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Bible Commentaries

Bridgeway Bible Commentary

Acts 21

Verses 1-16


To Jerusalem with the offering (20:13-21:16)

From Troas Paul went by land to Assos, where he rejoined the rest of the party and sailed to Miletus (13-16). Since Miletus was only about fifty kilometres from Ephesus, Paul took the opportunity to call the elders of the Ephesian church to come and meet him. He wanted to give them some final encouragement and pass on helpful warnings (17).
Paul’s opponents in Asia had probably been trying to turn the Christians against him. Therefore, he reminded the Ephesian elders of his tireless work in Ephesus and of the constant danger he faced from the Jews (18-24).
The Christians at Ephesus also were about to be shaken by serious troubles. Paul knew that, in spite of his preaching in Ephesus, people both from within the church and from outside would try to destroy the work of God in that city. The elders would need to be watchful, understanding, hard-working and strong if the church was to withstand Satan’s attacks (25-31). Paul reassured the elders that by God’s grace and through his Word they would be built up. He also reminded them that, like him, they were to sacrifice their rights and comforts for the sake of others, and never use their position of leadership for personal profit (32-38).
From Miletus Paul and his party sailed to Patara, where they changed ships and sailed across the Mediterranean to Phoenicia (21:1-3). They had fellowship with the Christians at Tyre, Ptolemais and Caesarea, where churches had been founded by those scattered after the killing of Stephen. One of those early evangelists, Philip, was still in Caesarea and Paul’s party stayed with him several days (4-9; cf. 8:4-5,40; 11:19). In Caesarea, as in Tyre, prophets warned Paul of the trouble that he would meet in Jerusalem, but he was determined to go on (10-14; see also v. 4).
Finally, Paul reached his destination, Jerusalem. There he stayed with Mnason, who was a Jewish Christian from Cyprus and an early member of the Jerusalem church. He was probably one of the few in Jerusalem who were fully in agreement with Paul’s work among the Gentiles (15-16).

Verses 17-26


21:17-23:35 JERUSALEM FINALLY REJECTS THE GOSPEL

Danger in Jerusalem (21:17-26)

Over the previous ten years the church in Jerusalem had become narrower in its outlook. As leaders of broader outlook such as Peter, John and Barnabas moved out to other areas, the Jewish Christians left in Jerusalem slipped back into legalism. At the Jerusalem meeting of Chapter 15, James and his like-minded fellow elders had successfully defended the Gentiles, but they now had little influence over the members at large. Those who wished to put all Christians under the Jewish law, though silenced at the Jerusalem meeting, had not changed their former views, and now their number had grown to many thousands (see v. 20).
The elders of the Jerusalem church were glad to receive the offering from the Gentile churches (17-19), but this had little effect on the thinking of most of the church members. The legalistic Jews were not concerned greatly about what Paul taught the Gentiles, but they were angered to hear reports that he taught the Jews not to keep the law of Moses or the traditions of their ancestors (20-21). James and his friends suggested that Paul prove to the Jerusalemites that he was as religious a Jew as any, by joining with four other Jews in a purification ceremony in the temple (22-25).

Being willing to do almost anything to win his fellow Jews, Paul joined in the ceremony (26; cf. 1 Corinthians 9:20-23). Whether he was right or wrong in doing so is not clear. Certainly the plan was not a success, for it got Paul into serious trouble that left him a prisoner of Rome for most of the next five years.

Verses 27-36


The crowd attacks Paul (21:27-36)

Paul, James and the elders were so busy trying to please the Jerusalem Jews that they may have forgotten Paul’s constant enemies, the Asian Jews (cf. 20:18-19; 2 Corinthians 1:8). These were the ones who brought about his downfall. Because they saw him in the streets with a Gentile friend from Ephesus, they accused him (wrongly) of taking the Gentile into a part of the temple where Gentiles were forbidden (27-29). When a riot broke out, the mob seized Paul and tried to kill him (30-31).

The Roman troops in Jerusalem were well trained to control Jewish riots, and on this occasion only their swift action prevented Paul from being murdered (32). Lysias, the military commander, had no idea who Paul was or what he had done to make the Jews angry, but he was determined to see him dealt with properly according to Roman law, not by mob violence (33-36).

Verses 37-40


Paul’s reply to the crowd (21:37-22:29)

By his command of the situation, Paul showed much physical courage and mental alertness. One minute he was snatched from a violent death, the next he was able to address a mob of wildly excited Jews who were screaming for his blood. He spoke with such power that a rioting crowd of would-be murderers listened to him in silence (37-40).
Paul wanted to show that he was a zealous Jew, called by God to serve him. He told of his Jewish upbringing and education, and of his religious zeal in persecuting those he thought to be law-breakers (22:1-5). But then the risen Jesus intervened and he became a believer (6-11). Through the announcement of a respected and law-abiding Jew named Ananias, he learnt of God’s purpose for him to take the gospel to people everywhere (12-16). Above all he wanted his own people, the Jews, to hear the gospel, and only when they rejected it did God send him to preach it among the Gentiles (17-21).
As soon as Paul mentioned his mission to the Gentiles, uproar broke out afresh. All Paul’s speech and all the crowd’s shouting were in Aramaic, which the Roman commander probably could not understand. So he decided there was only one way to find out the truth, and that was by flogging (22-24). When Paul told the soldiers that he was a Roman citizen, they quickly untied him. They knew how close they themselves had come to being law-breakers (25-29).

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Bibliographical Information
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Acts 21". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bbc/acts-21.html. 2005.