The Book of Acts (Chapter 21) (Part 33)
Paul had spent three years in the province of Asia and had been ministering to the assemblies including the assembly at Ephesus. He had been teaching and warning the believers and especially the leaders concerning the spiritual seduction that would come from false teachers from within their own ranks after he had left the region. Especially he singled out the elders at Ephesus and had requested them to come and see him at Miletus. After they had gathered around him just before he boarded the ship he reminded them of his ministry among them and his conduct and also regarding the false leaders that would spring up from within their own fellowship. Ephesus was a major city and the fellowship there would be one that became strong in evangelical work and activity and faithful to apostolic doctrine and a Bastian of Biblical truth. However, Ephesus did not last as a fellowship having lost its first love for the Lord Jesus, its candlestick was removed and even to this day it is now a small Islamic community. Possibly Paul already foresaw through the Holy Spirit what would happen to this fellowship in the future and did what he could to delay the inevitable. After praying with them he left Miletus. His destination was Jerusalem which was dear to his heart as it is to all Jewish people. And so we read…
(Vs. 1-4) “When we had parted from them and had set sail, we ran a straight course to Cos and the next day to Rhodes and from there to Patara; and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. When we came in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo. After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.”
The first century believers were familiar with the Holy Spirit and His ministry. After Paul and his companions had finally arrived at Tyre he sought out the disciples there and stayed with them for seven days. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit the believers at Tyre kept telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem. However, Paul knew already from the Holy Spirit what awaited him at Jerusalem and in every other place he would go to (Acts 20:22-23) He was bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem where prison and persecution awaited him. Sometimes a man of God with a definite call upon his life will have a mandate from the Holy Spirit to go to a certain place or to enter into a specific ministry that will be fraught with danger, imprisonment, persecution and even death yet he is compelled and bound by the Spirit to go anyway regardless of what will happen to him. At this time many sincere and wise brethren tried persistently to dissuade Paul from going knowing well the dangers attached to such an undertaking.
Most believers today will know about the five missionaries that went to the Auca Indians who were known to be fierce head hunters, to preach the gospel to them. Undoubtedly these five missionaries knew the risks but went anyway. After trading with the Auca Indians for several months they were speared and hacked to death with machetes. Two years later, the wife and sister of two of the murdered missionaries walked into the jungle to live with the same people who had murdered the men they loved. Years later Steve Saint the son of Nat Saint was reconciled with Mincaye the man who had killed Steve’s father. This martyrdom in 1956 has become the story of inspiration down through the years that have inspired many others to take up the torch of the Gospel to go into those places of deep spiritual darkness where the gospel has never been preached even at the risk of their very lives.
Paul had this determination to fulfil God’s plan no matter what the cost. Many well-meaning brethren out of their concern for his welfare tried to persuade him not to go but despite the emotional bonds there was a stronger bond with the Holy Spirit that compelled him to go anyway! Paul knew that this adversity was part of God’s predetermined plan for his life.
(Vs. 5) “When our days there were ended, we left and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until we were out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another.”
Once again we see Paul and the others kneeling in prayer together humbly committing their lives and Paul’s ministry to the LORD. By kneeling they were once again showing their utter dependence upon God’s strength and power to do what He had called them to do. Prayer was indispensable in the LORD’s work. Praying in the Holy Spirit will always evoke the power of the Holy Spirit and build up the faith of a believer especially when praying with others also praying in the Holy Spirit. As the Lord Jesus Himself said; “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven (having already been bound in heaven), and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (having already been loosed in heaven). Again, I tell you truly that if two of you on the earth agree (harmonize) about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three gather together in My name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:18-20). God has already planned things out for His Body as a corporate entity and this includes his plan for the lives and ministry of individual believers.
Firstly, we can only pray in faith for what has already been loosed or bound in heaven. In other words God will only answer prayer that is in line with His will and purposes. The Apostle John also wrote about this; “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:14-15). One of the ways we can be sure we are praying according to God’s will is when we offer up our prayers in line with the Word of God. Secondly, we must pray in harmony with others. The word “agree” has the idea of musical instruments all playing in unison and harmony together. Sometimes in corporate prayer the family affair as all of the children were also there.
(Vs.6-7) “Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again. When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day.”
As believers we should always take every opportunity to have fellowship with other believers. Those in fulltime missionary work will always appreciate the fellowship of the saints. Often those on the front line under constant fire will always place a high value on fellowship. Not only will they be able to strengthen others spiritually but they themselves will be spiritually nourished, encouraged and strengthened by those with whom they are having the fellowship. The Body of the Messiah, the faithful Church, is made up of born again believers in every nation. A believer can fly across the globe and find fellowship anywhere in the world where there are believers. The true Church has nothing to do with denominations. It is a living, spiritual temple of the Living God that is made up of living stones tightly packed together by the cornerstone and head of the Body our Lord Jesus Christ. His ‘glue’ that holds His faithful followers together in the blessed Holy Spirit. Wherever we may go in the world we will always be at home when we find believers who Love the Lord Jesus and love His Word the Bible.
(Vs.8-9) “On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses.”
Philip was the evangelist who had seen the Lord Jesus perform a mighty work through the Holy Spirit at Samaria. Also Philip was the one who led the Ethiopian Court Official to faith in the Lord Jesus. He was one of the original seven who had been in fellowship in Jerusalem who had been chosen by the Holy Spirit to hand out the bread to widows. He was a man who handled a very almost mundane task of handing out bread to squabbling widows but it was a work he had been called to in the fellowship by the Holy Spirit, a work he undoubtedly did with enthusiasm and vigour. However, he was a gifted evangelist and after he had been faithful in little he became faithful in much.
The blessed Holy Spirit had entrusted him at first with a very humble and ordinary task and then after he had proved himself faithful in little the LORD gave him a soul-winning ministry with outstanding results. Phillip was just as comfortable witnessing to one man in a desert as he was in preaching to thousands. Not only this, but Philip had four virgin daughters who were all prophetesses. Indeed God’s power was poured out upon men and women on the Day of Pentecost and in the New Testament women could prophecy and preach if they were under lawful authority such as a husband or Father or under the eldership.
While women were not to be pastors or elders or to teach with postitons of authority over men in fellowship, they were not barred from prophesying or teaching if “their heads were covered” by a husband or in the case of a virgin a father or the elders. This was not only the pattern in all the Churches but to be maintained in all the assemblies according to the Word of God given through the Holy Spirit to Paul. When women try to be teachers and pastors with authority over men in any local fellowship they are out of order and make themselves susceptible to spiritual attack like what happened in the Garden of Eden with Eve. For this reason Paul wrote like he did concerning women’s ministry in the Body of Messiah. It was not a ‘male thing’ or a ‘chauvinistic’ thing but a scriptural command from the Holy Spirit Himself.
(Vs.10-14) “As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!”
Prophets were around in the New Testament times. Their ministry was not exactly like the prophets in the Old Testament who wrote the Spirit-breathed Word of God, the Old Testament. The prophet in the New Testament was primarily a “forth teller” rather than one who predicted the future although a prophet would also be able to do this when moved by the blessed Holy Spirit to do so. In the Old Testament often a prophet would do a similar thing as Agabus did as an outward sign of something deeper and spiritual and in relation to a future event. Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah for example did similar things when predicting future events. One case for example is when Jeremiah was commanded to bury his girdle by the river Euphrates, to mark out the captivity of the Jews (Jeremiah 13:4). Other examples are also found in scripture (Jeremiah 27:2; 27:3; 28:4) (Isaiah 20:1-6) (Ezekiel 4:1-17; 12:1-28).
Agabus came down from Judea to deliver the word of the LORD to Paul. The office of a prophet was at times a mobile ministry even though for the most part they ministered in the local assemblies (Acts 13:1-3). It was through the local prophets and teachers at Antioch that the Holy Spirit sent out Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. Agabus then took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” The Holy Spirit was confirming for the third time that Paul was to go to Jerusalem and there to suffer persecution and prison if necessary. Once again Paul’s companions as well as the local believers tried to persuade Paul not to go.
Sometimes when a man is being called to a hazardous and difficult ministry his brethren will try to dissuade him from going. No one likes the idea of persecution; it is not a natural thing to desire suffering. Even our Lord Jesus asked His Father in heaven to take away the cup of suffering, degradation and humiliation he had to drink because He was human yet we find Him submitting to His Fathers will because of the joy He had before Him of seeing many people becoming sons and daughters of God in the future. When the Lord Jesus told Peter about the manner in which he would glorify God through martyrdom He also said that Peter would stretch forth his hands (crucifixion) and go to a place where he did not particularly want to go.
Paul had understood from the outset that his ministry would be accompanied by prison, beatings, suffering and persecution and the Holy Spirit had already prepared Paul to handle things. And so we see how he replied to his companions and to the fellowship. What made it harder for this apostle was when he saw their tears which moved him greatly but never the less his resolve was there. Like the Lord Jesus had done years before Paul, “set his face like a flint towards Jerusalem!” He had already prepared himself to be imprisoned and if necessary to die for the name of the Lord Jesus. This determined spirit was common among the first century believers and will be again among the last century believers but it will be in that time when the faithful Body of Messiah faces its hour of crucifixion. Already it has started! No manner of persuasion as heartbreaking as it must have been would deter this apostle from his path of faithfulness to the Lord Jesus. At the end they all submitted themselves to the will of God in this matter.
(Vs.15-19) “After these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge. After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.”
Paul and his companions started on their way up to Jerusalem. In scripture people never went down to Jerusalem but always up to Jerusalem. They always went up because Jerusalem is the City where God has chosen to put His name forever and in shadow it represents the New Jerusalem which is in heaven. When Paul and his companions arrived at Jerusalem they were received gladly by the brothers. Paul was an apostle who had been directly commissioned by the Lord Jesus Himself through a divine visitation. However, Paul was also accountable to the Body of Messiah. James was the presiding Bishop at Jerusalem. He, and not Peter, was the first among equals. The other apostles and elders looked to James for oversight of the leadership. When Paul met James and the elders he began to relate to them how God had worked among the Gentiles. It was important for the Jewish believers in Jerusalem to understand what God was doing among the Gentiles. Undoubtedly Paul’s fame among the saved Jews had preceded him.
(Vs.20-24) “And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law.”
When evangelizing Jewish people it is important for them to understand that the good news concerning the Lord Jesus does not do away with the Jewish identity as a people but that in Him they can be completed as a Jew. Many Jewish people even today believe that if they come to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus that they will lose their Jewish identity in that being now Christians they are no longer Jewish. This is a misunderstanding fostered by those in Christendom who promote replacement theology in that they teach that when a Jewish person becomes a Christian that they are no longer Jewish spiritually. Of course the Bible does not teach this.
While all of the sacrificial, ceremonial and moral requirements of the Law have been completely fulfilled in the Lord Jesus there are some feast days and other Jewish Biblical traditions that saved Jews like to keep. The moral law of God of course is written on the hearts and minds of every true believer in the Lord Jesus whether they are ethnically Jewish or not. All who are circumcised in heart by the Holy Spirit are truly Jewish (Romans 2:28-29). In saying this in no way does away with a Jewish person’s ethnic identity because Salvation is of the Jews.
When a Jewish person gets saved they become a completed Jew and it is more important that they own their own Jewish ethnicity as a witness to their fellow Jews. Because the law has been completely fulfilled in the Lord Jesus they do not have to keep the laws and ceremonies but if they feel they should keep some of them as a witness to their unsaved Jewish brethren then they should. However, they must not see keeping certain traditions and feasts days as mandatory for salvation even for Gentiles who believe.
Many Jewish people, when they are first saved, struggle with the fact that their salvation requires from them repentance and faith and that keeping Mosaic law as well is part and parcel of that salvation. However, no one can ever be saved by keeping the law because no one can keep it anyway. The Lord Jesus as fully man as well as fully God kept the law on our behalf and as man’s representative before God and when we repent and believe and receive the Holy Spirit we receive the power to walk in all of the commandments of God which is summed up in loving God and our neighbour (Mark 12:29:31) (Galatians 5:14) (Romans 13:9-10).
Now the leaders at Jerusalem were aware that many saved Jews who were still keeping certain Mosaic ceremonies and feast as part of their commitment to their Messiah were struggling with the fact that Gentile believers were not required to keep the ceremonial laws of Mosaic Judaism and that Paul had been telling Jewish believers in Jesus that they did not need to do these things to be saved. To diffuse the situation the leaders at Jerusalem suggested to Paul that he should join four Jewish believers who were under a vow and shave his head along with them as a witness to the Jews that he was also Torah compliant. As an example Paul was free to eat pork if he wanted but if he knew it would cause his Jewish brethren in Christ to falter in their faith then he would abstain from eating it for their sake and for the sake of his witness to them.
Once they got over the fact that Paul was not preaching against Moses and the Law then they would be easier to convince that salvation was through faith in Jesus alone and not by keeping Mosaic Law. When Paul later wrote to the Galatians believers he had to take a tough line with certain Jews who were teaching that you had to be circumcised to be truly saved and were seeking to bring Jews and Gentiles under this requirement. Of course in their case Paul became very agitated because they were trying to put back in place a religious legalism that Paul had been saved out of and that insisting on circumcision these ‘legalist’ were in reality denying the sufficiency of the atoning work fully completed by the Lord Jesus at the cross. The apostles and elders at Jerusalem had already been told by the Holy Spirit what God required of the Gentile converts. And so we read…
(Vs.25-26) “But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.”
Having explained to Paul what the Holy Spirit had said about God’s requirements for Gentile believers he joined the fore Jewish men in their purification ceremony in the Temple for the seven day period required in the Law of Moses. Now unsaved religious people always have a problem with those who are saved because those saved preach a faith that produces works while the religious mindset says you have to do works to be saved. Of course Paul wrote later write to Ephesus telling them that it is by grace we are saved through faith and that not of ourselves but that it is a gift of God and not by works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). At the end of the seven days certain religious Jewish leaders who were obviously not saved saw Paul in the temple and stirred up their fellow Jews against Paul. As always the spirit of religious legalism opposes the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus that frees a believer from falling into the snare of religious legalism. And so we read…
Vs.27-29 “When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.”
Satan loves religion. He gets more people into hell with religion that with all of the other sins of man combined. His most famous tactic, to true Bible believers who know how he works, is to get religious people to persecute and attack believers. He has been doing this all the way back to Cain and Abel. Remember that Cain offered up to God the works of his own hands which was the fruit from the ground but the ground itself was cursed. Cain was offering up to God his own works and effort as an offering to make him right with God. His offering was rejected because it was based on his own works and not on the basis of faith. On the other hand Abel Knew he was a sinner and offered up to God the first of his flock as a substitutionary sacrifice for his sin and God accepted his sacrifice. Abel was a saved man but Cain was not. They both believed in the same God.
One tried to approach God on the basis of his own works whereas the other one approached God on the basis of faith in a substitutionary sacrifice on his behalf. In jealousy Cain deliberately killed Abel. This is the first Biblical account of one with a religious legalistic spirit persecuting one who possessed the spirit of faith. This same kind of spirit, that Satan used to stir up people against the prophets and against the Lord Jesus and against His followers, was now stirring up the religious prejudice of the crowds. Furthermore, they were not only accusing Paul of teaching against the Law of Moses and Torah but were also accusing Paul of bringing a Gentile into the Temple which of course was not true either but fabricated.
Sadly, today we see this religious spirit rampant in the professing Christian Church where born again, Bible believing Christians are increasingly marginalized by the religious elite and those who listen to them. The nearer we get to the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus the more apostasy there will be in Christendom. The prophets, the Lord Jesus and the apostles all wrote about this especially in the last days at the end of this age. So let’s continue reading…
(Vs.30-32) “Then all the city was provoked, and the people rushed together, and taking hold of Paul they dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. While they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. At once he took along some soldiers and centurions and ran down to them; and when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.”
They shut the doors of the Temple. This is the typical religious spirit. They most probably thought they were doing God a service. Religious zeal blinds people to genuine spiritual reality and fills them with a zeal that in the end results in violence and bloodshed. History has proved this time and time again. In relation to the ‘religious’ spirit in Christendom many wars have been fought among Catholics with Catholics, Protestants with Catholics and Protestants with Protestants. These religious wars never exhibit the Spirit of the Lord Jesus but a kind of religious prejudice resulting in division, death, confusion and mayhem. At the end no one really wins but leaves an interlude for a time but down the track perpetrates future religious aggression.
God hates religion! There was only one God ordained religion, to use that word, and that was Mosaic Judaism which at its core was based on loving God and loving others. Now word reached the Roman Tribune in the fortress Antonia that there was a disturbance in the city just outside of the Temple grounds and that he was also told that the people of Jerusalem were in an uproar. The Tribune was responsible to keep order and so he took with him some soldiers and Centurions. God was still in control and He was using this Roman commander to save Paul from being killed by the mob. Sometimes the LORD will use unsaved and secular people to look after His own people when they are in trouble. One thing is for sure it did not matter how many attempts were made and undoubtedly would be made to kill Paul in the future, no one could take his life until God was ready to bring him home to Himself.
This is true for all who seek to serve the Lord and remain faithful to His will for their lives. Paul’s time was not yet but when it did come he was ready and satisfied that he had completed the race God had given him. If we want to walk in all of God’s will then we will be as strong as God’s will. Job said; “I know that You can do all things and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” This was true for faithful Job, it was true for Paul and ii is equally true for every genuine born again child of God whose desires is to do the will of God. Well God rescued Paul once again.
(Vs.33-36) “Then the commander came up and took hold of him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; and he began asking who he was and what he had done. But among the crowd some were shouting one thing and some another, and when he could not find out the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. When he got to the stairs, he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob; for the multitude of the people kept following them, shouting, “Away with him!”
At first the Commander thought Paul was the instigator of the riot. The unregenerate mind will never see things from a spiritual perspective. The Commander saw only a civil riot at hand but spiritually speaking this was a riot instigated by Satan. Paul undoubtedly knew it. He had already experienced this kind of adverse religious aggression in the past from the same religious spirit inspired by Satan against the truth of God’s Word concerning the Lord Jesus. With all of the shouting the Roman Commander could not work out what was happening. He most probably was quite familiar with riots of this sort in Jerusalem especially with the Zealots who often attacked and murdered Roman soldiers when they could. The Tribune was taking no changes. In all of this, God knew what He was doing and was still in control of everything. As scripture says; “The LORD sits enthroned above (over) the flood.” No matter what things look like to us down here God sees the bigger picture and knows the end and has planned for it. Nothing takes the LORD by surprise. In His eternal knowledge He has already anticipated Satan’s every move and already has a plan in place to deal with him. God never has a contingency plan!
(Vs.37-38) “As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, “May I say something to you?” And he *said, “Do you know Greek? Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?”
The Roman Tribune thought that Paul might be the Egyptian who led a revolt against Rome. Josephus mentioned this man in his writings but did not name him. An Egyptian, whose name is not known, pretended to be a prophet, and told his followers that the walls of Jerusalem would fall down before them, if they would assist him in making an attack on the city. He had enough clout to raise a rabble of thousands of men at the beginning of his revolt against Rome, and with these advanced as far as the Mount of Olives but many of his followers did not continue with him; but Felix, the Roman governor, came suddenly upon him, with a large body of Roman troops, both infantry and cavalry: the mob was speedily dispersed, four hundred killed, two hundred taken prisoners, and the Egyptian himself, with some of his most faithful friends, escaped; of whom no account was ever afterwards heard. The Roman Tribune though Paul might be that Egyptian seeing he had never been caught.
(Vs.39) “But Paul said, “I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.” When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, saying…”
Paul had an advantage in that he was from Tarsus, a city that in some measure was a rival to Rome and Athens and more so because the service Tarsus as a city had served Rome. Julius Caesar had endowed the people of Tarsus with all the rights and privileges of Roman citizenship. Paul was also a Roman Citizen which he used to his advantage when necessary. The Tribune of course was subject to Roman law himself and could not refuse Paul’s request. Paul was about to give his personal testimony. On this occasion it was the most effective thing he could do to let the people know that he was truly Jewish, was Torah compliant and honoured Moses and the prophets. He was about to put forward his defence. There is nothing like a personal testimony to arrest people’s attention and as we will see in the next study how Paul gave a first- hand account of his encounter with his Messiah our Lord Jesus Christ.