Acts 21: 27 – 39 Paul arrested & Paul speaks to the crowd
When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, ‘Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.’ (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)
The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.
The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, ‘Get rid of him!’
Paul speaks to the crowd
As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, ‘May I say something to you?’
‘Do you speak Greek?’ he replied. ‘Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?’
Paul answered, ‘I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.’
* * *
What had happened in Jerusalem? Shortly after the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit, the followers of Jesus had been persecuted by the Jews. Stephen had been martyred, and many followers had fled. And yet now, a scant two decades at most after Stephen’s death, the church seems quite comfortable in Jerusalem.
St Luke tells us, in Acts, that some Jews had accepted Jesus – indeed it was a substantial number; ‘many thousands’ we are told. Many of them wanted Gentile converts to be subject to the law of Moses; we know this from the council at Jerusalem described in Acts 15. The judgment of the council recorded in James’ letter (Acts 15: 23 – 29) shows that although these advocates of the law of Moses were censured (‘We have heard that some went out from us without our authorisation and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said’…), James had found it diplomatic to include some requirements for ritual purity on the Gentiles.
And now Paul was visiting Jerusalem, this group got to work again. As we saw in yesterday’s post, they pressed James to coerce Paul into actions that would have given the impression that he agreed that ritual purity was necessary for Jewish followers of Jesus, while staying silent as to whether Gentiles should follow his example. They were a powerful lobby.
Was there a tacit agreement between the Jews and those who followed the Way? If not, how had the atmosphere changed so much since the martyrdom of Stephen? Was Paul’s testimony needed to return the focus of the church to salvation for all by the free grace of God?
This passage shows the clear division between those who want to retain the requirement for ritual purity, and those who believe in salvation through Jesus, by the free grace of God.
The opponents of Jesus wanted to kill Paul – they wanted to stamp out this ‘heresy’ that threatened their distinctive and privileged status. They would have murdered him, if they could. They rioted and almost overcame a squad of Roman soldiers in their attempts to kill him.
We must beware of our own potential to let self-interest reject the command of God. The more certain we are about specific doctrines, the more carefully we should pray for guidance about them. Our salvation is through the person of Jesus, and through him alone.
I am a sinner. I know there is much in my life of which I should repent. I am sorry for my rebellion in thought and deed and omission. Please help me to change and become a better follower of Jesus. I want to see your kingdom come.
In Jesus’ name, Amen