Acts 21:18-40

Paul the Prisoner
Acts 21:18 – 28:31
Acts 21:18 – 28:31. In the final section of the book of Acts, we have a history of Paul as a prisoner. The leading proponent of the glad tidings was now in chains, not free to go forth and preach the gospel. This section covers a period of a at least four years, perhaps five (A.D. 58-62). Mainly, there were two years in Caesarea (Acts 24:27), and the two years spent in Rome in a hired house (Acts 28:30), and in between, many weeks and months journeying.

Paul in Jerusalem: The Riot
Acts 21:18-40

Paul With the Elders at Jerusalem (21:18-25)

18 And on the morrow Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders came there. 19 And having saluted them, he related one by one the things which God had wrought among the nations by his ministry. vv.18-19 Paul to the Elders and James. When Paul arrived at Jerusalem he was met by the elders along with James, which was the same James that we read of in ch.15 who took a major part in the council at Jerusalem. That would be James the Just, the brother of the Lord Jesus, who rose to prominence in the early church. In this chapter we find that James did not have a full understanding of grace; “But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me” (Gal. 2:6). James’ effect on the saints tended to be toward putting them under law. Here we find that even Paul was affected by him, as Peter and Barnabas had been affected years earlier at their last meeting (see Gal. 2:11-13). Nevertheless, God used James to write an epistle to the Jewish believers, and what is recorded in that epistle is in the inspired truth of God, and there is no error in it. Paul began by giving an account of his journeys among the Gentiles and the wonderful way that God’s good news was being received by many.
20 And they having heard it glorified God, and said to him, Thou seest, brother, how many myriads there are of the Jews who have believed, and all are zealous of the law. 21 And they have been informed concerning thee, that thou teachest all the Jews among the nations apostasy from Moses, saying that they should not circumcise their children, nor walk in the customs. 22 What is it then? a multitude must necessarily come together, for they will hear that thou art come. vv.20-22 James’ Reply and Accusation. They glorified God in hearing the news of Paul’s journeys. However, in James’ reply we see that what he esteemed greatly, and hurried to draw attention to, was that there were many Jews that had believed, and had continued “zealous of the law”. This great company of Jews who had believed in the Lord Jesus had been informed by a rumor concerning Paul, which gave them great concern. The rumor was that Paul was teaching the Jews who were living among the Gentiles (such as in the cities of Thessalonica, Berea, etc.) that they should forsake the law of Moses including the ceremonial requirements of circumcision, etc. They had good reason to think that Paul was teaching this, because it was really a fundamental truth of the gospel, that both Jew and Gentile are not under law, but are under grace. Paul had already written the epistle to the Romans, where he clearly explains this in great detail (Rom. 6:14), and gives the illustration of the two husbands in Romans 7, wherein the believer has died unto the law and is no longer obligated to it, and should walk in relation with Christ free of bondage to law. He also showed in Romans 14 that some, having been saved from a Jewish background, still had a conscience about those customs. To them, they should no act against their conscience. But toward others, the strong, those with a conscience were not to judge. The reason that James and the elders were concerned was that their understanding of grace was imperfect. They were proving themselves to be “weak” in the faith. They still believed that a Jew, though Christ had died and rose again, was obligated before God to keep the law, and that their works – even in ceremonial things – was required for God’s favor toward them. James passed this information on to Paul and warned him that he was going to need to give a straight answer concerning this when the Jews heard that Paul had arrived. It is evident that James himself was also concerned, but chose to use the power of public opinion to exert pressure on the apostle.
23 This do therefore that we say to thee: We have four men who have a vow on them; 24 take these and be purified with them, and pay their expenses, that they may have their heads shaved; and all will know that of those things of which they have been informed about thee nothing is true; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, keeping the law. 25 But concerning those of the nations who have believed, we have written, deciding that they should observe no such thing, only to keep themselves both from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication. vv.23-25 James’ Advice to Paul. Rather than seek to understand Paul’s position, James and the others quickly gave Paul a piece of advice that, as they saw it, could resolve the issue. There were four men who had made a vow (perhaps a Nazarite vow, Num. 6), and had allowed their hair to grow until the term of the vow was complete. Now, according to Mosaic law, they were to shave their heads and offer a sacrifice. It was perfect timing for Paul to demonstrate that he was a good Jew, “that thou thyself also walkest orderly, keeping the law”. Paul could pay their expenses (buy the sacrifice for the four men), be purified with them, and offer the sacrifice together. This would relieve the converted Jews concerning Paul’s position on the law of Moses for the Jew. They went to to remind Paul of their position on the law of Moses for the Gentile. This was what James had written earlier in Acts 15, that the converted Gentile was not under the law of Moses, only that they should refrain from idolatry, eating blood, etc. What James held concerning Gentiles and the law was correct, but concerning the Jew was false. This advice from James was very bad, and Paul should have refused it. He had repeatedly ignored the good advice of his brethren, rejected the clear direction of the Spirit, and now in a wrong place he was vulnerable to bad advice.
To the Jew as a Jew. In 1 Corinthians 9:20, Paul had written, “And I became to the Jews as a Jew, in order that I might gain the Jews: to those under law, as under law, not being myself under law, in order that I might gain those under law”. Paul’s love for souls often led him to alter his actions in order to not offend the Jew in one case or the Gentiles in another, in order to win them for Christ. The motive was love. What James wanted Paul to do was change his behavior to please believers who had a wrong understanding of the gospel. It was not to save souls, but to restore his image. In doing it Paul would have to compromise his principles.

Paul Attacked in the Temple (21:26-30)

26 Then Paul, taking the men, on the next day, having been purified, entered with them into the temple, signifying the time the days of the purification would be fulfilled, until the offering was offered for every one of them. v.26 Paul About to Fulfil the Plan. It would seem that Paul was about to complete the plan that James had proposed, which would have included an “offering” for them. God would not allow this step, and I believe we see in this God’s gracious intervention. How could this apostle, having made a sacrifice in the temple, write to the Hebrews some five years later, “we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” and “for by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” and “where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin” (Heb. 10:10,14,18)? How could he say, “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle” (Heb. 13:10)? To take the step would have been a tremendous compromise. But thanks me to God, Paul did not take this step. Someday we’ll look back over our lives and see how often God intervened in preventing us from doing something that would dishonor Him or become a blot on our testimony for His name.
27 And when the seven days were nearly completed, the Jews from Asia, having seen him in the temple, set all the crowd in a tumult, and laid hands upon him, 28 crying, Israelites, help! this is the man who teaches all everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place, and has brought Greeks too into the temple, and profaned this holy place. 29 For they had before seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple. 30 And the whole city was moved, and there was a concourse of the people; and having laid hold on Paul they drew him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. vv.27-30 Paul Drawn Out of the Temple. The means that God used to prevent Paul from his purpose was a cohort of Jews from Asia which stirred up the native Jews of Jerusalem against Paul. The mob mistakenly thought that Paul had brought Trophimus the Ephesian into the temple, and they dragged Paul out, accusing him of seeking to defile the holy place. Trophimus was one of Paul’s companions on his third journey (Acts 20:4), and Paul refers to him at the close of Second Timothy; “but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick” (2 Tim. 4:20). In reality Paul had not brought this Greek brother into the temple, but even this fact showed the compromising position Paul had taken.

Paul Put into the Hands of the Romans (21:31-36)

31 And as they were seeking to kill him, a representation came to the chiliarch of the band that the whole of Jerusalem was in a tumult; 32 who, taking with him immediately soldiers and centurions, ran down upon them. But they, seeing the chiliarch and the soldiers, ceased beating Paul. 33 Then the chiliarch came up and laid hold upon him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains, and inquired who he might be, and what he had done. 34 And different persons cried some different thing in the crowd. But he, not being able to know the certainty on account of the uproar, commanded him to be brought into the fortress. 35 But when he got upon the stairs it was so that he was borne by the soldiers on account of the violence of the crowd. 36 For the multitude of the people followed, crying, Away with him. 

Paul Requests an Opportunity to Speak (21:37-40)

37 But as he was about to be led into the fortress, Paul says to the chiliarch, Is it allowed me to say something to thee? And he said, Dost thou know Greek? 38 Thou art not then that Egyptian who before these days raised a sedition and led out into the wilderness the four thousand men of the assassins? 39 But Paul said, “I” am a Jew of Tarsus, citizen of no insignificant city of Cilicia, and I beseech of thee, allow me to speak to the people. 40 And when he had allowed him, Paul, standing on the stairs, beckoned with his hand to the people; and a great silence having been made, he addressed them in the Hebrew tongue, saying,