Through the Bible in One Year

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Day 231

Acts 21:17-36

Yesterday we saw Paul continue on his journey to Jerusalem.  And more importantly we saw again a prediction that Paul was going to face hardship and persecution upon arrival in Jerusalem.  We, also, saw that Paul was well aware of this, through his continuous awareness of the presence and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and not only was Paul aware of the hardships and persecutions that he was going to face in Jerusalem, he was prepared to suffer them in order to advance the Gospel.  And now today we are going to see Paul arrive in Jerusalem and within the first week that he is in Jerusalem be arrested on false charges by the Roman authorities, which will ultimately lead to his final destination at the end of Acts, Rome.

When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.”

The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.—21:17-26

Paul and James were clearly friends.  The believers were joyful about Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.  James’s report of many thousands of Jewish believers demonstrates that the church did not stop growing in Jerusalem while the Gentile mission was going on.  Some, though, thought that Paul was telling Jews to abandon Judaism.  This information was clearly false and was likely spread by the Judaizers and their sympathizers.  James’s proposal was that Paul assist four men in completing a Nazirite vow (much like Paul had done earlier, in Acts 18:18, only this vow was formal).  Paul agreed and went to the temple to complete the formal rituals.

When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)

The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut.—21:27-30

The Jews from the province of Asia were probably from Ephesus, for they recognized Trophimus the Ephesian.  The charges against Paul were threefold and totally false.  Paul, the Jew, was not anti-Semitic. Paul did not denigrate the law or the temple.  He certainly did not bring a Gentile into the temple.  That they assumed Trophimus was with Paul reveals a think-the-worst attitude borne from a deep seated dislike.  The charge of defiling the temple was the most disturbing of the charges, for it would have made the temple unusable.  The city, given over to hostility, must have been a terrifying place.  It led to these self-appointed vigilantes forming a mob.  Why the temple doors were shut is not stated (v.30), but it is likely that the temple police shut the doors as commonsense response to mob violence.  The Jews would have considered the place desecrated until the offender was dead.

While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Get rid of him!”—21:31-36

Though the Romans were not allowed in the temple, they built a hight fortress (called Antonia) overlooking the walls.  The report to the commander came from posts in this fortress and possibly throughout the city.  The time between the mob seizing Paul and the arrival of the soldiers is unstated.  One cannot assume hours passed, but it was not instantaneous.  However, long until the soldiers arrived, the mob did not stop beating Paul.  Binding Paul with two chains suggests he was securely bound to two soldiers.  Unable to get a clear report, the commander ordered Paul taken to the barracks.  The soldiers had to carry him to the stairs leading to the fortress.  The only clear thing heard was the crowd’s cry that Paul be done away with—a call for his death and not merely his incarceration.  And that is where we will pick tomorrow as we see Paul attempt to address this mob.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Esther 8-10, 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13, Psalm 37:1-11 and Proverbs 21:23-24

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