"When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, 'After I have been there, I must also see Rome.' So he sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time. And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: 'Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.' Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians!' So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul's traveling companions" (Acts 19:21-29).
As the influence of the gospel continued to grow mightily in Ephesus, Paul decided that it was about time for him to move on. He made plans to go to Jerusalem (to deliver a large contribution from the Gentiles to the poor Christians in Judea) and eventually on to Rome. Ironically, Paul would eventually make it to Rome (as a prisoner), though surely not in the way he envisioned! Before he leaves Asia, however, he first sends Timothy and Erastus ahead of him into Macedonia to prepare the way.
Shortly after many books of the occult were voluntarily destroyed by their owners, a great disturbance was stirred up in Ephesus against Christianity (or "the Way"). A silversmith named Demetrius organized a resistance effort against the church. Demetrius, who made silver shrines for Diana (a false goddess of the Ephesians), opposed Paul and the gospel message that was being proclaimed freely in Ephesus and all over Asia. Demetrius disapproved of Christianity because it was against a very important part of his life--his work as a silversmith making idolatrous images! His heart, as is the case with many mortals, was in his pocketbook, and he was suffering loss economically because of Paul and the gospel of Christ. It has always been the case that when you affect someone's finances negatively, you are on dangerous ground. Demetrius, witnessing the book burning and the ever-expanding influence of the church, knew that he and others like him were in trouble. Their very livelihood was being significantly threatened as long as a message was being preached and believed that idols (i.e., gods made with hands) were not really divine.
Demetrius, who was influential in the local economy, appealed to others who worked in his trade with two primary points: (1) Christianity is hurting us financially and may destroy us if we don't do something, and (2) The very honor of our great goddess Diana is at stake and we must respond. If we don't react, the worship of Diana may be despised and her glory destroyed! This fired up the other craftsmen. They were so angry they began shouting repeatedly - "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" Their agitation quickly spread throughout the city and a multitude was gathered in the theatre. It is estimated that this particular outdoor theatre could accommodate some 25,000 spectators. Two Christians, Gaius and Aristarchus, were seized. Certainly they were looking to seize Paul, but, since he evidently could not be found, they settled on seizing two of his assistants.
"And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theatre. Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together. And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, and wanted to make his defense to the people. But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians!' And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: 'Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsman have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. For we are in danger of being called in question for today's uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.' And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly" (Acts 19:30-41).
Paul, after becoming aware of the commotion, desired to enter the theatre and address the people. This man had a passion for evangelism and for the safety of his friends! Paul looked at every situation as an opportunity to teach and bring glory to Christ. He cared not about his own safety and may have believed he would forfeit his life that day (cf. II Cor. 1:8,9). Lesser men would have gladly contented themselves to remain silent and out of the public eye. Although Paul desired to go and speak to the mob that had gathered, none of those who cared for him would allow him to go, realizing the great personal risk it would entail. Both the disciples and local officials (who were friends with Paul) begged him not to enter the theatre, which was full of confusion. Some were shouting one thing and others something else. As is often the case with mob activity, many did not even know why they had gathered (they simply joined the crowd and followed along).
A man by the name of Alexander is pulled from the crowd to address the people. His role is not explained in great detail but it may be that he was an unbelieving Jew who wanted to make clear that the Jews were not associated with Paul and the other Christians (though, truthfully, even the Jews who rejected Christ were against idolatry--and rightfully so!). Before he is able to speak, however, the crowd, after learning he was a Jew, went into a full uproar - "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" This lasted for a long two hours! Eventually a city official is able to quiet the crowd enough to speak to them (perhaps they had grown tired of shouting and were ready for a voice of moderation). He tells them that there was no need for the noise and warns them against doing anything foolish. Their continued shouting was not increasing public knowledge of Diana in any way. He affirmed that everyone was well aware of the "facts." Specifically, that Ephesus was the "temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus". We know nothing about this alleged image which fell down from the sky, but it may have been an idol carved from a meteorite, for example. Regardless, the city clerk believed these things were undeniable (or at least affirmed to the multitude what he thought they needed to hear to be calmed down). But, the behavior of the people on this occasion was not good. They had seized men who were neither robbers nor blasphemers against Diana. This latter statement is very interesting. The Christians had evidently not railed against Diana in an explicit sense, but certainly the teachings of the gospel, when properly understood, would be blasphemous against any idol. This city official had not fully grasped the implications of the gospel. This shows us that the Christians in Ephesus believed there was a place for tact in teaching the lost. There is still an important place for such today as we endeavor to share the truth in love (cf. Eph. 4:15).
The clerk believed the crowd really had no reason to be gathered as they were, holding these men captive, and stirring up such a ruckus. Furthermore, the city official instructs them that if there was a matter that needed to be tended to legally, then such should be done in the proper way (i.e., via open court with a proconsul or in the lawful assembly). These were the ways legitimate charges should be brought against another, not in a mob gathering which suggests injustice! Finally, before dismissing the crowd, the official leaves them with a stern warning that their behavior may attract the unwanted attention of higher authorities in the Roman empire, and what reasonable explanation could really be given for the commotion? None whatsoever! This city clerk stood up and disarmed a very volatile situation masterfully. His argument can be summed up in four points: (1) There was nothing to be gained from the riot (no one new had learned anything about Diana), (2) The "defendants" were not guilty of any crime, (3) There were proper channels for law-abiding citizens to address real grievances, and (4) Their assembling in this fashion was unlawful under Roman law and dangerous!
This entire narrative reminds us of an important truth: Faithful preaching of the gospel will bring about a response, though it will not always yield the reaction we desire. Sometimes the result is repentance and obedience but at other times it is anger and violence. We cannot control how one will respond to God's message; we can only preach it in love and pray for the best!
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.