As believers of Jesus Christ we may lose some values that the world considers as being extremely important, but not for Christians. What we see at this current time when someone decides to follow Jesus there is some natural changes which occur in his life. For a better understanding when we decided to follow Jesus we may lose some friends whom we thought was truly friends. Therefore when we lose some friends we also may lose our position in the society and possibly reduce the invitations for social events and so on. All of these are normal and well understood. But when we start lose for example a job because our believing does not match the believing of our bosses, or the believing of the company we are working to, is quite hard to understand. So that if we are not actually on the rock we may face some hard time.
The text says that Paul and two companions were in Ephesus. As they started to preach the good news of Jesus, as usual some people believed but some do not. Those who received Christ were opposed to pagan temples and idol worship which was a normal practice of the Ephesians people.
In the middle of the non-believers was a man called Demetrius who was a silversmith that gained his money by making images of god called Diana whose temple was a huge construction in the city of Ephesus. As Demetrius realised that the number of the Christians were increasing and their business was decreasing he started to raise an opposition against Christians in order to try to solve his and others craftsmen's economic problem. These we will see as follows.
Analyse the meaning and significance of Acts 19:23-41 in light of contemporary society:
The Riot in Ephesus is quoted in Acts 19:23-41.
Ephesus was the second biggest city of the Rome Empire.
The Diana temple was in the city of Ephesus and it was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. This temple was about 30% larger than a football field. In this temple there was a giant statue that they claimed fell from Jupiter identified as Diana for the Romans and was the equivalent Greek goddess called Artemis. The temple was a great attraction for tourists that come from far to view it.
Unfolding the problem:
The economic success of Ephesus basically relies on this temple and the market for tourists that gather in that city to worship or simply visit the temple of Diana as it was a curious attraction.
Before the tourists return to their homes they bought small silver shrines and images of Diana to worship at home. These statues were produced and sold by the silversmiths becoming a lucrative business for them.
Paul and his companions were preaching in Ephesus and many of them got saved. "About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way.", Acts 19:23, we notice that the number of those whom were in Christ increased the power of opinion increased too and started no small stir about that way.
In Acts chapter 19 verse 24 these local silversmiths are kind of panicked when they realised that so many people in the city getting saved and forsaking idol worship.
Demetrius was one of those local silversmiths which economic life depended on these idols and raised this economic problem between the others craftsmen. In his particular view this problem was supposed to grow in order that it would not be a good example for those tourists who came from far to worship in Ephesus and see the local people in a different religion which was not worshipping the pagan god called Diana that supposed to be the main goddess in the city.
Demetrius surely was an important person to the others craftsmen because he made up the others craftsmen's mind against the religion of Paul that says to everyone that man-made gods are not gods at all.
I want show three main problems in order to help us get a best understanding of how do these riot in Ephesus could easily happen in our contemporary time.
The three problems in Dementriu's viewing:
As these problems were unfolded Demetrius spoke the same language and he simply translated what the craftsmen thought into words and actions. In another words he said: we must to do something about it.
First problem was moral. Demetrius called the attention of the craftsmen in this particular point saying that Paul, with this new religion, summarized the work of their hands into nothing. In their mind the new religion despised the life time they spent into their business making those idols. Also they thought that Paul and others Christian were trying to turn their business was based into a fake religion saying that Diana is not true god. How hard it was for them? The craftsmen simply did not believe on that and they were waiting for someone to lead them and fight against the new religion.
The second problem raised was the economic problem. This problem they would face if the number of believers continue increase to the new religion preached by Paul. Those who got saved have forsaken idol worship. So their business should not continue for much longer. In my personal opinion this was the worse problem for them.
When anything possibly can change in our business or in our finances is really hard to deal with. Even for some who believed and accepted Jesus as lord and saviour to give their tenth to the Lord is absolutely out of question. Some Christians keep on thinking that God does not need our money.
There is a joking around the churches in my home country that says: "the last to convert is the pocket".
When we decide to follow Jesus we must change our mind and try diligently to do not look at some situation as the whole mankind does. Facing these situations help we understand what actually means serve Jesus and not our own desire. Also change our way of seeing certain things which in another time we would have a different position and opinion.
The third problem was about the religion. The temple of Diana as we mention before was a special proud to the people of Ephesus. It means that the idol worship was a normal part of the Ephesians' life and culture from generation to generation. The temple of Diana was the predominant religion in Ephesus and they thought they should keep worshipping the true god for them which was Diana.
I believe that particular scene when Demetrius raised the crowd against Paul against Jews and against Christians, they throw away the opportunity to change their lives forever through Jesus Christ and have their supply provided day by day by the Lord God Almighty. Even today when we receive a calling from the Lord and we also know that we got some gifts to work to God and what we need is just put our faith in practice and carry on with the plan of God having sure that we are based in His promise that we will not miss anything.
Diana or Artemis and its temple were well established and rooted for years probably passed from generation to generation. And then some Jews were saying that this Diana is not true god.
As he was a principal opponent against that new religion they were with him in anyway. With this attitude he raised many followers with him.
The crowd followed him and they began shouting: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" and walked towards the amphitheatre when they saw Gaius and Aristarchus which were Paul's travelling companions, so they dragged them to the theatre too. The whole city was totally in uproar.
'The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.' (Acts 19:32), once in the theatre the confusion did not stop. In the following verse 33 the Jews pushed Alexander to the front to try to make a defence. When they realised he was a Jew they shouted in unison for two hours: 'Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!' (Acts 19:34)
After two hours of that the city clerk quieted the crows and saying that if Demetrius and others craftsmen had anything against anyone it should be done in legal assembly which was open. Otherwise what happen in that day the whole city would face charge with rioting. After that they dismissed the assembly (Acts 19:35-41).
In the light of the contemporary society the riot of Ephesus is seeing as absolutely understandable. But in the vision of the Christians the position that Demetrius and most of the Ephesians took was quite selfish, looking after only their own business and ignore the decision of few people have done accepting Christ as Lord and Saviour. Demetrius and the other craftsmen did not respect the decision that the Christians took in order to follow the new religion.
In contemporary time I believe that there is more respect about the other's religion when the religion is different from what we believe.
About the crowd that was there and did not know what they were doing down there and they just shouted following others, I believe they should first understand the cause and them decided in which side they want to stay on instead, by tradition or culture, follow what the old men in the city were doing. When we accept Christ we cannot live the life by our tradition or culture. We must really be born again and live the old stuff well back in the past.
We cannot ignore the fact that the most of them decided to expel Paul and his companions out of the city. They did that saying yes to their religion and old tradition and no to the new. Some of them never heard about the news that would bring them salvation for their souls and not only the solution for their business.
As Jesus used to do he first preached. Those who believed got saved and those who did not believe walked away from his presence. So Paul did the same after call the disciples and encourages them he set out for Macedonia. This opposition to the spreading of the good news of Jesus in Ephesus did not put Paul in shame or reduce his ministry, for the very opposite he kept going doing his calling in excellence possibly more stronger than ever.
This is the story of the riot of Ephesus registered by Luke in Acts 19:23-41.
- Duncan, David D. (ed.), Synoptic Gospels and Acts Part 2 (Springfield, MO: Global University, 2004).
- Souza, Reginaldo de (ed.), The Quest Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1999).