Acts 21:37 - 1-36

Thursday Evening Bible Study

January 17, 2008


Paul has been on his third world-wide missionary journey. He travelled through the Galatian churches, spent three years growing the church in Ephesus, travelled through Macedonia, down to Greece, back up to Macedonia, then made his way down the western coast of Asia.


Paul's Third Journey

When he stopped near Ephesus he spent a brief visit with the elders of Ephesus where he shared that he had begun to receive warnings through various prophets in various churches about the difficult times ahead for him.

(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 then went on to sail to the land of Israel, landing in Tyre, making his way down the coast to Caesarea, and has now made his way up the hills to Jerusalem. It has been Paul’s goal to be in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. There will be Jews there from all over the world, including Jews from Asia (Ephesus), who don’t like Paul.

The leaders of the church in Jerusalem were concerned about the false rumors being spread about Paul – that he was accused of teaching Jewish people to forsake the Law of Moses. Paul was given an assignment to help a group of Jewish men fulfill a Nazirite vow, and the church leaders were hoping this would put the rumors to an end. But when Paul went to the Temple to complete the vows, a group of Jews from Asia stirred up the crowd and had Paul arrested in the Temple, accusing him of desecrating the Temple by bringing a Gentile there. The Romans spotted the agitation in the crowd and sent soldiers in to stop the riot and seize Paul.

Acts 21:37 – 22:21 Paul Addresses the crowd

:37 Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, "May I speak to you?" He replied, "Can you speak Greek?

:38 "Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?"

assassinssikarios – one who carries a dagger (Latin sica) or short sword under his clothing, that he may kill secretly and treacherously.

The historian Josephus (Wars II:13:5 and 17:6; Antiquities XX:8:10) records such an event in A.D. 54. An Egyptian imposter claimed to be a prophet. Josephus said the fellow gathered 30,000 followers (Luke is probably more accurate) and came to the Mount of Olives promising his followers that the walls of Jerusalem would collapse at his command. But when he showed up, the Roman army promptly marched on them, killed some, captured others, the rest were scattered. And the Egyptian escaped.

For the Romans, this is certainly a case of mistaken identity. They see the crowd and the tumult and assume the Jews have captured this guy who caused so much trouble.

They think they’re arresting a terrorist.

But the “Egyptian” wouldn’t be a guy who could speak Greek.

:39 But Paul said, "I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people."

no mean cityasemos – unmarked or unstamped; unknown, insignificant

Tarsus was a well known, well respected city. It was the capital of Cilicia. It had a reputation for education, probably being the place where Paul learned to speak Greek.

:40 So when he had given him permission, Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, saying,

Paul is standing on the stairs to the Antonio Fortress which was right next to the Temple.

Acts 22

:1 "Brethren and fathers, hear my defense before you now."

Brothers and fathers – interesting phrase. This is the same phrase that Stephen used when he gave his defense before the Sanhedrin before he was stoned to death (Acts 7:2).

defenseapologia – verbal defense, speech in defense; a reasoned statement or argument

Here’s Paul in front of a crowd of people who seem to hate him. How will he respond?

We don’t always respond too well when we’re in a hostile situation.


An attorney tells the story of a man who died, and the attorney said to his wife, “He did not leave a will. So we need to know the last words he ever said to you.” She said, “I don’t want to tell you.” He said, “Look, he did not leave a will. We need to know the last words he ever said to you.” She said, “I don’t want to tell you. It was something between the two of us.” He said, “May I beg you one more time?” She said, “Okay, I’ll tell you. The last thing he ever said to me was, ‘You don’t scare me. You couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with that old gun.’” She was caught. —R. Larry Moyer, “Right Smack in the Middle of Sin,”


Handling hostility with respect.

Paul speaks respectfully using words of courtesy and dignity.
(1 Pet 3:9 NKJV) not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.
Paul has been mishandled and slandered. Yet he has the presence of mind to use terms of respect. He doesn’t call them “you bunch of bums!”
When you are in a hostile situation, you have a choice as to what kinds of words you are going to use.
(Prov 15:1 NKJV) A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.

It’s like you having two pockets in your pants to reach into for the situation. Are you going to reach into the pocket with the gun or the pocket with the healing salve?

:2 And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, they kept all the more silent. Then he said:

:3 "I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers' law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today.


He was the grandson of the great Jewish scholar, Hillel, and he followed the liberal leadings of Hillel in his teaching.

He himself was one of the great Jewish religious scholars of all time.

In fact, prior to the death of Gamaliel, when a teacher taught, he sat, and his students stood, but when Gamaliel died, they said, “the glory of the law ceased, and purity and Pharisaism died”, and from that time, students no longer stood while being taught the law.

Gamaliel was the one who was concerned that the Sanhedrin might be guilty of fighting against God if they persecuted the church too much (Acts 5:39)

The point is that Paul has some pretty impressive credentials, having been a student of Gamaliel’s.

was zealous toward God as you all are today – Paul says he can identify with the people who are trying to kill him.

Do you understand why people act the way they do?

:4 "I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women,

this Way – One of the early labels that people used to describe this splinter group from Judaism that followed after Jesus.

Jesus used some of the language Himself:

(Mat 7:14 NKJV) "Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
(John 14:3-6 NKJV) "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. {4} "And where I go you know, and the way you know." {5} Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?" {6} Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

The phrase was first used in the book of Acts to describe Paul’s persecution of the church:

(Acts 9:2 NKJV) …so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
(Acts 19:9 NKJV) But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.
(Acts 19:23 NKJV) And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way.

:5 "as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.

Paul is trying to show that he was so immersed in Judaism that it would not have been an easy thing for him to have become a Christian.

:6 "Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me.

:7 "And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?'

:8 "So I answered, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said to me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.'

Jesus of Nazareth – Paul met Jesus

:9 "And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me.

Acts 9:7 says they actually heard something, but apparently they did not understand the noise they heard, while Paul did.

:10 "So I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.'


One step at a time

Paul has an audience with the King of Kings. Jesus is going to give Paul some directions for his life, but all Jesus says is to go to Damascus where he will get the next set of instructions.
Paul will end up with one of the most amazing ministries the world has seen. But it all started with obeying the instructions of going to Damascus.
When Phillip was in the middle of a huge revival in Samaria, the Spirit told him to go down to the road to Gaza.
Phillip would end up meeting an Ethiopian eunuch and leading him to the Lord. But he didn’t know that when he first got his instructions.
Abraham was living in the land of Ur when God told him to go.
(Heb 11:8 NKJV) By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
We look at Abraham as the “father of faith”. The Jews are in the land of Israel because of Abraham. It all started with him obeying the simple command to “go”.
The same goes for our lives as well. There may be times when we are wondering what God wants for our lives. And then one day God points His finger at a thing, a place, a job, and He says, “go”.
We want all the details. We want to know how it’s all going to turn out. God simply wants us to obey.
What if I’ve heard God wrong? What if I make a mistake?
Then you learn from your mistakes.

Paul started off for Damascus thinking he was going to please God by imprisoning Christians. God did a fine job correcting Paul.

It is better that God knows that we are available and willing than that we are closed minded and reluctant.

:11 "And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus.

:12 "Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there,

Ananias – Paul mentions to his Jewish audience that Ananias was a good Jewish man.

:13 "came to me; and he stood and said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight.' And at that same hour I looked up at him.

:14 "Then he said, 'The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth.

the Just One – Stephen also called Jesus “The Just One” (Acts 7:52)

:15 'For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.

you will be His witness – this is what Paul is doing right now. God will use people (like Ananias) to speak direction into your life.

:16 'And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'

:17 "Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance

was praying – Paul was a man of prayer

:18 "and saw Him saying to me, 'Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.'

Back in those early days, God wanted Paul to get out of Jerusalem. This time God prepared him, but told him to go to Jerusalem.

:19 "So I said, 'Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You.

:20 'And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.'

Your martyr Stephen –Do you get the idea that watching Stephen’s death had an impact on Saul/Paul?

:21 "Then He said to me, 'Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.'"

:22-30 Paul’s Roman Citizenship

:22 And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!"

They don’t like the comment about the Gentiles. They don’t think the Gentiles should hear anything about God. In their eyes, Gentiles are good for nothing but to stoke the fires of hell.

Yet God had spoken in times past about the Gentiles.

(Isa 42:6 NKJV) "I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles,

Be careful about your prejudices. The people you don’t like just might be someone that God loves.

:23 Then, as they cried out and tore off their clothes and threw dust into the air,

:24 the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, and said that he should be examined under scourging, so that he might know why they shouted so against him.

scourging – the Romans used a whip called a “cat-o-nine-tails”, or flagellum, strips of leather with pieces of bone or metal imbedded in the ends, the point was to tear away flesh during the whipping. This is what Jesus was scourged with.

:25 And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?"

Roman – Paul took advantage of his Roman citizenship. He took advantage of the laws of the land. He had done this back in Philippi when he and Silas were arrested, beaten, and thrown into jail (Acts 16).

:26 When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, "Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman."

:27 Then the commander came and said to him, "Tell me, are you a Roman?" He said, "Yes."

:28 The commander answered, "With a large sum I obtained this citizenship." And Paul said, "But I was born a citizen."

Keep in mind that the world at this time was under the control of the Roman Empire.

Roman citizenship gave you certain rights

Cicero had said, “To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to scourge him a scandal, to slay him – death for your family”
For Paul to be bound without a hearing was an offense punishable by jail. To scourge him might have meant death.

At the time of these events, during the reign of Caesar Claudius, Roman citizenship could be purchased, but it wasn’t cheap.

If you falsely claimed to be a Roman citizen when you weren’t, you could be put to death.

Being born in Tarsus wouldn’t have made Paul a citizen. It would have had to have been one of Paul’s ancestors (father or grandfather) who had either bought or been granted citizenship in Rome, and then when Paul was born, he was born into a family of Roman citizens.

:29 Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.

:30 The next day, because he wanted to know for certain why he was accused by the Jews, he released him from his bonds, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down and set him before them.

The commander isn’t real sure why the chief priests want Paul to be killed. The next day Paul is going to be brought before his accusers and the commander will give them a chance to explain why they wanted to kill Paul.

councilsunedrion – the Sanhedrin, the great council at Jerusalem, consisting of the seventy one members, viz. scribes, elders, prominent members of the high priestly families and the high priest, the president of the assembly.


How God guides us

Paul gives his “defense”, his apologia as to who he is. What we gain from this chapter is a glimpse into the kinds of things that God uses to guide us.
God has plans for our life.
(Eph 2:10 NKJV) For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

The question we are constantly asking God is, “What is it You want me to do?”

There are some helpful things in this chapter that help us learn more about what God has for us to do.

1.      Your birth
There are things beyond your control, things you’re simply born with.

(Acts 22:3 NKJV) "I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia…

Paul was born a Jew. He was born in Tarsus. He was raised speaking Hebrew.

Paul was also a Roman. He often used his Roman citizenship to his advantage.

For most of us, we are Americans. There are some advantages to being an American.

When you go to Russia, you can get a glimpse of the advantage you have being born an American. The Russians for the most part love to talk to Americans.

Even though many Americans can only speak English, this too is an advantage since English has become the language that most people outside America learn. It’s the language of the world.

Some of us might not have been born into the nicest of families. Some of us don’t like the looks we were born with. But it’s who you are. It’s who God made you to be.

It’s a part of how God can use you.

2.      Your education (or lack)
Paul was educated by Gamaliel.

You can see in Paul’s writings that he knew the Scriptures. You can see his education in the way he does his ministry. God will use that.

Peter was uneducated.

(Acts 4:13 NKJV) Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.

Peter and John’s lack of education was useful because it made the Jewish leaders aware that the things they were doing were not due to their own bright minds.

But sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that God is against education.

Paul shows us that God can use a person who has an education.

The problem education brings is the pride and self-dependance that it creates in people.

(1 Cor 8:1 NKJV) …Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.

But if a man or woman can grow in godly traits like humility and a servant’s heart, then education is another tool in what God can use in your life.

3.      Your life before Christ.
Paul was a persecutor of the church.

(Acts 22:4 NKJV) "I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women,

Some of us can be quite ashamed of what we were like before we met Jesus. Many people are afraid to talk about what they used to be like. But you will find that at the appropriate times, God can use your past to show people that they too can be saved, that they too can come to know Jesus, that they too can change.
Sometimes we look at areas of our life, our experiences, our history, and see them as terrible disasters or mistakes. But I’m beginning to realize that making mistakes is a very big part of maturity. We don’t grow by avoiding mistakes, we grow by learning from our mistakes.

Sometimes we can become paralyzed in our decision making process because we’re afraid of making another “mistake”. I’m beginning to find that people I deem as “successful” tend to be people who embrace their mistakes rather than hide or avoid them.

4.      Your encounter with Jesus.
This is not the first time Paul will tell people about how he met Jesus. Nor will this be the last.
This is a big part of Paul’s “defense”, his “apologetic”.

When we are talking with a person about knowing God, it is important to know the Scriptures. But one of the most powerful tools is to talk about your own encounter with Jesus.

What were you like before you came to trust Jesus? How did you come to trust Jesus? What has your life been like after trusting in Jesus?

Some people have quite dramatic testimonies, like the apostle Paul. Bright lights, hearing voices, an encounter with a supernatural being.

Mike MacIntosh has quite a dramatic testimony of how he was on drugs and thought he had lost half his brain. He found Jesus, got prayed for by the elders, and God healed him.

For Peter it was a bit different – he was just at work one day when this guy walked up to him and said “follow Me”.

For me, I was just an eighth grade kid, raised in a good home, who realized one day he needed Jesus.

5.      Godly people.
God used one of the believers in Damascus to influence Paul’s life. God brought healing to Paul through Ananias:

(Acts 22:12-16 NKJV) "Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there, {13} "came to me; and he stood and said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight.' And at that same hour I looked up at him.

God also used Ananias to give Paul guidance. God worked through Ananias to give Paul a peek at his life’s work.

{14} "Then he said, 'The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. {15} 'For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. {16} 'And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'

Some people like to work alone.  For one reason or another they would rather not ask other people for advice.  We might call them “Lone Ranger Christians”.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto were camping in the desert, they set up their tent, and fell asleep. Some hours later, The Lone Ranger woke his faithful friend. “Tonto, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.” Tonto replies, “Me see millions of stars.” “What does that tell you?” asked the Lone Ranger. Tonto ponders for a minute. “Astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Timewise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, it’s evident the Lord is all powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What it tell you Kemosabe?” The Lone Ranger is silent for a moment, then speaks. “Someone has stolen our tent.”

Hey, even the Lone Ranger had a partner.  They helped keep each other on track.

(Prov 11:14 NKJV) Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.

(Prov 15:22 NKJV) Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established.

(Prov 24:6 NKJV) For by wise counsel you will wage your own war, And in a multitude of counselors there is safety.

It’s a good thing to have people you can go to for advice.

6.      Prayer.
It was when Paul was in prayer in the temple that God spoke more direction to Paul.
Ask God for guidance.

(Jer 33:3 NKJV)  'Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.'

Expect to get an answer.


Where's Your Umbrella?

One summer, a drought threatened the crop in a small town. On a hot and dry Sunday, the village parson told his congregation, “There isn’t anything that will save us except to pray for rain. Go home, pray, believe, and come back next Sunday ready to thank God for sending rain.” The people did as they were told and returned to church the following Sunday. But as soon as the parson saw them, he was furious. “We can’t worship today. You do not yet believe,” he said. “But,” they protested, “we prayed, and we do believe.” “Believe?” he responded. “Then where are your umbrellas?”

7.      The example of others.
It seems to me that Stephen’s example of dying for Christ had an impact on Paul.

We saw a few subtle references

I kind of wonder if Paul was kind of having one of those “déjà-vu” feelings as he was being arrested in Jerusalem and now about to face the Sanhedrin like Stephen did.
I think one of the best ways I learn is by watching others.  I love going to Pastors’ conferences and hearing other guys talk about how they handled their difficult times.
I also love to read biographies of the great men and women of God through history.  I learn from their examples.
I also find that at times I’m the example.  There just might be others out there watching you.  They may be observing how you handle your tragedy.