23 During that time there was a major disturbance about the Way. 24 For a person named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, provided a great deal of business for the craftsmen. 25 When he had assembled them, as well as the workers engaged in this type of business, he said: “Men, you know that our prosperity is derived from this business. 26 You both see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this man Paul has persuaded and misled a considerable number of people by saying that gods made by hand are not gods! 27 So not only do we run a risk that our business may be discredited, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be despised and her magnificence come to the verge of ruin—the very one all of Asia and the world adore.”
28 When they had heard this, they were filled with rage and began to cry out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with confusion, and they rushed all together into the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s traveling companions. 30 Though Paul wanted to go in before the people, the disciples did not let him. 31 Even some of the provincial officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent word to him, pleading with him not to take a chance by going into the amphitheater. 32 Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing and some another, because the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Then some of the crowd gave Alexander advice when the Jews pushed him to the front. So motioning with his hand, Alexander wanted to make his defense to the people. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a united cry went up from all of them for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
35 However, when the city clerk had calmed the crowd down, he said, “Men of Ephesus! What man is there who doesn’t know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple guardian of the great Artemis, and of the image that fell from heaven? 36 Therefore, since these things are undeniable, you must keep calm and not do anything rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are not temple robbers or blasphemers of our goddess. 38 So if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a case against anyone, the courts are in session, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you want something else, it must be decided in a legal assembly. 40 In fact, we run a risk of being charged with rioting for what happened today, since there is no justification that we can give as a reason for this disorderly gathering.” 41 After saying this, he dismissed the assembly.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
During that time there was a major disturbance about the Way.
Once again, it began with twelve men. This time the scene was not the shores of Galilee, but rather an influential city in the province of Asia called Ephesus, where Paul found twelve believers and led them into the baptism of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Two years later, we’re told, everyone in Asia had heard of Jesus Christ. During those years Paul and his fellow workers not only sidestepped the resistance of the Jewish authorities in that region, they demonstrated to the people the superiority of Jesus over demonic powers as well. Thus “the Lord’s message flourished and prevailed.”
But as we learned in today’s reading, it was only a matter of time before that message ignited the wrath of those who couldn’t hear it. Focusing on both the economic threat and the religious threat the Way brought to their city, Demetrius the silversmith rallied first his fellow craftsmen, then the entire city populace, into a confused yet deeply emotional opposition to the same men whom many had only hours earlier held in high esteem.
Perhaps you’ve seen on television, or even experienced yourself, the strange momentum of crowd hysteria. On this day in Ephesus, we’re told, “most of them did not know why they had come together.” All they knew was the roaring, pulsating chant, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” A stranger approaching the scene might have wondered if they thought Artemis herself, the daughter of Zeus, was about to pay a visit to her worshippers.
In this instance, while there were definite moments of potential peril to Paul and other followers of Christ, the mob was eventually calmed and dispersed. We should note however that Paul had already experienced at least five other encounters with crowd opposition prior to this (see Acts 13:50, 14:5, 14:19, 16:22 and 17:5). In most of these situations Paul had been imprisoned or at least forced to leave town, and in one case he had even been stoned and left for dead.
So why does Luke, the author of Acts, call this “a major disturbance about the Way”? Although we can’t know the answer with certainty, one unique feature of the Ephesian mob scene was that it was not initiated by the Jewish leaders, but by men who had no attachment to Judaism at all. While we might justifiably speculate that their motive had more to do with their gold than their goddess, still this appears to be the first time the teachings of the Way threatened a non-Jewish community to the extent that the people could be stirred to this volatile level of response.
One question for us that rises out of this story is this: does the Christianity we believe and live and teach threaten our culture today? In Luke’s version of the Beatitudes he records these words of Jesus: “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you, insult you, and slander your name as evil, because of the Son of Man....Woe to you when all people speak well of you, because this is the way their ancestors used to treat the false prophets” (Luke 6:22,26).
While we are never exhorted to be offensive just for the sake of being offensive, it is clear that the radical call of the Way is supposed to be majorly disturbing to an unsaved world. If our faith is easy and comfortable and palatable to the masses, then we may have missed the heart of Christ’s message, who “did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). As Demetrius the silversmith accurately understood, the message of Christ upends the tables of moneychangers and overturns temple gods, ultimately displacing everything that is worshipped other than His Father.
- While in Bible days most public discussion occurred in the synagogues or marketplaces, much of our conversation now takes place on the Internet. How might we compare the crowd hysteria to something “going viral” on the web? Do you think there could be a parallel between their joining a chanting mob with relatively little understanding of what was going on and our impulsively “liking” posts on Facebook or forwarding something to all our contacts? Consider such things as the importance of context, your personal knowledge of the person making a claim, the value of agreed-upon definitions of terms, and so forth.
- The riot at Ephesus ends rather unexpectedly through the intervention of a “city clerk.” Whoever this man was, he appealed to the crowd’s rational understanding, to their respect for proper legal processes, and to their fear of “being charged with rioting,” presumably by Rome. If such a riot were to break out today against us who are followers of the Way, do you think these arguments would have the same result? Why or why not?
- We tend to make an unconscious disconnect between our culture and that of Bible days because we don’t worship the same sort of deities that drove them to such fierce loyalty. Nevertheless, human nature doesn’t change. What are our equivalent deities, why do we identify so strongly with their honor or dishonor, and how can these impulses diminish our loyalty to the one true God?