The Book of ACTS
James J. Barker
THE UPROAR IN EPHESUS
- Rome was the world's greatest city in Paul's day, and Paul had a great desire to preach the Gospel in Rome.
- He said in Acts 19:21, "After I have been there (Jerusalem), I must also see Rome."
- Later, in Acts 23:11, the Lord appeared to Paul, and said, "Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome."
- And it was around this time that Paul wrote in Romans 1:15, "So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also."
- Paul eventually did make it to Rome, but he went there in chains, as a prisoner (Acts 28:16).
- As Paul was making his plans to return to Macedonia and Achaia (Greece -- cf. 20:2) and then to Jerusalem, and then on to Rome, a riot broke out in Ephesus.
- Luke refers to it as "no small stir" (19:23). The town clerk called it an "uproar" (19:40).
THE SPEECH BY DEMETRIUS
- The riot was instigated by a silversmith named Demetrius, which made silver shrines for Diana (19:23, 24). These images of Diana (or other idols) were usually enclosed in a decorative box, case, or chest, made of wood, iron, or silver.
- The word “shrines” here refers to small portable temples, made of silver, and containing a silver image of the goddess Diana. Such shrines would be purchased by worshippers of the goddess. It is very similar to the Roman Catholic practice today of placing shrines for Mary in the front yard, or some other prominent place, etc.
- Roman Catholic Mary-worship is essentially the same as Diana-worship. In ancient Babylon, they worshipped the goddess Semiramis.
- That is why Revelation 17:5 describes the apostate one-world church as "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH."
- Soon the RCC will probably allow priests to get married, and this will help facilitate Rome's merger with the apostate Protestant denominations. But while there will be various changes, Mary-worship will continue because this is a very emotional issue with idolaters (cf. Acts 19:28).
- In Acts 19:26, Demetrius complains to his fellow craftsmen that, "this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands."
- Then notice in verse 35, the town clerk made a distinction between the great goddess Diana, and of her image. Today many Roman Catholics and other idolaters say that statues and icons are merely mere aids to devotion. Nevertheless, it is still idolatry and it is still forbidden by God.
- The second commandment: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments" (Ex. 20:4-6).
- In addition to Semiramis and Diana, other names given to this goddess were Venus, Isis, Ashtaroth (Judges 2:13), and "the queen of heaven" (Jeremiah 44).
- With many idolaters getting saved, business had fallen off so Demetrius organized a meeting and stirred up his fellow craftsmen (19:24-27).
- This is the earliest record of a trade union. Demetrius was undoubtedly the business manager of the Idol-maker's Union.
- You may recall that Paul and Silas were arrested in Philippi because they cast a devil out of "a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination," and "when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone," they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, and brought them to the magistrates, and accused them of being trouble-makers (Acts 16:16-21).
- But the real issue was they were hurting their fortune-telling business.
- And just like the demon-possessed woman's masters accused Paul and Silas of teaching customs contrary to Roman law in Philippi, in Ephesus Demetrius accused Paul of dishonoring the temple of the great goddess Diana, "whom all Asia and the world worshippeth" (Acts 19:27).
- Demetrius said, "whom all Asia and the world worshippeth" (Acts 19:27). Diana was worshipped all over the pagan world, but the most celebrated place of her worship was Ephesus, a city especially dedicated to her (cf. 19:28, 34, 35).
- This was Demetrius' emphasis, but the real issue was loss of money (19:24, 25). If Paul and his companions kept winning souls, the silversmiths would soon be out of work. First Timothy 6:10 says, "For the love of money is the root of all evil."
- In addition to the decline in business, Demetrius also mentioned that Paul's preaching changed people's attitude toward the idol Diana. Instead of being worshipped and adored, she was now "in danger to be set at nought" (repudiated and shown to be worthless) and "despised" (19:27).
- Albert Barnes says "in danger to be set at nought" means, "to be brought into contempt. It will become so much an object of ridicule and contempt that we shall have no further employment."
- Bible preaching brings conviction, and opens the hearts and minds to the foolishness of idolatry (cf. Psalm 115:4-9).
- Demetrius' speech inflamed the people, and a riot quickly broke out (19:28, 29).
- W. Graham Scroggie describes this riot in Ephesus as an illustration of "the age-long conflict between truth and error, right and wrong, holiness and sin, Christ and the devil," and Demetrius bears unwittingly "a magnificent testimony to the power of the Gospel" (The Acts of the Apostles).
THE RESPONSE TO THE SPEECH BY DEMETRIUS
- Demetrius' speech aroused the entire city of Ephesus (19:28, 29). Scroggie points out that it is also an illustration of "crowd psychology," and says, "There are no riots so dangerous as religious riots, nor so fanatical."
- We could speak all night on fanatical religious riots, but a few words will suffice. Hindus have been rioting for over a thousand years, but in the past decade there has been a sharp increase in anti-Christian violence in India, with fanatical Hindus burning down churches and killing Christians.
- Muslims have been rioting and killing Christians all over the world -- all over Asia, but especially in the middle East, in Africa, and in Europe.
- By now, most informed people know the definition of "jihad" -- a Muslim holy war against "infidels" (i.e., all non-Muslims).
- The worst wars in history have been religious wars, and today it is fanatical Islam that is driving the terrorists.
- The fanatical idolaters in Ephesus "were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians" (19:28).
- This is very similar to crazed Muslims rioting and killing in the streets chanting, "Allah Akbar," which means, "Allah is great."
- Incidentally, today Ephesus is a Muslim village in Turkey.
- "And the whole city was filled with confusion" (19:29, 32). False religion and idolatry always leads to confusion.
- First Corinthians 14:33 says, "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints."
- But lost sinners, blinded by the devil and by false religion, are "full of wrath" and confusion.
- Isaiah 57:20 and 21 says, "But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked."
- Psalm 2:1 says, "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?"
- This angry mob captured Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's companions (19:29; cf. 20:4). Paul wanted to enter the theatre, but the disciples suffered him not (19:30).
- "And certain of the chief of Asia (officials of the province of Asia), which were his friends, sent unto him, desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the theatre" (19:31).
- These officials were prominent and influential citizens of Ephesus. Once again we are reminded that the Gospel was not only reaching the lower classes but the upper classes as well.
- Philippians 4:22 says there saints in Caesar's household. One of the leaders of the church in Antioch was Manaen, "which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch" (Acts 13:1).
- The Jews that were there pushed a man named Alexander to the front of the mob (19:33). We have no way of knowing if this is the same Alexander mentioned in I Timothy 1:20 and II Timothy 4:14. He could be the same man, or they could be three different men, etc.
- Alexander beckoned with his hand, in order to make a defense before the people, but when they realized he was a Jew they went back to chanting, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians" (19:34, cf. 19:28).
- Luke does not say how many people were involved in this riot, but verse 29 says, "the whole city was filled with confusion," so there were probably thousands of angry heathens inside and outside the theatre, screaming, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians" for two straight hours (19:34)!
- Furthermore, this theatre was a huge open-air stadium that held twenty-five thousand people. It is still standing today.
- It is very possible there were 25,000 crazed idolaters chanting "Great is Diana of the Ephesians" for two straight hours (19:34)!
THE SPEECH BY THE TOWN CLERK (19:35)
- Roman law was a highly elaborate system that has had immeasurable influence on the growth of Western law. The town clerk in Ephesus was the chief magistrate of Ephesus, and he was the liaison between the city of Ephesus and the Roman government.
- This town clerk was an Ephesian who was responsible for the good conduct of those attending public meetings. Lawlessness and rioting would not be tolerated by the Roman government.
- There was a Roman law which made it a capital crime for anyone to be engaged in promoting a riot. If the riot continued for a long time, it would likely attract the attention of the Roman magistrates, and expose them to their displeasure (cf. 19:36-41).
- In his speech, the town clerk acknowledged the city's traditional pagan customs, and he also mentioned their popular legend that the image of Diana fell down from Jupiter (19:35).
- Some say this image that fell from heaven was a meteorite, but there is no way of knowing. This sort of legend was common among the heathen. The Trojans claimed an image of Minerva fell from heaven. Numa pretended that their sacred shields had descended from heaven. The Phoenicians worshipped a certain large stone that they believed had fallen from heaven.
- But while the town clerk "appeased the people" (i.e. he quieted and restrained them), he also defended Paul and his companions, and he criticized the lawlessness of Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen (19:35-41).
- There are many lessons here. First, we note the diplomatic skills of this town clerk. Secondly, we see the foolishness of heathen wrath. Verse 32 says most of them didn't even know why they were there. It was chaotic, confusing, and easily could have gotten violent.
- Thirdly, note the courage of Paul as well as the wisdom of Paul's companions. Paul was ready to go bravely into the theatre in order to restrain the angry mob, but the disciples and the government officials exercised caution.
- Demetrius and his fellow silversmiths had a vested interest in the continuation of Diana-worship. Paul's preaching was hurting their business.
- Vested interests have always been opposed to Gospel preaching and soulwinning and the advancement of Christianity because Christianity often hurts their business (e.g., gambling interests, bars, taverns, strip clubs, X-rated theatres, etc.).
- Over 100 years ago, A.C. Dixon said the temple of Diana in his day was the liquor traffic, the theater, and gambling. Things haven't changed much, though we could add some more modern vices.
- Biblical Christianity represents a threat to many of the vested interests that are corrupting and polluting our society.
- John Phillips said, "Entrenched wickedness is always militant against the Gospel, when once the Gospel begins to make an impact in cleaning up society" (Exploring Acts).
- Let us pray that the Lord would use us just as He used Paul and his co-laborers.