Acts 21 - Outline of Acts (MENU page)
As we come to Acts ch. 21, Paul is rapidly approaching the close of his third missionary journey. Fifteen years have elapsed, since he and Barnabas were first sent out by the church in Antioch, to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. How those years had flown by. The Gospel had been preached throughout Asia Minor, Macedonia and Achaia (Greece). Churches had been planted, and elders had been appointed in many cities. Paul had returned, more than once, to most of those churches, to strengthen them in the Word, and to resolve questions and controversies. Paul had paid a high personal price to serve the Lord and His church. He had been beaten, scourged, and imprisoned. At least once, he was stoned and left for dead. He was under constant threat of ambush by enemies. Yet, he counted his trials "all joy," for love of His Lord and of His people.
     As the spiritual father of many, Paul's heart was burdened for the well-being of his children. When his travels put distance between him and them, he sent others to check on them, often carrying letters of encouragement and instruction. During these few years, he wrote the letters to believers in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, and Thessalonica. His continual prayer was that his children would come to know and love the Lord Jesus, as he knew and loved Him... that they would be rooted and grounded in His Word, and filled with His love, and with His Spirit and power... that they would grow up into Christ and avoid the snares of the Devil.
     His heart ached, as he warned the Ephesian elders of the perils which lay ahead for God's flock... perils from without and from within. Yet, the time had come for him to move on. He must leave the care of the flock to other men, entrusting them to God and to His Word.
     What love the believers had for this man, who had poured out his life, as an offering to God, in their behalf. What love he had for them... like that of the Savior. With their own eyes, they had seen, in Paul, Christ crucified among them. It is no wonder that they wept, while bidding farewell to Paul for the last time (20:36-38).
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.
Paul is on the way to Jerusalem. The pace of travel picks up.
There will be fewer stops, with greater distances between. He sailed from Miletus (where he met with the Ephesian elders), passing the islands of Cos and Rhodes, stopping briefly at Patara (a port where they transferred to another ship, on which they would sail for the remainder their trip). From there, they set out on the longest leg of the journey, nearly 400 miles non-stop. After sighting the island of Cyprus, they passed by, leaving it on the left side of the ship. Eventually, they landed at the port city of Tyre.
     What do you see here? The adventure of travel? The dangers and difficult conditions on ancient ships? There is something here that overshadows all. In v.1, we read "and after we were gotten from them..." From whom? ...from the Ephesian elders who wept with Paul at his departure. The words "were gotten from them" are literally, "were torn from them." There was nothing more difficult to Paul, in his travels than leaving behind those whom he loved. What a comfort it must have been to fellowship with other believers along the way, as he did in Tyre.
4 And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days:
who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.
Yet, here, as before, Paul is warned by the Holy Spirit, that trouble will befall him in Jerusalem.
The brethren, through the Spirit, told Paul not to "go up" {ie., not to "set foot in"} in Jerusalem. (see 20:22-24)
The word 'not' {GK= me} is usually translated 'lest' (ie., '...lest he set foot in Jerusalem'}. The Holy Spirit continued to prepare Paul to expect trouble in Jerusalem. Yet, He was not forbidding him to go.
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.
Again, Paul's parting from these believers is marked with tender love (highlighted here by the presence of women and children), and by prayer, committing one another to the Lord's keeping, until we meet 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.
There was a brief visit with believers in Ptolemais, and a longer stay in Caesarea.
From here, the party would continue on foot overland.
Philip, "the evangelist" (who had won and baptized the Ethiopian eunuch)
was "one of the seven." - Philip was one of the original seven deacons which were chosen to assist the apostles in the material aspects of ministering to the church. Stephen was another of those seven. Both men had grown, from waiting on tables, into powerful spiritual ministries (see Acts 6:1-6). Philip was also blessed with children who knew the Lord.
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.
The prophecy of Agabus was not to be taken lightly,
for he had previously prophesied a famine which had come to pass (Acts 11:28). Paul was warned again, of trouble awaiting him in Jerusalem, this time with specifics: he would be bound and turned over to gentile authorities.
When we heard these things, we and they besought him...-
Paul's traveling companions and the church at Caesarea pled with him with tears.
What mean ye to weep and to break my heart? -
Paul was bound in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. He knew that he must go. To do otherwise, would be to disobey the Lord's leading. He did not count his life dear. He desired only to fulfil the course of ministry that God had prescribed for him (Acts 20:24). And as he would write, later, in Romans 9, he was willing not only to lose his life, but also to forfeit his eternal soul, if by doing so, his people, the Jewish people, would recognize and receive their Messiah. Paul was prepared to serve His Lord by life or by death. "As much as in me is, I am ready to preach the Gospel..." wherever and however the Lord may lead (Rom 1:15).
Finally, his friends gave up pleading with him, saying, "The will of the Lord be done."
And that is exactly what was done. When Paul had first come to faith in Christ, the Lord had outlined his will for him. Look at Acts 9:15,16. Paul has just completed 15 years of ministry to the gentiles. Now, he will be given an opportunity, which had been forbidden to him earlier, to present the Messiah to the children of Israel in Jerusalem. After that, he would go on to speak of Christ before gentile kings.
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.
We took up our carriages (ie., "we packed up our baggage"),
and proceeded on the way to set foot in Jerusalem.
Mnason, whose name means "remembering," is not mentioned elsewhere.
He is said to be an old (ie., "early") disciple, who was originally from Cyprus. Perhaps he was among those who heard and responded to the Gospel, when it was proclaimed in his own language, on that first Pentecost, nearly 30 years earlier (in Acts ch. 2).
Remember that Paul's goal had been to arrive in Jerusalem prior to Pentecost.
So, now they gather with other believers, in celebration of an anniversary of the church's founding.
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:
During this meeting, Paul gave a report of how God had brought many gentiles to faith in Christ, and into His church.
It was here that he would have presented the monetary gift collected by the gentile churches, to assist the impoverished church in Jerusalem. It was a time of joy and praise to God.
But while they praised the Lord for His blessings, the church in Jerusalem recognized a problem... in the person of Paul (v.20-21).
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.
The Jerusalem church leaders asked Paul to participate in a ceremony at the Temple,
to demonstrate that he had not rejected the Mosaic Law and the Jewish traditions, as had been reported of him.
     Paul had taught that salvation cannot be merited through the keeping of the Law. Rather, it is the gift of God, secured and conveyed to believers by God's grace alone, though they are totally undeserving of His favor.
     The unbelieving Jews had a distorted view of Paul's teaching (v.21). Paul had not forbidden believing Jews from participating in the Jewish traditions. In fact, at the beginning of his second missionary journey, Paul had arranged for Timothy's circumcision. This was done because Timothy had Jewish heritage, and the neglect of this rite would have been offensive to other Jews (Acts 16:3). Timothy's circumcision had no bearing upon his acceptance before God. That rested on his faith alone, which was in Christ alone. There is only one way of salvation for Jew and Gentile. This was confirmed by the letter written by the council in Jerusalem, about 8-10 years earlier, just before the start of Paul's second journey. That letter had declared that Gentiles did not need to come under the Law to be saved (see Acts 15:10-11,19-27).
     Those who are saved by Grace are also to walk by Grace. Since our righteousness depends upon the finished work of Christ, we are not under obligation to perform religious rituals. However, under Grace, we have freedom to participate or not. "One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks." (Rom 14:5,6)
     Many people fault Paul for his participation in this Jewish ceremony, saying that the preacher of Grace was putting himself under the Law. However, under Grace, Paul had the freedom to engage in Jewish ritual. (Remember the vow that he took in Acts 18:18.)
     However, this vow (at the Temple) was somewhat more involved, since it would have concluded with animal sacrifice (v.26, "an offering"), following the procedures given in Numbers 6:13-18. These multiple sacrifices would be costly. Therefore, in v.24, Paul was asked to "be at charges" with the other men, contributing his share of the expenses. Under Grace, participation of a believing Jew in this ritual was permissible. He would see, in those sacrifices, a picture of the cost that His Savior bore for him. In the Millenial Kingdom, such sacrifices will be offered in remembrance of what Christ has done (eg., Ezekiel 43:19). But such ritual would be out of place for the gentile (v.25).
     On this occasion, before the time came to offer the sacrifices, the process was interrupted (as we will see in the following verses). It could be, that the Holy Spirit allowed this interruption, to prevent confusion concerning the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice, lest someone say that even Paul had to add religious ritual to what Christ has done (Heb 10:1-3,11-14).
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.
...the Jews which were of Asia...- recognized Paul.
Here, in the Temple, was the teacher of 'heresy,' whom they had violently expelled from their cities in Asia Minor.
Their accusations were based on mis-characterization of Paul's message,
and false assumptions concerning his activities in Jerusalem (v.28).
     He had not been teaching "against the Law" and the Temple. Rather, he declared that "the Law is good" (1Tim 1:8). God's "Law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good..." It shows me my sinful condition, as "...carnal, sold under sin..." and in bondage to it..., so that I might come to recognize my wretchedness and turn to the Savior. (Rom 7:11-14f).
     Neither had Paul brought an uncircumcised gentile into the Temple as they had supposed.
     But the people were enraged and did not take time to check the facts. The doors of the Temple were closed to protect it from the rioting crowds in the surrounding courtyard.
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.
At the northwest corner, and overlooking the Temple platform, stood the Fortress of Antonia, the headquarters of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem. From that fortress the troops "ran down" to calm the uproar and to rescue 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.
Paul was rescued, bound and arrested in one operation. From the shouts of the crowd, the soldiers had no idea why Paul was the object of such hatred. It was clear only, that they wanted him dead.
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,
The chief captain had assumed that Paul was a terrorist leader who had caused trouble before. The Greek historian Josephus makes reference to a band of 4,000 assassins in this time period. But now, recognizing the mistaken identity, and impressed by Paul's fluency in Greek, his evident intellect and respectable background, the chief captain allowed him to address the crowd... No doubt, hoping that it would enable him to understand the cause of their raucous behavior.

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