Luke concludes the section of Scripture with the phrase, “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (Acts 19:20). Another one of those “AMEN!” moments.
Verse 21-22 begins the next part of this history. Luke writes, “Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.’ And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.” By the way, we remember from before that Paul was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to enter into Asia. It was time now.
Verses 23-24 goes on, “About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen.” Demetrius and these silversmiths made their living making idols.
Verse 25-26: “These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, ‘Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods.” This is another “AMEN!” moment, but this time from the mouth of an unbeliever. How great it is that God, through Paul, had been turning people away from idolatry!
Demetrius continues, “And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship” (v27). In the Roman world, there were minor gods, and then there were the twelve, including Jupiter and this goddess Artemis. How quickly people become zealous for their religion when their own interests are threatened.
Verse 28 continues, “When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” She was called this because she was the goddess especially worshiped in Ephesus, and her temple was there.
Verse 29: “So the city was filled with confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel.” In this theater, productions were probably put together for Artemis, including gladiatorial fights. They probably rushed Paul’s companions there to throw them to the wild beasts.
Verse 30 tells us, “But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him.” They were concerned for his safety. But he was fearless. Neither is really wrong here. We should be courageous, but we should also be wise. There are times it’s noble to throw ourselves in danger and other times when it’s stupid. There are times Paul faced the stones, other times he snuck away.
When should we be courageous and when should we be cautious? This is a case-by-case matter that requires some wisdom. There is no cut and dry answer here, but we should always be prepared to suffer for Christ, while not necessarily seeking out suffering.
Verse 31: “And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater.” Asiarchs were influential and powerful leaders in Asia who were called upon to do things like inaugurate Roman games.
Verse 32: “Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.” They were a mob without a clear cause. But they were united in this confused mayhem.
Verse 33 says, “Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd.” Paul writes negatively about an Alexander in his letters, having him excommunicated for the evils he committed, but this is probably not him here. His role isn’t clear here. The Jews probably put him forward to speak against Paul, trying to separate themselves from the Christians.
Verse 34: “But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Jews were also anti-idolatry, so the Greeks probably just lumped them together with the Christians.
Verse 35: “And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, ‘Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky?”. This is probably a meteorite that they concluded was sent from the gods.
Verse 36: “Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash.” In other words, “Relax! This is the city of Artemis. These guys aren’t going to undo this. Don’t do anything stupid.”
This town clerk, who is second in command in the city, continues, “For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another” (v37-38). Let’s handle this in a civilized manner.
Verses 39-40: “‘But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.’ And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.” Rioting was against Roman law and was equivalent to treason. The town clerk was concerned that they would be charged of that if they didn’t calm down.