Acts 21:15-40

Sunday Morning Bible Study

October 4, 1998


Paul is on his way to Jerusalem to bring a gift from the Gentile churches.

While on his way, Paul has been warned that bonds and afflictions await him at Jerusalem.

:15-26 On to Jerusalem

:15 we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem.

took up our carriagesaposkeuazo – to pack up the baggage

:18 Paul went in with us unto James

JamesIakobos ("Jacob") – half-brother of Jesus, the pastor over the Jerusalem church.

:19 he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.

particularly – literally, "one by one". Paul takes his time detailing all that God has done over the last few years.

ministrydiakonia – service, ministering; being a servant

I can imagine them all sitting around the room as Paul begins to tell what God had done among the Gentile peoples. It’s been about 3 years since Paul has been in Jerusalem (Acts 18:22). It was during this time that he established the church in Ephesus. It was during this time that the gospel was spread throughout Asia Minor from the Ephesian church. There were great miracles done. Many turned to the Lord.


We serve, God works.

The best we can ever do is to learn to serve God and others.

The real, lasting work in the lives of the people we serve is done by God, not us.

Keith Green used to sing, "Just keep doing your best, and pray that it’s blessed, and Jesus takes care of the rest"

I think a good measure of how much I believe this is by looking at how much of my "ministry time" is devoted to prayer.

If I really believe that God’s work in people’s lives is the most important, why aren’t I talking to Him about it more?

:20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord,

Jesus said, (Mat 5:16 KJV) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

We see an example of Paul doing this, sharing what God has done as he’s served. The result is that the Lord is glorified.

:20 how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:

thousandsmurias ("myriads") – ten thousand; an innumerable multitude. The church has grown over the last 23 years since that first Pentecost when three thousand came to believe.

zealouszelotes – one burning with zeal, a zealot. These Jewish believers have a zeal for the Law.

:21 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses

Paul had been concerned about how he might be received by the unbelievers in Jerusalem. Look at his prayer request a few months earlier:

(Rom 15:30-31 KJV) Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; {31} That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints

The non-believing Judaizers had been speaking bad about Paul around town. The Jewish believers had been soaking up all this talk, and were starting to take the side of the Judaizers against Paul.

to forsakeapostasia – a falling away; "teaching them to apostatize from Moses"

This was not a matter of how the Gentiles should behave. They were claiming that Paul was teaching Jews to stop following the Law of Moses.

In fact, Paul taught just the opposite, having written this within the last year:

(1 Cor 9:20 KJV) 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; (see also 1Cor.7:18)

Nowhere did Paul tell the Jews that it was wrong for them to practice their customs, so long as they did not trust in ceremony or make their customs a test of fellowship (Rom. 14:1-15:7).


Be careful what you listen to.

Sometimes the people we’re talking to just don’t have it quite right.



To avoid an onslaught of hurt feelings, this story will be told in
politically correct format: Two [not intelligent persons with light colored hair] are walking through the woods and come upon a set of tracks. One [not intelligent person with light colored hair] said that they were deer tracks. The other [not intelligent person with light colored hair] said that they were moose tracks. They were still arguing when the train hit them.

But sometimes they have made a decision to twist the truth, even a little.

(Prov 18:8 NASB) The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, And they go down into the innermost parts of the body.

(Prov 20:19 NASB) He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip.


Augustine encouraged conversation at meals--but with a strictly enforced rule that the character of an absent person should never be negatively discussed. He had a warning to this effect carved on a plaque attached to his table. -- "St. Augustine," Christian History, no. 15.

:23 We have four men which have a vow on them;

voweuche – a prayer to God; a vow

This would appear to be a Nazirite vow (Num. 6), where a person would promise to keep themselves pure before God for a set period of time, during which they would grow their hair long and abstain from wine or anything made from grapes. It was to be a time of special usefulness before God.

We usually think of Samson as the most famous Nazirite, but so was Samuel and John the Baptist. We’ve already seen that Paul himself had taken a Nazirite vow for a period of time (Act 18:18).

:24 purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them

Paul was to join these men in their vow, meaning that he too would be making sacrifice.

be at chargesdapanao – to incur expense; to pay their way

This could be quite expensive, especially for four men and Paul as well:

(Num 6:13-15 KJV) And this is the law of the Nazarite, when the days of his separation are fulfilled: he shall be brought unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: {14} And he shall offer his offering unto the LORD, one he lamb of the first year without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish for a sin offering, and one ram without blemish for peace offerings, {15} And a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil, and their meat offering, and their drink offerings.

:24 that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.

This advice is meant to show the Jewish believers that Paul too was still a practicing Jew.

:25 … the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded

This was done in Acts 15, some 6 years earlier, when the church made a decision about what was required of a Gentile.

:25 things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.

There were basically three areas the Gentiles were to abstain from:

1) Idol meat. (pollutions of idols)

At this time in history, meat was a pretty expensive item in the grocery cart.

There were two places to get meat, either at the regular grocery store, or at the meat market located behind the local pagan temple. Lots of people brought their sacrifices to the pagan temples, and since the pagan priests had such an abundant supply, they would sell it for real cheap. A pound of filet mignon might cost you $15 at the regular store, but at Aphrodite’s Club, you could pick up a nice filet for $5/pound.

For some, when they came to know the Lord, they had a hard time seeing people eat steaks from Aphrodite’s Club. They just couldn’t get away from the idea that this meat had been offered up to some demon god.

Paul himself had just written:

Rom 14:13-15 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. {14} I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. {15} But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably ("in love") . Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.

Doing something that causes another person to stumble is not operating in love.

I was counseling with a person once who was a struggling alcoholic. This person had Christian friends who seemed to not care, and who would go ahead and order beer or wine with their meals and drink in front of them. That’s not love.

It’s not a matter of what’s easier, it’s a matter of what’s more loving.

2) Blood (blood and things strangled)

God had specifically asked the Jews not to eat meat with the blood in it (Lev. 17:10-11). Part of what makes a Jewish meat product Kosher is that it is butchered in a specific way so that the blood is completely drained out.

Why did God ask the Jews to do this?

Because He wanted to use blood in a specific way, to be a symbol of the life of an animal, and to use it as a way of paying the price for another person’s sin. God didn’t want the Jews to lose the idea that blood could pay for sins. He wanted them to understand why their Messiah had to die on a cross and shed His blood for them.

Now, as believers, it was especially important that the Gentile believers not ruin the picture, especially for the Jews around them.

3) Fornication

fornicationporneia – illicit sexual intercourse; adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, and yes, I think it includes things that the President doesn’t. Perhaps one definition might be "whatever you would try to hide from your wife".

This is a word that talks about any kind of sexual activity outside the boundary of marriage. In AD 50, a typical Gentile would have no problem with fornication. Our modern society seems think the exact same way.

There are no Scriptures that ever give the indication that fornication is allowable.

When you are involved in fornication, you’re crossing a line that will have tragic results in your life.

1 Cor 6:13-20 Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. {14} And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power. {15} Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. {16} What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. {17} But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. {18} Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. {19} What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? {20} For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.


God gives you a million dollar soul. Yet every time you share yourself with another person intimately, you give half of it away. That’s no problem if the other person is always with you, for the rest of your life in marriage. But when they get up and move on, they take half of your million dollars with them. And for the person who is involved with lots of people, it’s not too long before all they have left is a couple of bucks.

Don’t cheapen yourself. Save yourself for your lifelong partner.


1) Don’t cause another person to stumble

2) Don’t confuse people about Jesus

3) Stay sexually pure.

:26 to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification

Paul is giving notice to the priests of what he and these men are doing, and in a way making a reservation for a sacrifice to be made in seven days.

:27-40 Paul’s Arrest

:27 And when the seven days were almost ended

The ritual for purification took a week. (Num. 6:9-10)

:27 the Jews which were of Asia

These would be Jews specifically from Ephesus. Though Paul was unknown to many of the people in Jerusalem, he was certainly well known to those in Ephesus.

:28 and hath polluted this holy place.

pollutedkoinoo – to make common; to make (Levitically) unclean, defile, profane

:29 they had seen … Trophimus … whom they supposed …

Trophimus – one of Paul’s traveling companions, one of his disciples from Ephesus (Acts 20:4). One day some of the Ephesian Jews had spotted Paul in Jerusalem with is buddy Trophimus. They jump to the conclusion that if Paul had been in Jerusalem with Trophimus, then he must have taken him to the temple.

:29 that Paul had brought into the temple.

Even if Paul had done this, it was actually not an unlawful thing. It was lawful for a Gentile to be in the "Court of the Gentiles". But it was unlawful for them to go into the "Court of Israel" or beyond. Inside the temple was a wall separating the "Court of the Gentiles" from the "Court of Israel". On the wall was this inscription:

"No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure. Anyone who is caught so doing will have himself to blame for his ensuing death."


Don’t judge too quickly.

Sometimes we just don’t care for certain people. And we’re assuming that everything they do is wrong. It could be you’re wrong.

God had taught the people that concerning serious matters:

(Deu 13:14 KJV) Then shalt thou inquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you …

Could it be you just don’t have all the facts yet?

(Prov 18:13 KJV) He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.


The Rookie

A rookie police officer was assigned to ride in a cruiser with an experienced partner. A call came over the car's radio telling them to disperse some people who were loitering. The officers drove to the street and observed a small crowd standing on a corner. The rookie rolled down his window and said, "Let's get off the corner." No one moved, so he barked again, "Let's get off the corner!" Intimidated, the group of people began to leave, casting puzzled glances in his direction. Proud of his first official act, the young policeman turned to his partner and asked, "Well, how did I do?" Pretty good, " replied the veteran, "especially since this is a bus stop."

:31 the chief captain of the band

chief captainchiliarchos – a chiliarch, the commander of a thousand soldiers; the commander of a Roman cohort (a military tribunal). His name was Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:26).

:32 Who immediately took soldiers and centurions

centurionshekatontarches – an officer in the Roman army, over a hundred soldiers. Because it’s plural, it’s probably that Claudius took several hundred men with him to see what was going on.

:33 bound with two chains

two chains – most likely one chain on each arm, each linked to a soldier.

:34 carried into the castle.

castleparembole – an encampment; the barracks of the Roman soldiers, at Jerusalem this was the castle of Antonia

:35 he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the people

The danger so great that the soldiers had to carry Paul over their heads.

:37 May I speak unto thee?

Here’s Paul being hauled off by Roman soldiers, the murderous crowd is right them, and Paul is being polite. Amazing.

:37 Who said, Canst thou speak Greek?

Claudius isn’t expecting this guy to be speaking Greek.

:38 Art not thou that Egyptian … murderers?

murdererssikarios – an assassin, a cutthroat, these guys carried short swords under their robes and would sneak up and kill people.

The ancient Jewish historian Josephus (Wars II:13:5 and 17:6; Antiquities XX:8:10) writes about a false prophet from Egypt who had gathered a group to overthrow Jerusalem, they were called the sikarii. Though the main group may have been 4,000, Josephus tells us that the entire mob was 30,000 people.

:39 a citizen of no mean city

meanasemos – unmarked; unknown, insignificant. Hey, Tarsus is nothing to sneeze at! It was the capital of Cilicia.

:40 he spake unto them


Be ready.

What Paul is about to do is incredible. He’s been beaten, his life is in danger, but he’s got to talk about Jesus. As we’ve seen before (Acts 21:13), he’s ready.

Peter gives us some instruction:

1 Pet 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

It starts with making sure that Jesus is indeed the Lord of our hearts. When I remain in control of my life, my fears can often stop me from speaking.

The Vessel

The Master was searching for a vessel to use;

On the shelf there were many - which one would He choose?

Take me, cried the gold one, I'm shiny and bright,

I'm of great value and I do things just right.

My beauty and lustre will outshine the rest

And for someone like You, Master, gold would be the best!

The Master passed on with no word at all;

He looked at a silver urn, narrow and tall;

I'll serve You, dear Master, I'll pour out Your wine

And I'll be at Your table whenever You dine,

My lines are so graceful, my carvings so true,

And my silver will always compliment You.

Unheeding the Master passed on to the brass,

It was widemouthed and shallow, and polished like glass.

Here! Here! cried the vessel, I know I will do,

Place me on Your table for all men to view.

Look at me, called the goblet of crystal so clear,

My transparency shows my contents so dear,

Though fragile am I, I will serve You with pride,

And I'm sure I'll be happy in Your house to abide.

The Master came next to a vessel of wood,

Polished and carved, it solidly stood.

You may use me, dear Master, the wooden bowl said,

But I'd rather You used me for fruit, not for bread!

Then the Master looked down and saw a vessel of clay.

Empty and broken it helplessly lay.

No hope had the vessel that the Master might choose,

To cleanse and make whole, to fill and to use.

Ah! This is the vessel I've been hoping to find,

I will mend and use it and make it all Mine.

I need not the vessel with pride of its self;

Nor the one who is narrow to sit on the shelf;

Nor the one who is bigmouthed and shallow and loud;

Nor one who displays his contents so proud;

Not the one who thinks he can do all things just right;

But this plain earthy vessel filled with My power and might.

Then gently He lifted the vessel of clay.

Mended and cleansed it and filled it that day.

Spoke to it kindly. There's work you must do,

Just pour out to others as I pour into you.

- Janet