FOLLOWING JESUS INTO THE FRONT LINES OF SPIRITUAL WARFARE CAN BE EXTREMELY DANGEROUS
Sometimes danger cannot be avoided. We all have a strong drive towards self-preservation; but when it comes to the gospel ministry, our loyalty to following Jesus must take priority over our natural love of safety and security. Paul knew that the Spirit was calling him to minister in Jerusalem. He also was well aware of the dangers that would face him there. In fact, his conversion and calling to his special apostolic Gentile ministry way back in Acts 9 included the prophecy of how much he must suffer for the cause of Christ. That is why he would not be deterred from his mission. His journey to Jerusalem parallels the determined mindset of the Lord Jesus who fully drank the dregs of the bitter cup His Father had ordained for Him – submitting even to death on the cross.
Much can be learned in this chapter about the complexity of decision making and determining the will of God.
A lot of debate around Paul’s decisions in this chapter:
– Was he right or wrong to press on to go to Jerusalem despite the numerous warnings and counsel to the contrary?
– Was he right or wrong to agree to the plan to try to appease the Jewish believers who were still zealous for the Law by participating in the ceremonial exercise described here?
FOLLOWING JESUS INTO THE FRONT LINES OF SPIRITUAL WARFARE CAN BE EXTREMELY DANGEROUS
I. (:1-7) WARNING DELIVERED BY DISCIPLES ALONG THE JOURNEY
A. (:1-3) Extensive Journey to Tyre (with stops along the way) – Stops at Cos / Rhodes / Patara / Phoenicia – Cyprus / Syria – Tyre
“And when it came about that 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. And when we had come 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.”
Joseph Alexander: “parted from them” – means more than mere departure, namely painful and reluctant separation
Jack Arnold: The word “departed” is a very affectionate word and means “to tear oneself away.” Paul and the others had such a deep love for the elders at Ephesus that to leave was a heart-rending experience.
Missionary journeys take one out of their comfort zone – enduring hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ; new adventures every day; new relationships every day; this was not a pleasure cruise; lots of danger and uncertainty; determined to reach his destination
B. (:4-7) Emotional Journey to Ptolemais – Repeated Warnings and Farewells/Final Greetings
“And after looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. And when it came about that our days there were ended, we departed and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until we were out of the city. And after kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again. And when we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day.”
Constable: There is ample evidence in the text that Paul was not disobedient to God in going on to Jerusalem (cf. Acts 9:16; Acts 19:21; Acts 20:22-24; Acts 21:14; Acts 23:1; Acts 23:11).
Important to understand that the Holy Spirit was not saying “Paul should not go to Jerusalem.” But some of the disciples were interpreting what the Holy Spirit was saying about the dangers that awaited Paul in Jerusalem as a message not to go. So they were adding a “the Lord has shown me” prefix to their own mix of bias and personal interpretation regarding the revelation from the Spirit.
Frank Allen: They evidently thought that God would be honored more by Paul’s liberty, but it was the plan of God that He should be honored by Paul’s prolonged imprisonment. ..
We have seen how he stopped at Troas seven days, near Ephesus a few days, at Ptolemais one day and at Caesarea several days. His desire was to exhort the disciples and pray with and for them in every place. Paul was not longing for an opportunity to view and study the noted places of art, or the historic sights which might be seen as he passed from city to city. He was not seeking vacation days or places of entertainment. He might have found strong reasons for needing a rest; he might have enjoyed many a feast and social hour among friends and men of distinction in the cities which he visited and revisited. He had one great goal and he kept that clearly in mind. He wanted to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
II. (:8-14) WARNING DELIVERED BY AGABUS AT CAESAREA
A. (:8-9) Offer of Hospitality at the Home of Philip the Evangelist Accepted
“And on the next day we departed 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.”
This is not Philip the apostle; but a believer who had been driven out of Jerusalem as a result of the early persecution (maybe even at the hand of Saul) and came to minister here (remember him as one of the seven selected as deacons in Acts 6 (sometimes we demean the office of deacon – Acts 8:5); no hard feelings against Paul – able to forgive him and minister alongside him now; he was especially gifted as an evangelist; not wringing his hands because his daughters weren’t married; family committed to ministry; importance of prophecy in early church before they had the NT
Did these daughters provide some prophetic insight to Paul that is not recorded? They would not have been involved in public teaching in the church but rather private prophesying so they probably were issuing warnings to Paul about what lay ahead for him in Jerusalem; Justification of women involved in role of prophesying from Acts 2:17 quoting Joel prophecy about end times (of course we are already in the end times)
B. (:10-11) Object Lesson Administered by Agabus
“And as we were staying there for some days, a certain 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.’”
Jack Arnold: Agabus was a true prophet for back in Acts 11, he had rightly predicted the famine of A.D. 46.
Seems that Agabus was appointed often to bring bad news!
C. (:12-14) Opposition Regarding Jerusalem Trip Rebuked by Paul
1. (:12) Resistance by the Local Residents
“And when we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.”
It is possible for us to let our own emotions and desires interfere with God’s master plan
Jack Arnold: When Martin Luther was on his way to face the diet of Worms where he was sure to conflict with religious authorities and possibly be imprisoned or put to death, his dear friend tried to dissuade him. He answered, “If there were more devils in Worms than tiles on the roofs, still, I would go.”
2. (:13) Resolve of Paul
“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.’”
Paul was not unmoved by their arguments and by the bond of fellowship … but served a greater Master
3. (:14) Resignation by the Disciples
“And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done!’”
Mindset: not my will by Thine
III. (:15-26) ARRIVAL AT JERUSALEM AND ATTEMPTS TO AVOID OFFENSE
A. (:15-20a) Arrival at Jerusalem
1. (:15-16) Relationship for Hosting
“And after these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. And 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.”
2. (:17) Reception at Jerusalem
“And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.”
Bringing a substantial gift from the Gentile churches – but that is not the emphasis in how warmly he was received; all about fellowship in the gospel
Constable quoting Ladd: The geographical extension of the church was not Luke’s main interest; it was rather the movement of redemptive history from the Jews to the Gentiles. In keeping with this purpose, Luke devotes considerable space to the record of Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem, not because the visit was important in itself, but because it showed the final rejection of the Gospel by Jerusalem.”
3. (:18-20a) Report Delivered Regarding Successful Ministry to the Gentiles
“And now the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. And after he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it they began glorifying God;”
Reminds us of how Paul reported back to the church at Antioch; very important that people receive details of God’s work; they had been devoting themselves to prayer with very specific concerns and petitions
Particular ministry to the Gentiles
B. (:20b-26) Attempts to Avoid Offense
1. (:20b-22) False Charge
a. Mingling of Loyalty to Christ and Loyalty to OT Practices
“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;’”
Concerned to try to protect Paul from unnecessary attack
b. Misrepresentation Creating Conflict
“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.”
Lot of false teachers running rampant spreading lies about the Apostle Paul and trying to undermine his leadership and ministry
Constable: From here to the end of Acts Paul argued before various audiences that he was a loyal Jew and that his mission to the Gentiles was not anti-Jewish. He insisted that he did not oppose the Jews or their keeping of the Mosaic Law. The elders’ plan aimed to prove to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, and to all the Jews there, that Paul had not abandoned the customs of the Jews. He had, of course, ceased to believe and teach that salvation came by obeying the Mosaic Law. He was no longer a Jew in religion, but he was still a racial Jew and as such observed Jewish cultural practices (e.g, a ritual of purification for those who came from foreign, unclean lands; cf. Numbers 19:12). Many commentators believed the vow in view here was a Nazarite vow, but that vow could not be taken for less than 30 days.
The four men in question had taken a temporary vow, as Paul had done earlier (Acts 18:18). At the end of the vow each of them had to bring an offering to the temple (cf. Numbers 6:14-15). The elders suggested that Paul go with them to the temple, purify himself with them for temple worship, and show his support of the Jewish custom by paying for their offerings. Paul could do this . . . without compromising his convictions since the Jews did not regard taking a vow as essential for acceptance by God. It was strictly voluntary. They regarded circumcision, on the other hand, as essential. However, Paul did not even object to circumcision as a custom (Acts 16:3), though he did object to it as a rite essential for God’s acceptance (Galatians 2).
c. Mystery of How to Respond
“What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.”
We cannot just do nothing; we need to make some attempt to address the opposition that we know will quickly spring up and gain momentum
2. (:23-25) Recommended Course of Action
a. (:23-24) Dealing with the Suspicious Jewish Believers
“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 in order 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.”
Joseph Alexander: They advise him to conciliate these zealots by an act of ceremonial conformity, while at the same time they reiterate the previous decision as to Gentile converts.
William Barclay: The leaders saw a way in which Paul could guarantee the orthodoxy of his own conduct. Four men were in the middle of observing the Nazarite vow. This was a vow taken in gratitude for some special blessing from the hand of God. It involved abstention from meat and wine for thirty days, during which the hair had to be allowed to grow. It seems that sometimes at least the last seven days had to be spent entirely in the Temple courts. At the end certain offerings had to be brought–a year old lamb for a sin-offering, a ram for a peace offering, a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mingled with oil and a meat offering and a drink offering. Finally, the hair had to be shorn and burned on the altar with the sacrifice. It is obvious that this was a costly business. Work had to be given up and all the elements of the sacrifice had to be bought. It was quite beyond the resources of many who would have wished to undertake it. So it was considered an act of piety for some wealthier person to defray the expenses of someone taking the vow. That was what Paul was asked to do in the case of these four men and he consented. By so doing he could demonstrate so that all could see it that he was himself an observer of the Law.
b. (:25) Dealing with the Suspicious Gentile Believers
“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.”
No problem dealing with the Gentile community; the edicts of the Council at Antioch had been consistently adhered to by Paul and his companion ministers
3. (:26) Expedient Completion of the Plan
“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.”
This was all about legitimate expediency on the part of Paul; not compromising Christian convictions or exposing the gospel message to charges of adulteration
IV. (:27-40) ATTACK AGAINST PAUL BY VIOLENT MOB
A. (:27-30) Antagonism Aroused
1. (:27-28) Slander
“And when the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the multitude 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.’”
This plan seemed to work well for the first few days … but outsider Jews came into the area intent on exposing Paul as anti-Jew and anti-Law and anti-temple and anti-Jerusalem (surprising given the extreme effort Paul had expended to come to minister in Jerusalem)
Constable: The Jews from Asia, possibly from Ephesus, were obviously unbelievers. They charged Paul with the same kind of crimes the unbelieving Jews had accused Stephen of committing (Acts 6:11; Acts 6:13-14).
2. (:29) Speculation – Trumped up Charge
“For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.”
Frank Allen: The Jewish rule was written and printed before the temple that “No man of alien race is to enter within the balustrade and fence that goes round the temple. If anyone is taken in the act, let him know that he has himself to blame for the penalty of death that follows.” Some of the envious Jews, who had followed Paul from Asia, saw Trophimus of Ephesus with Paul and they imagined that he had taken him, though a Greek, into the temple.
3. (:30) Seizure
“And all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together; and taking hold of Paul, they dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut.”
No due process here; no reasonable dialogue or investigation into the charges
B. (:31-40) Attack Restrained
1. (:31-32) Confusion Ramping Up – Stopping the Beating
“And while they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. And 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.”
If God had not directed this commander and his soldier to rush to the scene, Paul would have been killed; sounds like a severe beating
2. (:33-36) Chaos Raging – Seeking Answers
a. (:33-34) Transferred to the Safety of the Barracks for Further Interrogation
“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 on account of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks.”
Frank Allen: Paul was not only rescued from the mob but he was protected and finally transported by the Roman government to the very place where he had longed to go, to Rome. The people thought that Paul’s plans were being defeated, and Paul was likely tempted to so believe at that time. But Paul left all his plans with God, was ready to submit to His will, and in the end he found that in this, as in other things, God’s plan was best
b. (:35-36) Protected from the Angry Mob by the Soldiers – Riot Frenzy
“And when he got to the stairs, it so happened that he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob; for the multitude of the people kept following behind, crying out, ‘Away with him!’”
Echoing the chant directed against Jesus = “Crucify Him”
3. (:37-40) Citizen Reasoning – Speaking in Defense
“And 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?’ 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.’ And 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,”
Frank Allen: Mistaken Identity — An Egyptian who had claimed to be the Messiah had led a rough band of about four thousand men out into the wilderness and there had gathered about him about thirty thousand with the aid of whom he had threatened the Roman garrison in Jerusalem. The band was defeated and dispersed but their leader had escaped and it was feared that he might appear again. Moreover, the cruel conduct of Felix, who was the Roman procurator at this time, had driven the Jews almost to the point of insurrection. As a consequence the Roman captain, Lysias, his officers and men, were keeping a vigilant guard, on this occasion, when there were many thousands of Jews in and about Jerusalem, lest trouble should again arise. From the tower of Antonia at the northwest corner of the temple, and overlooking the place of worship, the sentinel could discover any disorder at once and the soldiers could be dispatched to quell a riot in a moment’s time.
Fluent in both Greek and Hebrew
Understood the rights of his citizenship and exercised them when appropriate;
His pedigree and upbringing in Tarsus gave him some instant credibility with this commander;
Amazing that Paul was able to quiet the crowd and speak his message
Cliffhanger – Why did the Roman commander even let Paul speak since he was charged with keeping things peaceful? What will Paul communicate in the next chapter?
Jack Arnold: At the time of the Reformation in England, one of the converts to Christ was Thomas Bilney, a student at Cambridge. Bilney got hold of a Greek New Testament and read the words, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” God used this verse to open up his eyes to the fact that salvation is all by God’s grace and appropriated through faith in Christ. He became a powerful voice for Christ. Then came the counter-reformation and many reformers were burnt at the stake if they would not recant their biblical beliefs. Bilney was imprisoned and was told to recant or face death by flames. Friends urged him to recant.
Just two days before he was to be burned, his friends poured into the prison, overwhelming him with arguments and examples of why he should recant. But Bilney had an inward struggle which agitated his soul, for he felt he had a conviction from the Holy Spirit that he should die. The words of the Bible, “Whosoever will save his life will lose it,” went through his mind over and over again. Finally Bilney broke and rationalized in his mind a compromise. He said, “I will preserve my life in order to dedicate it to the Lord.” He recanted and within a few months Bilney, ridden with guilt, confused in mind, began to give up the Christian Faith altogether. Having denied the Word of God, he could no longer bear to hear it. He wandered from the faith and finally one day, overburdened by grief, he fell as lifeless into the arms of his friends. They knew they had caused his fall and they cried out, “God by a just judgment deliver up to the tempest of their conscience all who deny Christ’s truth,” referring to themselves who were instruments in Bilney’s rejection of the revealed will of God.
This apparent apostasy by Bilney went on for several years but gradually Bilney returned to the Faith. Again he became a strong voice for Christ and again he was arrested and told to recant or be burned at the stake. Bilney, having learned his lesson, refused to give up his beliefs about Christ. The night before he was to be executed by fire, he stretched his hand out towards the lamp that was burning on the table. He placed his finger in the flame and kept it there until his finger had burned off to the joint. He then said to his friends, “I am persuaded, by God’s holy Word and the experience of martyrs, that when the flames consume me, I shall not feel them. However, this stubble of a body shall be wasted by it, a pain for the time will be followed by joy unspeakable.
The next day he descended into the Lollard’s Pit where many Christian martyrs had gone up in flames. He fell on his knees and prayed. Then rising up, warmly embracing the stake, he kissed it.
What is the lesson? Bilney’s friends almost ruined him. When someone is set on the will of God, don’t try to talk him out of it!