The mob was out of control. It flooded the hillside theater and spilled over onto the center stage. Gaius and Aristarchus were the focus of their wrath. Their clothes were torn. They were bruised and bleeding from having been dragged through the streets of Ephesus. Even if they had been great orators, it would have been futile to try and address the rioters.
Helpless, the Apostle Paul was nearby. He feared for the lives of his friends who the mob had captured as they searched for him. He felt responsible, but he was powerless. One part of him desired to enter the theater and face down the crowd, but his disciples and even the “Asiarchs” (the leading citizens of Ephesus) begged him not to go. There was nothing he could do but pray.
Meanwhile, the pair endured the angry chants of the crowd. “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” they taunted. Gaius and Aristarchus recognized the irony as well as the futility of the mob’s refrain. Artemis was anything but great. She was simply a grotesque, multi-breasted idol carved from a single meteorite. Only the Ephesians’ credulous superstition had made her “great.” If the truth was known, the only greatness was the profit the city merchants were making from the sale of religious souvenirs. They were the ones who had started this riot as a desperate measure to stem the tide of Christian converts.
Two hours passed. For two hours, the crowd shouted in unison. For two hours, the disciples watched. For two hours, they listened to 20,000 people chant. For two hours, the Christians prayed. Finally, the mob had grown hoarse enough that the voice of reason prevailed. The city clerk dismissed the crowd, and order was restored. Gaius and Aristarchus were freed.
Many years later, Aristarchus smiled as he recounted the most chilling episode of his life. That event had instilled quiet confidence in the young Macedonian. Never again would he know fear in the same way as he had on that day. Even during the two weeks of a storm at sea or the shipwreck that followed, he did not fear. He simply trusted in the God who had rescued him. Aristarchus had learned that God stands by people that stand by him.
- What country was Aristarchus from? (Can you find it on a map?)
- What city was he from? (Acts 20:4)
- In Acts 20, why is he traveling with Paul?
- What island was he shipwrecked with Paul on?
- Why was Aristarchus allowed to travel with Paul the prisoner?
- Why do you think the crowd captured Aristarchus and Gaius?
- If you had been in their place in the theater, what would you have been thinking about?
- What do you think Gaius and Aristarchus said to each other in the theater?
- Is it easier to be brave alone or with someone else?
- How does being a Christian help you face fear?
“Why were Luke and Aristarchus allowed to travel with Paul?”
Luke uses the first person throughout the following narrative, and he was therefore in Paul’s company. But how was this permitted? It is hardly possible to suppose that the prisoner’s friends were allowed to accompany him. Pliny mentions a case in point (Epist. III 16). Paetus was brought a prisoner from Illyricum to Rome. His wife Arria vainly begged leave to accompany him; several slaves were permitted to go with him as waiters, valets, etc. Arria offered herself alone to perform all their duties, but her prayer was refused. The analogy shows how Luke and Aristarchus accompanied Paul: they must have gone as his slaves, not merely performing the duties of slaves (as Arria offered to do), but actually passing as slaves. In this way, not merely had Paul’s faithful friends always beside him; his importance in the eyes of the centurion was much enhanced, and that was of great importance. The narrative implies that Paul enjoyed much respect during this voyage, such as a penniless traveler without a servant to attend on him would never receive either in the first century or the nineteenth.