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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Acts 21

 

 

Verses 1-40

From this point onwards there is no record of the work of God spreading as it had previously through Paul's energetic ministry. In fact, we read of no conversions until Chapter 28:24, though we may be sure there were other cases; but Paul himself becomes confined, as his work does too, as a result of his purpose to go to Jerusalem in spite of being warned by God not to go. We may fully recognize his consuming love toward his people Israel, and his earnest desire to see them turned to the Lord. It was this that moved him mightily in going to Jerusalem. However, it is a mistake to trust our devotion to God and to the interests of His people, no matter how deep this may be: we can trust only the Word of God for guidance, as for everything else.

Leaving Miletus they came with a straight course to Coos, then to Rhodes and Patara. Changing ships, they sail to Phenicia, pass by Cyprus to Syria, landing at Tyre. God put no hindrances in the way on their journey. Indeed, for a man taught of God, as Paul was, the Word of God should have been enough. Smooth circumstances could not change this. Finding disciples at Tyre, however, they remain seven days. Evidently these had not known Paul before, which makes the more unusually striking their telling him, through the Spirit of God, that he should not go to Jerusalem. This is so clear and unequivocal that we can only marvel that the apostle paid no attention to it. Having his mind fully made up, it seems he would allow nothing to change it.

The affections of the disciples here were very real. They all, (including women and children) accompanied Paul and his companions out of the city to the shore where the boat was docked. There they kneeled down on the shore and prayed. The witness of the impending imprisonment and sufferings of Paul produced a serious effect on all the company. Many details are spoken of in the history that appeal to human interest. While the one company boarded the ship, the other returned home again.

Ptolmais was the end of the journey by ship. Here they remained with the brethren only one day, then proceeded by foot to Caesarea, not far distant. Philip the evangelist had come there after the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:40): now this was evidently his home. His house was large enough to accommodate all of

Paul's company, and they remained with him for many days. Though nothing more is said of Philip's work, he was still called "the evangelist," and he had four daughters who prophesied, a lovely commendation. Of course it is not at all implied that they were public speakers, for prophesying may certainly be done in private circumstances. This is a valuable gift for sisters to cultivate.

Observe that Paul had much time on this journey to consider whether he actually ought to go to Jerusalem. Now we read of a brother, a prophet named Agabus coming from Judea to Caesarea. Binding his own hands and feet with Paul's girdle, he prophesied that in such a way the owner of the girdle would be bound by the Jews and delivered to the Gentiles. This is just what happened to the Lord Jesus, and no doubt Paul thought of this, not in such a way as to dissuade him from going, but the opposite. He would apparently not seek to avoid being treated in the same way as was his Lord. Though both his friends with him and the saints of Caesarea entreated him not to go, he told them he was prepared, not only to be taken prisoner, but the die at Jerusalem. Of course it was there that the Lord Jesus had died . But none of these prophecies had mentioned death for Paul. Yet he had been plainly told, through the Spirit of God, that he should not go up to Jerusalem (v.4). The saints then say nothing more but to commit the matter to the will of the Lord.

The company is enlarged on this last leg of the journey with disciples from Casesarea attending them, and an early disciple, Mnason of Cyprus, who evidently had a home at Jerusalem, where he entertained Paul and his company. Arriving at Jerusalem, they were received gladly by the brethren, at least those whom they first met. Paul then loses no time in meeting with James and the elders, informing them of the great work God had performed among the Gentiles by his ministry. This made no little impression and they glorified God for it.

Though James and the elders at Jerusalem rejoiced for the work God had done among the Gentiles, yet they felt it important that Paul should clarify a matter that was causing thousands of believing Jews some serious concern. They had heard that Paul was teaching Jews among the Gentile nations to forsake Moses by no longer circumcising their children and by giving up the ritualistic customs of the law. We may be sure that Paul did not object to the fact of Jewish children being circumcised, for he himself had circumcised Timothy because his mother was Jewish (Acts 26:1-3); but he did teach that the mere outward fact of circumcision gives one no spiritual advantage (Cf.Romans 2:25-29). On the other hand, his letter to the Hebrews is clear enough that Christian Jews ought to leave the camp of Judaism and go forth to the Lord Jesus alone (Hebrews 13:12-13).

James and the elders, however, do not question Paul about this, but assume that his thoughts are not so different from theirs. They urge him to identify himself with four men who were under a vow, likely the vow of Nazariteship (Numbers 6:1-21), at the conclusion of which the participant was to shave his head, then offerings were to be made for him. Of course Paul knew that the Lord Jesus had done away with such vows (Matthew 5:33-37) in introducing the grace of God to a condemned world, but he probably applied the principle here, "unto the Jews I became as a Jew." In this case, however, it seems that principle is carried a little too far; but he was in a predicament in which he probably saw no other way out. When we are in a wrong place we shall find ourselves virtually bound to do the wrong thing. The elders expected this to prove that Paul was not guilty of the charges laid against him, and that he himself kept the law of Moses.

They confirmed what they had agreed before as to the Gentile converts, that they were not expected to observe any such things, though urged to keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood and from fornication. It is of interest that they evidently saw no inconsistency in requiring Jews to do what Gentiles were not asked to do. They were very slow to give up the Judaistic system of things.

With the four men then Paul entered the temple, submitting to the ceremonial purification in view of an offering being offered for all of them. Certainly Paul knew better than this as his epistle to the Hebrews declares plainly in Chapter 10:12-18, but no doubt by this means he hoped to gain the ear of the Jews.

This was of no avail, for Jews from Asia, recognizing him, caught him and cried out to inform the people that this was the man who was teaching against Israel, the law and the temple. They added that he had brought a Greek into the temple, which was only an assumption since they seen him in the city with Trophimus, an Ephesian.

The uproar they caused, however, defeated their own purpose. They might have killed him more easily in a more covert way, but the noise drew the attention of the Roman captain of the band, who quickly intervened, taking centurions and soldiers with him, so that he rescued Paul from being beaten to death. Taking him prisoner, he demanded who he was and what he had done. Paul had no opportunity of answering this, for a multitude of voices answered from the crowd, only leaving the matter in confusion.

When the captain gave orders that Paul should be taken into the castle, the soldiers had to carry him up the stairs because of the violence of the crowd in demanding his death. The faith of Paul is seen remarkably here, however, when he asks permission to speak to the captain with the desire of addressing the people. The captain was surprised that he could speak Greek, for he had already supposed that he must be a terrorist, and likely a specific one -- an Egyptian -- who had before raised an uproar, attracting a following of four thousand men who were murderers. He could not understand such a tumult over one who was not a rabble rouser.

Paul corrected this by giving his Jewish background and as born in Tarsus of Cilicia; then asked permission to speak to the people. When the crowd was in such a state of excited hostility, it seems amazing that Paul would desire to speak to them. Yet the captain allowed him to do so. God miraculously quieted the crowd as Paul stood and beckoned with his hand at the top of the stairs.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Acts 21:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/acts-21.html. 1897-1910.

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