21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.
This is a big picture goal. In other words he doesn't know how he is going to get there. He needs to continue some ministry to the church in the area, thus sending Timothy and Erastus to prepare for his arrival.
23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 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. 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.” 28 When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul's companions in travel.
Don't think for a moment that the Gospel cannot have an impact upon a city like this today. All through church history, in the United States, there have been examples of how the power of God changed a city. John Lake, in the late 1800's, had a place where people could come to be prayed for and receive healing in Seattle. This was so successful that health insurance rates went down in the city. During the Brownsville Revival in Pensacola Fl., mid 1990's, it was reported that drugs dealers had to move to other cities because they couldn't make a living there any more.
Demetrius riled up the local silversmiths. How did he do this? Well first of all he creates a crisis. "We're going out of business!" He creates a common crisis for the whole city to get behind. "Our god Artemis is going to fade away into nothing." This god isn't the Greek god Artemis you may be thinking of. It is a local god that only Ephesians worshipped. But Demetrius exaggerates. All of Asia and the world will stop worshipping her! Nobody did outside of Ephesus.
The silversmiths are mad and start a riot throughout the city. They rush to the theater of Ephesus, which could hold 25,000 people, and bring two of Pauls disciples in tow. The purpose of which was to whip the crowd into a bigger frenzy.
30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. 31 And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. 32 Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
The crowd was a mix of people who really didn't have any idea what was going on. On group was yelling one thing while another group something else.
When the Jews realized what was going on, they desired to distance themselves from Paul and the Church. So they sent Alexander out to explain their position. Because he was a Jew, and Jews were mostly disposed by the Romans, it just made bad matters worse.
Artemis was a great source of civic pride to the city. For exmaple, you may have a favorite sports team or political party. When someone says something disparagingly about it, you feel the need to defend your choice.
35 And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? 36 Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38 If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.
In all the time that Paul and his followers were in Ephesus, they never attacked Artemis. They simply preached the good news about Jesus and let the Holy Spirit lead people away from this idolatrous worship. There is wisdom in this approach. First of all, you don't get into riots like this one. Secondly, you don't end up insulting the people. You and I may know that what people are doing is wrong. But saying, "You should stop that and worship Jesus instead" forces people to choose. How will they choose? Wherever their loyalties are.
English Standard Version (ESV)