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Journey to Jerusalem
Acts Chapter 21
After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Cos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo.
The parting was painful, but Paul and his companions had to leave, and they did. The first day’s sailing was to the island of Cos. From there they sailed to the larger island located off the southwest coast of Asia Minor, Rhodes. Patara was a port city on the mainland, at the extreme southwestern corner of Asia Minor.
Now the island hopping was at an end. The group boarded a ship that would cross the eastern Mediterranean directly to the seacoast of central Syria, that is, to Phoenicia. The voyage would be about 400 miles.
Cyprus is that large island in the angle between Asia Minor and Syria, Barnabas’ home and the place where the proconsul Sergius Paulus was converted. It was on their left, “to port,” as Paul and his companions sailed past toward Syria. Phoenicia was part of the province of Syria, and Luke uses the name of the province. He had used the historical name in verse 2. The ship’s cargo was destined for Tyre.
Acts Chapter 21, verses 4-6
Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. But when our time was up, we left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying good-by to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.
It was now two weeks until Pentecost. Paul was determined to arrive in Jerusalem for the feast. The disciples at Tyre urged their honored guest not to go.
The Spirit was compelling Paul to go (20:22). The Spirit had warned Paul that prison and hardships awaited him (20:23). The Spirit also informed the disciples at Tyre of what the apostle faced. On the basis of that information, they gave Paul mistaken advice—to stay away from Jerusalem. They drew false conclusions from true information, just as people sometimes make false application of God’s written Word. They meant well, but Paul could not bow to their urging.
When the ship had unloaded its cargo at Tyre, it was time to resume the voyage. The whole congregation accompanied Paul, Luke, and the others to the beach. As at Miletus, the company of believers went to their knees, asking God to bless and protect those who were going to Jerusalem, those who were staying at Tyre, and the whole church everywhere.
Acts Chapter 21, verses 7-9
We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.
Ptolemais was renamed Acre, or St. Jean d’Acre, during the Crusades. Today it is Acco, in the present-day state of Israel. The southern edge of its natural harbor is formed by the Carmel mountain range, and Haifa is situated there. Acco is on the north side of the bay.
About 35 or 40 miles down the coast was Caesarea, the Roman capital of Judea. A boat that took cargo from Tyre to Ptolemais would probably have cargo for Caesarea as well. Luke does not say they sailed, but it is likely they did, especially since they made the trip in one day.
Almost 25 years before, after the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, Philip “appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea” (8:40). He was still there, exercising his special gift of telling the good news.
His daughters were also gifted. Recall the prophecy of Joel, which Peter quoted on Pentecost: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy” (2:17; Joel 2:28). The Messiah had come. God had poured out his Spirit. Philip’s daughters had the gift of being able to explain and apply God’s Word.
Acts Chapter 21, verses 10-11
After we had been there a number of days, a prophetnamed Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”
Presumably, this was the same Agabus who came down from Jerusalem to Antioch to prophesy of famine about years before (11:28).
The kind of belt that Paul would have worn was a long piece of cloth wrapped around his waist. It could be used for hitching up one’s loose outer garment in order to walk or to work. It could also serve as a pocket when it was properly folded and tightened.
Unlike the people of Tyre who warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem, Agabus simply passed on the Holy Spirit’s message. As things developed, the Jews would bind Paul in the way they crucified Jesus, by getting the Roman authorities to do it (21:31-33).
Acts Chapter 21, verses 12-14
When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”
Even Luke and Paul’s other travel companions, the delegation from the gentile churches, joined the people in begging Paul not to walk into a dangerous situation. Paul was by no means callous to their pleas. He was deeply moved by their concern. But the Savior would be served by Paul’s going to Jerusalem with the collection from the gentile churches. That collection was a demonstration that God’s salvation is for all nations and that his church is one. And so Paul was ready to go, even to die, if his being bound would lead to that.
“The Lord’s will be done” was not simply an expression of resignation on the people’s part. They finally recognized what God’s will was, and they resolved to concur with it.
Acts Chapter 21, verses 15-16
After this, we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples.
Paul and his group arrived in time for Pentecost, even after spending a number of days in Caesarea.
An “early” disciple from Cyprus may very well mean a man who was converted on or shortly after the great Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out. Mnason seems to have been a man of means. At least he was a generous man, known to be hospitable, for the disciples from Caesarea knew that Paul’s party of nine men was to stay at this man’s house.
Paul as Prisoner Witnesses
from Jerusalem to Rome
Jerusalem: Paul’s arrest and trial
Acts Chapter 21, verses 17-19
When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
Paul and his companions, bringing the relief collection, arrived in Jerusalem just in time for the festival of Pentecost. They received a warm welcome, and we may assume that the gift from the gentile churches was accepted in the spirit in which it was sent, as an expression of love and unity.
James was the Lord’s brother, not one of the Twelve. We have met him in chapter 15, presiding over the council that was held in Jerusalem. It appears that the Twelve were not in Jerusalem at this time, that they were working in various mission fields away from Jerusalem.
A detailed report of the work among the Gentiles would include an account of how and why the collection was gathered. That too was something God had accomplished and for which he had received the credit. Paul’s ministry was the instrument, but all the achievements were God’s.
Acts Chapter 21, verses 20-21
When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul:“You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.
The way “praised” is used in the original language suggests that a service of thanksgiving was held. After Paul’s report and after God was praised for what his grace had achieved among the Gentiles, James and the elders had something to say about the gospel’s progress among the Jews in the homeland.
There were thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Jews in the homeland who believed in Jesus as the Messiah and their Redeemer. As far as their style of living was concerned, they continued to observe the rules and ceremonies of the Law of Moses.
These Jewish Christians had heard a rumor that disturbed them. The rumor was that Paul urged Jewish believers in gentile lands to turn away from the rules and ceremonies of Jewish life. This misinformation did not come from believers but from enemies of the gospel. It is possible that some believing Jews did discontinue their Jewish lifestyle, but not because Paul had told them to do so.
What Paul did teach was that circumcision and living according to the ceremonial law are not necessary for salvation. He had Timothy circumcised, not to make a “better” or a “complete” Christian of him, but so that the young man could work among the Jews (16:3). As Paul and Silas, with Timothy, visited the churches of Galatia, “they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey” (16:4).
We recall that Paul himself had taken a vow according to Jewish custom (18:18). On the other hand, he refused to have Titus circumcised (Galatians 2:3) when “some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses’” (Acts 15:5). In all his actions Paul tried to make clear that no observance of the law was required or could help in saving a person from the guilt and punishment of sin. At the same time, he tried to make clear that a person might, out of consideration for the weak and to remove an obstacle to the gospel, observe those laws.
Acts Chapter 21, verses 22-26
What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you havecome, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.”
The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.
Paul did not have to prove anything to James and the elders, but they believed it was necessary for him to put the rumors to rest. They proposed a way in which Paul could prove that he was not teaching Jews to turn away from their Jewish customs. Four Jewish believers had taken a Nazirite vow, committing themselves to carry out the prescriptions of the Old Testament law regarding such vows (Numbers 6:1-21). Such a vow might be made as a gesture of thanksgiving or in connection with a promise to do some special service to God and people.
By participating in the purificatory rites of these four men, Paul could demonstrate that he was not urging people to forsake their Jewish heritage. He himself would not need to take the vow but would assist those who had. This involved considerable expense on his part. It meant going to the temple to arrange for the men’s offerings at the end of their days of purification. It included a rite of purification on Paul’s part before he could enter the temple after being in gentile lands.
For the gospel’s sake and to avoid anything that would spoil the church’s unity, Paul complied. It was an act of loving concern, and it was in keeping with the policy Paul had followed in all his work: “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law” (1 Corinthians 9:20).
At the same time, the decision of the council concerning the gentile believers and what was asked of them in regard to customs (15:20) was reaffirmed. For Paul to assist the four men with their purification rites was in no way to be understood as being in conflict with that decision.
Acts Chapter 21, verses 27-29
When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.” (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.)
Men who had taken a vow would have their heads shaved on the seventh day after announcing their intention to make the sacrifices that concluded the period of the vow. The day after that they would offer the required sacrifice and burn their hair in the sacrificial fire. Before the time was up, before Paul could finish helping them with the ceremonial obligations, the apostle was charged with sacrilege.
Jews from the province of Asia, from Ephesus or some of the other cities of that province, falsely accused Paul. They had been his bitter enemies in the mission field, and they were infuriated to see him in Jerusalem. Their charges were like those leveled against Stephen more than two decades before (6:13), with one notable addition. They accused Paul of defiling the temple by taking Gentiles into the temple precincts.
The temple area had a Court of the Gentiles, but for Gentiles to go beyond a stone barrier in the temple area was an offense punishable by death. Archaeologists have found inscribed stone markers that warned those Gentiles who approached the barrier not to enter the court of Israel.
Trophimus was one of the group who had accompanied Paul in delivering the collection. For him to be in the city was not the same as Paul taking him into the temple. But Paul had been seen in the temple area with the four men who had taken a vow. From the presence of Trophimus in the city and the presence of the four men with Paul in the temple, the Asian Jews drew a false conclusion.
Acts Chapter 21, verses 30-36
The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.
The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Away with him!”
The members of the mob, bent on killing Paul, dragged him from the temple so that their Holy Place would not be defiled by the shedding of blood. The gates of the inner court were closed so that he could not run back inside for refuge. The mob and the temple police were very concerned about defilement under the ceremonial law, but less concerned about the moral law that forbids murder. The Roman troops were quartered in the Antonia Tower, which overlooked the temple area from the northwest corner. It had been built there because through the years most disturbances in Jerusalem had begun in the temple area. Since the commander of these troops was a tribune, we can surmise that about six hundred soldiers were garrisoned in Jerusalem.
The rioters were battering Paul with the intention of killing him, but they stopped when they saw the representatives of Roman law and order. The quick response of the commander with his officers and men saved Paul’s life. But that did not mean Paul would be free to go. Not the leaders of the lynch mob but their intended victim was arrested.
Since Paul seemed to be the focus of the violence, the tribune assumed that Paul had done something wrong. First the commander arrested and bound Paul. Then he asked what the crime was. The binding with two chainsprobably means that Paul was chained between two soldiers. In this way the prophecy of Agabus (21:11) was fulfilled.
The commander could not sort out the conflicting charges against Paul and decided to take him to a safer and quieter place. “The barracks” refers to the Antonia Tower , which was connected to the temple area by two flights of stairs. So enraged was the mob that even Roman troops had a difficult time protecting their prisoner. “Away with him!” meant “Kill him!”