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 had been captured by the mob 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 really 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 a 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 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.