About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Chapters 21:1 to 21:36 

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ch. 21:1-16    ch. 21:17-26    ch. 21:37-36

On To Jerusalem (ch. 21:1 - 16)

You can see how emotional everyone was when Paul and his friends left the Ephesian elders. In verse 1 Luke says that "after we had torn ourselves away from them (the elders) we put out to sea".  I've said it many times before, but Paul took his ministry seriously.  He gave his whole, heart and soul to it and those to whom he served.  We see that again here with the use of the words "torn".  If you are interested in seeing the heart of Paul, 2 Corinthians is a good place to begin.  That letter clearly shows us, ore than any of Paul's writings, how he felt concerning those to whom he served. 

It took Paul and those men with him a couple of different ships, but they ended up in Tyre in Syria.  They took a route that had them pass by to the south of Cyprus. They stayed in Tyre for seven days.  Verse 4 tells us that Paul and those with him found the disciples in Tyre.  I personally like the way Luke puts this.  Paul and the others visited with the disciples.  Luke doesn't say they met up with the church.  They met up with disciples.  The use of the word "disciples" instead of the word "church" makes it more personal.  It puts the emphasis on relationships instead of organizational structure. 

In verse 4, while in Tyre, these disciples urged Paul "through the Spirit"
not to go to Jerusalem.  Now the obvious question is, "Did the Holy
Spirit, speaking through these people prophetically, tell Paul not to go to
Jerusalem"?  It appears upon a quick reading of this passage that this was 
the case.  If this was so, why didnít Paul obey?  Did Paul misread Godís will
here?  Should have he not have gone to Jerusalem?  Back in chapter 20:22 we read that Paul was compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem.  Is there a discrepancy here?

The best way to answer this question is to acknowledge that Paul was indeed led by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem as seen in Acts 20:22, yet we also need to note that in every city Paul went there were prophetic warnings of hardship and imprisonment for him when arriving in Jerusalem. (Acts 20:23)  Back in Acts 9 when Paul first met Jesus he was also warned about such things.  We must then understand this present urging by the disciples of Tyre as one of these prophetic warnings.  Those speaking these warnings did not want to see Paul in any kind of harm so they encouraged him not to go.  Still, Paul was being compelled by the Spirit to carry on.  To sum up, the Holy Spirit warned Paul of hardship in Jerusalem , but these people in Tyre pleaded with Paul not to go.  The pleading was not Spirit led, the warnings were.

All of the above being said, we should remember that the Greek
language did not have capital letters.  The Greek word pneuma
that is translated as "Spirit", with a capital S in the NIV and other 
translations, can be translated with a small "s".  The small "s" would signify the spirit of man instead of the Spirit of God.  This would suggest that it was the spirit of the
disciples who warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem .  That being said, it seems 
that the general consensus among Bible teachers is that Luke wants us to 
believe it was the Holy Spirit speaking prophetically in verse 4.      

In verse 5, once the ship was ready to sail again, Paul and his fellow workers boarded the ship, but not until all of the disciples, including wives and children gathered for prayer at the sea shore.  This looks very much like what we saw in the last chapter when the elders of Ephesus met with Paul and prayed before he and the rest set sail.  Again, these disciples, like the Ephesians, might well have thought that this would be the last time they would ever see Paul.  This was probably another very sad and emotional gathering. 

Note that they all knelt for prayer.  Kneeling for prayer seems to be a fast fading prayer posture these days, but while growing up in Evangelical circles, kneeling was common place.  Kneeling in prayer, at least as I see it, was a posture of humility.  It's like bowing.  Today, we either stand or sit, both of which don't seem to be a humble posture in my thinking.      

In verses 6 and 7 we note that Paul and his friends then continued on their trip.  They first met with some brothers at their first stop.  Again, we see the word "brothers" and not the word "church".  It's all about relationships in Jesus, not the organized structure of church.

In verse 8 we see that Paul and his friends end up in Caesarea where they stayed at Philipís house.  Luke calls Philip an evangelist.  The word "evangelist" is a seldom used word in the New Testament.  In Acts 8 we also note that Philip was an evangelist.  An evangelist is one of the four fold ministries of Christ as seen in Ephesians 4:11.  There is no precise definition of the word found in the New Testament.  We simply gather its meaning from the word itself which simply means a messenger of good. 

Luke says that Philip was "one of the seven".  This is in reference to Acts 6 where seven men were chosen to organize the distribution of food to the Greek Christian widows. 

Christian tradition states that Philip ended up living and preaching the gospel in

To read more about Philip you'd need to read Acts 8. 

In verse 9 we note that Philip had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.  Luke did not call these women prophetesses.  There is a difference between one who has a ministry of a prophet and one who simply prophesies.     

In verses 10 and 11 we see Agabus once again, who did have the ministry of a prophet. We saw him in Acts 11:28 where he foretold of a famine.  Agabus spoke a prophetic word to Paul with accompanying actions.  He took Paulís belt and tied his hands and feet 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'".  Once again, this is one of those prophetic warnings Luke has mentioned a number of times now.  This prophecy might have been the clearest yet.  Paul would fall into a trap set by the Jews and handed over to the Gentiles in fulfillment of the Word of the Lord that came to him at his conversion.  Paul would indeed preach to the Gentile authorities, but he'd do it while in prison chains.  That's far from a glorious way to preach the gospel of Christ.   

As in the other instances, in verse 12 the disciples pleaded with Paul not to go to Jerusalem.  Once again, we need to see that it was Godís will for Paul to go to Jerusalem as seen in Acts 20:22 -23.  This is just another warning, specific as it was.  The Lord did not tell Paul not to go.  The people told Paul not to go because they did not want harm to come to their beloved brother.

What was Paulís response?  In verse 13 he says, "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".  We see Paulís determination here.  He told the Ephesian elders back in chapter 20:24 that he viewed his life as meaning nothing.  Here we see that what Paul said then was not just words.  He says something similar to these people. 

We also see the inner workings of Paulís heart.  He asks, "Why are you breaking my heart".  Paul was a man of deep emotion and feelings for his people.  His heart was often broken because things they said and did.  We especially see this in his second letter to the Corinthians.  The Corinthians just ripped his heart apart, and here, although these disciples had good intentions, their words were ripping his heart apart as well. 

I'm sure Paul understood what was going on here.  These people had very fond feelings for him.  They didn't want to see him hurt in any way, yet for Paul, being hurt, if that was God's will, was no big deal.  He felt that these disciples should have had the same mentality, that is to say, whatever happens in the process of doing God's will should be understood as God's will.  So, let's not get down and discouraged about it.   

Luke then records that when these people could not dissuade Paul, they gave up trying and said, "the Lordís will be done".  Basically they simply threw their hands up in the air, somewhat frustrated, and said only what they could say.  "Godís will be done".  What else could they say at this point?  Paul would not change his mind.

Once Paul was ready to leave, some people from Caesarea accompanied Paul and his fellow workers to Jerusalem.  By this time the number of people with Paul was fairly large.

In verses 14 and 15 we note that upon arriving in Jerusalem Paul and the others stayed at the house of a man named Mnason, who was an early convert and who also came from Cyprus.  This man might well have been one of the visitors to Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost who became a believer because of the preaching of Peter.   It is interesting to note that Barnabas came from Cyprus as well, and there is a good chance that possibly Paul knew this man.

Paulís Arrival At Jerusalem   (ch. 21:17 - 26)

In verses 17 and 18 Paul and his company finally arrive in Jerusalem.  Note that Paul and the brothers with him were warmly welcomed by the brothers in Jerusalem.  This is noteworthy.  Much has been said about Paul's ministry to the Gentile world.  At times there were tensions between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians.  Besides that, all those who came with Paul were Greeks.  It would only be natural for Paul to be concerned how the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem would feel about these Greeks.  Paul was probably greatly relieved when they were all greeted warmly, and that's why Luke probably mentions this.       

After being in town a day they all went to visit James and the other elders.  The specific mention of James, and then the elders, makes many people feel that James was the lead elder, or, head elder in Jerusalem.  As stated earlier in this commentary, one might presume that James was the head elder, but nowhere does the text specifically say this.  Some feel that James structured the Jerusalem church after the Jewish priesthood, that is, one chief priest, and other priest below him.  They say this because James did not appear to forsake his Jewish tradition to the degree that Paul did.  Paul appears to have structured the Gentile churches with a body of elders, not one particular man as a head elder.  

James is the half brother of Jesus.  He's commonly known as James the Just.  For this reason the believers in Jerusalem, including the elders, might have esteemed James above other men.  This does not mean that James himself considered himself above other men.  I doubt if he did.  In the minds of others James might have been a lead elder, but in James' mind he might well have considered himself just one of the elders.  I say this to point out that I am still am not convinced, as others are that James was a lead elder.  The same would apply to the Apostle John in Ephesus .  Many view John as the lead elder in Ephesus, although I'm not sure John would have the same consideration.  John outlived the other apostles that Jesus called by twenty to thirty years.  John was the only original apostle left.  For this reason, believers everywhere might well have considered him very special, even the lead elder in Ephesus.  Just because others would have considered John the lead elder doesn't mean he considered himself the lead elder.       

Luke is present at this meeting and says that Paul recounted all of the good things that the Lord did among the Gentiles in detail through his ministry.  I suggest that this might well have been one very long meeting.  We saw Paul preaching all night in the last chapter.  This meeting could have been an all day meeting.  Once you get Paul started it might be hard to stop him.   

Luke for some reason does not say anything about the collection of money for the poor famine ravaged Jewish Christians in Judea .  It would have been at this meeting that Paul and the others would have presented James and the elders with all the money that they had been collecting for the last year and a half or so.  This might help to account for the warm welcome that Paul received from these brothers.  It clearly showed the Jewish Christians that the Gentile believers cared for them.  This should have ended some of the animosity between the two groups, but as you will see that wasn't exactly the case.       

In verse 20 we note that the result of what Paul said was mixed.  Luke says that they "praised God" for what Paul said, but on the other hand they also told Paul that thousands of Jews were becoming Christians as well.  It was almost as if they could not take a back seat to Paul.  Paul was leading many Gentiles to the Lord, but on the other hand, they were leading many Jewish people to the Lord too, and they wanted Paul to know this.  I'm sure Paul would have been very glad to hear this news. 

Furthermore, the elders wanted Paul to understand that there were still problems concerning his teaching among these new Jewish Christian converts who had a different way of thinking than Paul concerning the Law of Moses.  That certainly wasn't new.  The problem was concerning what Paul taught abut the Law of Moses, something that Paul would have believed was settle back in the Acts 15 conference. 

In verse 21 the elders told Paul that all of these new Jewish converts are zealous for the Law.  They also said that these Jewish Christians have been informed about Paul's teaching that Gentiles didn't have to live according to the Law of Moses and that the Gentiles didn't have to circumcise their children. 

You should notice a couple of things hear.  These elders, including James, are expressing a concern about the new Jewish converts who are zealous for the Law of Moses.  It is my guess, and only a guess, that these elders had just as much concern about this issue as the new Jewish converts.  Why this would be, especially in light of the Acts 15 conference is unknown to me.  Either these elders didn't pass on the decision made in Acts 15 or else they did but it wasn't accepted by the new converts, or, they still had trouble with the Acts 15 decision.    

Note the words "turn away" in the NIV.  The elders were telling Paul that he was causing the Gentiles to "turn away" from the Law of Moses.  There are a couple important things to note here.  One thing to note is that the Gentiles were never subject to the Law of Moses in the first place.  They never were under the Law to turn from. 

The second, and I believe a real important point, is the Greek word "apostasia" is translated as "turn away" in English in the NIV.  This word means "to defect or revolt".  This is a very strong word here.  I believe it implies that these elders believed Paul was, or, at least was becoming an apostate, which would mean he was falling away from the faith.  The same Greek word is used in 2Thessalonians 2:3 concerning the great falling away prior to the appearance of the anti-Christ.  For Paul, and for James as well albeit for different reasons, this accusation was very serious.         

Notice also that the issue was over Paul teaching that the Law was no longer applicable to the Jews as well as Gentiles.  They didn't say that Paul shouldn't have taught this to the new Gentile Christians.  Their major concern was Paul was teaching this to Jews.  You might remember from the Acts 15 conference that even Peter got up and told those in attendance that Jews are saved in the same way that Gentiles are saved, and that's through the grace of Jesus and not the Law of Moses. 

In verse 22 the elders ask Paul what they should do because these new Jewish Christians would soon learn that he is in town.  They never really gave time for Paul to answer.  They already had things planned out.      

In verses 22 to 24 the elders come up with a plan that would show the Jewish converts that Paul indeed still respected and lived according to the Law of Moses.  Paul agreed to this plan.  You might ask why Paul agreed to this plan.  In 1 Corinthians 9:20 to 23 you see where Paul says that to the Jew he becomes a Jew, and to the Gentile he becomes a Gentile.  This would be the way Paul lived in order to win people to Jesus.  He would not undermine the basics of the gospel, yet in secondary issues he could compromise.  This wasn't a matter of hypocrisy.  It was simply a matter for Paul, even important things like circumcision, wasn't important.  So, compromise on such issues was no big deal. 

This was the plan the elders put forth as seen in verses 22 to 24.  There were four men in their congregation that participated in a vow.  Now if you were a Jewish man entering into a vow, you took that very seriously and there were certain things you had to do to carry out this vow to its end as stipulated in the Law of Moses.  One of these things was to close off the vow with sacrifices and to shave their heads.  The hair was actually burned on the altar. 

In the temple in Jerusalem there were three outer courts.  There was the court of the Gentiles, the court of Jewish women, and the court of Jewish men.  In one corner of the court of the Jewish men was a place where sacrifices would be made concerning vows.  Of course, this cost money and the plan was that Paul would go with these four men and pay the cost.  He'd be seen in the temple observing the Law of Moses which was supposed to make everyone happy.      

Beyond simply paying the cost of this vow, the elders told Paul to participate along with the four men in this Jewish custom.  The way the text reads it suggests to me that this was more than a suggestion made to Paul.  Our English version in verse 23 says, "Do what we tell you".  That sounds like a command.  The Greek text confirms this.  

The question that arises in my mind is; "did Paul really live in obedience to the Law, which was the intended perception the elders wanted the Jews to see"?  I donít think he did, at least in the way these elders would interpret living by the Law.  I think what Paul had in mind in agreeing with this plan was somewhat different than what the elders had in mind.  The elders wanted to show the Jewish converts that Paul obeyed the Law of Moses just as they did.  What Paul had in mind was simply to keep the peace, because in reality, he did not obey the Law of Moses as these Jewish Christians did.

I believe that the elders plan was somewhat manipulative in the fact that Paul really did not live his life in accordance with the Law.  You might even call this plan a bit deceptive.  Was Paul then participating in this manipulative and deceptive plan?  I doubt if Paul thought of it in that way or else I don't think he would have agreed to the plan.  Again, I think Paulís end goal was to keep the peace, not to manipulate the Jews into believing something that was not true.

In verse 25 we note that the elders, and again, James would have been involved in this, reminded Paul of the Acts 15 letter that had been distributed among the Gentile believers.  This tells me that the elders believed the Gentile believers only had to obey the four points mentioned in this letter, which by the way, all concerned relationships.  If the Gentile believers could do that, then the Jewish believers could have fellowship with them.  It's my thinking that these elders believed the Gentiles didn't have to obey the Law of Moses but the Jews had to.  I believe Paul thought that both Jew and Gentile did not have to obey the Law of Moses for the purpose of getting saved and for the purpose of staying saved.  If the Jewish believers wanted to obey all the Law or parts of the law because it was their tradition apart from salvation, Paul would have had no real problem with that.  That beings said, I believe a careful study of Galatians 3 shows that Paul firmly believed that the Law of Moses did not have to be obeyed for any reason.  If it were up to him, he'd lay it all aside when it comes to salvation and maintaining one's salvation.

The place of the Law of Moses in the life of a New Testament Christian is one very misunderstood issue even today.  I've written much on that subject so I won't say anything more here.  

There is a debate whether James and the elders sided with the Jewish converts or Paul in this case.  Some suggest that they sided with Paul.  I'm not convinced of that I suggest that they could well have been siding with the Jewish converts.  They might well have been deflecting their own position on this matter by saying it was the concern of the Jewish converts.  

This section ends in verse 26 where we see that Paul did what the elders told him to do. 


Paul Arrested (ch. 21:27 - 36)

The 7 days of ending this vow between these four men was coming to a conclusion.  In verse 27 and following we see that certain Jews from Asia , where Paul had his greatest success in preaching the gospel, and, where he had just came from, saw Paul in the temple courts.  These Asian Jews also saw Trophimus, a Greek brother in the Lord from Ephesus, earlier with Paul in Jerusalem.  It was assumed that Paul brought Trophimus into the temple courts which would have been against Jewish Law.  These Asian Jews began to cause an uproar among the Jerusalem Jews.  These Jews might well have recognized Paul and maybe even Trophimus since Paul had spend a lot of time in Asia and Trophimus was from the province of Asia.

We should understand that the riot that follows is based on an assumption.  The Asian Jews did not actually see Trophimus in the temple courts.  They only assumed he was there because they had seen him earlier with Paul.  These Asian Jews were looking for some way to get Paul arrested, even if they had to manufacture something, which they did here.

The temple had three courtyards.  One was for Gentiles.  One was for Jewish women, and, one was for Jewish men.    

In verse 28 we see that the Asian Jews told the crowd at the temple that Paul taught all men everywhere against their people and their law and this temple.  Besides this, it was said that Paul had brought Greeks into the temple courts which has defiled this holy place.  This was enough to stir up this Jewish crowd. 

At this point the plan of the elders had backfired.  Remember, James and the elders wanted Paul to go through a Jewish vow in order for the Jewish Christians to think he had not forsaken his Judaism.  Well, because of this, this riot began and Paul will be arrested.  I think that James and the elders were out of the will of God to make Paul participate in what I see was a deceptive plan.  It turned out bad for Paul, but, in the long run, God used it for His own purposes.   

The Jews accused Paul of four things.  They were, speaking against the Jews, speaking against the Law, and speaking against the temple, and bringing a Gentile into the courts of the temple.  The first three accusations are understandable from the Jewish view point, although not exactly accurate.  Paulís understanding of the Law was that it had been replaced by the grace of God and trust in this grace.  His understanding of the temple was that God did not live in temples made by men.  His understanding of the Jews is that the real people of God are people who trust in Jesus, whether Jew or Gentile.  The Jewish people (not Christian Jews) understood this to be blasphemy.

In verse 30 and following we note that when the news of Paul spread, people from all over Jerusalem came running to the temple creating major turmoil.  They were in the process of killing Paul when the captain of the Roman guards heard what was happening.  The captain and some of his soldiers came and when the rioters saw them they stopped beating Paul.  They had no legal authority to take such action.

We should note that right beside the temple was the headquarters of the Roman army.  There was a tower that overlooked the whole temple area.  The Roman soldiers could keep on eye on all the activity around the temple from their vantage point.   

In verse 33 the Roman guards arrested and chained Paul with two chains.  They thought that he was the cause of this riot.  The captain of the guards tried to figure out why the crowd was beating Paul so he asked them what the problem was.  He got conflicting answers.  Like many people we've seen in previous riots before, many people didn't even know why they were rioting.  Since the Roman captain could not get a clear answer he had Paul sent to the barracks.

It is interesting to note that Paul was chained with two chains as Luke says in verse 33.  If you remember the prophecy by Agabus, he tied both his hands and feet with Paulís belt which symbolized what would happen to Paul when he arrived in Jerusalem.  Were the two chains that bound Paul on his hands and feet what Agabus prophesied about?  I think so.  His prophecy was pretty specific.  

Even during the process of taking Paul to the barracks the crowd did not stop its violent behaviour as seen in verses 35 and 36.  The soldiers had to literally carry Paul because they could not get him through the crowd of rioters. They kept shouting, ďAway with himĒ, reminding me of the crowd shouting ďcrucify himĒ, when they arrested Jesus.  Once again, Paul found himself in the midst of turmoil, something he was told by Ananias would happen back in Acts 9 when he gave his life to Jesus.   


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