Acts 21


“After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Cos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” Acts 21:1-4

On To Jerusalem

In the previous chapter, we left the apostle Paul with tears in his eyes warning the elders from Ephesus to be on their guard against false teachers.

And we also saw very powerfully that Paul knew that his time on earth was coming to a close very soon, Philippians 1:21. He knew exactly what was about to happen to him as he departed from their company in Miletus.

And so we catch up with Paul’s journey and Luke tells us that they went from Cos to Rhodes, to Patara. Then, they boarded a ship sailing to Phoenicia and they passed Cyprus and sailed to Syria, where they stopped at Tyre for the ship to unload its cargo.

And it’s here in Tyre that Paul and his companions sought out the Lord’s followers in that city and stayed seven days with them. And since the Spirit played a key role in the start of this journey toward Jerusalem, it seems likely the disciples, having further revelations from the Spirit concerning Paul’s coming imprisonment, begged him not to go.

“But when our time was up, we left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying good-by to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home. We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.” Acts 21:5-9

Luke says that at the end of their weeklong visit, Paul’s company walked toward the ship with an escort composed of the many Christian men in the city of Tyre, along with their wives and children. And look what they did before boarding the ship, they all stopped for prayer.

We don’t know exactly what it was they were praying for but the fact that they begged Paul not to go tells me that they must have been asking God to be with Paul because of what was going to happen to him.

Christians should always pray for safe journeys no matter how long or short the journey is Joshua 24:17-18 / Judges 18:5-6. And the reason for that is that we need to remind ourselves that we are never alone, we need to remember to take God with us.

And so after their prayer on the beach, Paul and those with him boarded the ship and the others returned home. The ship went on from Tyre to Ptolemais, where they were again greeted by the brethren. And after one day’s stay, they went on to Caesarea, where they spent some time in the house of Philip, the proclaimer of good news.

Who was this Philip? I believe it was the same Philip who is mentioned in Acts 6 and Acts 8 who was chosen for the ministration to the widows and the one who taught the Ethiopian.

And according to what we have just read Philip had four virgin daughters who prophesied. But it’s during Paul’s time at Philip’s house that we’re introduced to a man who we have already met.

“After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it 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.'” When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “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.” When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” Acts 21:10-14

Luke tells us that Agabus also came to Philip’s house at the same time as Paul’s company. This Agabus is the man who was one of the prophets who went to Antioch from Jerusalem. He was the one who predicted a severe famine was going to spread throughout the Roman Empire, Acts 11:27-28. But this time he’s not predicting a famine, he’s predicting Paul’s future.

Luke tells us that Agabus took Paul’s belt, or girdle, and bound his own hands and feet. He then explained that the Holy Spirit was foretelling Paul’s being taken prisoner by the Jews and turned over to the Gentiles. And so understandably all those who heard the prophecy, including Luke, begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem.

But again we see Paul demonstrating in his life who carries the most influence. Not pain or suffering, death or even the fear of death was going to stop him from doing God’s will.

And so Paul explained that his trip to Jerusalem was one he was making in an effort to fulfil his commission to preach the Gospel, Matthew 10:28-29 / Romans 14:8.

There’s no use spending a lot of time worrying about dying because all of us will have to go sometime. But all of us need to spend a lot of our time preparing to meet our Maker. Everyone on earth past, present and future will all have to meet our Makers, Hebrews 9:27-28.

Paul’s Arrival In Jerusalem

“After this, we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples. When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers 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.” Acts 21:15-20

Luke tells us that the group travelled on to Jerusalem where they planned to lodge with one of the early disciples named Mnason who was from Cyprus.

And they were joyfully greeted by the brethren in Jerusalem which Paul may well have viewed as an answer to the prayers he had been asking others to pray for him, Romans 15:30-31.

Whether this was an answered prayer or not, at least another prayer was answered, that is, the saints in Jerusalem received the gift of money which Paul brought to help the needy saints.

And so Luke tells us that the next day, Paul delivered a report to James and all the elders concerning the things God had accomplished among the Gentiles through Paul.

And God did accomplish many things among the Gentiles through Paul, no wonder the group glorified God for the good which had been done.

“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.” Acts 21:20-21

The assembled group explained to Paul that thousands of Jews had obeyed the Gospel of Christ in Jerusalem but they also still tried to adhere strictly to the Law of Moses. But as always when people do great things from the Lord there are always those in the background trying to discredit everything you have accomplished.

Someone, or some group, had spread the rumour that Paul taught Jews who lived among the Gentiles that they should forsake Moses’ law, especially by refusing to circumcise their children.

We know that this was a false accusation because if we remember correctly, Paul had actually circumcised Timothy with his own hand, Acts 16:3.

What we also need to remember is that a full understanding of the effect of the cross on the ordinances of the Law of Moses would ultimately result in the end of circumcision as a religious act anyway. What happens next raises a few questions which need to be looked at carefully.

“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 everybody 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.” Acts 21:22-25

Naturally, the church would hear of Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem and would assemble. Therefore, James and the others proposed that Paul purify himself along with four men who had taken a vow. Paul was also urged to pay the expenses involved in their vows.

But why would Paul do that? If the Law of Moses and their customs were abolished at the cross of Christ, why would Paul do this? Simply because by doing this Paul would silence those who were falsely charging Paul.

We need to ask ourselves, did Paul compromise his teachings about the law being a schoolmaster to lead men to Christ by purifying himself and paying for a vow under Moses’ law? Or did he recognise that these things did not have to do with salvation, so he could do them to further reach out to the Jews?

This is one of those questions for which we have no certain answer, but we point out this much about Paul’s actions because some people seem to suggest that Paul sinned by doing what the officials asked.

We need to understand what ‘ceremonial purification’ involved. It did not necessarily involve atonement for personal sin. For example, a Jewish woman had to be ‘purified’ following the birth of a child, Leviticus 12:1-7. We see Mary after giving birth to Jesus obeying this purification law, Luke 2:22.

Remember this law was to be obeyed even though the act of bearing a child is not sinful. The point I’m trying to make is that Paul’s act of ‘purification’, doesn’t mean that he was seeking personal forgiveness by means of an animal sacrifice.

We’re not sure why Paul did this, but I believe that Paul’s actions kept the peace so then he could reach even more Jews with the good news.

But if there is anything we can get from this text it’s this, at least James and the elders were consistent in not requiring the Gentiles to follow the Law of Moses.

Paul Arrested

“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. 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, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area 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 area.) 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.” Acts 21:26-30

Luke tells us that Paul yielded to the proposal set forth by James and the others and began to be purified, perhaps to enter the inner part of the temple. And near the end of the seven days of purification, some Jews from Asia found Paul in the temple area and called for others to help them.

And so these guys come along and accuse Paul of four things.

1. Teaching against the Jews.

2. Teaching against the law.

3. Teaching against the temple.

4. Bringing Greeks into the temple, thereby defiling it.

As to the last charge, Luke reported that they had seen Paul in the city with Trophimus the Ephesian and supposed he had brought him into the temple.

And so with all those accusations flying around the angry mob seized Paul and dragged him into the court of the Gentiles. They then closed the doors to the temple’s inner court so that no blood would defile it. Make no mistake about it, this would have been a terrifying ordeal for anyone to go through.

And I’m wondering if Paul remembered those wonderful words, ‘the Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies.’ Psalm 118:6-7.

As Luke tells us next, we can see quite clearly that it wasn’t God’s will for Paul to be killed at this point in his life.

“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, “Away with him!” Acts 21:31-36

Luke tells us that through God’s providence, word reached the chief captain of the Roman garrison guarding Jerusalem. And he rushed in with perhaps 300 men into the midst of the mob violence and as they rushed in the mob stopped beating Paul as they arrived.

And so Agabus’ predictions came true, the chief captain ordered Paul to be bound with two chains and asked about his crime. And the mob gave all sorts of answers to the crime which Paul supposedly committed.

So the chief captain ordered Paul taken to the castle. But even this was no easy task because the soldiers literally had to carry Paul as a large part of the crowd followed, shouting, ‘away with him’.

It’s very difficult to appreciate just what these early Christians went through sometimes on a daily basis to remain true to God because we may never have to experience it in our lifetimes. But don’t these accounts of Paul’s struggles just give us so much encouragement to keep going.

We sometimes read these accounts as though they were fictional figures in fictional places. The apostle Paul was a real person, travelling through real cities, going through real trails.

And if we today were to sit down with him and compare our trials, pains and sufferings with his, I believe we would come away very humbled.

Paul Speaks To The Crowd

“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 desert 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.” Having received 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.” Acts 21:37-40

We would think that Paul asking the chief captain, who had taken him, prisoner, if he could speak would be a bad judgment on Paul’s behalf.

Especially after having his life threatened by the very people who are trying to kill him. I’m pretty sure if that was you or I we would be longing just to get out of there to be safe and away from the mob.

But Paul doesn’t do that, he asks to speak to them and when the captain heard Paul speak to him fluently in Greek, he was surprised. And the reason he was surprised was that he had assumed that Paul was an Egyptian criminal. The captain thought that Paul was an Egyptian criminal who had led a band of some 4,000 men in a rebellion.

And so Paul explained to the captain that he was a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia. Paul went on to ask the captain for permission to speak to the very multitude that only moments before had sought to kill him and when permission was granted, Paul gestured with his hand to gain the attention of the audience and a hush fell over the crowd. And so, Paul then began to speak to them in Aramaic.

Sadly, this is another example of how chapter breaks really don’t work at times. To read Paul’s first defence, we need to move on to the next chapter.

Go To Acts 22


"And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus."