Lecture 21: Acts Chapters 21-22
Lecture 21: Acts Chapters 21-22
Luke reports Paul’s travels in detail, especially during the ‘we’ material where he is travelling with Paul. That would have been significant for an ancient audience which is often interested in travel accounts, both in novels and in historical works. You also find it in letters where people talk about such travels. This would be especially true among educated urban audiences who had heard of most of these places. There were certain things that they would imagine and to think about when they had heard of these places. It would be the same as people who read the Old Testament or some parts of the New Testament where they would read about things that would happen in the Holy Land. While they were familiar with many of these sights, they would think of the many historical things that happened at these sights. These were helpful associations in their minds. That is true of many of these sights also for Luke’s original target audience. This is interesting but not as interesting as other things that we really need to cover.
B. Paul’s Journey to Jerusalem
1. Cos, Rhodes, Patera, Tyre and Sidon
They traveled by Cos and Rhodes, both islands are in the Aegean Sea. Rhodes had decided to be on Rome’s side from the beginning and so Rome treated them well because of this. Cos produced wine; both Cos and Rhodes produced major products. Then they passed by Patara, a city in Lycia on the Southwestern coast of Asia Minor. There were ships usually there at Patara because of the grain trade between Rome and Alexandria, ships would put into Patara during the seasonal winds. You could sail back from Rome toward Alexandria, but to get from Alexandria to Rome you normally had to sail northward and then cut westward across the Mediterranean Sea. So this port was a major port for the grain trade. In 21:3-7, it mentioned Tyre, a city and seaport on the coast of Phoenicia. Historically, Tyre had been destroyed by Alexander the Great where a ramp had been built out to the Island. Luke had already mentioned Tyre in Luke 10:13-14 where Jesus says, for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the Judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. We see that some people in Tyre had repented with a strong and growing church there; in chapter 15, we saw that Paul spoke in the churches of Phoenicia. In chapter 27, he is actually going to stop in Sidon which is also in Phoenicia. This was a place where they made glass in antiquity. Tyre was also mentioned in chapter 12:20 because they had trouble with Herod Agrippa I who had cut off some of their food supply from Judea. So now, there wasn’t the competition between peoples because these people were now brothers and sisters in Christ. This sends a really good message; ethnic strife and rivalry is not what the Kingdom is about. When we are brothers and sisters, wherever we go, we find brothers and sisters in Christ and we should be able to expect hospitality and grace. In fact in chapter 27 wherever Paul went, he had friends there. Normally the Roman centurion would have had to requisition food but the Christians gave food readily. They were happy to provide hospitality to Paul. There was no prejudice. What we see in Acts is what we really all should be. The dominant culture in many western countries is that they are wrapped up in themselves and don’t always recognize the needs of others who come among them.
They get to Ptolemais in verse 7 which was about 30 miles or 48 km south of Tyre. We don’t know how they traveled there, possibly by land. They stayed with believers in these places which meant that the movement had spread. The movement among gentiles had spread; so Luke is giving us snippets here and there and we get these hints about things that are narrated in how others have been taking the Gospel with them. Theologically, Paul has helped defend this gentile Christian movement in Acts 15. So Peter and James came to the defense of what he was contending for. But we are also going to see something interesting about prophesies. In 21:4, it says after we located the disciples, we stayed there seven days. They repeatedly told Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem, but yet, he knew that he should go to Jerusalem. Sometimes, even when people are very sensitive to the Spirit and even when people are usually right, sometimes you need to know for yourself. Just because somebody tells you that they think the Holy Spirit wants you to do something, doesn’t make it true. Many people will say such a thing hoping that you will simply do it without question. My wife and I have had to weigh such things very carefully in our lives. On the other hand, the places where the Lord has brought me over the year, he has normally given sufficient conformation. In regards to where I am now, my wife heard from the Lord first and I didn’t. So, I had to move in faith that she was right. This was partly due to the fact that I really loved the place I was at the time and had such a bias against moving. Confirmation came afterward I made the decision in dreams, etc. It was just like Philip who first was an itinerant evangelist but then settled in Caesarea.
C. The Spirit, Prophets and Their Warnings
Though, these people were speaking through the Spirit; they weren’t false prophets nor were they wrong in the content of what they said. So how does this balance with what Paul was hearing from God. Think about John the Baptist in Luke 7:18-20 where Luke tells us that John heard of the works of Jesus; the most recent being the raising of Naan’s son. He hears about these marvelous works and he sends to Jesus a question: are you the expected one or should we look for another? Why would he ask this after hearing about these miracles? Remember what John has heard from the Lord: he is going to baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire. There were no reports in regards to baptizing people in fire. The kingdom doesn’t seem to be showing up yet. So Jesus answers him in the language from Isaiah 35:61, showing that some of the ministries of the kingdom, these healings, etc. with the good news being preached to the poor. These are a foretaste; they are part of the kingdom. The foretaste of the kingdom is already there. John may not live to see its fulfillment, but John knew part of the Word of the Lord. But as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:9, we know in part and we prophesy in part. That covers our teaching and our prophecy. We may be right in what we know but that doesn’t mean that we know everything. Think about Elisha who is staying close to Elijah in 2 Kings 2; prophets in one town come to him and say, ‘do you know that your master is to be taken from you today?’ I know. He goes to another town and sons of the prophets there come to him and said to him, do you know that your master is going to be taken from you today? Yes, I know; be quiet! And then Elijah is taken from him in a chariot of fire. Afterwards the same sons come to him and suggested that the Spirit of the Lord had carried him away to some mountain. Let’s go look for his body. Elisha told them not to look. They keep urging him and finally he told them to look. They returned saying that they couldn’t find him. Elisha said, didn’t I tell you not to look? He had a fuller picture than they did. They did hear from the Lord but they didn’t know how Elijah was going to be taken. This is the way it usually is with us. We know in part, we prophesy in part; someday we will know as we are known and someday we will see face to face, but in the meantime, we get what we need. Sometimes it can get confusing as we get that piece or another piece, but we get what we need to know what we need to know, to do what we need to do and beyond that we trust God to order our steps.
What we have in Acts 16 where Paul is getting this guidance; don’t go there. So, we don’t understand everything, but we understand enough to know that we need to fulfill our calling and pursue that often we get more direction along the way. Paul is being warned in what he is going to face. They were right to hear God’s warning that he was going to face trouble and they were right to love which is the fruit of the Spirit and not want him to have to face that. So they were speaking through the Spirit. But Paul had a fuller understanding of what he was called to do. They get to Caesarea which is on the coast of Judea. People of Jerusalem didn’t always call it Judea, but officially it was the Roman capital of Judea. There they find Philip and stay with him for a while. It was Philip of whom we learned a lot about chapter 8. You can imagine Luke listening to Philip and Paul reminisces over things. Philip was one of the seven deacons appointed in the Jerusalem in Acts 6:1-7. Philip has four daughters who prophesied; at the same time Agabus is about to show up. Agabus also appeared in Acts 11:28. Remember what it says in Acts 2:17-18, where you have women, your sons and daughters will prophesy; on my servants, male and female, I will pour out my Spirit. Also your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams. Here we have the young and the old and both genders. Agabus was older than he was back in Acts 11, a number of years earlier. Being virgins in antiquity meant in a Jewish context as perhaps being young teens. So this is a passage where it is clear that God uses young people.
So what were they prophesying about? It doesn’t say but undoubtedly they joined in; everybody was exhorted Paul not to go to Jerusalem. It wasn’t because he didn’t know what was coming. Agabus, like many prophets in the Old Testament, doesn’t just speak, he acts it out. The wording isn’t exactly precise; the Romans had to rescue Paul from the Jews there in Jerusalem. They were all saying, ‘Paul, please don’t go to Jerusalem.’ Usually when a prophet in the Old Testament speaks, it is ‘Thus says the Lord.’ But here it is, ‘Thus says that Holy Spirit.’ You have this in Revelation also. So, Agabus is speaking through the Holy Spirit and it is understood that it is the Spirit of Prophesy. This fits with everything that we have seen about the witness of the Spirit in every city that Paul is going to suffer.
1. Paul, the Law and the Temple
The church in Caesarea was a mix of gentiles and Jews going back to Cornelius and even perhaps Philips ministry. Along the coastal route there will be more cities with both Jews and gentiles. But in Jerusalem, it is going to be primarily Jewish. So getting logging with Philip was great but getting logging in Jerusalem will sent a message of believers that are will to host gentile believers. We will see that not everybody agrees with that. Paul wants to bring conciliation between Jewish and gentile believers. So Paul comes, Luke doesn’t narrate it, with a collection. There is a lot of supposition as to the reactions of the Jerusalem church and Paul, but we know in chapter 21 that James and the Elders received him favorably. So, we are going to read about attempts at reconciliation in chapter 21:20-26. We know from Romans 15 that Paul’s journey to Jerusalem is going to be a mission of reconciliation. So Luke was there in Jerusalem with Paul because he says that James and the elders received them. In verse 20, James explains that we have thousands (Greek - murias) of believers in Judea who love Jesus and follow the law. That was a good witness in their culture. After all, the Law was given by God and it was Scripture, even if it wasn’t meant for all situations or all times or all people. So, piety toward the Law wasn’t a bad thing. Joseph and Mary were portrayed this way in Luke 2 as being pious toward the Law. You have Joseph of Arimathea being portrayed this way and also Ananias being portrayed this way when Paul is speaking in Acts 22. It was nothing wrong with following God’s Law as such but the gentiles simply weren’t required to do so. Ten to fifteen years before, since the time of Agrippa 1st Judean nationalism had been growing and we see this in Josephus. This was leading to greater tension with Rome. It was also leading to greater tension because of the misadministration of Roman governors that were sent to this place. The people who were governors were because of political reasons.
But there were rumors about Paul which James mentions in verse 21. The charge that Paul was teaching Jews in the Diaspora to abandon Moses was different from the issue faced in Acts 15, where the question was whether Gentiles needed to become like Jews in order to become Christians. The issue also appears in Acts 24:5-6, 13-21 and 25:8. Of course, Paul wasn’t doing this. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 Paul becomes all things to all people, he is under the Law to those who are under the Law; he becomes Jew to the Jew, Greek to the Greek. Paul isn’t against people keeping their own customs. He is against imposing customs on others. There were people who didn’t like what Paul was doing so they exaggerated it a little. You have people who gossip like that today; taking somebody’s position and reducing it to the absurd or expanding on it in ways that they haven’t actually said. When Caesar wasn’t in Rome, his enemies and rivals in Rome spread rumors about him; when Paul wasn’t in Jerusalem, his enemies spread rumors about him. We see this also in Paul’s writings such as Romans 3:8. The way that Paul is asked to show that he isn’t against the Jewish people and keeping the Torah; he is ask to support some Nazirites who are under a vow. This means that Paul will go into the temple and pay for a sacrifice; Paul has no problem with this because he is not against Jewish people keeping Jewish customs. So it says, then everyone will know there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself live in conformity with the law.
2. Jews from Ephesus
But some Jews from Asia, it says as the leading city in Asia was Ephesus. Remember that Paul had split the synagogue back in chapter 19:8-9. They accused Paul of bringing Greeks into temple and started shouting about this. There was a basis for their accusations but not in this case. They had recognized Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him previously, and had assumed that Paul brought him into the inner temple courts. Luke reports it as a false accusation; Paul did no such thing, however people sometimes extrapolate from limited evidence and that is what was done in this case. They accused Paul taking Trophimus into the temple, but the accusers don’t show up later because there would have been too many witnesses saying that Trophimus wasn’t there. The church in Ephesus would understand why Paul wrote to them from Roman custody. Trophimus was from Ephesus and the accusers were from Ephesus; word is going to get back to Ephesus why Paul is in trouble. Even in Romans 15:31 he expected trouble when he got to Judea.
3. Paul Teaching about the New Temple
I want to regress and talk a little about Paul’s teaching about building a new temple in Christ. Most likely because of teaching like this, believers in Ephesus and Paul’s enemies in Ephesus already knew that he looked for a greater temple, but in doing so, Paul wasn’t unlike other Jewish people who spoke of a new temple coming and prayed for that. They were looking to God to do something greater. The Qumran community was looking for a new temple; they had recognized that the old temple had been desecrated by the corrupt senior priesthood. Paul is going to talk about this more in a circular letter to Ephesus. Paul in Ephesians 2:11-22 talks about building a new temple in Christ. The passage emphasizes gentiles being welcomed into God’s people. This wouldn’t be surprising to Paul; in Romans the emphasis on how Jews and gentiles came together on the same terms. In Galatians 2, he challenges Peter publicly when he segregated himself from the gentiles in Antioch. Paul challenged that as being antithetical to the Gospel. Jesus had also spoken of a new temple better than Jewish and Samaritan holy sites. In John 4, he talked about judgement on the old temple; he talked about being the cornerstone of a new holy place. In Mark 11, one of the reasons for judgement on the temple seems to have been that it was supposed to be a house of prayer for all nations. The Old Testament temple didn’t segregate gentile from Jews. The inner most court was for the Lord alone. Next was the sanctuary for priests but then there were no divisions outside of that. Outside of that was the outer court where everybody was welcome. Solomon in 1 Kings 8 prays for gentiles to feel welcome in that outer court; the same for Israelites. But due to purity regulations that priests had developed, Herod’s temple segregated Jews from gentiles. The outer court was now divided into the court of Israel for Jewish men and outside that on a lower level there was the court of Jewish women and yet another lower level was the new outer court, beyond which gentiles couldn’t go. A sign actually read that if the gentiles went past that point, they would be responsible for their own death.
4. Paul Addresses the Crowd
Josephus mentioned the above mentioned sign and indeed, archaeologists have found one of them in the temple area some time ago. So in Acts 21, some Jewish Ephesians saw Paul leaving the temple. They knew that he had split the synagogue in Ephesus and there was a riot in Ephesus that they got blamed for. Now they see him with Trophimus, an Ephesian gentile, so they start a riot accusing Paul of having brought this gentile into the temple. Paul is being beaten and the Roman commanding officer and the soldiers arrested him and ordered him to be tied with two chains. They were always looking out from this place because of the unrest that was going on. Felix was a terrible administrator; there were assassinations always happening and in arresting Paul, they are thinking that they have captured one of these assassins. He tells the officer that he was a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of an important city, then said, please allow me to speak to the people. So Paul preached to them in Aramaic and found cultural ground to talk to them and they listened to him. Paul had been trying to get there in time for Pentecost and so this is something like Paul’s Pentecost sermon. People are much more open to hearing about Jesus now because there is this massive movement of believers in Jesus. The believers keep the law and the Pharisees appreciate them because of that. He tells his story of how God told him to go to the gentiles. The nice thing about speaking in Aramaic, his Ephesian accusers would only know Greek and thus wouldn’t understand what he was saying. But the Roman tribune who is in charge also doesn’t understand what he is saying and doesn’t understand that Paul is trying to reconcile the Jews and the gentiles. Paul doesn’t leave out his call to the gentiles; why was this so controversial? Things were polarized by this point. It is only a few years before the outbreak of the coming Judean-Roman war. Because Rome has been treating Judea so badly in recent years and nationalism has been on the rise. For Paul, if you really love Jesus, you have to love your brother and sister who are in Christ. If you can’t love across ethnic lines, don’t call yourself a Christian and one who loves Jesus.
The crowd in listening to him then raised their voices and shouted to do away with this man. They were screaming and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust in the air. So the soldiers took Paul and was about to beat him until they found out that he was a Roman citizen. So when Paul writes the letter to the Ephesians, he writes most like from Roman custody, and most likely from Rome. He was held for two years in Caesarea and then shipped off to Rome. The believers in Ephesus would know why Paul was in Roman custody as Trophimus was from Ephesus, and so Paul’s accusers who would be happy to speak against him in Ephesus also. For Paul and his audiences, there could be no greater symbol of the division between Jew and gentile than this dividing wall in the temple. That is how in Ephesians 2, Paul declares that this dividing wall has been shattered by Jesus Christ. He is our peace, echoing the language of Mica, who has made both the Jew and gentile one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility which was based on purity regulations. This was in the day before it was popular to discuss ethnic reconciliation. Paul is declaring things like in Galatians 3:28; in Christ Jesus, there is neither Jew nor gentile, not only culturally. A few years later, before he leaves Caesarea, Jews and Syrians were killing each other in the streets of Caesarea. Josephus tells us that in one hour eighteen thousand Jews were killed in Caesarea. We understand that Philip and his daughters had already left the city and settled in the area around Ephesus. A decade later, Rome destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and enslaved its survivors. In Ephesians 2, Paul goes on to speak of a new temple. In Jesus we are being built up together to become a dwelling place in which God lives by his Spirit.
5. The Roman Soldiers Rescue Paul
So Paul is taken into the outer court of the temple and the gates are shut because they want to avoid desecration of the temple with blood. They want to kill him and beat him to death but they don’t want to desecrate the temple with his blood. The temple is supposed to be a sanctuary, a place of refuse. The one automatic death penalty that Rome granted in Judea was if someone violated the sanctity of the temple, they could be put to death. Interestingly, Paul wasn’t a gentile going into the temple, but he was accused of having taken a gentile into the temple. Ironically, Roman soldiers rescue Paul. We mentioned that the Fortress of Antonio overlooked the outer court. Archaeology and Josephus show us that there were stairs leading from the Fortress down into the outer court. So, when it mentions the soldiers running down the stairs; it was a very wide stairway so they didn’t have to run down single file. The crowd was confused here, just like the crowd in Acts 19. The mob didn’t have time to get all the information. That is why when the tribune called a chiliarch was trying to find out what Paul had done; he doesn’t know because he had heard different things from the crowd. They first think that he is part of the Egyptian false prophet or perhaps an assassin which was called Sicarii in Latin after their weapon of choice, the short dagger or sicarius which could be easily hidden under one’s clothing. These Sicarii were very hostile to Rome and would not hesitate to assassinate their political opponents. They would go into the crowded temple to an aristocrat who was in league with Rome. They would leave the dagger in the body and act innocent as nobody would know who did it. So, the tribune is talking with Paul before Paul gives the speech. He asked surprisingly whether he spoke Greek and saying that he was that Egypt prophet that led people out into the wilderness a while ago. There were a lot of messianic groups in the wilderness as that was where you could draw crowds without Roman intervention. People were expecting a new Exodus in the wilderness that is mentioned even in Luke 3, quoting Isaiah 40:3, prepare a way in the wilderness for our God. We see this in Hosea 2, 11 and Isaiah 11.
Egyptian Jews spoke Greek but it was like good Greek, like that of Northern Mediterranean normally spoke. Paul had developed the ability to speak Greek with an Aegean accent and even an Athenian accent by this time. So, the tribune Claudius Lysias is impressed who happens to be a Greek himself, even though he is a tribune. So, Paul had explained that he was from Tarsus; interestingly civic pride was a big thing then and even so in the early 2nd century. So, we see that Paul was bi-lingual speaking both Greek and Aramaic. We also know that Tarsus was a famous university city as such, but many people from Tarsus did their tertiary study in other places. Paul perhaps studied in Jerusalem as he indicates later. He said that he was educated at the feet of Gamaliel. The appropriate posture was that you were to sit in the dust at the teacher’s feet. This was also the proper posture for a disciple in Luke 10:39. We see that Mary was sitting as Jesus’ feet like a disciple, but normally women were never disciples under training as such. This was an unusual situation. So, Paul was at the feet of Gamaliel, learning from him, but he didn’t learn that if God is with these people, you don’t want to find yourself fighting against God. But Paul did find himself exactly in this place before Jesus spoke to him on the Damascus Road. Gamaliel was the elite of teachers and it was said that he offers training in Greek as well as Aramaic. Paul’s whole family perhaps had moved to Jerusalem with his family becoming Pharisees in Jerusalem. Paul’s nephew was living in Jerusalem also. Paul said that he was zealous for the Law. This was increasingly becoming used in a particular sort of way. By the time of the outbreak in the War against Rome, one of the revolutionary groups was called zealots. They took the Maccabees as their model; they were zealous for the Law. And the Maccabees model was Ginni Hoss who was zealous for the Law as mentioned in Psalms. Paul had used this model before becoming a Christian. He arrested Christians beforehand with the knowledge of the High Priest. This is the same group that is accusing him which had been with him beforehand in this illegal activity.
6. Paul in Custody and in Chains
So, the riot starts up again, using language from Luke 23 where the crowds cry, away with him, crucify this man. So, Stephen spoke about the temple and got killed. Paul has spoken about the temple and God used the Romans to intervene and spare his life. Most likely, a lot of people were praying for him especially in knowing about all these prophecies beforehand. In the final quarter of Acts, this addresses Paul in custody. So, why is this final quarter of Acts so detailed? Well, one thing, Luke is present as a witness. It has got an apologetic for Paul that climaxes Luke and Acts. Chains and custody were shameful. So, here is Paul, the father of the gentile mission; any guilt associated with Paul reflects on their diaspora churches and on the mission to the gentiles. Already in Philippians 1 and 2 Timothy 1, people would want to disassociate from Paul of this. Acts is written partly to vindicate Paul; just like Jesus in the narrative on the crucifixion. Pilate said that he didn’t find any guilt in this man. You have the parallel between Jesus there and Paul here. Those who were really in charge of finding guilt didn’t find any. Paul wasn’t guilty but instead condemned for political reasons, not for legal reasons. Nor was it for a lack of common sense. Going to Jerusalem, might have been dangerous. Luke doesn’t even mention the collection, so why does Paul go? He goes because of divine necessity. Again, that was no argument; the standard argument is ancient rhetoric. If you said, ‘God told me or a god told me to go.’ That was considered a fairly good argument. Well, you had to do this because you were told and Paul was certain of that. The prophecies clearly show that was going to happen; Paul wasn’t blindsided, for he knew that it was coming because God was leading him there. It also fits with what we see in Paul’s letters. Paul does say in Roman 15 that he expected trouble in Judea. Next we hear from him, he is in Roman custody.
So, what is the point for us? Most of us already like Paul, and for us who read this final quarter of Acts, shows us the value of legal historical and other kinds of apologetics. It is important to answer people’s objections when possible, but that doesn’t mean that they will necessarily agree with us. But, it is important for us to answer their objections and to make our case solid. The tribune, the chiliarch is normally in command of the entire Roman cohort in the fortress. The tribune had to find out why Paul was accused like this and why everybody was so upset with him. So, they were going to interrogate him under torture. Paul is chained and they are about to beat him and he says, ‘is it lawful to beat a Roman citizen?’ It wasn’t even lawful to put him into chains without a trial. So they have already gone too far; perhaps Paul went that far on purpose. But the beating could have been very severe. The centurion in this case goes to the tribune and tells him that Paul was a Roman citizen. He does the tribune a favor because the tribune could have gotten into a lot of trouble. If somebody had complained, he would have been in trouble. Now, governors often got away with things, but the tribunes are subordinates and they often couldn’t get away with things. There was another governor who was recalled earlier; his tribune who carried out his orders in response of complaints of the Judean people to satisfy them politically, that man was draw and quarters and dragged through the streets of Jerusalem. He was killed. So, the tribune had reasons to be concerned, that he isn’t mistreating a Roman citizen. The whole reason Rome had to approve all capital punishment in the provinces, it was to make sure that nobody mistreated Roman citizens for their loyalty to Rome. So the tribune comes to Paul for the purpose of damage control perhaps. In 22:28, he asked Paul whether he was a citizen or not and of course the answer was yes. The tribune said that he had acquired his citizenship with a large sum of money. So there were different way to acquire Roman citizenship: one was to be born to Roman parents as Paul was, another way was as a reward to groups or individuals such as municipal officers, in other words, military service. Another way was through ancestry. Another way was simply a bribe. That is what the tribune did; he paid money for his citizenship. This was very common earlier in Claudius’ reign. But as more and more people got citizenship, so Lysias was the tribune’s original name and once becoming a Roman citizen, he added his benefactor’s name to his and that is the reason why he added Claudius to his name. Citizenship got cheaper over time as more and more people paid for their citizenship. Lysias hoped that Paul got his cheaper than him; instead Paul uses a phrase that echoes a Latin phrase, ‘I was born a citizen.’ So the Tribune makes sure that any damage that he may have done is undone. He calls together the Sanhedrin and him and Paul stands before them.