ACTS CHAPTER 21.
The Trip to Jerusalem. Acts 21, 1-16.
From Miletus to Tyre: V.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; v.2. and finding a ship sailing over into Phenicia, we went aboard and set forth. V.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. V.4. And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days; who said to Paul through the Spirit that he should not go up to Jerusalem. The leave-taking from the elders was attended with such difficulties that Paul and his companions literally had to tear themselves from their embraces, so bitterly did they feel the parting from the beloved apostle. But they finally embarked and set sail almost due south to the island of Coos or Cos, just before the opening of the Ceramic Gulf, off the coast of Caria, a district of Proconsular Asia. With a favorable, brisk wind they made this distance in one day. On the next day, with almost equally favorable winds, they managed to reach the harbor of Rhodes, on the island of Rhodes, where the great Colossus, the light tower of the port, now lay prostrate. From here their course was almost due east, to the city of Patara, in Lycia. Here they left the vessel which had carried them from Troas, either because this was its destination, or because the ship was engaged in coastwise traffic and would prove too slow for their purpose. They engaged passage on a vessel bound directly for Phenicia, went on board, and set sail. In due time they sighted the island of Cyprus, memorable to Paul on account of the work he had done there years before; but they left it on the left hand, that is, they sailed past the island on the south on a straight course for Syria, to which province Phenicia belonged. The vessel anchored at Tyre for a week to unload her cargo, and Paul and his companions landed. The unloading was attended with considerable trouble and occupied much time, since it included also the carrying into town of the bales, bundles, and boxes. Naturally the apostleís party lost no time in looking up the disciples, since they knew that there was a congregation in the city (a fine example for Christian travelers in our day to follow). Their quest being successful, they stayed in Tyre seven days. These disciples, some of their number, here received a special revelation through the Spirit concerning at least the general fate which awaited Paul, and they told him repeatedly not to go up to Jerusalem. This warning seems not to have been included in the revelation, but was added on account of their solicitude for the apostleís welfare, who, however, in spite of all entreaties, was unmoved in his determination.
From Tyre to Caesarea: V.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. V.6. And when we had taken our leave one of another, we took ship; and they returned home again. v.7. And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day. V.8. and the next day we that were of Paulís 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. V.9. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. When Paul and his companions had accomplished the seven days, when they had finished the time, when the stated period was up during which they had remained for the cargo to be unloaded, they went out of the city to continue their trip. And here we have a fine bit of evidence from an eye-witness to indicate the affectionate intimacy which in those days characterized the relation of the Christians in general. For the disciples of the city, the entire congregation, not only the men, but also their wives and children, escorted them on their way outside of the city. The band of mutual love, tied by their mutual faith, united them in a closer union than earthly friendship could have done. Having arrived before the city, on the sandy beach near the waterís edge, they all kneeled down and committed themselves and their cause to God in prayer. The very simplicity of the narrative at this place makes it so impressive. Then there were leave-takings from the friends of a week, more dear mutually than others of months and years, after which Paul and his company went on board, and the others returned home. The travelers now, sailing from Tyre, completed their voyage; they were on the last section of their journey, down the coast of Syria and Palestine. The voyage from Macedonia had been completed with the landing at Tyre, the short distance still remaining could be made without difficulty. Their ship ran in and anchored at Ptolemais, a harbor eight miles north of Mount Carmel, and they thus had a chance to salute the brethren in that city and to spend the day with them. But on the next day they started out and came to Caesarea, where the trip by water ended. Here they entered into the house of Philip the Evangelist, originally one of the seven deacons elected by the congregation at Jerusalem, chap. 6, but driven from the city by the persecution of Saul of Tarsus. They were entertained by Philip with all cordiality for some time. Luke, who here, together with some of his companions, made the acquaintance of Philip, records that there were four daughters in the house, virgins, who had the gift of prophecy. There is nothing in the text, however, that would oblige us to conclude that they belonged to a special order, or that they had taken the vow of chastity. They simply shared the home life of their father, making use of their extraordinary gifts only as the Spirit directed, and did no public teaching. Their case came under the heading of the fulfillment of Joel 2, 20, from which no special conclusions in regard to our days may be drawn.
The prophecy of Agabus: V.10. And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judea a certain prophet, named Agabus. V.11. And when he was come unto us, he took Paulís 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. V.12. And when we heard these things, both we and they of that place besought him not to go up to Jerusalem. V.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. V.14. And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, the will of the Lord be done. V.15. And after those days we took up our carriages and want up to Jerusalem. V.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. ďMany days,Ē a few days more, they, Paul and his companions, remained in Caesarea. Paul had been singularly fortunate in having a speedy voyage, a fact which now gave him some extra time, at least a few days, a matter of ten or twelve days. But during this time, spent with the hospitable Philip and his family, Paul received the last and, incidentally, the most exact and explicit prophetic warning on this whole journey. For a disciple by the name of Agabus, who had the gift of prophecy, came down to Caesarea from some city in Judea, probably from Jerusalem, chap. 11, 28. When this man entered the house of Philip, he proceeded to act in a manner altogether in conformity with that of the prophets of the Old Testament, in a symbolical act emphasizing the words he spoke. He took off the girdle which held the upper garments of Paul in place, bound his own feet and hands, and then explained that the Jews of Jerusalem would bind the owner of that girdle in the same way as he was now bound, and would deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. This he did not venture as his own private opinion, but expressly stated that the Holy Ghost was making the prophecy, a fact which made all contradiction and doubt impossible. The announcement naturally created the greatest consternation, not only in the circle of Paulís companions and in the household of Philip, but in the entire congregation at Caesarea, the inhabitants of the city. And they all, including Luke himself, joined in begging Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. But Paul remained firm, not in false seeking of the martyrís crown, for he had upon other occasions yielded to the entreaties of his friends, but for a reason which he would not divulge. He, in turn, however, earnestly begged them all to desist. He asked them what they meant by weeping, why they insisted upon thus breaking his heart. Their tender care for his welfare deeply moved him, but it could not make him waver in his determination. He declared that he was ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the sake of the Lord Jesus. The name of his Savior he could and would not deny. He was convinced that his call was taking him to Jerusalem, and that it was not a matter of free choice. The Jewish Christians that were looking upon his missionary labors with suspicion had to be persuaded of their foolishness, and the unity of the Church between Jews and Gentiles had to be definitely established. This was also the purpose of the collection which his companions were bringing to the brethren at Jerusalem. Though Paul did not explain all this at length, the brethren at Caesarea discontinued their efforts to keep him away from the Jewish capital, placing the matter and its outcome entirely in the hands of the Lord, whose will should be done. So after the days had elapsed which Paul had allowed, he and his companions collected all their baggage necessary for the journey and made the trip up to the highlands where Jerusalem was situated, a distance of a little over sixty miles. Their company was enlarged by the addition of some of the disciples of Caesarea, who aided them on their arrival at Jerusalem by conducting them to the house of one Mnason of Cyprus, in whose house they were to lodge for the time of their stay. This man was an old disciple, that is, an original disciple, one of those that had been converted on the great day of Pentecost. 84) Mark that the Christian virtue of hospitality was freely exercised in the early days of the Church, in every city where Paul and his party had time to stop.
The Jewish Uprising against Paul. Acts 21, 17-39.
The reception at Jerusalem: V.17. And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. V.18. And the day following Paul went with us unto James; and all the elders were present. V.19. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. When Paul and his companions reached Jerusalem, the brethren of the congregation received them with joy, much to the encouragement of them all. The next day there was a more formal meeting, when Paul took his companions and presented them to James, the brother of the Lord, the most prominent elder of the congregation. All the other elders of the congregation were also present for the interview. After saluting them all, Paul began to narrate, literally, to give an account, one by one, in careful detail, what the Lord had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. This referred especially to the success of the second and of the third journey, for the brethren in Jerusalem had heard the story of the first journey, chap. 15,4. Very likely Paulís recital also brought out the fact that he had lived up to the resolutions passed by the conference in Jerusalem some eight or nine years before. Reports from the mission-fields should always prove most interesting to all the Christian brethren, and should stimulate interest in the work.
A case of Jewish prejudice: V.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; v.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. V.22. What is it therefore? The multitude must needs come together; for they will hear that thou art come. V.23. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; v.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. V.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 rank and file of the congregation in Jerusalem was still strongly impregnated with Jewish prejudices, and even the elders, including James, had not reached that clearness of distinction between Christian liberty and Jewish customs which was necessary for a full appreciation of the New Testament blessings. The conference of elders responded to Paulís report with praises to God, expressing their full accord with his manner of working. But incidentally they had a little matter which they believed of sufficient importance to bring to his attention. As they put it, Paul himself must have seen, especially in Jerusalem, that there were thousands of Jews that were believers, that had truly accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah. At the same time, however, they had remained and were ardent upholders of the Law, believing that the keeping of all the precepts and traditions was necessary and even essential. These Jews had heard the report, had received the information concerning Paul, that he taught apostasy from Moses, not in general, but to all the Jews that lived in the Diaspora, among the Gentiles abroad. This general charge was specified in two instances, namely, that Paul had taught them not to practice the rite of circumcision, and that he similarly prevailed upon them not to walk after the customs, the observances which had become obligatory by tradition and usage. As a matter of fact, these charges were not true. Paul had not taught the Jews not to circumcise their children, but had himself circumcised Timothy, a half-Jew, on account of the latterís probable work among Jews. Paul had not taught them to forsake the customs of their fathers; for he himself, about a year before, had written to the Corinthians that he had been a Jew to the Jews, 1 Cor. 9, 20. 21. He never lost sight of the distinction between that which we are at liberty to do for the sake of others, and that which we are under Obligation to do in order to obey God. And this distinction had been brought out in his efforts to convince the Jews that the ancient rites were no longer binding on their consciences. The elders of Jerusalem may have been more or less aware of all this, but they were afraid that the Jewish Christians, who had not yet reached the state of knowledge for the proper understanding of the difference between the Old and the New Testament, would continue in their offense. In casting around for something that might be done under the circumstances, they felt that a meeting of the entire congregation would become absolutely necessary, for the news of Paulís arrival had spread throughout the city by this time. To avoid any unpleasantness, therefore, they made a suggestion to Paul as to what he might do to remove all false impressions and to meet the weak brethren at least halfway. They had in the congregation four men that were under a Nazirite vow, Num. 6, 2-12, which lay upon them as an unfulfilled obligation. ďThis necessitated their purification, which required seven days for its completion, the shaving of their heads at the altar, the sacrifice of a sin-offering and a burnt offering for each of them, and the loss of the time passed under the vow. Paulís part with them was, first, to be at charges for them, meaning that he paid part of or all the expenses of the victims which they had to offer; and secondly, to go into the Temple and notify the priests when their days of purification would be fulfilled, so that a priest might be prepared to sacrifice their offerings. The last they could not do themselves, because the Law shut them out of the Jewish court during their uncleanness; but as Paul was unclean, not from contact with a dead body, but from some of the many other causes mentioned in the Law, he could purify himself in a single day by washing his clothes and bathing his flesh and remaining unclean until evening, Lev. 15, 1-30.Ē 85) This act of Paul would give them all to understand that the matters which had been reported concerning him were without foundation, and that he so comported himself as to keep the Law. And so far as the Gentile Christians were concerned, the elders of Jerusalem reassured Paul, by reminding him of their resolution passed in his presence, that they were not obliged to keep the Jewish ceremonial law, but that they should beware of eating the flesh of idol sacrifices, and blood, and the meat of strangled animals, and that they must avoid fornication, sexual vice. From this description it appears that the members of the congregation in Jerusalem were still ardent upholders of the Mosaic ceremonial law, that they continued to circumcise their children, that they regarded the purifications of the church law, though they in some cases involved the offering of sacrifices, as binding even upon the Christians of Jewish extraction, but that they imposed none of these observances upon the Gentile brethren, believing the resolution of the former conference to cover their case completely. As long as mere weakness or lack of spiritual knowledge may be assumed, such behavior may be tolerated, but as soon as matters that are in themselves indifferent are urged as laws of God, the liberty of the Gospel must be insisted upon.
The beginning of the riot: V.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. V.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, v.28. crying out, Men of Israel, help! This is the man that teacheth all men everywhere against the people and the Law and this place; and further brought Greeks also into the Temple, and hath polluted this holy place. V.29. (For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus, an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the Temple.) V.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. Paul here showed that the spirit of Christ lived in him, that he was willing, for the sake of others, to take part in a ceremony of which he knew that it had lost its real significance and value and had become a mere empty form, 1 Cor. 9, 20. He took the four men with him, became their associate, performed the required rites of purification in his own case, and then entered into the Temple proper, that part which was reserved for the exclusive use of the children of Israel, giving notice there, for the convenience of the priests, of the day when the vow would be ended, and the necessary offerings brought for every one of the four. Apparently, Paul also spent most, if not all the time in the Temple during this week. Thus he became all things to all men. Note: in matters in which no fundamental Scriptural principle is involved, a Christian may accommodate himself to others: but he must be careful lest hypocrisy and fear of men furnish his motive for so doing. So far everything had proceeded with gratifying smoothness, and no cloud seemed to be darkening the horizon. All the more surprising, therefore, was the fact that the storm broke from a practically clear sky. For when the seven days of the purification of the Nazirites were about to come to an end, the time for which the apostle was associated with the men, Jews from the province of Asia, probably from Ephesus itself, that had come up for the Feast of Pentecost, saw him in the Temple, and their hatred was at once inflamed to a white fury. The very fact that this supposed despiser of the Temple should dare to enter its inner courts (which were forbidden to the Gentiles under pain of death) was an insult in their estimation. So they immediately raised a disturbance, stirred up the people, like liquids that refuse to mix and surge to and fro, and laid violent hands upon Paul. At the same time, they raised their voices, calling upon the assembled Israelites to help. The very name intended to remind them all of the dignity and glory, of the hopes and obligations, of their nation. Contemptuously referring to Paul as ďthis man,Ē this outcast, they accused him of making it a habit to teach all men, everywhere, against the people, against the Law, against this place, this city. Mark the significant coincidence that the charge against Paul is made in almost the same words as that which had been brought against Stephen, chap. 6, 13. But the gravest part of the accusation was the allegation that Paul had brought Greeks into the Temple proper, inside the Soreg, or stone wall, which enclosed the sanctuary, and had thus profaned the Holy Place itself. But the latter charge was based upon a false supposition, namely, that Paul had brought Trophimus, the delegate of the Ephesian congregation, who had been seen in his company in the city, into the Temple an altogether unwarranted deduction. But the Jews were in a mood to rest their suspicions upon even slighter evidence, if they could but succeed in removing Paul. The immediate effect of their startling and vehement charge and denunciation certainly left nothing to be desired. The entire city was moved, the excitement having spread like wildfire; there was a tumultuous concourse of the people; he was surrounded by a band of people that grabbed him and dragged him outside of the sanctuary into the Court of the Gentiles. And then the doors of the Temple, of the sanctuary, were locked by the Levites, either because they feared that the Temple would be defiled by the shedding of blood, or because they believed that this defilement had already taken place by the entrance of a Gentile into its Holy Place, and that it must be purified before it could be reopened. Note: The Jews, just like their successors in our days, were so hostile to the Gospel preached by Paul because he condemned their Pharisaic self-righteousness and testified before Jews and Greeks alike that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law. The false church, boasting its own righteousness, and the honorable, virtuous world have ever been the principal enemies of the Church of Christ and of the Gospel of Godís free grace and mercy.
The captain of the Roman band interferes: V.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. V.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. V.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. V.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. It was a typical mob, without reason and sense, that was surging back and forth in the Court of the Gentiles, every one trying to lay hold on the prisoner and do violence to him, all of them eager to kill him. But now some one brought the report to the Roman officer in the Tower of Antonia, which overlooked the Temple and its courts, that the entire city of Jerusalem was in confusion, that a riot had taken hold of all the inhabitants. And this officer, the military tribune, or chiliarch, having a thousand men under his command in the garrison, lost no time, but took several hundred men with their centurions, or officers, with him and ran down upon the seething mob, from the castle to the lower platform of the court, where the center of the riot was situated. This quick action probably saved Paulís life; for when the people saw the tribune, they stopped beating their prisoner. As the commanding officer then came nearer, he saw that Paul was the center and, in some way, the occasion of the disturbance, and therefore very naturally concluded that he was a criminal upon whom the Jews were inflicting speedy punishment. Since this was not the time to make inquiry, he took the prisoner in charge and gave command that he be bound with two chains. Having secured him thus and shielding him at least in part against the furious onslaught of the mob, the chiliarch now tried to determine who he was and what he had done. But, as usual with mobs, there no longer was any clear notion of what it was all about; one yelled one thing, some one else another, and it soon became clear to the officer that it was impossible to learn the facts on account of the tumult. So he commanded that Paul be led to the barracks of the Tower Antonia. Thus God had once more saved the life of His servant, since He wanted him to give testimony of the Gospel before some of the mighty ones of this earth.
On the way to the barracks: V.35. And when he came upon the stairs, so it was that he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the people. V.36. For the multitude of the people followed after, crying, Away with him! V.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? V.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? V.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. At the coming of the tribune with his cohorts, the tumult of the people had died down somewhat: but when the soldiers turned to carry out their commanderís order, a new frenzy took hold of the people since their prey seemed about to be snatched from them. So it happened that, when Paul came to the steps that led up to the Tower of Antonia, the maddened people surged about the little band of soldiers with increasing violence in an effort to reach Paul. So perilous was the situation that the soldiers were obliged to lift Paul up and carry him, on account of the fierceness of the people. For the multitude of the people persisted in following, incidentally raising the cry: Kill him! Put him to death! the cry which a Jewish mob was prone to take up, Luke 23, 18; John 19, 15. When the soldiers, with the prisoner in their midst, had reached the top of the stairway, with the entire Temple area below them, filled with a swirling, roaring mob, and were about to enter into the barracks, Paul turned to the commanding officer with the question whether he would he permitted to speak to him. The latter, in some surprise, asked, Why, do you understand Greek? From the violence of the mob and from other indications the chiliarch had concluded that Paul must undoubtedly he that Egyptian whom Josephus also mentions, the man who had led a band of four thousand murderers, assassins, out into the wilderness. Evidently the tribune thought that the Egyptian had ventured to return to the city after his disgraceful defeat and had now been set upon as an impostor. But Paul corrected him in a few words, telling him that he was a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, concerning which he adds, with pardonable pride, that he was a citizen of no mean city, for Tarsus was a great and flourishing city. The tribuneís grave suspicions having been removed, Paul now added the earnest request that he be given permission to address the people. It was his intention, even in this emergency, to remove their prejudice against him and the Gospel of Jesus, and thus, if possible, to gain converts for the Word of Grace.
Summary. Paul continues his voyage from Miletus to Tyre and from there to Caesarea, whence he travels to Jerusalem, where the Jews from Asia raise a tumult against him, and his life is saved only by the prompt interference of the Roman chiliarch.