Acts Chapter Twenty-One

Read Acts 21:1-16

v1. “And it came to pass, that after we were gotten from them, and had launched, we came with a straight course unto Coos, and the day following unto Rhodes, and from thence unto Patara:”


            Luke gives us another short geography lesson on the southwest coast of Asia Minor.  His ship leaves Miletus, sails about 50 miles to the island of Cos, another 50 miles or so to Rhodes and then about another day’s sail to Patara.  We’re not told how big a ship they were using but their route and the next verse would seem to indicate that this was a coastal vessel that didn’t venture out into the open sea very far.


v.2And finding a ship sailing over unto Phenicia, we went aboard, and set forth.”


            At Patara they change ships finding one that was planning to sail directly across to Phoenicia.


v.3Now when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed into Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her burden.”


            This ocean going vessel was loaded with a cargo for Tyre and followed a direct route from Patara to Tyre.  We notice the precision of the scriptures here as well in Luke’s description of the route.  When you sail southeast from Patara to Tyre you pass the south side of the major island of Cyprus, putting on the left as you travel east.


v.4And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.”


            Tyre is a very ancient city, predating the nation of Israel, a very large city in its day and a center of commerce in the eastern Mediterrean.  The Greek indicates that they had to seek out or look for disciples, they were not easy to find and the church was probably small.  Paul had probably been here once before (Acts 15:3).  Through the spirit, because the Holy Spirit had revealed this information to them, they tell Paul that he should not go to Jerusalem.


v.5-6And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed.  And when we had taken our leave one of another, we took ship; and they returned home again.”


            Paul stayed at Tyre seven days with these disciples; probably by choice because with the commerce between Tyre and the rest of the eastern Mediterrean, coastal ships to the cities further south should have been readily available.  When he, and the group of others that were with him, did get ready to leave they accompany Paul as far as they can, wishing him well and praying for his safety.  We also have the first mention of children in connection with these disciples; as the wives and children are present.


v.7  And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day.”


            From Tyre Paul sails about another 30 miles south to Ptolemais.  There was a congregation there and Paul stayed with them one day.


v.8And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him.”


            The next day they travel on to Caesarea, the same city of Samaria that Jesus visited (Matthew 16:13).  There they are met by Philip the Evangelist.  What does this word evangelist mean, this is the first time we find it, is this some special office in the early church?  No, in the original language it simply means a “messenger of good”, and was used to designate a preacher of the Gospel, a messenger of the Good News, just as it is today.  This Philip is the same Philip that was chosen to serve tables by the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 6:5), who preached in Samaria (Acts 8:5) and who baptized the Ethiopian treasurer (Acts 8:26) and we left him at Caesarea at the end of that chapter study (Acts 8:40).


v.9  And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.”


            Philip has a family and here we have four daughters specifically mentioned, four who had a spiritual gift, they could prophesy.  What does that mean?  Perhaps a short study of the word translated, prophesy, is in order here.


            The simple meaning of this word from “Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words” is “speaking forth of the mind and counsel of God.”

            “Though much of the Old Testament prophecy was purely predictive,” (Micah 5:2; Jesus to be born in Bethlehem) “prophecy is not necessarily, nor even primarily foretelling.  It is the declaration of that which cannot be known by natural means,” (Luke 22:64; soldiers demand that Jesus tell them who struck him when he was blindfolded); “is it the forth-telling of the will of God, whether with reference to the past, present, or the future,” (Deuteronomy 18:18; Jesus would speak the words God would put in his mouth).

            “In such passages as I Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 2:20, the ‘prophets’ are placed after the ‘Apostles’, since not the prophets of Israel are intended, but the ‘gifts’ of the ascended Lord.”

            “The purpose of their ministry was to edify, to comfort, and to encourage the believers, I Corinthians 14:3, while its effect upon believers was to show that the secrets of a man’s heart are known to God, to convict of sin, and to constrain to worship, I Corinthians 14:24-25.”

            “With the completion of the canon of Scripture prophecy apparently passed away, I Corinthians 13:8-9.  In his measure the teacher has taken the place of the prophet.”  “The difference is that, whereas the message of the prophet was a direct revelation of the mind of God for the occasion, the message of the teacher is gathered from the completed revelation contained in the Scriptures.”


            So Philip had four virgin daughters, young women who had never been married, who were able to “speak forth the mind and counsel of God.”  Does this mean that they stood in an assembly of mixed men and women and proclaimed the Gospel of Christ?  Not at all, especially when you understand the role of women in the Middle Eastern cultures of the first century.  But God inspired both men and women, this is obvious, first promised in prophecy:


Joel 2:28And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:”


Then found in fact, else Paul would not need to write this instruction:


I Corinthians 11:5But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.”


v.10  And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus.”


            You remember in our study of chapter twenty that Paul left Philippi “AFTER THE DAYS OF THE UNLEAVENED BREAD” (v.6) and wanted “TO BE AT JERUSALEM THE DAY OF PENTECOST” (v.16) so he only had 43 days to get to Jerusalem from the time he left Philippi, but he’s made good time.  Consequently they can stay in Caesarea for several days and still be in Jerusalem on time.  Agabus, probably the same Agabus who prophesied about the famine in Jerusalem in Acts 11:28 comes down from Judea.


v.11And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”


            Agabus delivers a prophecy to Paul, illustrating it in a manner no one could misunderstand.  In Jerusalem Paul would be bound by the Jews and turned over to the Romans.  Agabus is speaking within the definition of prophecy that we just studied, he is “speaking forth of the mind and counsel of God”, because he is revealing what “THUS SAITH THE HOLY GHOST”.


v.12And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.”


            When they hear the prophecy of Agabus, none of them want Paul to go to Jerusalem, none of the disciples at Caesarea, neither Luke nor any of the men traveling with Paul.  He had already been warned at Tyre (v.4).  But Paul already understood what was probably going to happen (Acts 20:23) and was determined to go anyway.


v.13-14Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart?  for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. 14And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.”


            Paul uses an expression similar to what we might use today.  You’re breaking my heart.  The Holy Spirit has already told him that bonds and affliction wait for him in every city (Acts 20:23).  Jerusalem is to be no different.  He will not change his determination to do what he sees as his commitment to God even if it means that he will be killed.  Whatever comes is what God wills.  So when he would not persuaded; they stopped trying.


v.15And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem.”


            So after three days, three days after the prophecy of Agabus, they take up their baggage (ASV) or carriages, probably on pack animals and travel the 64 miles south but up into the mountains into Jerusalem.


v.16there went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge.”


            Several or “CERTAIN” of the disciples from Caesarea go with them as well.  They have in their company a man from Cyprus who has or owns lodging in Jerusalem, perhaps even one like Barnabas, who apparently traveled back and forth from Cyprus to Jerusalem for the Jewish feasts.  The KJV says that he was an old disciple; other translations say an early disciple, one who had been a Christian from very near the beginning.

            So this ends Paul’s third missionary journey.


Read Acts 21:17-26


v.17-18And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.”


            When Paul, Luke and the other travelers get to Jerusalem they are received with gladness and open armed hospitality.  Paul doesn’t hesitate or wait for a more convenient time, but meets with James and the other elders the very next day.  No doubt, with all that Paul has had to deal with on his journeys and during his preaching in Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece, all manner of stories, accusations, and other tales have been circulated about Paul.  He was hated by the Jews from the very beginning because he turned from the sect of the Pharisees to Christ.


v.19And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.”


            This is a type of official reception for Paul to report to all the elders.  It does not constitute a reporting to headquarters as some might think but rather a report to brethren who were probably sending others out to preach and teach Jesus Christ.  Paul reviews all the accomplishments of preaching among the Gentiles and probably takes advantage of the opportunity to deliver the collections made for the poor saints at Jerusalem.


v.20And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:”


            The Jerusalem elders are delighted with the report that Paul makes and the news that Gentiles have been converted by the hundreds, even thousands and that churches have been planted.  However, they are proceeding with some caution.  There are literally thousands of Jews in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost.  A word translated “MANY THOUSANDS” is used to indicate that literally an uncounted or indefinite number also believe that these new Christians must also keep God’s covenant given to the Israelite nation through Moses.

            These people are “ZEALOUS OF THE LAW”, burn or boil with zeal concerning the Law of Moses.  They are like those that Paul describes in his letter to Rome:


“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.”  Romans 10:1-2


v.21And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.”


            These over zealous Jews have been told some things about Paul, much of which, as in many other cases, half truths.  They are telling and apparently believe that Paul is teaching Jews not to circumcise their children, neither to keep the ceremonial law of Moses.  But such is not the case.  Paul did teach that the Gentile Christians were not bound by the circumcision covenant God made with Abraham’s descendants, but Paul also circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3).  Paul did not teach the Jews to abandon the ceremonial law of Moses, in fact one of the reasons he’s in Jerusalem is to complete a vow as we will see in verse 24.


v.22What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come.”


            This is a situation that is going to generate trouble.  The multitude of Jews will learn that Paul is in Jerusalem.  It would even be good for Paul to report to the Jerusalem congregation the same way he has reported to the elders, if that be possible.  Whatever happens they will know Paul is here and it will be Philippi and Thessalonica all over again.


v.23-24Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; 24Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.”


            The elders in their collective wisdom come up with a solution.  Paul had taken a vow in Cenchrea, there are four other men that had taken Nazarite vow and needed to complete the ceremonial requirement of the Mosaic Law that we find in Numbers 6.  Paul, and these four men, would go into the temple together and keep all of the ceremonial requirements.  Everyone would see this and thereby know that Paul respected the Law of Moses, just as did any other Jew.

            This situation has given commentators, teachers and preachers a lot of problems.  Is Paul compromising his teaching to Gentile Christians by making and keeping a vow after the Mosaic Law?  Is he compromising principle for the sake of unity, something that our denominationally minded brethren would love to have as an example.  I don’t know the answer except that I will not accept that an inspired apostle of God would compromise or forsake principle for unity or any other purpose.  H. Leo Boles offers the following:


“The law was given by Jehovah until Christ should come; Paul understood this.  He never thought that Christians had to keep the law in order to be saved; neither did he at any time so act as though the keeping of the law had anything to do with his salvation.  Paul said “AND UNTO THE JEWS I BECAME AS A JEW, THAT I MIGHT GAIN THE JEWS, TO THEM THAT ARE UNDER THE LAW, AS UNDER THE LAW, THAT I MIGHT GAIN THEM THAT ARE UNDER THE LAW,…  (I Corinthians 9:20ff).  “Since the law of Moses contained some ceremonial rites, these could be observed for the sake of peace and harmony without violating a principle.”


v.25As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.”


            The whole issue surrounding the requirements for Gentile Christians had been settled years before, when Paul, Barnabas and others came from Antioch.  We studied these instructions in Acts 15.  They were given by the apostles and elders under the direction of the Holy Spirit and they have not changed, nor will they ever change.


v.26Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.”


            So Paul accepts the advice of the Jerusalem elders, takes the other four men to the temple and they complete their vows.  There are offerings to be made, sacrifices that will have to be bought.  The wording of verse 24 that says that Paul was “TO BE AT CHARGES WITH THEM” would indicate that Paul is also paying the expenses of them completing their vows.  This would reinforce the idea in the minds of the Jewish Christians that Paul did indeed respect the Mosaic Law.


Read Acts 21:27-40


v.27And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,”


            The period of purification after completing a Nazarite vow was seven days, the seven days in this verse could either refer to this seven days of purification or the seven days following the Pentecost feast.  There were chambers or alcoves in the wall of the temple where those people fulfilling Nazarite vows lived during the seven days of their purification.  The Jews may have seen Paul there or somewhere else in the temple.  These were Jews from someplace in the province of Asia even Ephesus.  They recognized Paul.


v.28Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.”


            This display of hatred, half truths and outright lies reminds me very much of what we’re seeing on our televisions today in the Islamic part of the world.  They hated Paul and had already spread their venom against him.  They accuse him of speaking against the law of Moses and blaspheming the temple, the same charges made against Jesus (Mark 14:58) and Stephen (Acts 6:13).  To their accusations against Paul they added that he had brought Gentiles into the temple and “POLLUTED THIS HOLY PLACE.”  Luke tells us next were this assumption came from.


v.29  (For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)”


            They had seen him with Trophimus, an Ephesian Gentile.  So, having seen Paul in the temple with people they didn’t know; they made charges based upon the supposition that he had brought some of his Gentiles companions into the temple.  Their supposition was false but they didn’t really care, it served their purpose of bringing charges against Paul.


v.30And all the city was moved, and the people ran together: and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut.”


            Their accusations and demonstration of hatred had the same effect and taking a stick and hitting a hornet’s nest.  The entire city was stirred up, much the same as when Jesus was crucified.  The people ran to the temple, his accusers “DREW”; literally dragged, Paul out of the temple and the temple police shut the doors to keep anyone else from further disturbing the worship.


v.31  And as they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.”


            These Jews set about to kill Paul; probably by beating him to death in the crowd, but civil authority intervenes.

            History tells us that on a rock, or cliff area, on the northwest corner of the temple area, Herod the Great built a fortress, the castle of Antonia, that overlooked the temple and was connected to its outer courts.  During periods of feasts and festivals, Rome quartered a full “band” or about 1,000 soldiers in this fortress to provide troops to keep order.  This verse is referring to the chief captain of this band of soldiers.


v.32Who immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down unto them: and when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, they left beating of Paul.”


            The Roman chief captain takes centurions, more than one as each is over 100 soldiers and probably more than 200 soldiers and charges into the crowd.  The Jews, who were trying to beat Paul to death stop, left off their beating and got out of the way.  Rome is constantly required to deal with radical elements in Jerusalem and they don’t hesitate to wade into the tumult.  They are not at all tolerant of people who generate riots and create uproars in the city.  They are tasked with keeping these people under control.


v.33Then the chief captain came near, and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and demanded who he was, and what he had done.”


            The chief captain binds Paul with two chains and demands to know what has created this problem.  He thinks he knows who he’s got as we will see in a few verses but apparently he wants someone to confirm his suspicion


v.34And some cried one thing, some another, among the multitude: and when he could not know the certainty for the tumult, he commanded him to be carried into the castle.”


            These Jews attacked Paul as a target of opportunity, they have no plan, they have no purpose, other than to kill him, if possible, so they have no organized front nor can they answer the chief captain’s question.  They just add to the tumult and to the confusion.  Everyone is screaming something different; there is no leadership to speak for the crowd.  So the chief captain commands that Paul be carried to the castle, the same castle of Antonia that serves as a headquarters and barracks so he can conduct a proper investigation.


v.35-36And when he came upon the stairs, so it was, that he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the people. 36For the multitude of the people followed after, crying, Away with him.”


            So, as they come to the stairs that reached from the temple outer courtyard to the castle fortress Paul was still being carried by the soldiers, for his own protection.  The people follow after them screaming and crying “Away with him”.  We have a situation here now that is again very similar to that which occurred when Jesus brought before Pilate:


John 19:15  But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.”


v.37-38And as Paul was to be led into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, May I speak unto thee? Who said, Canst thou speak Greek? 38Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?”


            Paul wants to deal with this mob and help those have been caught up in the uproar generated by his enemies to understand the true situation.  So he requests to speak with the chief captain.  The chief captain is surprised.  First of all by the fact that Paul could speak Greek as did most educated and cultured peoples of this time.  He thinks he’s got one of the Jewish insurrectionists that troubled Jerusalem from time to time.  Josephus, in his history, tells about this Egyptian mentioned by the chief captain as one who lead a group of men called the “Assassins”.  These men would work the crowds in the city, used short swords or daggers and removed their enemies or their targets by mingling with the crowd, getting close enough to use their weapons and then disappear into the crowd again.  They were murderers, pure and simple and their leader sowed sedition against Rome.


v.39But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.”


            This chief captain is probably even more astonished to hear Paul’s answer to his question.  He tells him that he is a Jew, a citizen of Tarsus of Cilicia, a city that was prominent in the Roman Empire, known for its culture and it’s university and it’s dedication to the study of philosophy.  Philosophy, as we should remember from chapter 17 is the study of wisdom.  Then Paul asks to speak to the crowd.


v.40  And when he had given him licence, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying,”


            So when the chief captain gives Paul permission to speak, he gets the crowd to become quiet, probably no small achievement and speaks to them using the Hebrew language.  Chapter 22 provides us with the basics of his speech.