Acts: For the Cause of Christ #29

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #29

Title: Back in Jerusalem

Acts 21:1-36

Last week we saw Paul the Pastor as he was saying goodbye to several churches heading for Jerusalem. We saw how we need to encourage each other to remain faithful to Christ and the gospel, that we should regularly attend church, and that we need to invest in each other’s lives and pray for one another.

This week Paul finishes his third journey as he comes to Jerusalem.

Continuing Voyage and Warnings – vv 1-14

We continue our journey from Miletus. Luke uses the phrase, “we tore ourselves away”. This is the same verb, but more active and intentional, that is used in describing leading disciples away in 20:30. We see that emotion in this phrase. Nobody wanted to say goodbye, but the ship needs to set sail.

These first 4 verses here continue with travel route the group was taking. In verse 2 we see that they were in the city of Patara and found s ship sailing for Phoenicia. This was probably a larger merchant or cargo vessel as we see it sailed directly into the open Mediterranean bypassing Cyprus straight for Tyre. Sources say that this trip would have taken 5 days, but this greatly decreased the journey time from staying close to the coast as smaller ships would have had to do. In verse 4 they arrive at Tyre, the major port city of the region of Phoenicia. Their ship took seven days to get all the appropriate cargo off the ship and to the right merchant. 

During that time Paul and the others sought out and stayed with local disciples. This church was more than likely started during the dispersion after the death of Stephen. We are told here that these disciples also warned Paul about going to Jerusalem, through the Spirit. We don’t know what this looked like, but we know that these disciples were warned by the Spirit about Paul’s time in Jerusalem and they urged him not to go. We saw last time that Paul was warned in every city they stopped at by the time they reached Miletus, but we also saw in chapter 19 that Paul was bound by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem and Paul said in chapter 20 that he was compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. Paul could not be dissuaded from his mission. One source highlights Luke’s parallel between Jesus and Paul upon heading to Jerusalem. In Luke 9:51 we read of Jesus, “When the days were coming to a close for him to be taken up, he determined to journey to Jerusalem.” When their time in Tyre came to an end, the disciples and their families escorted Paul and the others to the beach where the group prayed together before parting ways.

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From Tyre the sailed to Ptolemais, this city was known before the Greco-Roman time as Acre and would be again, but in the OT this city is known as Acco a city which the children of Israel failed to clear when they settled the land. Here Paul and the others stayed a day with disciples before sailing to Caesarea Maritima. This was the provincial capital for Roman Judea, the governor’s home was here at the largest port city in Judea. Here Luke tells us that the group stays with a person we haven’t seen since the end of chapter 8 about 25 years previous. Paul and the others stayed at the home of Philip the evangelist. Philip had traveled through the region preaching and then drops from the narrative of Acts when he reached Caesarea. It seems he settled down here as we now see that he has four daughters who have the gift of prophecy.

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After several days with Philip and his family, another person from the past comes from Judea to address Paul. The prophet Agabus who traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch to help teach and establish that church and had prophesied a famine in chapter 11 came to Caesarea. Once there he gave Paul a prophecy with all the visual drama of an OT prophet. What do I mean by that? Listen to how one source puts it, “As Ahijah the Shilonite tore his new cloak to show how Solomon’s kingdom would be disrupted (1 Kings 11:29-39), as Isaiah went about naked and barefoot to show how the Egyptians would be led into captivity by the Assyrians (Isa 20:2-4), as Ezekiel mimicked the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem by laying siege himself to a replica of the city (Ezek 4:1-3), so Agabus foretold the binding of Paul by tying himself up with Paul’s [belt]” (Bruce, F.F. NICNT: The Book of the Acts, © 1988, p401). In this prophecy, we see a resemblance to Jesus’ own words about His arrest and delivery to the Gentiles in Luke 18:32.

Agabus’ prophecy sent Luke, the traveling party and the local Christians into a passionate attempt to plead Paul from continuing to Jerusalem. Some think Paul was wrong to keep going to Jerusalem, that he may have been going against the will of God. We should remember that Paul’s ministry has been led by a sensitivity to the Spirit, as in Acts 16:6-10. These prophecies, especially Agabus’ only seem to give fact, not prohibition. They were stating what would happen, not that Paul shouldn’t go. These prophecies may have been just warnings for Paul to be prepared for what would happen. After some passionate pleading by close friends and fellow Christians, Paul states that he is not only ready to arrested but to die for the cause of Christ if needed. The others’ response I believe was a natural concern for their dear friend, but they realized they couldn’t convince him to change his mind so they responded with a “The Lord’s will be done.” Here we see an echo of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane in Luke 22:42.

Concerns in the Church – vv 15-25

After the final prophecy in Caesarea, the group went on to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea came with them to bring them to the home of Mnason. Mnason was an early convert, maybe even as early as Pentecost, who was originally from Cyprus. It is unclear as to where his home was, whether it was in Jerusalem or somewhere between Caesarea and Jerusalem as that 60-70 mile distance was more than a single day’s travel.

The day after they arrived in Jerusalem, Paul and his party went and met with James and the elders of the Jerusalem church. After a warm welcome from the church, and greeting James and the other elders Paul recounts his latest ministry journey in Asia and Greece causing them to rejoice. There is no direct mention of the relief funds that Paul and the others were bringing here in the text, but it may have been given to the elders during Paul’s report.

After Paul’s report, the leadership in Jerusalem begin to discuss with him a growing concern about Paul within the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. There were rumors going around that Paul was teaching other believing Jews that lived in Gentile cities to not bother with the Mosaic Law. The first line in verse 22 they ask “what is to be done about this?” We know from other passages that Paul never forgot his Jewish heritage and never encouraged any other Jewish Christian to forget the Jewish heritage, but he did resist the idea of forcing Gentile Christians to follow the Mosaic law, especially as a safeguard to better their position before God. I think that James and the Elders were concerned that with the large number of Jews in Jerusalem for the festival and Paul in town as well would set off a major problem.  I think James and the elders knew Paul well enough to know these rumors were false, but I think to help keep the peace, promote unity, and put an end to these rumors they had an idea for Paul.

There were four men who had taken a vow, this is usually thought to be the Nazarite vow, and had to be purified before they could complete the vow, it is possible they had been defiled during their vow possibly by coming in contact with a dead body. It was suggested to Paul that he put a rest these rumors by publicly show his respect for the Mosaic Law by purifying himself, since he was ritually unclean after 3 plus years in Gentile lands, along with these men and pay for or at least defer the cost of the offerings that these men needed to complete their vow. Paul agreed to this suggestion. Some criticize Paul for going along with this, thinking the was a mistake. However, I disagree. Paul writes about his ministry in 1 Cor 9:19-22, “’Although I am free from all and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law — though I myself am not under the law — to win those under the law. To those who are without the law, like one without the law — though I am not without God’s law but under the law of Christ — to win those without the law. To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.”  Also, no one had forgotten the Jerusalem Council back in chapter 15, the elders reference it here. They may have had copies to go back with Paul’s companions to take back to the churches in Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, and the others. I think Paul knew exactly what he was doing, and that he trusted God to do what He would.

Contentious Jews in the Temple – vv 26-36

The next day, Paul joins with the four men under the vow, began the purification time of seven days and went to the temple to determine when the offerings would be made and to make the arrangements for the offerings.

The near the end of the 7 day purification process, Paul was back in the temple. At the same time so unbelieving Jews from Asia, probably Ephesus, saw Paul there. These Jews were already antagonistic towards Paul, whether out of a mistaken assumption (which is how the verse comes across) or out of intentional ill-will towards Paul they grab Paul and call for help leveling extremely serious allegations against him.

Gentiles were only allowed so far into the temple complex. They could go as far as the Court of the Gentiles otherwise called the Outer Court, but any further than that and they could and would be executed. Now you’re thinking that the Romans were the only ones allowed to execute, the Jews couldn’t do it. And typically that was correct, but with this law, the Romans gave Israel the right, even against Roman citizens. There were signs in Greek and Latin around the barriers of the inner courts that warned any foreigner who went pass had only himself to blame for his death. Now since Paul was trying to dispel rumors and allegations about him, I find it hard to believe he would bring Trophimus to the Temple, let alone past the Outer Court. If Paul had done that, Trophimus would have been the one to die, though Paul would be an accessory and probably killed too.

This cry of alarm did what one would expect. A riot broke out as several men rushed Paul dragged him out of the inner courts and the temple police shut the gate to preserve the sanctity of the Temple from any further violations. This appears to be a turning point. F. F. Bruce writes, “For Luke himself, this may have been the moment when the Jerusalem temple ceased to fill the honorable role hitherto ascribed to it in his twofold history. The exclusion of God’s message and messenger from the house once called by His name sealed its doom: it was now ripe for the destruction which Jesus had predicted for it many years before (Luke 21:6)” (Bruce, p410).

At the northwest corner of the temple complex attached by stairs and tunnels was the Antonia Fortress. This was the Roman stronghold in Jerusalem, and was attached to the temple to control riots, like now. At this point the whole temple complex was in an uproar as many were beating Paul trying to kill him. At some point, maybe a Roman guard looking down from the fortress seeing this riot, the regiment or legion commander was notified of the riot. We can assume that at least two centurions were there, meaning at least 200 men and the commander came down the stairs from the fortress and into the outer court. Seeing two centuries of Romans coming toward them, the Jews stopped beating Paul and back away. Assuming Paul had done something, the commander order Paul arrested, and bound with two chains. The commander then tries to get to the bottom of what had happened [read 34]. The crowd was still so enraged at Paul that by the time he got the steps his escort had to carry him up the stairs while the crowd shouted, “Get rid of him! Away with him!” Attacked and beaten by the Jews, Paul was rescued and carried off by the Romans.


What can we take away from this passage today?

We need to follow God’s will. How? We need to be in the word and in prayer.

We need to learn to say, and mean, “the Lord’s will be done”, even if it is something we don’t like.

We should listen to fellow believers, but ultimately we have to choose to follow God.

Though the suffering Paul was going through and would continue to go through was part of Jesus’ commission of Paul, we should know that following Christ doesn’t mean we will have an easy life free from suffering. 

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