“Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him)” (Colossians 4:10).
Much like the aforementioned Onesimus, Aristarchus is another seemingly minor figure from the Epistle to the Colossians with a background that reveals a greater impact than his brief appearance might suggest.
Aristarchus is first mentioned in the New Testament book of Acts where he is described as one of Paul the Apostle’s traveling companions (see Acts 19:29). It was during that time that he was seized by a riotous mob that gathered in response to Paul’s preaching in the town of Ephesus. He later accompanied Paul on an ill-fated voyage to Rome where he was presumably shipwrecked along with the rest of the ship’s passengers off the island of Malta (Acts 27). These real-life events identify Aristarchus as someone who possessed a willingness to pursue God’s work despite the potential consequences.
Here in the book of Colossians, Paul described Aristarchus as “my fellow prisoner.” This likely means that Aristarchus was facing criminal charges along with Paul in connection with Paul’s missionary efforts. So it appears that Aristarchus shared Paul’s affliction in more than just a figurative sense; it seems that he was literally chained in prison along with Paul as well.
Unlike another individual who will be named later in this portion of Colossians chapter four, these brief references reveal Aristarchus to be a faithful friend who was dependable, reliable, and trustworthy. One commentator summarizes Aristarchus’ character with a description that would befit anyone who seeks to follow Christ…
“We get only fleeting glimpses of Aristarchus but from these glimpses one thing emerges–he was clearly a good man to have about in a tight corner. He was there when the people of Ephesus rioted in the Temple of Diana and was so much in the forefront that he was captured by the mob (Act_19:29). He was there when Paul set sail a prisoner for Rome (Act_27:2).
It may well be that he had actually enrolled himself as Paul’s slave in order that he might be allowed to make the last journey with him. And now he is here in Rome, Paul’s fellow-prisoner. Clearly Aristarchus was a man who was always on the spot when things were at their grimmest. Whenever Paul was in bad trouble Aristarchus was there. The glimpses we have are enough to indicate a really good companion.” (1)
(1) Barclay, William, William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Colossians 4 https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/colossians-4.html. 1956-1959.