In a few days, Seattle is going to have it’s regularly scheduled annual riot. Yes, technically by definition a riot would not be organized or scheduled but Seattle manages to do it every year on May 1st. Under the pretense of the socialist and communist protests on May Day (which happen all around the country in major cities), Seattle has become known as a place friendly to the anarchists who change the protests into riots. Despite the predictability of this event (each May 1st for over a decade now), nothing is done to stop or prevent it. The city simply expects it and tolerates it and then moves on.
How does this relate to a biblical study? Because Acts 19 talks of a riot in Ephesus. There are similarities at the formation of the riot. However because reason eventually prevailed, there was not future riots on an annual basis (unlike Seattle).
First the similarities. There was a normal way of life that was acceptable to many people in this region and now Paul was teaching something that was going against this acceptance. Those impacted by this change were frustrated and organized a way to challenge this new Way. This all began as a legitimate protest but soon blossomed out of control into an actual riot, where people no longer have an understanding of even why they’re there.
Those who were profiting from the worshiping of idols were not impacted by a teaching that there is no power in idols. “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.” (Acts 19:26) As the protest grew beyond the makers of idols and involved a growing number, this protest eventually grows to a riot. “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.” (v 32)
This same thing will happen Monday. People upset at capitalism will protest, more and more will gather simply from the energy and eventually there will be people there who have no idea why they’re even there. Then the violence will begin.
However the leadership in Ephesus was quite different, seeking reason over irrationality. “And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd” (v 35a). Then after some discussion, he continued, “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. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly.” (v 38-39)
In Greece in the first century, reason and rationality prevailed in the midst of the riot. Unfortunately the same will not happen on Monday here in Seattle. What is our lesson? Even in the midst of complaint and frustration, there’s nothing wrong with pausing to consider the actual facts of the case. If there is an actual argument to be had, we have forums for such confrontations to occur and not disrupt the natural flow of life in the community. However, if you desire anarchy over discussion, then riot is your only option.
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