Sep. 20. Paul’s Stormy Return to Jerusalem Acts 21:18-40
The day following Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem, he met with James and the elders of the church there. He reported on the things that he had accomplished with the Gentiles during his journey. Those present rejoiced at his news, but they reported to him that there was a problem among the Jews because of him.
Jewish Christians in Jerusalem had been informed that Paul had taught, “All the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.”
Paul continued to face accusations from the Jews. He did not command them to refrain from circumcision and the other Jewish customs, but taught that those things were unnecessary for salvation and should not be forced upon the Gentiles.
In order to become all things to all men as he had stated in his first letter to Corinth, Paul participated in a vow with four other men. He had hoped that this act would show his respect for the Law of Moses and pacify the Jews without violating a Christian principle.
Jews from Asia who had probably heard Paul preach had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. When they saw him in the temple completing the vow, they stirred up a mob.
These Jews charged Paul with teaching, “All men everywhere against the people, the law and this place.” Since they had seen Trophimus, a Greek with him in the city, they supposed that he had defiled the temple with a Gentile. They added that charge to Paul also.
Mobs are not noted for being polite or organized. The people ran together, seized Paul, dragged him from the temple to kill him and immediately shut the doors; probably to prevent it from being defiled by his blood.
However, before the Jews could carry out their plan, the Roman garrison commander was notified that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. He took soldiers, rescued/arrested Paul, tied him up with two chains and asked who he was and what he had done. Because the commander could not understand what the mob was yelling, he commanded that Paul be taken to the barracks near the temple. This fulfilled the prophecy of Agabus.
As the soldiers reached the stairway leading into the barracks, Paul asked the commander for permission to speak to the mob. After he had explained his identity to the commander, he was allowed to address the Jewish multitude. When the people realized that Paul wanted to speak and had addressed them in Hebrew, their native language, there was a great silence.
Sep. 21. Paul’s Defense Before Mob and Sanhedrin Acts 22:1-23:11
Paul reviewed his Jewish heritage with the people who were assembled. He told of his background, training and zeal in persecuting the early Christians. The high priest and elders could attest to the fact that Saul (Paul) once had the authority to bind Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem to be imprisoned for their faith.
As Paul continued his defense, he related the events that happened on the road to Damascus when he had seen the bright light from heaven and the voice of Christ telling him what to do. He told how Ananias, by divine authority, had directed him to be baptized to wash away his sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
The people listened attentively until Paul stated that the Lord said, “Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.”
It was hard for the Jews to imagine their Messiah giving orders to preach to the Gentiles. At that point, they went into a frenzy, and cried out, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live.”
The commander ordered that Paul be bound and scourged to get him to confess to why the Jews were so against him. As the soldiers prepared to beat him, he asked the centurion if it was lawful for them to scourge a Roman, and uncondemned. Upon learning that they were about to scourge a Roman citizen, the commander ordered Paul to be released from the scourging. Since there were still no charges against Paul, the commander ordered the Sanhedrin to meet and state their case against him.
As Paul began to address the council, he stated how he had lived in all good conscience before God until that day.
Ananias, the high priest commanded that Paul be slapped across the mouth. In a rare outburst of anger, he spoke harsh words against the high priest. On other occasions of persecution, he had patiently and humbly defended himself. After being reprimanded for reviling “God’s high priest”, he apologized and continued his defense.
Jews were divided into two distinct sects—Pharisees, who believed in the resurrection of the dead, angels and spirits and Sadducees who did not believe in either. Paul identified himself as a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee and hoping to set them against one another stated that he was being judged concerning the “hope and resurrection of the dead.”
Upon hearing of Paul’s Pharisaical belief, the Pharisees stated, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.”
The conflict between the Pharisees and Sadducees became so intense that the soldiers forcibly removed Paul to the barracks for his protection. Having failed to hear definite charges, the commander of the Roman soldiers was still at a loss as to how to proceed next with him.
One can only imagine the state of mind that Paul was surely suffering at that time. He had been warned previously, and these warnings had been fulfilled—he was a prisoner. The Lord recognized his condition and stated to him that night, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”