Yesterday we saw Paul arrive in Jerusalem, and because of the advice of James taking a group of four men to the Temple so that he could assist them in completing a Nazirite vow. We, also, that about a week later Paul enters the temple with another group of men and some Jews from the province of Asia saw him entering the Temple and they thought they saw him bringing a Gentile into the Temple, which of course Paul was not. This case of mistaken identity, either willful or accidentally done, led this group of Jews from the province of Asia to start to a riot. This in turn caused the Roman soldiers stationed in Jerusalem, to prevent such things from happening, to act action by taking Paul into custody and attempting to remove him from the scene in attempt to at least find out the cause of the riot or even better put an end to the riot. And now today, we are going to see Paul address this riotous mob in an attempt to quell their anger.
As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”
“Do you speak Greek?” he replied. “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”
Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”
After receiving the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic—21:37-40
Most Jews in Israel, especially the educated ones, would have know Greek. Paul’s skill in the language led to the conclusion that he was not a well-known insurrectionist. The “Egyptian” in verse 38 (mentioned by the historian Josephus) was a false prophet who mounted a rebellion that was put down by the Roman governor Felix. Paul was obviously not the criminal in question. Paul requested, and was granted, permission to speak. He did so in Aramaic, the language of the common person in Judea. By speaking Aramaic, he directly addressed the Jewish mob (rather than the Romans) and defended himself against their accusations by revealing himself to be a loyal Jew.
“Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”
When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.
Then Paul said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.—22:1-3
Paul first described his upbringing. It was the best available. Gamaliel was a well-respected theological conservative who carried on the school of the famous rabbi Hillel. Possibly as young as 12, Paul (and other students) would have sat on the floor while Gamaliel taught. That he was “thoroughly trained” suggests more than an elementary education. Paul confessed he was just as zealous for God as the crowd was. In doing so, he showed not hostility but understanding. His confession of his zeal provides a transition to his conduct as an adult.
I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.—22:4-5
“The Way” is the earliest name for Christianity. Paul confessed that his persecution led to the death of men and women. Stephen immediately comes to mind, but Paul only consented to his death. These sins of Paul were blasphemous and murderous acts that led him to call himself the worst of sinners. The hight priest and whole council of elders (which together constituted the Sanhedrin) could have testified to Paul’s former commission to persecute Christians.
“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’
“‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.
“‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.
“‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.
“‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.—22:6-11
At Paul’s conversion the light was intense and flashed around him. It is no wonder that he fell to the ground. Only Paul understood the voice, though the others heard a sound without understanding the sense of it. From that point forward, Paul was blind. The persecutor had to be led by the hand. Persecuting the church is persecuting Jesus, because Jesus is united to his church. In this union it is unthinkable that the persecuted will not receive eventual justice. God will not overlook the sins of the prosecutors; they will receive their punishment, whether in this life or in eternity.
“A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.
“Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’—22:12-16
In Acts 9:10 Ananias is simply called a disciple. Here Paul describes him in way that would appeal to pious Jews: he was devout and well respected by local Jews. Pauls recitation of Ananias’s charge does not specifically mention Gentiles. Paul does note that he would be a witness to all people. Ananias had instructed Paul to be baptized. Theologically, calling on the name of Jesus precedes forgiveness and baptism.
“When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’
“‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’
“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”—22:17-21
Paul’s vision in the temple is new information. Paul’s objection to the vision was likely because he felt a great burden for his people and considered himself to be in a good position to share the gospel with them. The Lord had other plans: to send Paul to the Gentiles. And that is where we will pick up tomorrow, as we will see that Paul’s address to this riotous mob did not have the desired affect.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Job 1-3, 1 Corinthians 14:1-17, Psalm 37:12-29 and Proverbs 21:25-26
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