dethrone Christ and keep people in darkness. But God’s eternal plan is to enthrone his Son as Lord and free the captives to worship him for all eternity. The times in which we live involve a great power struggle. The time ahead will reveal Jesus as the Victor and evil’s final defeat.