| CHAPTER 21
Jerusalem with his friends. From verse 17 onwards, Paul is in Jerusalem. He
does not leave there until 23:31. So the second part of Chapter 21 only
begins the story of what happened in Jerusalem.
The first part of this chapter (verses 1-16) tells us about the last part of
Paul’s journey to
Verses 1-16: from Miletus to Jerusalem
(Verse 1) At the end of Chapter 20, we left Paul and his party at Miletus.
The elders from Ephesus had come with him to the ship. Now Paul and his
friends ‘tore themselves away from them.’ When the ship sailed it had a good
wind from the north or north west. This helped it along to the south. It was
not a straight journey! There were many islands and the ship had to sail
between them and the coast. To the west, they might see the island of Patmos.
See Revelation 1:9. So the ship came to the town of Cos, on the island which
is also called Cos. Another day’s sailing would then bring the ship to the
port of Rhodes. This was on the island which was called Rhodes. Paul’s ship
went more to the east now.
Rhodes was an important port. The city of Rhodes was only built in the year
408 BC. See Genesis 10:4, 1 Chronicles 1:7 and Ezekiel 27:15. The Colossus
of Rhodes was a great figure. It was about 35 metres high. It was used as a
lighthouse at the entrance to the harbour. It had stood there for about 350
years, but later an earthquake destroyed it.
Probably the next day, the ship sailed from Rhodes. It went another 100Km
east to Patara which was the port for the city of Xanthus. Paul’s plan was
probably to sail the next day to the port city of Myra. This was the next
big port to the east. It would be a good place to find a ship to take them
to Syria. (Verse 2) In fact, they found a ship at Patara which had goods
loaded on it ready to take to Syria. So they had saved at least one day and
perhaps more. They did not go on to Myra. (Verse 3) With a good north-west
wind to help the ship along, the journey from Patara to Tyre might only take
two days. [21.1] This was open sea. The journey was about 550Km. There were
no islands, except for Cyprus, in this part of the Mediterranean Sea. They
could sail safely at night. At night the light of a full moon probably
helped the sailors.
Tyre in Syria was another very old port and city. It may not be as old as
Sidon, which is further north up the coast. These were the two great ports
of the Phoenicians. Joshua 12:29 is the first Bible verse which speaks about
Tyre. There are longer passages about Tyre in Isaiah 23 and Ezekiel 26-28.
It is still a port and city now. We know from 11:19 that the Good News had
reached Phoenicia some years before.
The ship had to unload, so Paul was able to stay in Tyre for a week. (Verse
4) Paul found a group of Christians in the city. Like the Christians in
other cities, they warned Paul about the danger that he must expect in
Jerusalem. They did this as the Holy Spirit led them. (Verse 5) The
Christians at Tyre had only known Paul for a week, but they all came to see
him leave. They knelt and prayed on the beach. (Verse 6) So Paul went on his
journey, with his party.
(Verse 7) From Tyre it was about 50Km south to the next great port. At that
time its name was Ptolemais. This name came from one of the kings of Egypt
whose name was Ptolemy. Its old name was Acco. Today it is call Akka or
Acre. You will find the name in Judges 1:31. [21.2] Although the ship was
only here for one day, Paul was able to find a group of Christians.
(Verse 8) Another day at sea on the ship brought Paul and his group to
Caesarea Maritima. This was the port which Herod the Great had built; the
Romans took it over after his death. We have not read about Caesarea in Acts
since 18:22. Even then, Paul only passed through Caesarea on his way to
Jerusalem. Quite likely he returned that way too. That was about five years
before this visit to Jerusalem.
It was in 8:40 that we read about Philip, who had made his home in Caesarea.
That was some years before the visit by Paul. We cannot doubt that Philip
had gathered a group of Christians in the city. It is quite likely that
Cornelius (Chapter 10) had either died or, as a soldier, had to move away
from Caesarea. Paul and his group stayed in Philip’s house. (Verse 9) It is
said that some years later, Philip and his family moved their home to
(Verse 10) Paul’s journey so far had gone well. Caesarea was about 74Km from
Jerusalem. This was by road, and would take more than two full days. There
was time to spare before the Jewish feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem.
Once again we meet Agabus. See note [11.4] and 11:27 and 28. Agabus came
down from Judea. You always talked about ‘up to Jerusalem’ and ‘down from
Jerusalem’. (Verse 11) Of course, Agabus may have heard that Paul was in
Caesarea. He may have made the journey there just to see Paul. Agabus took
Paul’s belt and used it to tie up his own hands and feet. Sometimes the Old
Testament prophets had acted their messages. See 1 Kings 11:29-31; Isaiah
20:2-4 and Ezekiel 4:1-3. Now Agabus acts the message which he has for Paul.
This mostly agrees with what other prophets have already told Paul. Agabus
says that the Jews will tie Paul up and that they will hand him over to the
Agabus does not say: ‘Paul should not go to Jerusalem’. None of the prophets
had said that Paul would die. We may feel that Paul was ready to die for
Christ; see 20:24. What was worse than death to him was two years in prison,
when he could not travel and spread the Good News. The messages that the
prophets gave him helped him to be ready for this.
(Verse 12) Paul’s group and the Christians did try to stop Paul. (Verse 13)
Paul tells them that they should not try to soften his will. Luke uses a
word which is not used elsewhere in the New Testament. It is a picture of a
woman who washes clothes and beats them on a stone. So (verse 14) Paul would
not give up.
(Verse 15) Up to this point, the party had travelled by sea. Now they would
walk to Jerusalem. They would not ride animals, but they would have some
donkeys or mules to carry everything. So it all had to be packed in a
different way for the animals to carry. We do not know any more than we can
read here about Mnason. He was a man who would be very happy to have people
who were not Jews in his home. We cannot tell whether Luke stays with the
party after verse 18. He joins Paul again in 27:1. Paul and his party do not
go to the home of his own family: see 23:16. At this time Luke could meet
Christians in Palestine. He could talk to people who had known Jesus. He
could check with them and he could write his Gospel. See Luke 1:1-4.
Verses 17-26: Paul and the Jerusalem church
(Verse 17) So Paul and his party reach Jerusalem. We guess that the apostles
were not in Jerusalem. John and Peter and the others were at work elsewhere.
So it is ‘the brothers’ who welcome Paul and his group. (Verse 18) Then the
next day, the whole group went to see James. This, of course, is James the
Lord’s brother. He was the leading man in the Jerusalem church, but the
other elders of the church were there too. We should be able to think of
church elders as ‘elder brothers’. Paul gave them a full report of his work
among the Gentiles, that is, among people who were not Jews. (Verse 20)
James and the elders praised God for this good news.
Now we know what the main reason for Paul’s visit to Jerusalem was. He had
come to hand over the money which he had gathered. The churches had given
this money to help poor Christians. Paul had spent several years putting it
together. Now was the moment for Paul and his friends to give this to the
Christians in Jerusalem. Yet Luke says nothing at all about what happened.
Acts 6:7 told us that many of the priests at Jerusalem had become
Christians. 15:5 spoke about Christians who were Pharisees. So the picture
of the Jerusalem church which the elders give here is what we would expect.
There are thousands of Christian Jews in Jerusalem. They are all keen to
keep the Law of Moses. They are also keen that Jews in other places should
keep the Law of Moses.
(Verse 21) It was not true, of course, that Paul had taught Jews not to keep
Jewish ways. He did not make a great effort to teach the Jews to keep their
Jewish ways. He did teach Christians who were not Jews that they should not
follow Jewish ways.
There are two other things to be said about this. Jewish Christians mixed in
the church with other Christians, who did not keep Jewish law. Such Jews
might well be less careful to keep all their law. Also some Jews who lived
with heathen around them might become less careful to keep the law. So the
Jews in Jerusalem would blame Paul. It was not his fault that Jews in other
places did not keep the Jewish law. But it was easy to blame him.
(Verse 22) The Jewish preachers who had been to churches like Corinth would
come back to Jerusalem. There would be pilgrims from Corinth, too, who were
not Christian. So there would be plenty of talk in Jerusalem. Now Paul
himself had come, too. He had come with a group of men who were not Jews.
We can see why it is wise for there to be elders in each city, and indeed in
each church. No doubt these elders cared very well for the Christians in
Jerusalem. But the Jerusalem church was very different from all the other
churches at that time. What was wise in Jerusalem would not always be right
in another city. This is still true today. It has been all down the years.
(Verses 22 and 23) We cannot be quite sure that what the elders put forward
was right or wise. The four men who had taken a vow must have been four of
the Jerusalem Christians. We do not know very much about such vows at this
time. See also 18:18. Their vow probably lasted for between one and three
months. They let their hair grow for this time. Then they shaved it off. See
Numbers 6:1-21. (Verse 24) The elders asked Paul to pay for the offerings
which the four men had to make. The men probably were too poor to pay for
these themselves. We know that there were baths at the south end of the
Temple, and Paul would join the four men when they bathed there. All this
would show that Paul ‘stood in line with the Law’.
Paul really had to do what the elders had asked him to do. If he had not,
many people would have said: ‘What we have heard about Paul is true. He has
turned away from the Law of Moses’. Paul had probably not asked the elders
what he should do. We should remember this if we do ask for advice. We may
look silly if we do not follow the advice that people give us. All too
often, churches ask their people to come forward to help them in the work.
Usually it is not the right people who offer their services. But if you have
asked them, you cannot then say: ‘No, we do not want you!’
(Verse 25) As far as the elders at Jerusalem could see, there was no problem
with Christians who were not Jews. A letter had been sent to them (Acts
15:23-29). That said all that was needed. That was seven or eight years
before, but what the letter said was still right.
(Verse 26) The elders plan seemed to work well at first. Paul and the four
men went to one of the special baths. Then Paul went to the Temple. No doubt
you had to see someone to fix a day and a time for offerings. There would
have been so many offerings at the Temple. The priests would have been very
busy. The feast times, like Pentecost, would be extra busy. The offerings
for the four men would have to be made on the right day.
Verses 27-36: The riot in the Temple
From this point until the end of Chapter 26, the Book of Acts tells us about
four speeches which Paul made. In between them, we have the story of what
happened to Paul. Paul made the four speeches to different groups of people.
We shall have to follow his story. Then we shall see just why he says what
he does in each speech.
First in verse 27, the seven day wait is nearly over. It is nearly time for
the offerings. Paul is in the inner court of the Temple. People who were not
Jews could only go into the outer court. There were notices in Greek on
stone tablets. These warned people who were not Jews that they could expect
the Jews to kill them if they went into the inner court. The Romans allowed
the Jews to do this. There was nothing else like this in the Roman Empire.
In other places, only the Roman governor was allowed to put people to death.
We may guess that Alexander the metal worker (2 Timothy 4:14) may have
started the trouble. If so, there were other Jews from Asia with him. (Verse
28) The first part of what they said was not true. The second part was far
worse. (Verse 29) We know from 20:4 that Trophimus was one of Paul’s party.
The Jews from Asia would not be likely to know any of the others. They would
know Trophimus when they saw him. He was the one who came from the province
of Asia. Paul would not have been so foolish as to bring his friends into
the inner court of the Temple.
(Verse 30) It seems that it was not only people who were in the Temple who
joined in the riot. People who were in the city ran into the Temple courts.
Some of them got hold of Paul. They pulled him out of the inner court and
down the steps to the outer court. It would have been the gates from the
outer to the inner court which were shut. An old Jewish writer says that it
took 20 men to shut some of these gates. (Verse 31) The crowd hit Paul but
they had not yet killed him.
There were probably extra Roman soldiers in Jerusalem. The Romans did not
want trouble at the Feast of Pentecost. There were lots of people in the
city. The Roman soldiers would be in the Antonia. This was a strong building
or castle next to the Temple on the north side.
There was a Roman army officer or ‘tribune’ in charge. He heard about the
trouble in the Temple. (Verse 32) The soldiers were able to run down two
lots of steps from Antonia into the outer court of the Temple [21.4] The
Jews feared the Romans as much as they hated them. So they let go of Paul.
The tribune came up to Paul and took him. He told his soldiers to put two
chains on Paul. It was not against Roman law to do this. The tribune tried
to find out what it was all about. He could not find out (verse 34) so he
told his soldiers to get Paul into Antonia. The soldiers had to carry Paul
up the steps (verse 35) because the crowd was so violent. (verse 36)
Verses 37-40: Paul and the tribune
We do not find out until 23:26 that the tribune’s name was Claudius Lysias.
The soldiers were about to take Paul from the steps into Antonia, when Paul
spoke to the tribune. He did not expect Paul to speak good Greek. (Verse 38)
We know about the ‘revolt’ which ‘the Egyptian’ had led a few years before.
The ‘terrorists’ were ‘dagger men’. They were Jews who carried knives or
short swords. They hid these in their clothes. This Egyptian had let his
followers down badly. When the Roman army came after him, he ran away. The
tribune knew this and he thought that was why the Jews were so angry now.
When Paul spoke good Greek, the tribune knew that he was not the Egyptian.
(Verse 39) So Paul told the tribune: ’I am a Jew’.So Paul had the right to
be in the Inner Court of the Temple. He came from the city of Tarsus which
was in the province of Cilicia.
Then Paul said that he was ‘a citizen of no mean city’. ‘No mean city’ means
a great and proud city; it means a city which has much honour. When Paul
said this, the tribune thought that Paul only meant that he was a citizen of
Tarsus. That would not give him any special rights. [21.6] See 22:25.
Paul asked the tribune to let him speak to the crowd from the steps. The
tribune must have thought this a good thing. He did not want more trouble
with the Jewish crowd. So Paul was able to speak to the crowd. He must have
had a good strong voice, so that the crowd could hear. Paul did not speak to
them in Greek or Latin. Luke says that he spoke in Hebrew. This may not be
the language of the Old Testament. Probably it means Aramaic which was the
language that the Jews mostly used in those days. We think that some Jews
still spoke Hebrew. Still, in the crowd to which Paul spoke, quite a number
of people would not understand Hebrew. Probably the Roman tribune did not
understand what Paul said.
The crowd would be pleased to hear Paul speak in their own language. The
angry noisy crowd became quiet. They were ready to listen to Paul.
The break between Chapters 21 and 22 is not much help to us. We have to
remember that the chapter divisions in our Bible were added long after it
was written. Here it comes in the middle of what Luke tells us.