Acts Lesson Forty-one: Acts 19:21-41 – Paul and the Riot in Ephesus

21 When these events were over, Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem. “After I’ve been there,” he said, “I must see Rome as well!” 22 So after sending two of those who assisted him, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, he himself stayed in Asia for a while. 

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. (HCSB)

I’m going to split this lesson into three parts.

  • Paul’s future plans – verses 21-22.
  • The charge of Demetrius – verses 23-27.
  • The meeting in the amphitheater – verses 28-41.

Paul’s Future Plans

Let’s make some observations from this section.

  • Paul is nearing the end of his ministry in Ephesus and is formulating his future plans.
  • This is the first time Scripture mentions Paul’s plan to visit Rome.
    • More detail is found in Romans 15:22-29.
    • His planned visit to Rome was in conjunction with a desire to visit Spain.
  • This point is a major transition in the narrative of Acts.
    • Rome will be Paul’s final destination.
    • But first, Paul will go to Jerusalem, which in some ways parallels Jesus’ decision that Jerusalem would be His final earthly destination.
      • In Acts 20:1-21:16, there is an ominous feeling concerning what Paul would encounter in Jerusalem.
      • The same ominous air surrounded Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, the city that killed the prophets.
  • Paul sent two of his co-workers, Timothy and Erastus, ahead into Macedonia to prepare for his arrival.

The Charge of Demetrius

Before diving into this section of the passage, let’s consider some facts setting up this incident.

  • Paul had been preaching the Gospel in Ephesus for approximately three years at this point.
    • There is no record of Paul staging protests against the Temple of Artemis or holding anti-idolatry rallies.
    • Paul preached the truth and sent the converts out to witness to the lost people in Ephesus.
    • As more people converted, there were customers to buy the idols.
  • The enemy was continuously being defeated during this time as the Gospel spread.
    • Satan made one final attempt to defeat Paul with a city-wide attack.
    • The goal was Paul’s arrest or even death.

Let’s take a closer look at Demetrius, the silversmiths, their business, and the temple.

  • It’s likely that Demetrius was the president of the silversmith guild.
    • It was customary for members plying the same trade to form professional guilds. 
    • These guilds set the standards for their trade and were unified to defend their economic interests.
  • His trade was making miniature replicas of the temple of Artemis.
    • The making of these replicas was a common practice.
    • Pilgrims to Ephesus would purchase these replicas and either place them in their homes as a shrine or offer them in the temple.
  • The temple of Artemis was the hub of Ephesian economic life.
    • The building was 165 feet by 345 feet and built on a platform 240 feet by 420 feet. 
    • It was adorned in brilliant colors and a gold leaf pattern.
    • The altar was 20 feet square and contained a large image of the goddess.
    • The worship of the goddess centered around Artemision, a week during the spring dedicated to the goddess.
      • During the week, there were numerous ritual plays and dances.
      • An image of the goddess was paraded through the streets during this festival.
      • Pilgrims flocked to Ephesus during the week of Artemision.
  • Because of its enormous wealth, the temple was the primary financial institution in Asia, receiving offerings and making loans.
  • The real issue behind Demetrius’ protests had nothing to do with the worship of Artemis. The issue was the loss of income to the silversmith guild because of Paul’s evangelism.
  • However, Demetrius was clever in mixing religion and patriotism into his protest because that was more likely to get a response from the public.

Now let’s consider the charge that Demetrius and the silversmith guild presented.

  • He accused Paul of being a threat by saying that gods made by hand were not gods. The irony is this is a true statement.
    • Paul was leading followers of Artemis away from worshipping her.
    • Paul was attempting to discredit the worship of Artemis.
    • Attacking Artemis was the same as attacking Ephesus.
  • From Demetrius’ viewpoint, these allegations were true.
    • Paul did preach against idolatry.
    • Paul was a threat to anyone who made their living from producing idols.
  • The Gospel is always at its most controversial when it conflicts with economic interests.

The Meeting in the Amphitheater

After successfully stirring up both the silversmith guild and the city’s residents, the scene shifts to the Amphitheater in Ephesus. Before we look at the event that took place in the Amphitheater, let’s consider the building itself.

  • It was the largest building in the city of Ephesus.
    • It was 495 feet in diameter.
    • It was built into the western slope of Mt. Pion.
    • The capacity is estimated at around 24,500 people.
    • Town meetings were held there.
  • There is little doubt the Amphitheater was a magnificent building.

Let’s consider the meeting.

  • The residents roused to action by Demetrius and his cohorts rushed to fill the Amphitheater to capacity.
    • What is described here is a typical mob action; some know what’s going on, and others participate just because they are dragged in by emotion and momentum.
    • At some point, they identify and drag Gaius and Aristarchus along with the rest of the crowd.
  • Where was Paul?
    • Knowing Paul’s character, there is little doubt he wanted to address the crowd.
    • Paul was either not in the vicinity of the mob, or some of his co-workers realized the danger and whisked him to a safer location.
    • Others of his followers also sent a message for Paul not to be involved in the proceedings in the Amphitheater.
  • The scene inside the Amphitheater was one of extreme confusion.
    • The people were shouting various things, either with or without foundation.
    • Many were probably just sucked along with the mob and didn’t really understand what was happening.
    • The inclusion of Alexander in the proceedings did nothing to quell the commotion.
      • The Jews likely wanted Alexander to address the crowd to demonstrate the Jews didn’t agree with what the Christians were doing.
      • The Jews were no threat to the worship of Artemis.
      • However, when they realized Alexander was a Jew, they drowned out anything he would say with a cry about the greatness of Artemis.
    • The mob continued to declare the greatness of Artemis for about two hours.
    • It was only the efforts of the city clerk who was able to calm the crowd.
  • Who was the city clerk?
    • He was the chief administrative officer of Ephesus.
    • He presided over the council of city magistrates and the public assembly.
    • He served as the liaison officer between the city and the Roman provincial administration.
  • The clerk realized the mob could be mistakenly interpreted as a violation of Pax Romana, and Ephesus could lose its self-governing privileges.
  • The clerk then uses both his position and skillful language to defuse the situation.
    • He starts by telling the crowd that Artemis was not really threatened.
    • The image that fell from heaven was likely a meteorite. They were often associated with the worship of the Mother Goddess.
  • After successfully convincing the crowd that Artemis was under no threat, he moves on to the legal consequences of their mob action.
    • Gaius and Aristarchus had not committed any crime.
      • They had not blasphemed the goddess.
      • They had not robbed the temple.
    • If anyone was in the wrong, it was the Ephesians who could be accused of unlawful assembly.
  • The clerk then outlines two legal avenues Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen could follow.
    • The charges could be brought before the provincial court under the direction of the Roman proconsul.
    • The charges could be brought before the town assembly in a formal way.
  • The clerk then plays his strongest card. Since the mob had no legal basis for their action, what they were doing could be interpreted as an insurrection.
    • The mob charged that Paul was a danger.
    • The clerk pointed out the real danger lay with the citizens of Ephesus, who were acting in a dangerous manner.
    • After convincing the crowd of the validity of his argument, he dismisses the crowd.
    • The clerk wasn’t taking the side of the Christians. He was merely trying to restore order and point out the error in the way the mob had acted.
  • One recurring theme to remember, as it’s repeated throughout Acts, is the Christians were innocent with respect to civil law. Paul was never found guilty by any Roman official.

Applications

  • We must understand and be prepared that when we are involved in kingdom work, we will face opposition at some point. The opposition could be mild, or it could be very strong, even to the level of death threats. If we aren’t following God, immersing ourselves in His Word and prayer, and in unity with fellow believers, we may fold under the pressure of threats. We need to work with and support others and trust in God’s protection.
  • As we share the Gospel and evangelize others, regardless of the circumstances, we should follow the example of Paul and not break the law. As an example, we can protest against abortion, but our protests shouldn’t turn violent, nor should we make or carry out threats against the workers of the clinic. Often our “flesh” wants to act out but rarely will that turn out well, and often it will paint Christians in a negative light.
  • Be prudent as you face persecution. Sometimes there’s a fine line between potentially being a martyr and needlessly throwing away your life. As we face these situations, we need to be immersed in prayer and carefully discern God’s will in the situation.

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