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"Arrest in Jerusalem"

Acts 21:17-22:29

Wednesday PM Bible Study
March 25, 2009

Theme: This passage reveals the incidents that Paul experienced in Jerusalem that led, ultimately, to an open door to bring the Gospel to Rome.

Paul—being 'bound' in his spirit—was on the way to Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit had already revealed to him on several occasions that chains and tribulation awaited him there (20:22-23; 21:11). But none of these things moved him. We see something of his attitude toward his fellow Jews in Romans 9:1-3; where he expresses that he would be willing to be "accursed from Christ" if it would have meant the salvation of his "countrymen according to the flesh". So the dangers that were involved in taking the gospel to them meant nothing to him who was not only willing to be apprehended but also to die in Jerusalem (21:13).

But God's plans for Paul were even greater than he realized. As we look ahead, after the events of our passage were passed, we discover that the Lord had it in His plan that just as Paul testified of Him in Jerusalem, he would then go and bear witness of him in Rome (23:11).

Rome! The thought of it must have thrilled this missionary greatly! He would be permitted to proclaim the message of the gospel in the very capital of the world! And the passage before us shows how God used the tumultuous events in Jerusalem to pave the way for Paul's opportunity to preach the gospel in Rome.

I. THE RECEPTION (21:17-20a).

A. After the long trip from Asia to Syria had been completed (21:1-16), Paul and his team finally came at Jerusalem—where, upon arrival, they were "gladly received" by the brethren (v. 17).

B. On the following day, Paul went with his team (including Luke; note the "us" of verse 18) to appear before James and all the elders of the Jerusalem church. James—the half- brother of our Lord—had for years been the esteemed pastoral leader of the church in Jerusalem (see Acts 15:13-21; also Galatians 1:19; 2:9). It was before James that Paul had given an account of his missionary work a few years previously (Acts 15); and now, he does so again (v. 19). The response of James and the elders to the work of Paul among the Gentiles was to give glory to the Lord (v. 20a).

II. THE PROPOSAL (21:20b-26).

A. The concern of the Jerusalem leaders immediately shifted. There were "many myriads of Jews" ("many thousands" as it is in the KJV), who had believed on Jesus; but they were still zealous for the law (v. 20b). This hearkens back to the controversy that was dealt with in Acts 15. Back then, the church was in a state of transition; and many of the Jewish believers and their more Gentile brethren needed to learn to dwell together in harmony. The focus then was on how the Gentiles would not be required by Paul's missionary team to conform to Jewish rituals and customs. But now, the focus was on how the scruples of the Jewish believers—who still embraced the ceremonial laws and customs that were deeply embedded in Jewish culture—would be respected. A rumor had spread (completely untrue!) that Paul had been teaching the Jews who dwelt among the Gentiles that they should forsake the laws given through Moses; and that they ought not to circumcise their children or walk according to Jewish customs any longer (v. 21).

B. The solution to this problem that the Christian leaders in Jerusalem proposed was that Paul take four men who were then under a Nazarite vow (Numbers 6:1-21), first be ceremonially 'purified' with them (which would be necessary because of his missionary work among the Gentiles), then pay their expenses at the conclusion of their vow (vv. 23-24). Thus, any of these false rumors about Paul would be put to rest. As to the Gentiles, the leaders maintained the decision that had already been made—that the Gentiles who were coming to Christ would not be required to conform to Jewish customs (v. 25; see also Acts 15:19-21, 28-29).

C. Paul followed the wise advice of the elders of the Jerusalem church; and entered into the temple with these four men to announce the end of their vow (v. 26). This was in keeping with the conformity to the Jewish customs that Paul had already displayed in his own personal experience (Acts 18:18). It also illustrated his great missionary principle of becoming "all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:19-22).

III. THE UPROAR (21:27-36).

A. It was then, however, that the prophesied troubles began to arise. When the seventh day of Paul's purification had ended, and he was free to enter the temple with the four men, he was then spotted by Jews from Asia (v. 27). Perhaps these Jews had seen him in Ephesus; because they paid particular notice to the Ephesian man who was with Paul, named Trophimus (see Acts 20:4). They jumped to the conclusion that Paul was bringing Gentiles into the temple; and they began crying out for others to come and help them against this man who they supposed "teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place . . ." (vv. 28-29).

B. The whole city of Jerusalem was disturbed by this uproar (v. 30); and running together, they seized Paul, dragged him out of the temple, and immediately shut the temple doors—lest anyone else come in and defile it. They immediately began to beat Paul— intending to kill him; and were only stopped from doing so by the sudden appearance of the commander of a garrison of Roman soldiers (vv. 31-32). This commander—whose name we learn from Acts 23:26 was Claudius Lysias—took Paul, commanded him to be bound with two chains (see 21:11), and began to ask what it was that he had done (v. 33). The cries from the multitude, however, became so great against Paul that the commander couldn't ascertain the truth; and so, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks of the garrison (v. 34). The crowd was so hostile to Paul at this point that soldiers had to actually carry him (vv. 35-36).

IV. THE DEFENSE (21:37-22:24).

A. Paul then did something remarkable (which he often did!). Before he was led into the barracks, he asked the commander if he may speak to the crowd (21:37a). The fact that he spoke in Greek surprised the commander; because the fierce reaction of the Jews had led him to think that Paul was someone else (vv. 37b-38). Paul explained that he was a Jew from Tarsus; and permission had been given to him to address the crowd (vv. 39- 40a). What a scene it must have been! Paul stood on the stairs above the angry mob—all bloodied and bruised—and motioned with his hands that he was about to speak (v. 40b). When they heard him speak in Hebrew, they quieted down even more. Lysias must have been very impressed with this multilingualed man! And for us, it certainly puts to rest the accusation that Paul was habitually "contemptible" in his speech (2 Corinthians 10:10). Paul was definitely God's man for the times.

B. What followed is a remarkable defense of Paul's call to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (see also Acts 9:1-19 and 26:4-18). We need to notice, however, that Paul is very careful not to mention the Gentiles until the end of his address. His defense can be broken up into four basic parts:

1. Paul's introduction (22:1-2). Paul graciously refers to those who hear as "brethren" (i.e., fellow Jews), and "fathers" (i.e., elders of the Jews). Some translations begin with "men" (which would probably include the Gentiles who were then listening in). He appeals to them to hear his defense; and hearing him speak in Hebrew (or, most likely, Aramaic; a form of Hebrew of the day), they became even more quiet. Paul was careful to so speak so as to maintain a hearing.

2. Paul's identity (vv. 3-5). He tells them that he is himself a Jew. He was brought up in Tarsus of Cilicia; but was taught by the esteemed Jewish teacher Gamaliel (whose reputation among them was outstanding and unquestioned; see Acts 5:34-39). He affirmed that he was taught according to the strictness of Jewish law; and that he was "zealous toward God as you all are today". In fact, he was able to affirm that he put his zeal into action by the fact that he actively arrested and punished followers of "this Way"—an action which could be documented by the fact that he had received letters from the high priests, the council and the Jewish elders.

3. Paul's conversion (vv. 6-16). He now tells of how he was met on the road to Damascus by the Lord Jesus Himself. This, he affirms, is also substantiated by eyewitnesses. He testified that he was then commanded by the Lord to go to Damascus; where he would be told the things that were appointed for him to do. Being struck blind, and being led by the hand, he came to Damascus where Ananias, "a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there", came and laid hands on him and restored his sight. Ananias then said, "The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know his will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard." With that, Paul was commanded to rise up and be baptized as a follower of Jesus.

4. Paul's call (vv. 17-21). It was after all this that Paul then laid out the necessity of ministry that was placed on him. He explained that while in Jerusalem after his conversion, the Lord appeared to Him and ordered him to leave; because Paul's testimony of Jesus would not be received in Jerusalem. Paul fell back on the fact that the Jewish leaders knew that he had already sought to persecute the followers of Jesus—and even supported the death of Stephen (see 7:58; 8:1). But then came the word that caused all of Paul's listeners to suddenly fly into a rage against him. He said that the Lord told him, "Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles".

C. We're told that, as soon as Paul said "Gentiles", the mob raised their voices and cried out, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!" (vv. 22). And this was not because of his going to the Gentiles as a thing in and of itself; but rather because they thought that his going to them meant preaching against the law (see 21:28). As they shouted, threw off their cloths in anger, and cast dust in the air, the commander ascertained that Paul's address was over. And probably because the Roman commander was not sufficiently fluent in Aramaic, he ordered that Paul be brought into the barracks and "examined under scourging" to discover why everyone was shouting against him so vehemently (vv. 23-24).

V. THE PROTECTION (22:25-29).

A. The scourging that Paul was about to receive wasn't simply an ordinary beating. The scourge was a small-handled weapon with leather straps that had broken pieces of bone, metal and stone at the end. Paul would have been severely impaired by this beating; and perhaps completely incapacitated from any further missionary work. As they bound him to begin the scourging, Paul cast himself once again on his rights as a Roman citizen (see also 16:37-39). He asked "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?" (v. 25)—which, of course, it was not. It would have brought the Roman commander under prosecution to have done so.

B. A centurion, who was standing by, heard this and brought to the attention of the commander the fact that Paul was claiming Roman citizenship (v. 26). And when the commander inquired about it (v. 27), he expressed his doubts about Paul. "With a large sum I obtained this citizenship" (v. 28), he said; that is, the commander had to buy his way up the chain until he had achieved the right of citizenship—and by implication, he was expressing that Paul didn't look like the kind of man that had that kind of money. But when Paul said, "But I was born a citizen"; those who were about to scourge him immediately withdrew from him (v. 29). What's more, the commander became very afraid; because he had ordered Paul—a Roman citizen—to be bound!

* * * * * * * * * *

All of this not only provided Paul with the further protection of the Roman empire in his mission work; but it also set into motion a series of events that (1) led him to make his legal appeal to bring his case before Caesar (see 25:11), and (2) requiring the Roman government to escort him to Rome (25:12). Truly God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him!


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