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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Acts 21

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Paul Arrives In Jerusalem

A. Events on the way from Asia Minor to Jerusalem.

1. (Act 21:1-6) Sailing to Syria, Paul is warned again in the city of Tyre.

Now it came to pass, that when we had departed from them and set sail, running a straight course we came to Cos, the following day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. And finding a ship sailing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. When we had sighted Cyprus, we passed it on the left, sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload her cargo. And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem. When we had come to the end of those days, we departed and went on our way; and they all accompanied us, with wives and children, till we were out of the city. And we knelt down on the shore and prayed. When we had taken our leave of one another, we boarded the ship, and they returned home.

a. Departed from them is more literally tore ourselves away from them; this was not an easy parting! Paul had poured his life and love into these leaders from Ephesus, and they loved him deeply in return.

b. Landed at Tyre … and finding disciples: We are not told how a church was planted in Tyre, but there were disciples there. This reminds us that the Book of Acts gives only a partial picture of the early church's activity.

c. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem: Apparently, among the disciples at Tyre, some prophesied of the danger that awaited Paul in Jerusalem, something that he had been warned about before in several other places (Acts 20:22-23).

d. It would seem that the specific warning not to go up to Jerusalem was a human interpretation of the Holy Spirit's prophecy of the danger that awaited Paul, otherwise it is difficult to see why Paul would have gone against the Holy Spirit's direction.

e. They all accompanied us … till we were out of the city: The practice of accompanying a traveler to the outskirts of the city was traditional. And we knelt down on the shore and prayed: The practice of kneeling down on the shore together for prayer was uniquely Christian.

2. (Act 21:7-16) Paul is warned another time in they city of Caesarea.

And when we had finished our voyage from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, greeted the brethren, and stayed with them one day. On the next day we who were Paul's companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied. And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul's belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'" Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, "What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, "The will of the Lord be done." And after those days we packed and went up to Jerusalem. Also some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and brought with them a certain Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to lodge.

a. We came to Ptolemais, greeted the brethren, and stayed with them one day: It must have been wonderful for Paul and his companions to find Christians in virtually every city they stopped in. These bonds of fellowship become all the more precious when one is traveling and a stranger in a city.

b. Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven: Apparently, Philip, one of the seven chosen in Acts 6 to serve tables, settled in Caesarea and had four daughters who had the gift of prophecy.

i. According to ancient records, "The daughters, or at least some of them, lived to a great age, and were highly esteemed as informants on persons and events belonging to the early years of Judean Christianity." (Bruce)

c. A certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea: In the spirit of Old Testament prophets, Agabus "play-acts" his message to Paul - that certain danger awaits him at Jerusalem.

i. Significantly, the daughters of Philip did not prophesy about Paul's trip to Jerusalem, though we might have expected them to. The Holy Spirit chooses whom He will for such manifestations of the Spirit.

d. So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles: The prophecy of Agabus was true, and genuinely from the Holy Spirit. But to this true word, they added a human application (they pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem). That additional word was not of the Lord, otherwise Paul would have been disobedient to go to Jerusalem.

i. Though their human application was understandable, even logical, it wasn't of God. They recognized as much when they attributed Paul's insistence to go to Jerusalem despite the danger as the will of the Lord. It is easy to do - and a source of trouble - when we "add our two cents" to what God may be saying, often thinking that it is also from the Lord.

ii. Paul had received several prophetic words on this very topic. This is God's custom with such a remarkable prophecy, that there should be great deal of confirmation, as there was in Macedonia (Acts 20:22-23), in Tyre (Acts 21:4) and now in Caesarea.

e. For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus: Paul's insistence on going to Jerusalem despite the dangers predicted by the Holy Spirit was not a result of rebellion, but an obedient response to the command of the Holy Spirit in his heart. He was bound in the spirit to go to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21 and 20:22).

i. The warnings from the Holy Spirit were intended to prepare Paul, not to stop him.

B. Paul comes to Jerusalem.

1. (Act 21:17-26) Paul honors Jewish customs among Christian Jews in Jerusalem.

And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law. But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality." Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them.

a. He told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry: Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Paul met with the leaders of the church there (James and all the elders), and gave them a full report of his ministry.

i. Williams on told in detail: "The Greek has the sense of recounting every single thing." Paul told these Christians from a Jewish background everything God had done in his missionary efforts.

b. The Christian Jews in Jerusalem were thankful for what God was doing among the Gentiles (And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord). Yet they still wanted to maintain many of their own Jewish customs and practices (they are all zealous for the law).

c. Be purified with them, and pay their expenses: Leaders of the church in Jerusalem were concerned that Paul was against the Jewish customs the Jewish believers in Jerusalem still valued. So, the leaders advised Paul to "sponsor" (pay the sacrificial expenses) four Christian Jews who are fulfilling a vow of consecration. By this, Paul will show the community of Christian Jews in Jerusalem that he is not opposed to their continued observance of certain Jewish customs, though he does not require such observance of Gentiles who come to Jesus.

i. Four men who have taken a vow: The particular vow of consecration was probably similar to Paul's Nazirite vow mentioned in Acts 18:18.

d. Paul did this to demonstrate that he never taught Christian Jews to forsake Moses and not to circumcise their children and that they should ignore Jewish customs.

e. Then Paul took the men: Paul could agree to this and sponsor the four men taking the vow of consecration because there was never a hint that such things would be required of Gentiles as a test of righteousness.

i. "He had shown them that their ceremonies were useless but not destructive; that they were only dangerous when they depended on them for salvation." (Clarke)

f. The motive behind Paul's sponsorship of these Christian Jews completing their Nazirite vow is explained in 1 Corinthians 9:20: And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law.

2. (Act 21:27-30) Jews from Asia stir a mob against Paul.

Now when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, "Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place." (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.) And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut.

a. Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd: They claimed that Paul was against the people [Israel], the law, and this place [the temple], but this was unfounded. Paul simply rejected trust in any of these as a basis for righteousness before God, which comes only through Jesus Christ.

i. The charges against Paul in Acts 21:28 are an echo of the charges Stephen was executed for (Acts 6:13).

b. All the city was disturbed; and the people ran together: The crowd was enlarged because it was feast-time (Acts 20:16). It was enraged because they believed Paul not only preached against the people, the law, and the temple, but also profaned the temple by bringing a Gentile into its inner courts (they said, "he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place").

c. Trophimus the Ephesian … whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple: It was absolutely prohibited for Gentiles to go beyond the designated "Court of the Gentiles" in the temple grounds. Signs were posted which read (in both Greek and Latin): "No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the temple and enclosure. Any one who is caught trespassing will bear personal responsibility for his ensuing death." The Romans were so sensitive to this that they authorized the Jews to execute anyone that offended in this way, even if the offender was a Roman citizen.

3. (Act 21:31-39) Roman soldiers rescue Paul.

Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the commander came near and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and he asked who he was and what he had done. And some among the multitude cried one thing and some another. So when he could not ascertain the truth because of the tumult, he commanded him to be taken into the barracks. When he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob. For the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, "Away with him!" Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, "May I speak to you?" He replied, "Can you speak Greek? Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?" But Paul said, "I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people."

a. Now as they were seeking to kill him: Paul has been seized by an enraged mob, and the mob didn't just want to take him out of the temple courts. They wanted to kill him, right there in the outer courtyard area of the temple mount. Paul had been near death because of the attacks of murderous mobs before (Acts 14:5, 19), and he must have thought, "Here we go again!"

b. News came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar: From the Tower of Antonia, at the northwest corner of the temple mount, more than 500 Roman soldiers were stationed only two flights of stairs from the court of the Gentiles.

c. When they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul: The Romans didn't sympathize with Paul, but they were interested in keeping public order, and they arrested Paul both for his own protection and to remove the cause of the uproar.

i. Two chains means Paul was handcuffed to a solider on either side. Paul must have immediately remembered the prophecy of Agabus (Acts 21:11).

d. The multitude of the people followed after, crying out, "Away with him!" When the mob cried out for his death, Paul must have remembered when he was part of such a mob, agreeing with the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:1).

i. Or, perhaps, it even reminded him of the trial of Jesus: "The shout Away with him! which pursued him as he was carried up the steps was the shout with which Jesus' death had been demanded not far from that spot some twenty-seven years before (Luke 23:18; John 19:15)." (Bruce)

e. At first, the Roman commander thought that Paul was a terrorist, and was surprised that Paul was an educated man and could speak Greek.

i. The Egyptian mentioned (also mentioned by Josephus) led a ragged army of four thousand men to the Mount of Olives where they declared they would take over the temple mount. Roman soldiers had quickly scattered them, but the leader got away.

f. I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: When Paul identified himself to the Roman commander, it put him in an entirely different standing. He was a citizen of Tarsus, not a suspected terrorist.

g. I implore you, permit me to speak to the people. At this moment, when his life was in danger from an angry mob and he was suspected of being a dangerous criminal, Paul had one thing on his mind: "Let me preach the gospel!"

4. (Act 21:40) Paul is permitted to address the mob that wanted to kill him.

So when he had given him permission, Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, saying,

a. So when he had given him permission: Why did the commander permit Paul to speak to the crowd? Because he had recognized that he had done wrong to Paul, a Roman citizen, when he bound him with chains (Acts 21:33), and because he hoped that Paul's speech might quiet down the mob.

b. Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language: what a dramatic moment! Paul, standing on stairs overlooking the massive open courtyard of the temple mount, made a dramatic sweep of his hand - and the angry, rioting mob fell silent. Then, Paul spoke to them in the Hebrew language, identifying himself with his Jewish audience, not with his Roman protectors.

i. This was an opportunity Paul had waited a lifetime for. He had an incredible passion for the salvation of his fellow Jews (Romans 9:1-5), and had probably thought of himself as uniquely qualified to effectively communicate the gospel to them - if he only had the right opportunity.

5. Similarities between Jesus and Paul as shown in Acts 20 and 21:

a. Like Jesus, Paul traveled to Jerusalem with a group of disciples.

b. Like Jesus, Paul had opposition from hostile Jews who plotted against his life.

c. Like Jesus, Paul made or received three successive predictions of his coming sufferings in Jerusalem, including being handed over to the Gentiles.

d. Like Jesus, Paul had followers who tried to discourage him from going to Jerusalem and the fate that awaited him there.

e. Like Jesus, Paul declared his readiness to lay down his life.

f. Like Jesus, he was determined to complete his ministry and not be deflected from it.

g. Like Jesus, Paul expressed his abandonment to the will of God.

h. Like Jesus, Paul came to Jerusalem to give something.

i. Like Jesus, Paul was unjustly arrested on the basis of a false accusation.

j. Like Jesus, Paul alone is arrested, but none of the other followers of Jesus.

k. Like Jesus, Paul heard the mob crying out, Away with him!

l. Like Jesus, the Roman officer handling Paul's case did not know his true identity.

m. Like Jesus, Paul was associated with terrorists by Roman officials.

n. In a way unique to most of us, Paul really did know the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10).

i. Paul's particular call and ministry make these similarities especially striking, but we are called to follow after Jesus also. We shouldn't be surprised when events in our lives are like events in Jesus' life. There may be a time of temptation in the wilderness, a time when people come to us with needs only God can meet, a time when we seem at the mercy of a storm, a time when we must cry out to God as in the Garden of Gesthemane, a time when we must simply lay down our lives, and trust God will gloriously raise us up. We, like Paul, are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

6. However, Paul's experience was obviously different in many ways, not the least of which was the manner in which he will make his defense in the next chapter, while Jesus refused to defend Himself before His accusers.

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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