The Arrest of the Apostle Paul at Jerusalem
[Acts chapter 21, verses 27-36]
by Web Minister Paul J. Bern
Last week when we left off at verse 26 of Acts 21, Paul and the elders at Jerusalem were having a seven-day purification ceremony, which included Paul and a number of the men shaving their heads in a joint vow they had made together. This week as we take up where we left off, we find that some Jewish men from the province of Asia (which was a fraction the size of the Asian continent of today) have arrived in Jerusalem while the 7-day purification ceremony was going on. The purpose of the ceremony, you recall, was as a unified protest and public demonstration of their vehement disagreement with certain Jewish leaders, who were teaching that Christian converts must convert to Judaism in a manner that combined the two faiths. That teaching, which still goes on today as we know, is grossly in error.
But evidently at least one of the Jews from the province of Asia recognized Paul from earlier in his missionary journey in chapters 16 and 17, which we covered previously. It is at that point where we will begin this week’s lesson, starting at verse 27: “27) 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, 28) shouting, ‘Fellow Israelite’s, 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.’ 29) (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)”
What we have here is another riot, like at Ephesus, only this time it’s in Jerusalem, the last place where Paul wanted to draw any unwanted attention towards himself. And we see in verse 28 that it was started by a lie, which was, “Fellow Israelite’s, help us!” These Jews from the province of Asia were from what is modern Turkey today. They were most certainly not Israelite’s, let alone citizens of Jerusalem. So their cry to their “fellow Israelite’s” was a bogus appeal made for bogus reasons. On top of that, in the very next sentence their own snobbery reared its ugly head when the Jewish men asserted, “And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” This didn’t just mean people of Greek origin. They were talking about all non-Jews, which excluded everyone else in the crowd except for themselves. They were talking about everybody else. So we have these religious bigots and devout liars – seem familiar to ya? – who have come to knock the apostle Paul over once again. And now let’s move on to part two of this week’s teaching:
“ 30) 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. 31) 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. 32) 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. 33) 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. 34) 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. 35) When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36) The crowd that followed kept shouting, ‘Get rid of him!’”
Do you notice the first thing that happened? So organized was the incitement of the crowd by the Asian provincial Jews that the entire city, at least for the most part, ran directly to where Paul and the others were just completing their 7 days of purification (see verse 26 from last week’s lesson). The very next thing that happened once Paul had been seized and dragged from the purification ceremony was that those who had taken the oath of purification with Paul shut the door behind him as an act of self-preservation. Evidently no one thought that Paul was going to survive what was about to happen to him, and their feelings were justified as we will see in just a minute. What this was not, however, was an act of betrayal on the part of the other celebrants there at the ceremony that had just abruptly wrapped up. Had they not done what they did, the entire leadership of the early Church there in Jerusalem would have been incarcerated or killed, and there would have been a real chance of the Church being scattered as a result.
Fortunately for Paul, and all those other celebrants at the purification ceremony which denounced the Jews who taught Judaism in Christian churches, the Roman soldiers arrived just in time to save Paul’s life. This just goes to show you what can happen to people who speak truth to power. In this case the apostle Paul, together with the other early Church leadership, had made a public statement of 7 days duration against the Jewish infiltrators in the early Church. This obviously infuriated them, having been stirred up and incited by the Asian provincial Jews who also happened to be there. “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….. and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks.”
As the verses above show, there were no handcuffs back then, only chains. In Paul’s case, one for his hands and the other for his feet! Poor Paul gets arrested again for incitement, very similar to what happened to him at Ephesus (from Acts 19, which we have covered previously). The commander wanted to know what Paul had done, since Paul was at the center of all the public outcry. But the noise was so great that neither could hear the other over the din of the crowd. So Paul finds himself getting marched back to the barracks where the soldiers had just came from.
“35) When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36) The crowd that followed kept shouting, ‘Get rid of him!’” I can hear it now: ‘Out with him! Get him out of here!’ This was mostly because the crowd had been deprived of their opportunity to kill Paul, which frustrated them greatly and agitated them even more. In order to spare him from being killed by the angry mob, the Roman soldiers picked Paul up and carried him on their shoulders while they protected him – and themselves – from the enraged crowd. Finally, they were able to make their way safely into the barracks, and Paul probably got tied to a chair or to a post as his interrogation began. So what would Paul be asked, and how would he respond? What, at this point, could he be charged with? If he were to be found guilty in a court of law, what would his punishment be? To find out the course and substance of Paul’s interrogation, not to mention the outcome, be sure and come on back next week for part 3 of Acts chapter 21. Shalom….