Acts 21 Paul is Seized in the Temple



We have traveled the Acts road for 25 plus years. Its been that long since the birth of the Church. The destruction of Jerusalem is about 12 years away. In this study we enter the final 1/4 of the book of Acts. The remainder of our studies see Paul's imprisonment and his subsequent journey to Rome.

This study has seven questions. Each question is design to provoke thoughts and additional dialogue. Feel free to respond to any or all the questions. (Or to any other portion of the study.)

Well, its time. Let's make our way on to Jerusalem.

This is Acts038 - Acts 21 Paul is Seized in the Temple

Vss1-14: Synopsis - Paul leaves Melitus and after various ports, arrives in Tyre. Along the way the apostle receives warnings about going to Jerusalem. From Tyre they go to Ptolemais and then on to Caesarea, where the apostolic band stays with Philip the evangelist for some time. Philip has four daughters who are prophetesses.

Q1: Are there any Scriptural significances that may relate to Philip's daughters being called prophetesses?

Vss10,11: "As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, 'This is what the Holy Spirit says: 'In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'

... Little is known of Agabus. He prophesied some years earlier of a great famine to take place, which did occur. (Cf. Acts 11:28)

Vss12-14: "When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, 'What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.' And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, 'The will of the Lord be done!'"

... This is where some think that Paul was being obstinate, but other considerations point just opposite. We know that something has been pressing Paul to get to Jerusalem. Actually the Lord appears to him during his distress in Jerusalem, telling him that just as he had testified of Him in Jerusalem, he must also do so in Rome. (To be covered later.)

Q2: Why do you think Paul was so insistent on getting to Jerusalem? (Feel free to elaborate.)

Q3: Is there another instance in Scriptures where a prophet is given a job to do, but is swayed by someone who also claims to speak for God, and by listening to the other person, turns aside? (There is such a case. Please think it over. It is in the Old Testament.)

Q4: Is there a lesson to be learned in this? (Relates to Q2 & Q3)

Vss15-17: "After these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge. After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly."

... The welcoming group is not James and the elders of the church in Jerusalem. This will take place on the morrow. Paul is treated with love and respect.

Vss18,19: "And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry."

... The James here is the brother of Jesus. Since it only mentions James and the elders it appears that the other apostles have gone forth with their varied ministries. These elders may have gathered from different points in Judea, hearing that Paul had arrived.

Paul shares his testimony of how the Lord had worked mightily among the Gentiles. In all this he takes no credit to himself.

Vss20: "And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, 'You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law...'"

... Paul has made it for Pentecost. Jerusalem is filled to overflowing with Jews. And it is here we begin to see the tension for Jewish believers. As long as the temple is standing and sacrifices are being offered, you can be sure emotions are being pulled in all directions. Keep in mind that a great many priests have come to accept Jesus as Messiah. Add to this that Paul has become a lightening rod everywhere he has gone. And many of those who have made themselves his enemies are also present in Jerusalem. The mixture is volatile.

Where James says, 'many thousands' have believed, the term actually speaks of tens of thousands. New covenant faith has been spreading among the Jews in a remarkable way. But as already stated, the new covenant faith is still in a transitional phase for the Jewish peoples. It is not always understood. And as long as the temple is standing there will be an attempt to mix the covenants.

Vss21,22: "And they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. 'What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.'"

... James and the elders know that Paul's message is being distorted, but they have to find a way to disarm the enemy. Keep in mind that all these men are Jewish believers. They are situated in the very heart of Judaism. So a decision needs to be agreed upon.

Q5: Do you think that Paul and James are in disagreement over the message of the gospel? If so, why?

Vss23,24: "Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law."

... Here we seem to have an anomaly. (Something difficult to grasp.) James knew that the temple sacrifices were no longer binding nor efficacious. (Without effect.) But during this transitional time of the Church, many of the Jewish believers were still blending certain parts of the covenant of Moses with the covenant of Christ.

The Nazarite vow is an example. It was still being used by some Jewish believers. This is where James sees a way to divert an attack on Paul. Notice that Paul himself is not under the Nazarite vow. But there was a provision made for someone to join those under the Nazarite vow by paying their expenses. The joiner did not cut his hair, but by association he participated in the closure of the vow.

Q6: Is the Nazarite vow something that Christians should take upon themselves? If so, why? If not, why not?

Vs25: "But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication."

... James reemphasizes that people who were not of the Jewish culture had no concern in this area. For the Jews even this was but temporary. Once the great harvest of the Jews was complete, the Lord would dismantle the very heart of ancient Judaism by removing the temple and all its sacrifices. What would be left are the moral commandments which are always binding on the conscience of all believers.

Q7: Did the Lord intend there to be two Christianities, one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles? (Feel free to elaborate.)

Vs26: "Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them."

... When Paul presented himself before the priests, it was for identification. Paul loved his Jewish kinsmen. It is here where we understand a statement he made:

"To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some." (1Co9:19-22)

Vss27-30: Synopsis - Some of Paul's Jewish enemies from Asia, saw him in the temple area, and assumed, or used as a pretext, that Paul had brought Gentiles into the temple. This was such an offense to the Jewish worshipers that the city itself got caught up in the uproar. Paul is dragged out of the temple. The doors are shut.

... Perhaps the doors were shut to keep Paul from taking a hold of the horns of the altar. This had become a last resort in certain instances when a Jewish person was seeking protection from his pursuers.

Vs31: "While they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion."

... A large garrison of Roman soldiers was stationed near the temple in case of disturbances. There may have been several hundred soldiers who came to see about Paul, since the next Scriptures mentions 'centurions.' A centurion was over 100 men.

Vs32: "At once he took along some soldiers and centurions and ran down to them; and when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul."

... When the peoples saw the soldiers coming with their swords drawn, things quietened down. Some years ago there had been another riot in the temple and a great many people were trampled to death. The Romans were fierce and ruthless in making examples of those who would break their laws.

Vss33,34: "Then the commander came up and took hold of him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; and he began asking who he was and what he had done. But among the crowd some were shouting one thing and some another, and when he could not find out the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks."

... It is interesting how the crowd was so willing to beat Paul, and yet most of them didn't even know what he was accused of. The enemy had well stirred up their passions. The noise was so great and the accusations so mixed that the commander could not determine what the problem was.

Vss35,36: "When he got to the stairs, he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob; for the multitude of the people kept following them, shouting, 'Away with him!'"

... Does this sound familiar? When Pilate was seeking how to release Jesus, he resorted to some irony, in saying, "Behold, your King!" The response was, "Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!" When Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your King?" It was the chief priests who answered, "We have no king but Caesar."

Vss37-39: "As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, 'May I say something to you?' And he said, 'Do you know Greek? Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?' But Paul said, 'I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.'"

... What happens here is amazing. Paul is ever the evangelist and the man of wisdom. But we also see here a man of languages. As for Greek, this was pretty much the lingua of the empire. The Jews of the diaspora spoke it. The Old Testament had been translated into Greek. Both Josephus and Philo spoke it. And the New Testament writings were in Greek.

Vss40: "When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect ..."

... Well, we've reached a high in our study, but let's shorten things for now. We have covered all of chapter 21. What happens next needs to be in a study by itself.


This study was originally part of a series on the book of Acts given to members of Hebraic Foundations from July 10, 2002 through January 19, 2003. They were written by Pastor Buddy Martin, a former United Pentecostal Church minister, who founded Christian Challenge International. Writings are the copyright of Buddy Martin and reprinted on this site by permission.


Page added October 22, 2004

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