- Acts 21:17-23:35
When Paul arrived in Jerusalem, in the spring of 58 A.D., he was greeted warmly. The following day he went to see James, the brother of Jesus, and the elders. Paul reported to them all of the things GOD had done among the Gentiles through their ministry. They praised GOD at this news. Then they told Paul of a potential problem they were facing among the Jewish Christians there in Jerusalem.
Thousands of Jews had believed in Jesus, and they heard that Paul was teaching the Jews who lived among the Gentiles that they no longer needed to keep the customs of the Law of Moses. So James and the elders had come up with a plan. They asked Paul to take four men who had made a vow and join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so they could have their heads shaved. That way people would realize there was no truth to the rumors about Paul. He agreed and did as they suggested.
The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them and, when he went to the temple to give notice of the date when their days of purification would end, certain Jews from the Asian province saw Paul and stirred up a riot against him. They dragged Paul from the temple and immediately the gates were shut. The people were beating Paul and trying to kill him. Thankfully, the Roman commander heard about the riot and immediately took soldiers and ran down to the crowd and arrested Paul.
The commander couldn’t get a consistent answer as to what Paul had done to deserve this behavior, so he ordered Paul be taken to the barracks. When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great that the soldiers had to carry him. Paul asked the commander to speak to the crowd, and he agreed. Paul then spoke to the people in Aramaic (the language the Jews adopted during their days in captivity in Babylon). When they heard him speaking in Aramaic, they got very quiet.
Paul recounted his early days as a Pharisee, supporting the stoning of Stephen, and how Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. He told of his salvation—how Ananias told him to arise and be baptized, washing away his sins. He told how he returned to Jerusalem and how Jesus appeared to him in a vision while he was praying at the temple and told him to flee Jerusalem because Jesus was sending him to the Gentiles.
Hearing this about GOD’s acceptance of the Gentiles, the crowd started yelling and throwing their cloaks and flinging dust in the air. The commander ordered Paul taken in the barracks. The commander, not knowing the Aramaic language, didn’t know what Paul said that caused the people to get so angry, and he ordered Paul to be flogged (beaten with whips). Paul then revealed he was a Roman citizen, which made them withdraw immediately, for no Roman citizen was to be chained, beaten or punished without a trial. That night, Jesus appeared to Paul and told him to take courage because he would testify of Jesus in Rome as he had in Jerusalem.
The next day, the commander wanted to find out what Paul was being accused of, so he took Paul before the Jewish high court (Sanhedrin). Paul, recognizing an opportunity, caused a division between the Sanhedrin by saying that he was accused of his hope in the resurrection of the dead. The Pharisees even started defending Paul because they believed in the resurrection whereas the Sadducees didn’t. The commander became afraid for Paul because of how violent the argument became, so he ordered Paul be taken back to the barracks.
The next morning, over 40 Jews plotted to kill Paul. Thankfully, Paul’s nephew heard about it and went to warn Paul. Paul told him to tell the Roman commander, which he did. The commander then wrote a letter to the Governor, Felix, and had 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen to escort Paul by night out of the city to the governor at Caesarea. Felix read the letter and put Paul in Herod’s palace until his accusers arrived.