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Acts 21-23 Listen
Paul makes some stops on his way to Jerusalem (Acts 21:1-14)
1 And it came to pass, that after we were gotten from them, and had launched, we came with a straight course unto Coos, and the day following unto Rhodes, and from thence unto Patara:
2 And finding a ship sailing over unto Phenicia, we went aboard, and set forth.
3 Now when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed into Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her burden.
4 And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.
5 And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed.
6 And when we had taken our leave one of another, we took ship; and they returned home again.
7 And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day.
8 And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him.
9 And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.
10 And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus.
11 And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.
12 And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.
13 Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.
14 And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.
At the end of Acts 20 (see notes), Paul was preparing to leave Ephesus. On Paul's way back to Jerusalem, he stops at Tyre where he stays for seven days. These Believers are well aware of the danger that awaits Paul back in Jerusalem; they tell him not to go, as we see in verse 4, "who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem." Hmmmmm...that's interesting; "through the Spirit" these Believers had determined that Paul "should not go up to Jerusalem." The terminology used by Luke here suggests that through an exercise of one or more spiritual gifts (mentioned in I Corinthians 12, see notes), they had gotten supernatural insight that God did not want Paul to go to Jerusalem. However, Paul himself had gotten supernatural insight from God that he SHOULD go to Jerusalem, despite the outcome. That just goes to show us that, while Believers are wise to listen to counsel from other Believers, we are ultimately required to get our own direction from God through the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Paul rejected their counsel.
As Paul and company arrive at Ptolemais, they stay one day with Believers before departing to Caesarea where they lodge with Philip, one of the original seven deacons in Jerusalem. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. Apparently they attracted other prophets; Agabus, another prophet, shows up and does an interesting routine. He takes Paul's belt and binds his hands and feet with it. He then says that this is what will happen to the owner of the belt when he arrives in Jerusalem. A rather dramatic performance, wouldn't you say? Paul says, in effect, "Yeah, but bring it on!" And, it's off to Jerusalem. (Click here to see a map of Paul's stops on his way to Jerusalem.)
It is worth noting that Paul does not dispute the prophecies and warnings concerning himself; he fully acknowledges that he will be taken prisoner in Jerusalem...and perhaps even be executed. However, he sees the trip and subsequent events as necessary steps to the advancement of the Gospel.
15 And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem.
16 There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge.
17 And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.
18 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.
19 And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.
20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:
21 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.
22 What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come.
23 Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them;
24 Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.
25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.
26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.
So here we are; Paul the former Pharisee is back in Jerusalem. He appears before James and the elders of the church there - a huge church. But there's a problem: Paul's reputation. Word has gotten back to Jerusalem that, while preaching in foreign cities, Paul has not been strictly adhering to recognized Jewish practices and has been telling Jews that they do not need to do so either. Well...Paul has been planning for this moment. You will recall a few years back just prior to his third missionary journey in Acts 18:18 (see notes) that Paul had taken and fulfilled the ritual of the Nazarite vow himself, "having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow." He had completed that vow at the festival in Jerusalem, as he had declared in verse 18:21, "I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem." Now, these years later, James has an idea for Paul; participate in this strictly-Jewish, highly-visible ritual of the Nazarite vow with four men who will be completing the procedure in ceremony; he should pay for their sacrificial expenses in the process. When people in Jerusalem see this, they'll know that you have not forsaken the keeping of the law and that you, in fact, do keep the law. (Click here to see the specifications of the Nazarite vow in Numbers 6.)
Verse 20 sums up the fix Paul is in when James declares, "...Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:" Verse 25 is a reaffirmation of the council dealing with the Gentiles back in Acts 15:22-41 (see notes) when James recalls in verse 25, "As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication." The issue here is regarding Jewish Christians and the Law of Moses. Prior to that council, it had been consensus back in Jerusalem that Christianity was a layer of practice to be added upon the layer of Jewish practice - not a substitute.
27 And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,
28 Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.
29 (For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)
30 And all the city was moved, and the people ran together: and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut.
31 And as they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.
32 Who immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down unto them: and when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, they left beating of Paul.
33 Then the chief captain came near, and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and demanded who he was, and what he had done.
34 And some cried one thing, some another, among the multitude: and when he could not know the certainty for the tumult, he commanded him to be carried into the castle.
35 And when he came upon the stairs, so it was, that he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the people.
36 For the multitude of the people followed after, crying, Away with him.
37 And as Paul was to be led into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, May I speak unto thee? Who said, Canst thou speak Greek?
38 Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?
39 But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.
40 And when he had given him licence, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying,
Well, James' plan didn't work. Life in Christ is what it is - a fulfillment of the Law of Moses; it's not about a continuation of Judaistic traditions and laws. The transitional period in the early church was a dilemma. When you've been raised all of your life believing the absolute necessity of strictly observing well-established traditions, how do you suddenly proclaim that it is no longer the means to righteousness. By the way, Moses never billed the Law as being the means to individual righteousness before God, but it had become the de facto standard for righteousness among Jews; it was just their way. Traditions are hard to change. Here's the problem - Asian Jews. Asia was the western part of modern-day Turkey through which Paul had gone to preach on his second missionary journey (see map) and third missionary journey (see map). When Paul is seen in the temple and recognized, a mob drags him out of the temple and commences an attempt to put him to death. It's time for a little order. Call the police!
Following is a note about the police who were called from the Expositor's Bible Commentary:
While the temple police were drawn from the ranks of the Levites, the commander of the fortress was a Roman military officer whose responsibility it was to keep peace in the city. The Fortress of Antonia was built by Herod the Great to overlook the temple area to the south and the city to the north and west, with exits to both the Court of the Gentiles and the city proper. The commander was not a chief priest and had nothing to do with the priests and officials of the temple. Rather, he represented Romes interests and was commissioned to intervene in the affairs of the people on behalf of those interests.
After a beating, but before the execution, Paul is taken into custody by the Roman police force, and he begins presenting his defense. Looks like Agabus was right - Paul is bound and imprisoned. Notice the case of mistaken identity by the captain of the guard in verse 38; he thought Paul was a notorious Egyptian dissident and leader of a band of murderers. Surprised that Paul can speak Greek (must not be that Egyptian after all), he allows Paul to speak to the people from the safety of the stairs overlooking the crowd, which he does in Hebrew.
1 Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you.
2 (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,)
3 I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.
4 And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.
5 As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished.
6 And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me.
7 And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
8 And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.
9 And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.
10 And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.
11 And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus.
12 And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there,
13 Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him.
14 And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.
15 For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.
16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
17 And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance;
18 And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me.
19 And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee:
20 And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.
21 And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.
Paul had convinced the chief captain to let him speak to the people from the safety of the castle (Acts 21:37, 40, see above). Paul then takes the opportunity to give his testimony of salvation.
You will note that Paul's testimony is in three parts:
Notice in verse 4 that Paul refers to life in Christ as "this way." He is capitalizing on the fact that Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism by the Roman government. "This way" expresses life in Christ as a reasonable extension of Judaism. In verse 5 Paul mentions, "the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders." This is a direct reference to the Sanhedrin (see notes.). Paul points out here that he had been an enforcement officer for the Sanhedrin (a hit man, so to speak) under the direction of some of these very men sitting on the Sanhedrin now. How's that for credentials!
Perhaps if the people would understand the supernatural events which brought Paul to Christ, they would respond positively. Paul recounts to the crowd that he was charged with the task of persecuting Christians and even makes reference to his part in the stoning of Stephen. In reference to Stephen, he conveys the conversation he had with the Lord at the time of his conversion about how his treatment of the Jewish Christians would alienate him from being able to minister to them. Then Paul makes a deal-breaking statement to his audience when he recalls the Lord's reply to him in verse 21, "And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles."
Incidentally, some have pointed to the wording of Acts 22:9 when compared to Acts 9:7 and seen a seeming difference in Paul's account of his conversion. Note the difference in wording:
Acts 22:9 And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.
Acts 9:7 And the men who are journeying with him stood speechless, hearing indeed the voice but seeing no one,
The Greek word used in both instances is "akouo" and is used over 400 times in the New Testament in various senses such as: to simply hear, to understand, to obey or to respond positively. Luke obviously means to point out in Acts 9:7 that those accompanying Paul did hear that something was taking place, but as Paul comments in his testimony in 22:9, what was heard by Paul lacked clear definition to them.
That reference to "Gentiles" was exactly what the angry mob wanted to hear - end of speech.
Paul's audience has had all they can take (Acts 22:22-30)
22 And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live.
23 And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air,
24 The chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle, and bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know wherefore they cried so against him.
25 And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?
26 When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman.
27 Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea.
28 And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born.
29 Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.
30 On the morrow, because he would have known the certainty wherefore he was accused of the Jews, he loosed him from his bands, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down, and set him before them.
Taking their Jewish traditions to the Gentiles simply will not be tolerated! We see here in verse 22, "And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live." The chief captain at this point surmises that there is more to the story which can only be determined by torture - a beating. Just when they get Paul all strapped in for the beating, Paul ruins all the fun by declaring his Roman citizenship. Fearful of beating an uncondemned Roman citizen, the chief captain unbinds Paul and calls for a meeting of Jewish leaders to sort this situation out...a meeting before the Sanhedrin.
23:1 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.
2 And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.
3 Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?
4 And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest?
5 Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.
6 But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.
7 And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided.
8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.
9 And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees’ part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.
10 And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.
11 And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.
Paul is now on familiar ground. It's been a few years, but the Sanhedrin ("the council") he knows. Just as he gets started, the high priest gets testy with him and commands someone to smack Paul on the mouth. Paul replies, " God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" Whoa! This is gonna be a tough meetin'. When it is pointed out that Paul has just insulted the High Priest, Paul apologizes and demonstrates his mastery of the Law of Moses by citing that he should not have spoken so to the High Priest based upon Exodus 22:28 (see notes), "Thou shalt not...curse the ruler of thy people."
Following is an excerpt from the Expositor's Bible Commentary:
This so enraged the high priest that, in violation of the law, he ordered those near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Ananias the son of Nedebaeus reigned as high priest from A.D. 48 to 58 or 59 and was known for his avarice and liberal use of violence. Josephus says he confiscated for himself the tithes given the ordinary priests and gave lavish bribes to Romans and also Jews.
Josephus, by the way, was a contemporary Jewish historian whose works have been preserved to this day.
Then Paul exploits the severe, but nevertheless accepted, rift he knew existed in the Sanhedrin - the difference between Sadducees and Pharisees. Both groups made up the Sanhedrin. (Click here to see a summary of the differences between Sadducees and Pharisees.) Paul recognized that his best recourse in this situation was to point out his own Pharisaical membership and proclaim that he is being tried on the basis of his belief in the resurrection. Since the Pharisees were literalists and believed in the supernatural as opposed to the Sadducees, this immediately caused an uproar between these two religious/political factions. bringing the meeting to a near-violent close. Paul is removed from the meeting. He then gets a vision from the Lord telling him that he'll be taking this show to Rome.
Paul fails to win friends among the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:12-22)
12 And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.
13 And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy.
14 And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul.
15 Now therefore ye with the council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you to morrow, as though ye would enquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him.
16 And when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul.
17 Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him, and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain: for he hath a certain thing to tell him.
18 So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him, and prayed me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say unto thee.
19 Then the chief captain took him by the hand, and went with him aside privately, and asked him, What is that thou hast to tell me?
20 And he said, The Jews have agreed to desire thee that thou wouldest bring down Paul to morrow into the council, as though they would enquire somewhat of him more perfectly.
21 But do not thou yield unto them: for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, which have bound themselves with an oath, that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him: and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee.
22 So the chief captain then let the young man depart, and charged him, See thou tell no man that thou hast shewed these things to me.
One sure sign your message wasn't well received is when your audience plots your murder. I hate it when I preach a message like that. The high priest authorizes 40 men who had taken a solemn oath to kill Paul. One problem: the Romans have custody of him. Solution: get the high priest to call him before the Sanhedrin once again; that will provide opportunity for the 40 "oathers" (not a word, but should be) to slay him. What a devious bunch of scoundrels! The plot doesn't work though; Paul's nephew hears about the plot and reports it to the chief captain, who subsequently evades the threat. Incidentally, the oathers had vowed to not eat or drink until Paul was dead. Oooooo...tough luck guys!
It takes an army to move Paul from danger (Acts 23:23-35)
23 And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night;
24 And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor.
25 And he wrote a letter after this manner:
26 Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting.
27 This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them: then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman.
28 And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council:
29 Whom I perceived to be accused of questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds.
30 And when it was told me how that the Jews laid wait for the man, I sent straightway to thee, and gave commandment to his accusers also to say before thee what they had against him. Farewell.
31 Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul, and brought him by night to Antipatris.
32 On the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the castle:
33 Who, when they came to Caesarea, and delivered the epistle to the governor, presented Paul also before him.
34 And when the governor had read the letter, he asked of what province he was. And when he understood that he was of Cilicia;
35 I will hear thee, said he, when thine accusers are also come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s judgment hall.
Well, the chief captain won't have Paul slain on his watch. He's determined to safely deliver Paul to Felix, the Roman procurator of Judea, for trial. He immediately assembles a massive army detail (470 soldiers) to safely escort Paul out of Jerusalem. Paul's Roman citizenship is key in the chief captain's determination to preserve Paul's life. Once in Caesarea, the letter sent with Paul leads to the consent by the governor to hear Paul's case as soon as his accusers can be assembled. Incidentally, there must have been 40 very disappointed and hungry guys looking at this massive force guarding Paul who would have loved a sandwich about that time (see verses 12, 21).