“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
Paul begins this part of his farewell by telling the Ephesian elders that they will never see him again, and as we see in Acts 21:11, he has in mind a prophecy about coming troubles in Jerusalem, to which he is about to travel. He continues by warning them that they will be dealing with “savage wolves” that will come upon the church after he leaves. Clearly, these “wolves” are false teachers, many of whom will arise from among the believers themselves, who will seek to lead the entire flock astray.
Looking at these verses, we can see that Paul has been warning the leaders about this for quite some time, and while his presence has kept false teaching at bay for three years, it will soon be up to them to protect their flock as a shepherd protects his. In all of this, Paul makes a curious point: He is not to blame for what is coming, precisely because of his continual warnings, and the fact that he has ensured that they all understand God’s entire will. Interestingly, this carries with it the implication that God’s will for them and the church is that they be tested by false teaching, which is not the way we usually understand such threats today.
In any case, as we know from Paul’s letters later on, that trial did sweep through the churches of Asia.
Next time, Paul completes his farewell and prepares to sail…