Acts 21:1-36

Thursday Evening Bible Study

January 10, 2008


Paul is winding up his third missionary journey. He travelled through the Galatian churches, then went on to Ephesus where he would spend three years, the longest he ever spent with one of his churches. In the end, the idol-makers stirred up the city into a huge demonstration in the city amphitheater and Paul left town to allow things to quiet down. But the gospel had become established throughout Asia Minor.  Then Paul went through the churches in Macedonia, down into Greece, back up to Macedonia, then down the coast of western Asia (Turkey).  He had a meeting with the elders from the church of Ephesus where he warned them about the things ahead for their church.  He’s now about to make the trip from Asia to Israel.

All along Paul’s trip to Jerusalem he is being warned.

(Acts 20:22-24 NKJV)  "And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, {23} "except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. {24} "But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.


Paul's Third Journey

Acts 21

:1-14 More warnings on way to Jerusalem

:1 Now it came to pass, that when we had departed from them and set sail, running a straight course we came to Cos, the following day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara.

Paul is hop skip and jumping his way along the western coast of Asia Minor.

This drawing of Colossus of Rhodes, which illustrated The Grolier Society's 1911 Book of Knowledge, is probably fanciful, as it is unlikely that the statue stood astride the harbour mouth.Rhodes was famous for a statue that stood over the ancient harbor.  The statue was known as the “Colossus of Rhodes” and was made of bronze.  It was built around 280 BC and toppled during an earthquake 54 years later.  It had been 100 feet high, supposedly the fingers of the statue were so large a normal person could not wrap their arms around it.  The ruins lay on the ground for 800 years before being carried off by Arab merchants.  It was a tourist destination.  Paul would have seen it on his journey.

Patara is the last stop before a longer sea voyage to Israel. (see map)

:2 And finding a ship sailing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail.

Phoenicia – The Phoenician empire was scattered across the Mediterranean, but the main cities were Tyre and Sidon in modern day Lebanon. (see map)

:3 When we had sighted Cyprus, we passed it on the left, sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload her cargo.

:4 And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.

Again, Paul gets another warning about what is to happen in Jerusalem. Some take this as if the Holy Spirit was saying that Paul shouldn’t go to Jerusalem. I prefer to take it that the Holy Spirit was again giving Paul a warning about what was up ahead, but it was the believers who took that information and asked Paul to not go. I don’t think Paul was being disobedient to God in going to Jerusalem.

:5 When we had come to the end of those days, we departed and went on our way; and they all accompanied us, with wives and children, till we were out of the city. And we knelt down on the shore and prayed.

:6 When we had taken our leave of one another, we boarded the ship, and they returned home.

:7 And when we had finished our voyage from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, greeted the brethren, and stayed with them one day.

Ptolemais – known today as the city of Acco, in the Crusader days it was known at Acre, across the bay from the modern port city of Haifa. (see map)

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:8 On the next day we who were Paul's companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.

Caesarea – the Roman government center for the land of “Palestine”. It was a coastal city with a full harbor built by Herod.  Caesarea was the secular capital of the land of Israel, where the governors lived, while Jerusalem was the religious capital. (see map)

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Philip – one of the original seven “deacons” (Acts 6) of the early church. He was the evangelist that brought revival to the Samaritans and then had the encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8). After those events, he had settled in Caesarea, and apparently got married and settled down to raise a family.

Philip had been in the ministry longer that Paul.  His ministry predates the time when Paul came to trust in Jesus.

:9 Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.

I wonder if they too had a word from God about Paul’s future.

I love how this man’s family seems to be serving the Lord.

:10 And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.

We’ve seen Agabus back in the early days of Paul’s home church in Antioch when he prophesied about a coming famine in Jerusalem (Acts 11:28).

(Acts 11:27-29 NKJV)  And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. {28} Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. {29} Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.

The famine came in AD 46.  This is now AD 56, ten years later.  I would imagine that Agabus would be like an old friend, a nice reunion.

:11 When he had come to us, he took Paul's belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'"

Notice that the message is a bit clearer here – God is simply warning Paul of what is up ahead. God is not telling Paul to stay away.

Agabus is a bit more experienced in handling a message from the Lord.  He doesn’t add to it as it seems some of the earlier prophets had done.  He simply gives the message.

:12 Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.

It’s the people that love Paul that are trying to keep him away from Jerusalem.

:13 Then Paul answered, "What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."

:14 So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, "The will of the Lord be done."


Don’t discourage the courageous

There are times when God calls a person to do courageous things.
Those of us that care about those people can sometimes tend to make it harder by trying to protect them rather than encouraging them.
I think that at times it’s totally appropriate to speak up and voice your concerns. But if the person is convinced that they are doing God’s will, at some point we need to do what these folks do and trust the person to God’s will.

We need to EN-courage those who are called to step out.

Some encouragement…
It doesn't matter how great the pressure is. What really matters is where the pressure lies—whether it comes between you and God or whether it presses you nearer his heart.
   James Hudson Taylor (1832–1905)

:15-25 Paul works for peace

:15  And after those days we packed and went up to Jerusalem.

It’s about fifty miles from Caesarea to Jerusalem.

:16 Also some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and brought with them a certain Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to lodge.

Some suggest that Mnason lived halfway to Jerusalem and they spent the night with him.

:17 And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.

:18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.

James – this is the half brother of Jesus, the head of the church in Jerusalem.

:19 When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

in detail – 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?
This is a bit about Hudson Taylor a famous missionary to China 150 years ago… this was about his life before he went to China, while he was training to be a doctor in a poor town called “Drainside”…
Praying! And answers to prayer! That became the passion of his life. He learned to move men through God by prayer. He asked no man for any material thing. He laid all needs before his Lord. That doctor he had worked for at Drainside had suggested to his young assistant, "Taylor, please do remind me when it is time to pay your salary. I'm so busy, you know, I'm quite likely to forget." And forget he did. But Taylor remembered that in China he would have no one to ask anything of, only God, so he simply asked God to remind the doctor.
Three weeks later the doctor remembered--but only after he had banked his money. Taylor was broke. It was Saturday. He had no money to pay his rent. He had no money for food. He prayed as he worked until ten o'clock, glad he would not have to face his landlady. As he prepared to leave, the doctor surprised him, "What do you think? One of my patients has just come to pay his bill! He's one of my richest patients and he could have paid me by check anytime. Yet, there he is, bringing in the money at ten o'clock on Saturday night." Then he added, "By the way, Taylor, you might as well take these notes. I have no change, but I can give you the balance of your salary next week ... Good night!"
Taylor's prayers were answered. He could not only pay his rent, he had money in hand for weeks ahead -- but more than that, he had proven again: God answers prayer and moves men. He could go on to China!

:20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law;

myriadsmurias (“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.

:21 "but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.

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 NKJV)  Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, {31} that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to 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 NKJV)  and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who 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.

:22 "What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come.

the assembly – the people of Jerusalem.

:23 "Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow.

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 "Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.

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

Some have suggested that when Paul had himself shaved (Acts 18), it was the beginning of the Nazirite vow, and he himself was completing his vow at this time.

Pay their expensesdapanao – to incur expense; to pay their way

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

(Num 6:13-15 NKJV)  'Now this is the law of the Nazirite: When the days of his separation are fulfilled, he shall be brought to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. {14} 'And he shall present his offering to the LORD: one male lamb in its first year without blemish as a burnt offering, one ewe lamb in its first year without blemish as a sin offering, one ram without blemish as a peace offering, {15} 'a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and their grain offering with their drink offerings.

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

:25 "But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality."

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

:26-36 Arrested in the Temple

:26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them.

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 Now when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him,

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

Jews from 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.  It’s possible that Paul was not a favorite among the non-believing Jews in Ephesus.  We think one of them, Alexander, was trying to tell the rioting crowd that Paul was not one of their group…

(Acts 19:33-34 NKJV)  And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, and wanted to make his defense to the people. {34} But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!"

:28 crying out, "Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place."

:29 (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)

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.

G:\Israel Media\Day11.3 - Old Jerusalem Model\DSCF2453_Medium.JPGEven 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 NKJV)  "then you shall inquire, search out, and ask diligently. And if it is indeed true and certain that such an abomination was committed among you,
Could it be you just don’t have all the facts yet?
(Prov 18:13 NKJV)  He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him.
Jesus taught:
(John 7:24 NKJV)  "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."
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."

:30 And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut.

:31 Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.

commanderchiliarchos – 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 He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

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 Then the commander came near and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and he asked who he was and what he had done.

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

:34 And some among the multitude cried one thing and some another. So when he could not ascertain the truth because of the tumult, he commanded him to be taken into the barracks.

barracksparembole – an encampment; the barracks of the Roman soldiers, at Jerusalem this was the castle of Antonia.  This was a fortress built just outside the Temple, so the Romans could keep an eye on the Jews without always being in their holy Temple site.

:35 When he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob.

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

:36 For the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, "Away with him!"

Paul is going to get a chance to address the crowd …