A great disturbance
I read an article in Korean newspaper Donga Ilbo, stating that Europe is shaken by bomb threat prank calls. The article mentions a specific incident involving a Lufthansa passenger plane traveling from Frankfurt to Tel Aviv. During the flight, the airline received a phone call claiming that there was a bomb on board. Lufthansa considered it a hoax and continued the flight, but Israel strongly objected. Israel dispatched two fighter jets, instructing the passenger plane to make an emergency landing in Cyprus. However, no explosives were found during the search. The Cypriot government protested to the Israeli government for guiding the passenger plane into its airspace without prior permission. Similar incidents, six in total, occurred in Europe over the past ten days, causing confusion and losses for European airlines. The cause of these disturbances was prank calls, false information leading to such incidents.
Cause of disturbance
Now, let's turn to the cause of the disturbance mentioned in Acts 19:23-27. What was the cause? It was the proclamation of the gospel by Paul. In verse 23, the Bible says, "About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way.” The interesting point is when this disturbance occurred. The phrase "About that time" refers to the period when the word of the Lord gained power in Ephesus, resulting in significant influence (v. 20). The contrasting reactions to the gospel are evident: (1) The first reaction is the supernatural acts accomplished through the power of the Lord's word and Paul's hands. Believers renounced and abandoned their magical practices, and even those who had not believed in the Lord disposed of their magic-related books (19:8-20). (2) The second reaction is a considerable disturbance caused by the gospel (vv. 23ff). The question to be asked is, "Why did a significant disturbance occur because of the gospel of Jesus Christ?" The answer can be found in verses 25-28, indicating two main causes for the disturbance:
- The first cause of the disturbance was that the industry of those who incited the disturbance was facing a financial crisis.
Look at Acts 19:24-25: "For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, 'Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth.'" Demetrius, the main instigator of the riot, was a silversmith involved in making shrines of Artemis. He made significant profits from this industry and stirred up the craftsmen to protest. The reason behind this was that their industry was facing a financial crisis due to the impact of the gospel proclaimed by Paul. Look at verse 26: "And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods." Paul's teachings had a profoundly negative impact on the silver shrine-making industry of Demetrius and others (v. 26). This story parallels the incident of the demon-possessed slave girl in Philippi, who brought economic gain to her owners but faced legal action after Paul cast out the spirit (16:19-22). Furthermore, it contrasts with the earlier mention of many sorcerers in Ephesus turning away from their practices and burning expensive books related to sorcery (v. 19).
- The second cause is mentioned in verse 27: "And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship."
The chief instigator's justification for the disturbance was the perceived threat to the great goddess Artemis and her temple. Here, the name "Artemis" is related to the meaning "healthy" or "responsive to prayer." She was known by various titles such as "Mistress," "Savior," "Heavenly Goddess," and "Queen of the Universe," with adjectives like "Most Great," "Most Holy," and "Most Manifest." In the context of the passage, the words emphasizing Artemis's greatness appear four times (vv. 27-28, 34-35). In Greek mythology, Artemis is the daughter of Zeus and the twin sister of Apollo. The Temple of Artemis, located just outside the Ephesus city gates, was considered the glory of Ephesus and one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. This temple served as a focal point in the economic structure of Ephesus and Asia. It not only attracted deposits from Ephesians, Asians, and even foreigners, but the Temple of Artemis also engaged in financial activities, including lending and borrowing. It played a significant role, possibly functioning as the preeminent bank in Asia at that time (Yoo). However, the agitator Demetrius, who caused a major disturbance, appeared to be concerned about preserving the protection and reputation of the goddess Artemis. Still, in reality, he sought substantial economic gains under the guise of religious preservation.
Similar individuals, akin to Demetrius, may exist within the church. Outwardly appearing to serve the Lord and the church, they might stir considerable unrest when their personal economic interests are compromised. In other words, when faced with potential financial loss, individuals within the church may react in two ways in response to God's Word: (1) Obediently following the Word despite potential economic damage (v. 19) or (2) Opposing the Word like Demetrius, attempting to pursue economic gains (v. 24).
Escalation of the disturbance
In Acts 19:28-34, we witness the escalation of the disturbance. How did the craftsmen and businesspeople who heard Demetrius's speech react? Look at verse 28: "When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: 'Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!'" Demetrius's provocative and persuasive speech resonated strongly with his colleagues. Filled with anger, they began shouting, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians," expressing their fervor for the goddess (v. 28). Eventually, their outcry succeeded in conveying to the entire city that a severe religious problem had arisen. Look at verse 29: "The whole city was in an uproar, and the people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together." In an instant, the entire city descended into chaos. Craftsmen and supportive citizens seized Gaius and Aristarchus, who were traveling with Paul, and dragged them into the theater. At that time, the theater served not only as a venue for the regular meetings of the assembly but also as a gathering place for the general public. The Ephesian theater, in particular, could accommodate around 24,000 people (McRay). Moreover, there were as many as nine places within the theater to erect statues or images of Artemis. The crowd in the theater shouted, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians," continuously for as long as two hours (v. 34). One interesting aspect is found in verse 32: "The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there." Two points are noteworthy: (1) Each person shouted different things, likely due to the sudden and confusing nature of the assembly. (2) The overwhelming majority of citizens did not even know why they had gathered. These observations suggest that the Ephesian citizens were being manipulated and utilized by Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen, using religion to stir people's emotions, turning them into an enraged mob. Now the entire city was in turmoil (v. 29). This was not from God but from the evil one. God is not a God of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33).
Similarly, within the church, disturbances can escalate significantly. Using God's Word, individuals may gather people around them, stir emotions, and cause issues to spread and intensify. Like the Ephesians who didn't even know why they had gathered, problems in the church can be misunderstood and exacerbated by a lack of proper understanding, potentially leading to greater confusion.
Results of the disturbance
In Acts 19:35-41, we see the outcome of the disturbance. Particularly, verse 41 states, "After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly." In the end, the tumult stirred up by Demetrius was quelled by the words of one man, the "town clerk" (v. 35). The term "town clerk" or city secretary was a position of high local administration in Ephesus. It held significant influence over the affairs of the city. The town clerk assisted the chief magistrate responsible for the city's security, safeguarding law and order, and played a role in drafting drafts of important documents submitted to the assembly or approving major legislation (Trebilco). Therefore, the town clerk's immediate intervention in a significant event threatening the safety and security of the city at the theater was a judicious act according to his duties (Yoo). The wise speech of this town clerk is elaborated from verse 35 to 40, summarized into four points by Professor Sang-seop Yoo (Yoo):
- He acknowledged the fervor with which the leaders and citizens of the assembly proclaimed the greatness of Artemis.
Look at verse 35: "The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: 'Fellow Ephesians, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven?'" Here, the town clerk emphasized that it was common knowledge that Ephesus was the guardian city of the great Artemis temple.
- The town clerk spoke on behalf of the innocent followers who were threatened.
In verse 37, he said, "You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess." He cautioned against hasty actions toward Gaius and Aristarchus, friends of Paul, who had done nothing wrong.
- He recommended to the instigators, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen, not to act hastily and to follow legal procedures.
Look at verse 38: "If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. They can press charges." By mentioning the existence of legal channels such as the courts and proconsuls, the town clerk advised the craftsmen to follow proper procedures.
- He pointed out that the seriousness of the matter lay not with the Christians but with those who organized an illegal assembly, urging them to disband.
In verse 40, he said, "As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case, we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it." The town clerk argued that if the illegal assembly continued, both Ephesus, under the governance of proconsuls, and the leaders themselves might face severe consequences from the Roman emperor. In the end, his assertions confirmed that there was no legal basis for the continued uproar, and the assembly dispersed without achieving its original intent.
Who brought about the calmness amid the disturbance? It was God who brought about the calmness. Whom did God use? It was none other than the town clerk. While the proclamation of Paul's gospel had led to conversions, it also stirred up opposition. The opposers caused and further escalated the disturbance. However, the Lord, through the town clerk, a single individual, brought calmness to the tumult. May the Lord, who calms all disturbances within His body, the Church, be our hope.
Looking to the Lord who makes us all peacemakers,
(With the hope that the Lord establishes us all as those who bring peace)