Acts Lesson Forty-seven

Acts Lesson Forty-seven: Acts 21:37-22:21 – Paul’s Defense and Testimony

37 As he was about to be brought into the barracks, Paul said to the commander, “Am I allowed to say something to you?” 

He replied, “Do you know Greek? 38 Aren’t you the Egyptian who raised a rebellion some time ago and led 4,000 Assassins into the wilderness?” 

39 Paul said, “I am a Jewish man from Tarsus of Cilicia, a citizen of an important city.  Now I ask you, let me speak to the people.” 

40 After he had given permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned with his hand to the people. When there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language: 

22 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense before you.” When they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even quieter. He  continued, “I am a Jewish man, born in Tarsus of Cilicia but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel and educated according to the strict view of our patriarchal law. Being zealous for God, just as all of you are today, I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women in jail, as both the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. After I received letters from them to the brothers, I traveled to Damascus to bring those who were prisoners there to be punished in Jerusalem. 

“As I was traveling and near Damascus, about noon an intense light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ 

“I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ 

“He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, the One you are persecuting!’ Now those who were with me saw the light, but they did not hear the voice of the One who was speaking to me. 

10 “Then I said, ‘What should I do, Lord?’ 

“And the Lord told me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told about everything that is assigned for you to do.’ 

11 “Since I couldn’t see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. 12 Someone named Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good reputation with all the Jews residing there,  13 came and stood by me and said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight.’ And in that very hour I looked up and saw him. 14 Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of His voice. 15 For you will be a witness for Him to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins by calling on His name.’ 

17 “After I came back to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple complex, I went into a visionary state 18 and saw Him telling me, ‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me!’ 

19 “But I said, ‘Lord, they know that in synagogue after synagogue I had those who believed in You imprisoned and beaten. 20 And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I was standing by and approving, and I guarded the clothes of those who killed him.’ 

21 “Then He said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” (HCSB)

The passage for this lesson is rather long, but a significant portion is Paul telling the crowd about his encounter with Jesus on the way to Damascus. I’ll be splitting this lesson into two parts.

  • Paul’s discussion with the Roman commander and the introduction of his background to the mob – verses 21:37-22:5.
  • Paul’s testimony of his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and his conversion – verses 22:6-21.

Paul’s Discussion with the Roman Commander and the Introduction of His Background to the Mob

Before being brought into the barracks, Paul engages in conversation with the Roman commander. Let’s look at some elements regarding this conversation.

  • Claudius was surprised that this “dangerous” prisoner was able to speak Greek.
    • Paul spoke to the Roman commander in polite and refined Greek.
    • Since he thought Paul was a dangerous criminal, he was surprised by this discovery.
  • The Egyptian in question also appears in historical records written by Josephus.
    • He was a false prophet who recruited a large band of followers. Josephus numbered them at 30,000, but Luke records the number at 4,000. The difference is most likely due to Josephus’ tendency to inflate numbers.
    • The Egyptian led them into the wilderness and then to the Mount of Olives.
    • He promised his followers the walls of Jerusalem would fall at his command, and they would easily overthrow the Roman occupiers.
    • Instead of the walls falling, Felix arrived with heavy troops to engage the rebels.
      • About 400 were killed.
      • About 200 were taken captive.
      • The Egyptian and the rest of his followers fled into the wilderness.
  • Jewish freedom fighters mingled in large crowds during special occasions and assassinated pro-Roman political figures before disappearing into the crowd.
  • Claudius was under the impression that Paul fell into one of these groups of anti-Roman rebels.
  • Paul then identifies himself.
    • First, as a Jew.
    • Second, as being from Tarsus of Cilicia.
      • Tarsus was a proud Hellenistic city, or as Paul said, “an important city.”
      • It is interesting that Paul does not invoke his Roman citizenship at this point, waiting until later in the chapter to reveal that detail.
  • Since Paul identified himself as a Jew, his request to address the crowd was reasonable.
  • Claudius then gives Paul permission to address the crowd.

Now let’s move on to the introduction Paul gives of himself to the crowd.

  • Paul’s primary aim as he addressed the crowd was to establish his full commitment to Judaism. We shouldn’t view this as Paul allowing syncretism to seep into his commitment to the roots of Christianity. Instead, Paul intended to demonstrate that following the traditions of Judaism was permissible as long as a person also placed faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. This tension is at the core of the Jerusalem council’s decision not to levy the requirements of Judaism on Gentile believers.
    • A Jewish Christian could still follow the traditions of Judaism.
    • A Gentile Christian was not bound by the traditions of Judaism.
  • Since Paul was unable to prove his total commitment to Jewish traditions by participating in the Nazirite vow, he attempted to prove it through his speech to the crowd.
  • Paul’s speech was a first-person narrative of what Luke wrote in Acts 9.
    • Paul talks about his former zeal for Judaism.
      • Paul uses the same introduction Stephen used before the Sanhedrin, “Brothers and fathers.”
      • Both Stephen and Paul were making a defense and were attempting to prove their loyalty to Judaism.
      • Paul calls his speech a “defense.”
      • However, Paul doesn’t address the reason the riot started, that he had desecrated the temple.
      • Paul’s speech did address the more significant issue, Paul’s faithfulness to Judaism.
      • Paul’s defense continues in the speeches that follow in Acts.
        • Before Felix and the Jews in Acts 24.
        • Before Agrippa in Acts 26.
        • It is reasonable to conclude from this point on in Acts that Paul is making a running defense of his actions before Jews.
      • Paul addresses the crowd in Hebrew to underline his Jewish roots.
      • Paul then explained how his early life demonstrated he was a strict, practicing Jew.
        • He was born in Tarsus.
        • He grew up in Jerusalem.
          • Being “brought up” meant that his family moved to Jerusalem when he was very young.
          • Paul wanted to point out that he wasn’t a Diaspora maverick but was shaped from early childhood in Jerusalem.
        • He studied under Gamaliel.
          • This implied a crucial point Paul was trying to establish with the Jerusalem Jews.
          • Paul’s former life was marked by a zeal that matched or exceeded their own.
      • Paul then goes on to describe how he persecuted the early Christian movement.
        • Believers were put in jail.
        • Believers were executed.
        • Paul then received letters from the Sanhedrin to go to Damascus and bring Christian prisoners to Jerusalem for punishment.

Paul’s Testimony of His Encounter with Jesus on the Road to Damascus and His Conversion

Paul now switches from a defense of his roots in Judaism to his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and his subsequent conversion to Christianity. This is one of three detailed accounts of Paul’s conversion in Acts. The first is in Acts 9, and the third is in Acts 26. The three accounts align in the essentials but differ in the minor details. The biggest difference is seen in the two accounts given by Paul. They were tailored to the audience hearing them. In this speech, Paul detailed the role of Ananias and his devotion to Jewish tradition. When Paul spoke before Agrippa and the Roman officials, Ananias was not mentioned as his role would be insignificant to Gentiles. The fact that Luke includes Paul’s conversion three times speaks to the importance of the event.

Acts 22:6-11 align with Acts 9:3-8, with the only differences being in minor details and first-person narrative. 

  • One of the differences is in Acts 22:6, which gives the time of the encounter as “about noon.” This fact highlights the brightness of the vision, as it occurred when the sun was at its brightest.
  • Another is the inclusion of the words “of Nazareth” in the present narration. This inclusion would have significance to the Jewish hearers.
  • In the account in Acts 9, the companions heard but didn’t understand the voice speaking to Paul. Paul’s account focuses on their seeing but not hearing. Both are important to prove that Paul’s experience was not an experience of the mind but an actual physical occurrence of both sight and sound, even if the companions didn’t participate in the experience.
  • Paul was told to go to Damascus but needed assistance from his companions. The fact that Paul was blinded underscores the brightness of the light in the middle of the day.

The retelling of the visit to Ananias in Acts 22:12-16 aligns with Acts 9:10-17. The one major difference is the omission of the vision that came to Ananias since this was a first-person account from Paul’s perspective. Let’s look at a few other points from this section.

  • The phrase “God of our fathers” carried a strong Old Testament emphasis.
  • The phrase “Righteous One” is a Jewish messianic title found in the earlier speeches of Peter and Stephen. 
  • Paul was to be a witness to all people.
  • The scene with Ananias ends with Paul’s baptism.
    • The phrase “why delay” is a common Greek expression implying that it was time for Paul to act on the commission given by Jesus.
    • The phrase “calling on His name” is the profession of faith that is the basis for baptism.

The narration now moves to the temple complex in Jerusalem after Paul returns there. Let’s take a closer look at this event and its significance.

  • Jesus knew the Jews would not accept Paul’s testimony of the encounter on the road to Damascus.
  • However, Paul protests against the command to leave.
    • Such protests are common in biblical commissioning narratives.
    • Paul’s protest was that he had a convincing testimony to tell them.
      • Jerusalem was well aware of Paul’s former zeal in hunting down and persecuting Christians.
      • They would have understood that something extraordinary must have happened to Paul to change his allegiance completely.
    • In the end, the Lord’s command was obeyed. Jesus had another task for Paul; evangelism to the Gentiles.
      • The mission to the Gentiles is closely connected to the refusal of the Jews to accept Paul’s testimony of Jesus.
      • Jesus’ parable of the great banquet in Luke 14:16-24 makes the same point.
      • Paul also wrestled with this problem in Romans 9-11. 
  • Paul then tells the crowd that Jesus sent him to evangelize the Gentiles. 
    • There was that word again, Gentiles. 
    • The crowd had patiently and respectfully listed during Paul’s conversion narrative.
    • They hadn’t questioned either of Paul’s conversations with Jesus.
    • But with the mention of Gentiles, Paul had stepped outside the Jews’ boundary of tolerance.
  • We’ll see in the next lesson that the mention of the Gentiles whipped the Jewish crowd into a murderous frenzy once again.


  • Paul’s behavior as the mob tried to kill him and the Roman soldiers rescued him is an example to follow. Although it is reasonable to assume that Paul tried to protect himself, he didn’t try to fight back. That could be because he was overwhelmingly outnumbered. It’s reasonable to think that few of us will ever face the level of hostility that Paul faced. However, being calm and non-reactionary is often the best course of action.
  • When addressing those who are hostile or resistant to the Gospel, speak in a respectful, calm, and factual manner. Becoming emotional or arguing will likely only inflame the situation.
  • In Paul’s day, the word “Gentile” was a trigger point. Depending on where we live, there may be specific words or phrases which elicit a similar response. A few examples which are currently hot topics in American society are abortion, same-sex marriage, or sin in general, leading to eternal separation from God. Each of these examples could lead to a mob mentality by those who support abortion, same-sex marriage, or don’t believe in sin or hell. At times like those, we must rely on Scripture to talk for us. Never let it be our opinion. Let God’s Word speak for God; it’s more powerful than anything we could say. 

Acts Lesson Forty-six

Acts Lesson Forty-six: Acts 21:26-36 – The Riot in the Temple Complex

Then the next day, Paul took the men, having purified himself along with them, and entered the temple, announcing the completion of the purification days when the offering for each of them would be made. 27 As the seven days were about to end, the Jews from Asia saw him in the temple complex, stirred up the whole crowd, and seized him, 28 shouting, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place. What’s more, he also brought Greeks into the temple and has profaned this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple complex.

30 The whole city was stirred up, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul, dragged him out of the temple complex, and at once the gates were shut. 31 As they were trying to kill him, word went up to the commander of the regiment that all Jerusalem was in chaos. 32 Taking along soldiers and centurions, he immediately ran down to them. Seeing the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the commander came up, took him into custody, and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He asked who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the mob were shouting one thing and some another. Since he was not able to get reliable information because of the uproar, he ordered him to be taken into the barracks. 35 When Paul got to the steps, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the mob’s violence, 36 for the mass of people followed, yelling, “Take him away!” (HCSB)

Starting with this passage, the several following chapters of Acts are a running commentary. This week’s lesson won’t require separate sections.

As we look at this passage, verse twenty-six sets the stage for what will transpire over the following chapters. Let’s look at this verse in detail.

  • Paul had decided to take the advice of the Jerusalem elders in an attempt to prove his “Jewishness” to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
  • We know from Paul’s epistles that the collection from the Gentile churches had brought him back to Jerusalem.
  • One of the major, if not the major, reason was to express unity between the Gentile and Jewish Christians.
  • Paul knew the dangers involved in traveling to Jerusalem. Romans 15:31 Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, that the gift I am bringing to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.
  • Paul was willing to participate in the symbolic act of ritual cleansing if that would help justify his evangelism to the Gentiles in the eyes of the Jewish Christians.
  • He began his purification the next day and announced in the temple the date when the Nazirite ceremony would be complete.
  • In seven days, Paul and the men would reenter the temple complex and make the prescribed offering.

The stage has been set, and we are now ready to move on to the riot that takes place after Paul enters the temple to complete the ritual.

  • The purification process required a cleansing on two separate days.
    • On the third day.
    • On the seventh day (Numbers 19:11).
  • It was on the seventh day that Paul entered the temple complex with the four other men to complete the purification ritual.
  • Once Paul was inside the temple complex, Jews from Asia saw him.
    • It isn’t surprising that the Asian Jews were the instigators of the riot.
    • It is likely that there were some from Ephesus.
    • Paul had spent three years in Ephesus and was well known in the area, both for sound teaching and for agitating some of the Jewish Christians.
    • Paul, in his Miletus address, alluded to plots hatched by the Ephesian Jews against him.
    • It was common for Diaspora Jews to be zealous in their observance of Jewish rituals.
    • It could be some of these same Asian Jews who had spread false rumors about Paul in the capital.
  • The accusations themselves were quite serious.
    • Two were the same that were levied against Stephen.
      • He speaks against our law – the Torah.
      • He speaks against this place – the temple.
    • The third charge was less specific but potentially the most valid – Paul taught against our people. Paul taught that the Gospel made all equal in Christ.
      • There is no Greek or Jew.
      • This implied that the Jews were no longer God’s chosen people.
    • The fourth charge was for temple violation.
      • The temple complex was divided into various sections.
        • There was a section for Gentiles – the large outer courtyard was open to all.
        • There was a section for Jews – this was the sacred section, the temple proper, open only to Jews.
        • There was a stone barrier that separated the court of the Gentiles from the first courtyard in the temple proper, the area for Jewish women.
          • There were warning stones placed along the barrier in both Greek and Latin, which forbid non-Jews access beyond the barrier.
          • Any non-Jew who went beyond the barrier would be sentenced to death. The inscription read, “No Gentile to defile our temple on pain of death.”
          • It is possible this barrier is the “wall” between Jews and Greeks that Paul mentions in Ephesians 2:14.
  • Luke makes it clear that the fourth charge against Paul is false in verse twenty-nine.
    • The Asian Jews had seen Paul in the city with Trophimus, one of the representatives from Ephesus.
    • Grasping for straws against Paul, the Asian Jews made the claim that Paul had taken the Gentile into the inner area beyond the barrier.
    • While it is true that Paul would have needed to enter the inner temple as part of his purification ritual, there was evidence that he had taken Trophimus with him. 
    • Since Paul was attempting to prove his “Jewishness” to his opponents, it would make no sense for him to include a Gentile.
    • It’s ironic that Paul, participating in a Jewish purification ritual, was accused of defiling the temple.
    • This is the sixth riot incited by Paul’s behavior and preaching.
      • Lystra – Acts 14:19.
      • Philippi – Acts 16:22.
      • Thessalonica – Acts 17:5.
      • Berea – Acts 17:13.
      • Ephesus – Acts 19:29.
  • It would be easy to accuse Luke of exaggerating how the crowd reacted. However, when we understand the setting of this event, Luke’s statement of “the whole city was stirred up” is quite fitting.
    • The temple area was, in effect, the town square of Jerusalem.
    • The court of the Gentiles was a large area, allowing a significant number of people to gather.
    • Once the riot began over the accusations levied against Paul and he was dragged out of the inner court, a very large crowd would have gathered.
  • Once the crowd had removed Paul from the inner court to the court of the Gentiles, the gates to the holy or “Jewish only” section were slammed shut.
    • This could have been done to protect against any further defiling of the inner courts.
    • Or this could have been a symbolic act by God.
      • This is the last time the temple is visited in the book of Acts.
      • The gates were closed.
      • With this final act of refusal of God’s messenger, the temple was now forever closed to God’s purposes.
  • The commotion had done more than attract the attention of the people in the temple complex; it also reached the ears of the commander of the Roman garrison located in Jerusalem.
    • Along the northwest corner of the wall that encircled the entire temple complex was the Tower of Antonia. The tower was a fortress built by Herod the Great for the defense of the temple.
    • Roman troops were now stationed in the tower.
    • Antonia contained several high towers, one allegedly 100 feet high, which would allow anyone in the tower a full view of the entire temple complex.
    • It’s possible a sentry in the tower was the first in the garrison to hear and see the commotion below.
    • Word was then sent to the commander of the Roman regiment.
      • In Acts 23:26, we find out the commander’s name is Claudius Lysias.
      • He was in charge of the military outpost located in Jerusalem.
      • As the commander of the regiment, Claudius was a high-ranking military officer in charge of a cohort.
      • A cohort consisted of 1,000 soldiers.
        • 760 infantry.
        • 240 cavalry.
      • The procurator resided in Caesarea and only made periodic visits to Jerusalem, much as Pontius Pilate went to Jerusalem during the Passover feast.
      • Claudius had primary responsibility for the Roman administration and peace-keeping within the city on a daily basis.
    • The barracks for the regiment were located in the Antonia, next to the temple.
      • Stairs led directly from Antonia into the court of the Gentiles.
      • The Romans knew that if any riot would occur in the city, it was likely that the temple would be the place where it would start. 
  • In response to the riot that was starting, Claudius took a sizable force of soldiers with him.
    • The text mentions “centurions” in the plural. There were at least two who went.
    • A centurion was in charge of 100 soldiers. 
    • The force that Claudius took was at least 200 men.
  • Once the mob saw the Roman soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.
  • Considering the size of the crowd and their zealous behavior, it’s a miracle that Paul survived the beating.
  • Since Paul was the object of the crowds’ wrath, Claudius arrested him until he could figure out what was happening.
    • Paul was bound with two chains.
      • Luke doesn’t make clear why two chains were used.
      • Paul could have been handcuffed on both arms and chained to a soldier on each side.
      • Paul could have been bound hand and foot, just as Agabus had predicted would happen.
    • What is clear is that Paul was “in chains,” either literally or figuratively, until the very end of Acts.
  • Because of the behavior of the mob, Claudius was not able to determine what Paul had done to incite the riot.
    • As is typical with mob mentality, it is likely that most of the crowd didn’t know the specifics; they were just following along with everyone else.
    • Therefore, Claudius ordered his soldiers to take Paul into the barracks.
  • Once they reached the steps of Antonia, the soldiers had to carry Paul. There are a couple of logical reasons for this.
    • Paul may have been semi-conscious or otherwise injured after the beating.
    • If his feet were bound, it might have made walking up the stairs difficult.
  • As the soldiers carried Paul into the barracks, the crowd was shouting, “take him away.” These are the exact words the mob screamed against Jesus – Luke 23:18 and John 19:15.
  • Luke clearly highlights the hatred and ugliness of the crowd towards Paul in this passage.
    • Stirred up – verses 27 and 30.
    • Dragged – verse 30.
    • Kill – verse 31.
    • Beating – verse 32.
    • Uproar – verse 34.
    • Mob – verse 35.


  • As we immerse ourselves in Kingdom work, we will face trials along the way. Some will be minor, but some could be quite severe. We must prepare ourselves in advance, just as Paul did, to withstand those attacks. 
  • If we are involved in cross-cultural ministry work, we must be sensitive. Paul, a Jew, was heavily involved in work among the Gentiles. Having traveled back to Jerusalem, he was careful not to do anything to upset the Jews. In the same way, we need to be sensitive as we evangelize people from other cultures. At times, it can be a delicate balancing act to remain faithful to the Gospel while contextualizing it for others. We must never allow syncretism to invade our witness.
  • Although most of us will never be bound with physical chains, we may at times be bound figuratively. This could come from nonbelievers, or it could come from Christian brothers or sisters. There are times when jealousy among ministry workers or mission agencies creates friction or even competition. While we may have little or no control over the figurative chains of nonbelievers, we should never allow these to occur in the body of Christ. When we lose our unity in Christ, the enemy wins.

Acts Lesson Forty-five

Acts Lesson Forty-five: Acts 21:15-25 – Conflict Over the Gentile Mission

After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea also went with us and brought us to Mnason, a Cypriot and an early disciple, with whom we were to stay. 

17 When we reached Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us gladly. 18 The following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related in detail what God did among the Gentiles through his ministry. 

20 When they heard it, they glorified God and said, “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law. 21 But they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, by telling them not to circumcise their children or to walk in our customs.  22 So what is to be done? They will certainly hear that you’ve come. 23 Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have obligated themselves with a vow. 24 Take these men, purify yourself along with them, and pay for them to get their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that what they were told about you amounts to nothing, but that you yourself are also careful about observing the law. 25 With regard to the Gentiles who have believed, we have written a letter containing our decision that they should keep themselves from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality.” (HCSB)

I’ll divide this lesson into two parts.

  • Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem – verses 15-19.
  • Conflict over the Gentile Mission – verses 20-25.

Paul’s Arrival in Jerusalem

Paul now begins the final leg of his journey to Jerusalem. Let’s take a closer look at the trip.

  • The trip from Caesarea to Jerusalem was approximately sixty-four miles.
    • The journey would take three days on foot or two days if they used pack animals.
    • The second option seems more likely as we must remember that Paul was bringing the collection from the Gentile churches, and carrying the collection would have been burdensome. 
  • The group was also relatively large; it included Paul and Luke, a delegation from each church who contributed to the offering, and some of the Christians from Caesarea.
  • Once they arrived in Jerusalem, they were led to the house of Mnason, who was from Cyprus and had been an early convert to Christianity. 
    • Although we don’t know explicitly from the texture, it is a safe conclusion that Mnason was a Hellenist.
    • Paul would not have been welcome in the home of a Palestinian Jewish Christian. 
  • Paul’s third missionary journey was finished. 
  • In addition, his mission work with the Greeks was now complete; he would not be returning there. 
  • Paul would no longer be a missionary working in freedom. 
    • Paul would now become a missionary bound by chains. 
    • However, the chains may have bound him physically, but they didn’t bind his witness to the truth of the Gospel. 
    • If anything, Paul’s witness became bolder.

Beginning in Acts 21:17, there begins a long section in Acts that doesn’t finish until the end of chapter twenty-six. Although comprised of an endless string of legal scenes and numerous speeches, the reason Luke presents it in such detail is to underscore the divine promise given to Paul at his conversion that he would bear the Lord’s name to the Gentiles, to kings, and the people of Israel (Acts 9:15). These chapters comprise the climax of Acts.

The remainder of this lesson’s passage is, in effect, a mini-trial before Paul faces the Jewish Christians and the Roman legal authorities. Let’s take a closer look at this section.

  • For the most part, Paul was warmly welcomed by the Christians in Jerusalem. 
  • The next day Paul, and part of his entourage, went to visit James and the elders of the Jerusalem church. 
    • During the Jerusalem Council, Paul’s report of the successful Gentile mission was met with silence (Acts 15:12). 
    • Here, Paul’s report was met with great enthusiasm, and they praised God for the fruit of Paul’s work among the Gentiles. 
  • The collection taken among the Gentile churches for the Jerusalem church is not mentioned here. 
    • It’s possible it wasn’t warmly received. 
    • It could be that Luke wanted to remain focused on the next major theme in Acts, Paul’s ultimate destination of Rome. 
  • Another thing to note is the absence of any of the Apostles at this point. 
  • The leadership of the Jerusalem church was comprised of James and a group of unnamed elders. 
  • The discussion now moves to the danger facing Paul; the Jewish Christian converts were “all zealous for the law.”

Conflict Over the Gentile Mission

From the earliest days of Jewish converts to Christianity, the issue of the Torah and adhering to the requirements of Jewish Law was a point of contention. If we remember back to earlier in Acts, the Jerusalem Conference was supposed to clear up the issue of the Law for Gentile converts. The Jewish Christians would remain faithful to the requirements of the Law, but Gentile converts would be exempt from following except for the provisions outlined in the Apostolic decree given in verse twenty-five. However, there was an added dynamic to the present situation, which made things dangerous for Paul and others who evangelized the Gentiles. The dynamic in question is found in verse twenty; the Jewish Christians were “zealous” for the Law. 

Let’s look at some information regarding Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem.

  • Paul’s arrival was in the spring of either 56 or 57 A.D.
  • Felix was the procurator at the time.
  • While Paul had been absent from Jerusalem, the Gospel had spread.
  • There were somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 Jewish Christians in Judea at this time.
  • At this time, Jewish nationalism and anti-Gentile attitudes were rapidly rising.
  • It was a time of political unrest.
    • There had been a number of Jewish insurrections which challenged the Roman authority.
    • Felix brutally suppressed each one.
    • Each event increased the Jewish hatred for Rome and boosted anti-Gentile sentiments.
    • The pro-Jewish sentiment was at its height, and friendliness with Gentiles was viewed in a negative light.
  • When considering the current situation, it’s easy to see that Paul’s mission to the Gentiles would not be viewed with a positive attitude. 
  • The situation also put the Jerusalem elders in a predicament.
    • They had previously supported Paul’s mission work among the Gentiles at the Jerusalem Conference.
    • Paul was a persona non grata among the Jewish population, which the elders were trying to reach with the Gospel.
    • Paul was also viewed unfavorably by the more recent Jewish Christian converts.
    • The elders didn’t want to reject Paul. On the contrary, they rejoiced over the success of Paul’s mission trips.
    • At the same time, they had to consider their evangelism efforts among the Jews, and Paul was a serious liability in those efforts.
  • The opponents of Paul, likely Jews from the Diaspora, were quite effective in creating an environment hostile to him.
    • They accused Paul of several offenses, each of which would be viewed as turning from their ancestral customs.
      • Turning from the Law of Moses.
      • Circumcision was no longer required.
      • Jewish customs no longer need to be obeyed.
      • Each of these charges was serious as they struck at the heart of Jewish self-identity as the people of God.
        • The ceremonial aspects of the Torah made them distinct from other people.
        • Circumcision was a mark given to each Jewish male on the eighth day to signify his membership in God’s covenant people.
      • Paul never argued that any of this was a means of salvation. Only faith in Christ leads to salvation, which is why Paul argued against circumcision for Gentiles.
      • At the same time, there is no evidence that Paul ever encouraged Jewish Christians to abandon Jewish customs.
      • We also see Paul remaining faithful to the requirements in the Torah as he dealt with the Jews.
    • Paul viewed one’s status in Christ as going beyond the distinction between Jew and Gentile (Galatians 3:28).
      • The Gentile wasn’t required to become a Jew.
      • The Jew didn’t stop being a Jew.
    • While accurate in a sense regarding Gentiles, Paul’s opponents were distorting the facts. Paul had only argued that the requirements for Gentile Christians shouldn’t include the requirements of the Law.
  • The offering from the Gentiles to the Jerusalem church presented another challenge.
    • Paul had carefully gathered and protected the offering over hundreds of miles of travel.
    • The offering was a demonstration of love and unity from the Gentile Christians to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
    • However, the offering presented a huge challenge for the elders of the Jerusalem church.
      • Accepting the offering from the Gentiles would be a slap in the face against the Jewish Christians, especially with nationalism and ethnic pride on the rise.
      • Declining it would be a slap in the face against the Gentiles who sacrificially gave to their brothers and sisters, as well as an affront to Paul, who gathered and transported the gift.
    • Paul had always argued for tolerance and the right of each group to their own views.
      • Timothy had been circumcised (Acts 16:3).
      • Paul had argued for the veiling of women at worship (1 Corinthians 11:2-16).
      • However, Paul’s opponents distorted his teaching and his positions of tolerance.

Now, the leaders in the Jerusalem church needed to decide how to handle the situation. Their solution was a way where Paul could, by example, show that he was still faithful to the Jewish Law. Let’s take a detailed look at their solution.

  • Four Jewish men had taken a Nazirite vow.
    • They had abstained from anything using grapes or alcohol.
    • They had not cut their hair.
    • They had avoided dead people, even if it was a family member.
  • These men were nearing the end of their vow. This would require certain steps.
    • They would have to cut their hair and burn it as an offering.
    • They would have to make a series of costly sacrifices.
      • A male lamb.
      • A female lamb.
      • A ram.
      • Cereal offerings.
      • Drink offerings.
  • The elders were asking Paul to join the four and pay the cost of the required sacrifices and hair cutting.
  • Except for paying the costs of the four men, it is unlikely that Paul had any role beyond that.
    • The minimum period for a Nazirite vow was thirty days, and Paul was only there for seven (Acts 21:27).
    • It wasn’t part of a Nazirite purification ceremony as this was only conducted if someone under the vow had come in contact with a dead body.
    • It’s possible Paul underwent a personal purification ceremony as often a Jew returning to Israel after traveling through Gentile territory would undergo ritual purification. The period for ritual purification was seven days, which fits the situation here.
    • Paul likely underwent the ritual purification to participate in the completion ceremony for the four men, which would take place in the sacred parts of the temple.
    • This would be a display of Paul’s full loyalty to the Torah.
      • Bearing the heavy financial cost of the vow.
      • Undergoing the necessary purification.
  • The Jerusalem elders were counting on this public demonstration of Paul’s commitment to the Torah as evidence against the public sentiment against him.

The concluding verse is an assurance to Paul that the decision of the Jerusalem Conference had not changed.

  • Gentiles would not be asked to live according to the requirements in the Torah.
  • The Gentiles would only have to observe table fellowship and social interaction rituals, which, if not observed, would cause friction between Jewish and Gentile Christians.
  • The Jerusalem elders were trying to create a compromise.
    • Acknowledge the legitimacy of Paul’s law-free approach to the Gentiles.
    • Maintain an effective witness to the Jews, where faithfulness to the Law was absolutely essential.


  • Do you display hospitality to missionaries or traveling ministers? In this lesson, we saw the example of Mnason. Although he is only mentioned once in the Bible, it’s his hospitality in opening his home to Paul and his companions that is noted.
  • Whatever ministry work you may be involved in, give the details to others. This is especially true if you receive support from other believers. 
  • Rejoice in the ministry work of others. We should never have jealousy of the success that others experience in sharing the Gospel. Regardless of our denomination, ethnic background, or education (or lack of), we are all one in Christ. We should share in the victories and the sorrows of each other.
  • Be flexible but never compromise. We see that example in Paul’s conduct in Jerusalem. He followed Jewish customs while not compromising the Gospel. Sometimes it can be a delicate balancing act, but we may find ourselves in a situation where it is needed.

Acts Lesson Forty-four

Acts Lesson Forty-four: Acts 21:1-14 – Paul Journeys to Jerusalem

After we tore ourselves away from them and set sail, we came by a direct route to Cos, the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. Finding a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we boarded and set sail. After we sighted Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we sailed on to Syria and arrived at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there. So we found some disciples and stayed there seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. When our days there were over, we left to continue our journey, while all of them, with their wives and children, escorted us out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach to pray, we said good-bye to one another. Then we boarded the ship, and they returned home. 

When we completed our voyage from Tyre, we reached Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them one day. The next day we left and came to Caesarea, where we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him. This man had four virgin daughters who prophesied. 

10 While we were staying there many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into Gentile hands.’ ” 12 When we heard this, both we and the local people begged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 

13 Then Paul replied, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 

14 Since he would not be persuaded, we stopped talking and simply said, “The Lord’s will be done!” (HCSB)

Paul continues his journey back to Jerusalem, making numerous stops along the way. By the end of this passage, he’s made his way back to Israel. I’ll be dividing this lesson into two parts.

  • Sailing back to Jerusalem – verses 1-7.
  • Paul’s arrival back in Israel – verses 8-14.

Sailing Back to Jerusalem

There were two main routes for ships to take at the time. One was to take a local coastal ship, which would stop at every port along the route, greatly increasing the time required to sail back to Israel. The second was to take a ship that was sailing directly to Phoenicia, which would make fewer stops and arrive quicker. Paul actually combined both types of vessels for the journey.

  • The journey from Miletus to Cos, Rhodes, and finally Patara was conducted on a coastal vessel. Each leg of the journey would take one day.
  • At Patara, they changed to a larger vessel that would take them on a direct route to Phoenicia. The leg from Patara to Tyre was about 400 miles in a straight line and would typically take five days if they encountered favorable winds. 
  • Tyre was the main port for cargo vessels between Asia and Palestine, which would make it a logical place for the ship to stop to unload its cargo.

Since there was now a delay in their journey as the cargo was unloaded, Paul and the team connected with fellow believers in the port city. Let’s take a closer look at Paul’s time in Tyre.

  • The Greek term used to denote “we found” was used to indicate people that Paul had not previously known, requiring Paul to search for other believers.
  • This Christian community was probably established by the Hellenist mission to Phoenicia mentioned in Acts 11:19.
  • The direct route taken by the ship allowed Paul to spend a week in Tyre with other Christians and still get to Jerusalem before Pentecost.
  • The Holy Spirit, through the believers in Tyre, was warning Paul about the journey to Jerusalem. Once again, we have this seeming conflict between the warnings not to go and a clear command, in Paul’s mind, that he had to go to Jerusalem. How is this tension deconflicted?
    • Paul was convinced that God was directing him to Jerusalem.
    • At the same time, the warnings were a means for Paul to prepare himself for what was waiting for him.
      • Imprisonment.
      • Hardship.
    • This duality also convinced Paul that God was the orchestrator behind it all.
      • Going in the face of danger was not difficult for Paul to accept. At the same time, Paul never deliberately sought out difficulty, and he didn’t have a martyr complex.
      • Paul accepted suffering as part of his witness and often implied it in his letters.
    • The Holy Spirit’s role was to prepare Paul for what was coming.

Paul’s departure from Tyre is reminiscent of his parting with the elders from the Ephesian elders. 

  • The scene is filled with emotion.
  • All the disciples escorted Paul and his companions to the boat.
  • This scene is one of the few in Acts where entire families are referenced, both the wives and children.
  • They all kneeled on the beach to pray.
    • We shouldn’t overlook this as merely believers praying together.
    • The entire Christian community was aware of the difficulties that Paul would face in Jerusalem.
    • They also understood that prayer was the best defense in times of suffering and trial.
  • It’s likely that the “goodbye” was a lengthy one. 
    • The Christians in Tyre didn’t want Paul to leave them.
    • However, they accepted Paul’s conviction that he must continue his journey
  • Once Paul and his companions boarded the ship, the Tyrian Christians returned to their homes.

The next stop on the journey was at Ptolemais, about twenty-five miles south of Tyre and the most southern of the Phoenician ports.

  • It was an ancient city, referred to as Acco in Judges 1:31, a name it is known by today.
  • It was later a famous crusader site known as Acre.
  • It was named after Ptolemy II Philadelphus.
  • Paul spent one day with the believers there, likely bound by the ship’s schedule.

Paul’s Arrival Back in Israel

Paul was already very familiar with the church at Caesarea (Acts 9:30 and 18:22). He may have previously met Philip, the evangelist, who had settled in the city. On this occasion, Philip plays host to Paul and the rest of the entourage. We are then given the interesting and rather abstract comment about Philip’s daughters. Nothing further is mentioned about them, but there is some information in church oral tradition.

  • At some point in the future, they moved or served in Asia Minor.
  • They were viewed as important witnesses and preservers of traditions from the apostolic period.
  • Eusebius claimed these women provided Luke with information about the early days of the Jerusalem church.
  • The most significant point to note from this passage is that there were women in the early church who were recognized as having the gift of prophecy.

The scene then shifts to the arrival of Agabus, who had traveled from Judea. Agabus had previously prophesied the coming famine to Judea, which had prompted the collection initiated by the Antioch church in Acts 11:27-30. Now, Agabus makes another prediction.

  • In a symbolic act that reminds us of Old Testament prophecies, Agabus predicts Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem.
  • Much like the prophet Ezekiel, he took Paul’s belt, a long cloth that would be wrapped several times around his waist, and bound Paul’s hands and feet with it.
    • Agabus then, just like an Old Testament prophet, gives an interpretation of what he had just done.
    • Agabus uses the phrase, “This is what the Holy Spirit says,” which is equivalent to “Thus says the Lord.”
    • Paul would be bound by the Jews and then delivered over to the Gentiles.
  • The parallel to Jesus is clear (Matthew 20:18-19, Luke 18:32).
  • The proclamation from Agabus shouldn’t be viewed as a warning but rather a prediction.
  • In contrast to the Christians in Tyre, Agabus didn’t tell Paul not to go.
  • Instead, his prophetic utterance was to let Paul know what would happen to him in Jerusalem.
  • The prophetic statement established the reality of the event and the certainty that it would occur.
  • It also prepared Paul for the event and assured him that God would be with him during the trial.

Just like the believers in Tyre, Paul’s companions and the Christians in Caesarea were of the opinion that Paul shouldn’t travel to Jerusalem. Luke includes himself in this opinion by the use of “we” in verse fourteen. The continued pleas from Paul’s fellow believers only added to the conflict Paul was experiencing. Paul firmly believed that God was leading him to Jerusalem, yet he understood the anguish his companions felt as they heard about what would happen to Paul once he got there. Regardless of how his friends felt or the arguments presented, they tried to dissuade him from going; Paul was prepared to die for the cause of the Gospel if necessary. 

Paul was finally able to convince those with him that he would continue on to Jerusalem. In effect, this stopped their protests. Although they didn’t want to lose Paul, they also respected his resolve and conviction that continuing to Jerusalem was God’s will. They then joined in corporate prayer for Paul.

Many refer to the group prayer at the end of verse fourteen, “The Lord’s will be done,” as Paul’s Gethsemane. 


  • When we move or are traveling, do we make a conscious effort to connect with other believers?
    • If you are moving to another location, do research before you move to see which churches might be a good fit. With the internet and technology today, there is no good reason for a delay in connecting with a church in your new location.
    • When you take a trip or vacation, do you check ahead of time about churches in the location(s) you’ll be visiting? Often you can make new connections and connect with other believers. 
  • If given the opportunity, do you host other believers or missionaries if they are in your location? One of the characteristics of the church in Acts was a strong sense of hospitality towards other believers. Hospitality is a timeless principle all believers should practice.
  • Do we engage in earnest prayer with other believers, especially as they face trials? The early church was known for prayer. Our present church should also be known for prayer.
  • Do you help other believers as they wrestle with a decision?
    • Pray with them.
    • Help them discern God’s will.
    • Support them once it is clear what God wants them to do.