Along with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the grand Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This massive structure was over six million cubic feet in size, and contained 127 columns! Quite literally, the worship of Artemis was the central facet of Ephesian life.
The Temple of Artemis was also central to the economic life of Ephesus, and the growing presence of Christianity was troubling to some. The silversmith Demetrius roused the ire of the tradesmen by reminding them of Paul’s message: “gods made by human hands are no gods at all” (v. 26). In other words, the entire practice and economy of the worship of Artemis (including the production of silver shrines) was being undermined by the Christian message. Demetrius very tactfully presented the case as one concerning the reputation of the temple and the “divine majesty” of the goddess herself, but the underlying truth was that Christianity was a threat to their financial profits!
The reaction to this apparent threat was swift and strong: the craftsmen were “furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (v. 28). Soon a mob developed and “the whole city was in an uproar” (v. 29). Scripture tells us that some of Paul’s companions were seized and thrust into the theater. For hours, confusion and chaos reigned. As is often the case with mobs, some did not even know why they were there.
One Jewish man, Alexander, tried to speak, only to be shouted down for two hours by the frenzied crowd. Finally, the city clerk calmed them, urging them to use the legal courts rather than risk charges of rioting. What a telling picture of the violent reaction we have when the idols in our life are threatened by the lordship of Christ!