Acts 21

21:1 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.

21:2 We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail.

21:3 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.

21:4 Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.

21:5 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.

21:6 After saying good-by to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.

21:7 We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for a day.

21:8 Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven.

21:9 He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.

21:10 After we had been there [in Caesarea at house of Philip the evangelist (cf. 21:9), one of original deacons (Acts 6:1-6) and associate of Stephen; Paul knew value of spending time w/ believers (spiritual / emotional renewal)] a number of days, a prophet named Agabus [previously predicted a famine in Judea (cf. Acts 11:27-28)] came down from Judea [perhaps from Jerusalem, thus he was likely aware of the feeling there toward Paul].

21:11 [example of enacted prophecy (see also Neh. 5:13; Isa. 20:2-6; Ezek. 4:1-13); Agabus’ prophecy reinforced warning Paul had received from God (Acts 20:23, 21:4); not intended to dissuade Paul from going to Jerusalem, but to prepare him for what would happen there] Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt [long cloth wrapped around the waist], tied his own hands and feet with it and said [Agabus’ prophetic utterance probably a warning rather than a prohibition; not “don’t go” but “this is what to expect if you do go”], “The Holy Spirit [points to the divine origin of the prophecy] says, `In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles [Jews only had power to persecute, not prosecute; God would use this for His purposes].’”

Note: Have you ever failed to obey the Lord because you feared particular consequences?

Note: “If we are to wait to do a work for the Lord until every possible hindrance has been removed and every obstacle overcome, we will never attempt to do anything.” (Pearls from Many Seas)

21:12 When we heard this, we [Luke included himself] and the people [all present were united in their concern for Paul’s welfare] there pleaded [tried to dissuade Paul from going to Jerusalem as had the Christians in Tyre (Acts 21:4)] with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.

Note: Have well-meaning friends ever tried to deter you from doing what God wanted?

21:13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking [crushing, pounding; words describe a powerful emotional experience] my heart? I am ready [prepared] not only to be bound, but also to die [cf. Lk. 22:33] in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. [Paul wanted to do God’s will (cf. Lk. 22:42), even at risk to personal safety]

21:14 When he [Paul deeply convicted that he must go to Jerusalem] would not be dissuaded [interplay between individual conviction and counsel of fellow believers], we gave up [to be still; to be quiet] and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

21:15 After this, we got ready and went up to Jerusalem.

21:16 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.

21:17 When we [Paul and his entourage, which also included “some of the disciples from Caesarea” (27:15)] arrived at Jerusalem [a sixty-five mile journey from Caesarea], the brothers [either Mnason and his household (27:16) or the Jewish Christian community] received us warmly.

Paul and those traveling with him from Caesarea arrived in Jerusalem after a journey of sixty-five miles. When they reached Jerusalem, they received a warm reception from the brothers there. The term brothers probably includes the Jewish Christian community as well as Mnason, the man with whom Paul and his friends were to stay (see Acts 27:16).

Missionaries like Paul depended on the kindness and hospitality of believers like Mnason. Paul also may have presented these brothers with a large financial gift from the Gentile churches for the poor in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1-3).

21:18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James [the brother of Jesus; leader of the mother church in Jerusalem (see Acts 15:13-21)], and all the elders were present [emphasizes the importance of the meeting].

The following day Paul and the representatives of the Gentile churches met with James, the brother of Jesus. He was the leader of the mother church in Jerusalem (see Acts 15:13-21). The presence of all the elders suggests that this was a very important meeting. Although, we are not told how many elders were present, those there were eager to hear Paul’s report of what God had done among the Gentiles on his third missionary journey.

21:19 Paul greeted them [Paul displayed an attitude of sincere humility and submission before these Christian colleagues] and reported [as on previous occasions (see Acts 14:27; 15:12)] in detail [a step by step account] what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

Paul greeted James and the elders who had assembled to hear his report. God had clearly used Paul in a mighty way on his recent missionary journey, yet Paul displayed an attitude of sincere humility and submission before these Christian colleagues. These men had faithfully labored in Jerusalem while Paul served on the mission field.

The work of God’s kingdom requires faithfulness on the part of those who labor abroad and those who labor at home. Paul, as on previous occasions (see Acts 14:27; 15:12), gave a detailed step by step account of what God did among the Gentiles through his ministry.

21:20 When they heard this [the report of Paul’s successful ministry among the Gentiles], they praised God [for the way in which He had chosen to work among the Gentiles]. Then they said to Paul [had arrived in Jerusalem in A.D. 56 or 57, a time when Jewish nationalism and anti-Gentile attitudes both were at an all time high]: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law [indicates these new converts were likely influenced by the Judaizers].

Luke briefly described the reaction of James and the elders to the report of Paul’s successful ministry among the Gentiles. They could not help but praise God for the way in which He had chosen to work among the Gentiles. However, these leaders knew that others in Jerusalem did not share their sentiments.

In the time Paul had been away, thousands of Jews in Jerusalem had believed and were added to the church. These new converts, perhaps having been influenced by the Judaizers, were zealous for the law. Paul had arrived in Jerusalem at a time when Jewish nationalism and anti-Gentile attitudes were at an all time high.

21:21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles [the dispersion Jews] to turn away [Gr. “apostasian” from which we get our word “apostasy”] from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children [the truth is that Paul had Timothy circumcised before the second missionary journey (Acts 16:1-3)] or live according to our customs [the truth is that Paul had taken a Jewish vow while in Corinth (Acts 18:18); Paul did not violate Jewish customs or the Law of Moses (1 Cor. 9:19-23)].

After Paul described what God was doing among Gentiles—no doubt emphasizing they were saved by faith and apart from the law of Moses—he was told about some unfair criticism of him by Jewish Christians. Evidently, someone had started a rumor that Paul urged Jews to abandon Moses, that is, to turn away from the law. However, the evidence was to the contrary.

While Paul opposed circumcision of Gentile converts, he had never told Jewish Christians to turn away from the practice. In fact, prior to the second missionary journey Paul had encouraged Timothy to submit to circumcision (16:1-3). Nevertheless, these rumors had spread widely and, as often happens, had taken on a life of their own.

We too may face criticism that is unfair for a variety of reasons, including that it distorts what we believe or have done.

21:22 What shall we do [a rhetorical question; James and elders had already worked out possible solution]? They will certainly hear that you have come [word of Paul’s arrival would spread throughout the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem],

The leaders then asked the question, So what is to be done? Anyone who has ever dealt with false rumors has asked similar questions in the hope of finding workable solutions. However, the leaders of the Jerusalem church already knew the answer to their own question. Knowing that word of Paul’s arrival would spread throughout the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem, James and the elders had already worked out a positive response among themselves. While positive responses may not satisfy our critics, God still expects us to react in positive ways.

21:23 so do what we tell you. There are four men [Jewish Christians] with us who have made a vow [a Nazirite vow (Num. 6:13-21); cf. Acts 18:18].

The elders hoped their proposed solution would convince the Jewish Christian community that Paul was still true to the Jewish law. The plan was not complicated at all. There were four Jewish Christian men in the Jerusalem church who had made a vow. These men seem to have taken a Nazirite vow (see Num. 6:13-21) as a way of expressing their piety. This vow required that these men abstain from wine and meat for thirty days and allow their hair to grow. At the end of their vow they were required to cut their hair and offer it at the temple (see Acts 18:18).

21:24 Take these men [four Jewish Christians], join in their purification rites and pay their expenses [a generous gesture], so that they can have their heads shaved. Then [as a result of this public gesture in the precincts of the temple] everybody will know there is no truth in these reports [rumors] about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.

The leaders suggested that Paul join the men who had made a Nazirite vow. He was to take them to the temple, share in the purification ceremony, and pay for them to get their heads shaved. The leaders hoped that this generous and public gesture would demonstrate to others Paul’s careful observance of the law and silence the false rumors about him. Paul agreed go along with the leaders’ suggestion in order to help preserve the peace in the Jerusalem church.

21:25 [James and the elders restated and reaffirmed the decision of the Jerusalem Council…] 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.”

James and the elders then restated and reaffirmed the decision of the Jerusalem Council concerning the Gentiles. They assured Paul that the decision of the council, made years earlier, was still in effect and had not changed. While Gentiles were not required to live by the Jewish Torah, they were expected to observe some basic matters that would make fellowship possible between Jewish and Gentile Christians.

21:26 The next day Paul [willing to go a “second mile” in the interest of preventing trouble in the church and advancing the gospel] 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.

Paul was willing to go a “second mile” in the interest of preventing trouble in the church and advancing the gospel. By symbolically identifying with the four men carrying out this act of piety, Paul once again became “all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22) in the hope of winning some of them.

The next day, Paul went to the temple and purified himself along with these men and announced the date when Nazirite ceremony would be completed. Like Paul, we too should be willing to take positive actions that will help counter unfair criticism made against us that will not compromise our convictions.

21:27 When the seven days [Nazirite purification process required seven days (cf. Num. 6:1-20); James suggested Paul do this to discredit rumors and make him acceptable to the Jews (vv. 23-26)] were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia [perhaps from Ephesus] saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up [to pour together, to cause confusion; continual action] the whole crowd and seized [to place hands upon] him,

The Nazirite purification process required seven days. As those days were about to end, some unbelieving Jews from the province of Asia, most likely Ephesus, were in Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Pentecost. Paul had spent three months of his three year stay in Ephesus speaking to Jews in the local synagogue, trying to persuade them that Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 19:8). So, these Jews knew Paul well. These individuals, who had unsuccessfully tried to silence Paul in Ephesus, saw an opportunity to stir up trouble for Paul in Jerusalem. When they saw him in the temple complex, they stirred up the whole crowd into frenzy and seized Paul.

21:28 shouting [screaming], “Men of Israel [an appeal to those who loved the laws and customs of Israel], help us! This is the man who [note charges] [1] teaches all men [Paul had not taught all men] everywhere [Paul had not been everywhere] against our people and our law and this place [a false rumor (cf. Acts 21:21); Paul not antagonistic toward Jews]. And besides, [2] he has brought [led] Greeks [Trophimus as per v. 29] into the temple area [inner courts leading to the temple building, a place where Gentiles were not allowed] and defiled [to pollute; to make common] this holy place.”

The angry Jewish mob appealed for help from the men of Israel, or those who loved the laws and customs of Israel. Pointing at Paul, they leveled two charges against him.

The first charge was similar to that leveled against Stephen—speaking “against this holy place and the laws (see Acts 6:13).”

Second, they accused Paul of having violated the temple by taking Greeks beyond the court of the Gentiles, a violation punishable by death. However, Paul was aware of what could and could not be done at the temple. And, his purpose for being there was to establish his Jewishness in order to silence his critics. He would never have endangered himself or others by violating any restrictions or protocol.

21:29 (They [the Asian Jews] had previously seen Trophimus [representative of Ephesian church who had accompanied Paul to Jerusalem (cf. Acts 20:4)] the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed [a wrong assumption; jumped to the conclusion] that Paul had brought him into the temple area.)

The Asian Jews who seized Paul were like the religious leaders who were always looking for opportunities to find fault with Jesus. These Asian Jews had previously seen Paul with Trophimus, his Gentile Christian companion. Without taking the time to check the facts, they erroneously concluded that Paul had taken his Ephesian friend beyond the Court of the Gentiles into the part of the temple reserved exclusively for Jews.

We too may face criticism that is blatantly false and has no basis in fact or is based on false assumptions. This is just one of many ways in which the enemies of Christianity try to make Christians look bad. I have Christian friends who live in countries closed to the gospel who have experienced such false accusations. Many of these individuals have suffered subsequent social ridicule or alienation, physical abuse, and other forms of persecution. To their credit, each of them demonstrated a Christ-like response and, by so doing, discredited their accusers.

21:30 The whole city was aroused [even though they had not examined the validity of the charges], and the people came running [emotions also running at full speed] from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut [Levitical temple police closed the doors separating the temple from the court of the Gentiles].

21:31 While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander [named Claudius Lysias as per Acts 23:26; military tribune; highest-ranking officer in Jerusalem] of the Roman troops [housed in the fortress of Antonia, which was built into northwest corner of temple area] that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar.

21:32 He at once took some officers [centurions (commanders of one hundred men) and their men] and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

21:33 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.

21:34 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.

21:35 When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers.

21:36 The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Away with him!”

21:37 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.

21:38 “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?”

21:39 Paul answered [see v. 38 re: question asked the commander of the Roman regiment (v. 31)], “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen [Paul later told Claudius Lysias of his Roman citizenship (see Acts 22:25-29)] of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”

Paul was rescued from the angry mob by the Roman regiment stationed at the Fortress of Antonia, located next to the temple area. Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:26) was the commander of this regiment. Paul spoke to him in Greek and identified himself as a Jewish man and as a citizen of Tarsus. He later divulged his Roman citizenship to Claudius (Acts 22:25-29).

Paul asked for permission to speak to the people who believed the false criticism against him. He spoke to the angry mob about his zeal for the law, his conversion, and his commission from God; to the Sanhedrin he declared his Pharisaic heritage and beliefs. To help counter any false criticism made against us, like Paul, we can make positive statements that reflect our relationship with God and reveal the charges are indeed false.

Note: How to deal with criticism.
C = Critics are not always correct.
R = Respond to undeserved criticism in positive ways.
I = Ignoring criticism will not make it go away.
T = Take corrective measures when you receive constructive criticism.
I = Investigate the facts carefully before you say anything critical to others.
C = Counter unfair criticism with positive actions that will not compromise your convictions.
I = Inform critics who are misinformed.
S = Speak the truth in love to those who criticize you.
M = Maintain your integrity and a positive Christian witness in the face of all criticism.

21:40 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:

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