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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Acts 21

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XXI.

Paul will not by any means be dissuaded from going to Jerusalem. Philip's daughters prophetesses. Paul cometh to Jerusalem; where he is apprehended, and in great danger, but is rescued by the chief captain and permitted to speak to the people.

Anno Domini 61.


Verse 1

Acts 21:1. Coos, Coos, or Cos, was one of the islands of Cyclades, famous for the worship of Esculapius, and the temple of Juno. There also Hippocrates the prince of physicians, and Apelles the celebrated painter, were born. Rhodes was another island, famous for the worship of the sun, and for the brazen Colossus erected there, which was reckoned one of the seven wonders of the world. Patara was the chief city and port of Lycia.


Verse 3

Acts 21:3. Tyre, The metropolis of Phoenicia, Acts 21:2 and the most famous mart of the East. See the notes on Isaiah 23.


Verse 4

Acts 21:4. That he should not go up to Jerusalem That is, if he tendered his own liberty and safety. It is necessary to take it with this limitation; for had the Spirit forbidden his journey to Jerusalem, we may be sure he would have desisted from it. This verse might be rendered better, And we tarried there seven days, meeting with some disciples, who said, &c.


Verse 7

Acts 21:7. Ptolemais, Was a celebrated city on the sea-coast, which fell by lot to the tribe of Asher; its ancient name was Accho. Judges 1:31. It was enlarged and beautified by the first of the Egyptian Ptolemies, whence it took its new appellation. It was the scene of many celebrated actions in the holy war. The Turks, who are now masters of all this region, call it Acca, or Acra; and notwithstanding all the advantages of its situation on one of the finest bays of that coast, and in the neighbourhood of Mount Carmel, it is now, like many other noble and ancient cities, only a heap of ruins.


Verse 8

Acts 21:8. Philip One of the seven deacons, ch. Acts 6:5 and who had settled at Caesarea after he had baptized the eunuch, ch. Acts 8:40. Concerning Caesarea see the note on ch. Acts 8:40.


Verse 9

Acts 21:9. Virgins, which did prophesy. The miraculous gifts of the Spirit were sometimes communicated to women as well as to men, agreeably to the prophesy recorded, ch. Acts 2:17-18.


Verse 11

Acts 21:11. He took Paul's girdle, This was in the manner of the ancient prophets, who frequently attended their predictions with significant and prophetic actions. See Jeremiah 13:1.


Verse 15

Acts 21:15. We took up our carriages, Making up our baggage, we went, &c.


Verse 16

Acts 21:16. Brought with them one Mnason, &c.— Mnason was a native of Cyprus, but an inhabitant of Jerusalem, who probablyhad been converted either by Christ or the apostles, at the first opening of the gospel. With St. Paul's arrival in Jerusalem at this time, ended his third apostolical journey.


Verse 18

Acts 21:18. James; The apostle, commonly called James the less, and the brother of our Lord.


Verse 20

Acts 21:20. How many thousands The original is μυριαδες, myriads, which may only denote in general a great number; and if we consider what a vast confluence there must have been at Jerusalem on occasion of this great festival, we need not be surprised at the expression. See Acts 21:27.


Verse 23-24

Acts 21:23-24. Which have a vow Of Nazariteship. See on ch. Acts 18:18. Josephus not only tells us in general, that it was customary with persons in any sickness or distress, to make vows, and to spend at least thirty days in extraordinary devotions; but also says, that when Agrippa came to Jerusalem, he offered sacrifices of thanksgiving, and ordered a good number of Nazarites to be shaved; a phrase exactly answering to this before us: whence Dr. Lardner very naturally argues, that to be at charges with Nazarites, was both a common and very popular thing among the Jews. Maimonides expressly asserts, that a person who was not himself a Nazarite, might bind himself by a vow to take part with one in his sacrifices. The charges of these four Nazarites would be the price of eight lambs and four rams, besides oil, flour, &c. Numbers 6:14-15. The circumstance of shaving here, shews that the vow was accomplished; for it was begun with letting the hair grow; and put an end to, by shaving it off. See Acts 21:26. It is evident from the last clause of Acts 21:24 that whatever might have passed between St. Paul and St. James on the subject in private, (Comp. Galatians 2:2.) St. James and the brethren thought it most regular and convenient that theJewish ritual should still be observed by those of the circumcision whobelievedinChrist:andconsideringwhattribulationthe church of Jerusalem must otherwise have been exposed to by the Sanhedrim, who no doubt would have prosecuted them to the utmost as apostates; and also how soon Divine Providence intended to render the practice of it impossible, and to break the whole power of the Jews by the destruction of the temple, city, and nation; it was certainly the most orderly and prudent conduct to conform to it, though it was looked upon by those who understood the matter fully (which it was not necessary that all should,) as antiquated, and ready to vanish away. Hebrews 8:13.


Verse 26

Acts 21:26. To signify the accomplishment, &c.— Dr. Heylin renders this, and declared how many days the purification was to last, and when the offering was to be made for each of them. This seems to be the true meaning of the passage: accordingly Dr. Benson's account of it is this: "The next day, taking the four men, St. Paul began to purify himself along with them; entering into the temple, and publicly declaring that he would observe the separation of a Nazarite, and continue itfor seven days: at the end of which days of purification he would bring an offering for himself and the other four who joined with him, according to what was appointed in the law of Moses." See on Numbers 6:4. To what has been said in the preceding note, in order to vindicate the apostle's character in this transaction, we may observe, that he had not taught all the Jewish Christians in Gentile countries to forsake the law of Moses; nay, he does not appear to have taught it as yet to any of them directly and immediately: that he took upon him the vow of a Nazarite, because it was an indifferent thing, or lawful for him to comply with the deep-rooted prejudices of the Jewish Christians: that if he had not complied at this time, and in the present circumstances, the Christianity of the Jewish converts would have been in danger, or at least their charity for, and union with, the Gentile churches which he had planted; and that if he had gone about to have explained himself immediately and at large, the consequence would probably have been as bad.


Verse 27

Acts 21:27. The Jews which were of Asia, St. Paul had lately spent three years in preaching there, and, notwithstanding the success his labours wereattended with, had met with great opposition from these people; so that it is no wonder they should be the leaders in such an assault upon him. See ch. Acts 19:9, Acts 20:3. 1 Corinthians 16:9.


Verse 28

Acts 21:28. Teacheth—against—the law, and this place: Every thing contrary to the law would be justly interpreted as contrary to the temple which was so evidently supported by a regard to it: but perhaps St. Paul might have declared that the destruction of the temple was approaching; which declaration we know was charged on Stephen as a great crime, ch. Acts 6:14. They urged further against St. Paul, that he brought Greeks, or Gentiles, into the temple. Now it is universally acknowledged, that any stranger might worship in that which was called "the court of the Gentiles;" but these zealots, without any proof but an uncertain conjecture and rumour, imagined that St. Paul had brought some uncircumcised Gentiles into the inner part of the court, which was appropriated to the people of Israel, and notified as such by Greek and Latin inscriptions on several of the pillars which stood in the wall that separated it, viz. "No foreigner must enter here."If any person violated this law, he was liable to be put to death. But it is to be observed by the way, that a proselyte, who by circumcision had declared his submission to, and acceptance of the whole Jewish religion, was no longer looked upon as a foreigner, but as one naturalized,—and so a fellow-citizen.


Verses 30-33

Acts 21:30-33. And all the city was moved, The accusation brought against St. Paul, though false, put all the city in a commotion, and brought a vast concourse of people together, who seized upon him in order to kill him; and therefore they drew him out of the court of the Israelites, lest it should have been defiled with his blood, and hurried him into the court of the Gentiles, which was not accounted so holy. The gates of the temple being shut, they immediately fell upon him, with what the Jews used to call the rebels' beating; which was the people's mode of punishing such as they apprehended had rebelled against their law, and that without any judicial process. Their manner of beating them was with staves, stones, whips, or any thing they could first lay their hands on; and they frequently inflicted this punishment so unmercifully, that several persons died under it. John Hyrcanus, high-priest and prince of the Jews, built the castle which is called Baris, that is, a palace or royal castle, on a steep rock, fifty cubits without the outer square on the north-west corner of the temple, but upon the same mountain, and adjoining to the said square. This was called The palace of the Asmonaeans in Jerusalem, as long as they reigned there. When Herod the Great came to be king of Judea, he rebuilt the castle, and made it a very strong fortress, lining or casing over the high rock on which it stood with polished white marble, so as to make it inaccessible from the subjacent valley, and building the castle itself so high, as to command the temple, and see what was done in the two outer courts of that sacred place, that he might send down his soldiers in case of any tumult; and when he had made these alterations, he called it Antonia, in honour of his great friend Mark Antony. When the Romans afterwards reduced Judea from a kingdom to a province, they also kept a strong garrison in the same place, particularly at the solemn festivals, when the Jews came in such prodigious multitudes to the temple. A great tumult being now made about the apostle, probably some of the centinels who kept watch on the south-east turret of the castle Antonia, spied it, and gave notice to the Roman tribune [Claudius Lysias, (ch. Acts 23:26.) who was captain of the fortress, and had one thousand soldiers under him] that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. Immediatelyupon this notice, the tribune took centurions, with the hundred soldiers whom they each of them commanded, and ran down the stairs which led from the south-east turret of the castle into the outer cloisters of the temple, and thence into the court of the Gentiles, where the tumult was. Upon seeing the tribune, attended with such a number of armed men, they left off beating the innocent apostle; when the tribune himself took him into his custody, and fulfilled the prophesy of Agabus, Acts 21:10-11 for he ordered him to be bound with two chains, concluding that he was some notorious malefactor.


Verse 37-38

Acts 21:37-38. Who said, Canst thou speak Greek? St. Paul's addressing himself in Greek to the chief captain surprised him a good deal, as he took him for an Egyptian impostor; upon which he said to him with some astonishment, "What then! can you speak Greek? Are not you that Egyptian, who some time ago made a disturbance in this country, and, under the pretence of being a mighty prophet, led out into the wilderness four thousand of the sicarii?" ( σικαριων ) a kind of assassins, so called from the daggers or small crooked swords which they hid under their coats: for the Latin word sica, signifies a short sword or small dagger. These Sicarii, or assassins, came to Jerusalem, under a pretence of worshipping God at the temple, but they were so audacious, as to murder men in the day-time, in the middle of the city; and at the festivals moreespecially, when multitudes came thither from all parts, they would mix with the crowd, and with their private daggers stab their enemies:andthen, to conceal their wickedness, they would seem as full of indignation against the authors of such crimes as any of the people; by which means they continued for some time unsuspected: but being employed by the governor Felix to murder Jonathan the high-priest, and consequently escaping with impunity for so notorious a crime, they became more bold and insolent, and slew great numbers at every festival; some out of private revenge, but others as hired to it. And these slaughters theycommitted, not only in the city, but also in the temple itself, making no scruple of violating that holy place. Four thousand of these men the Egyptian impostor here spoken of led out from Jerusalem; and going into the country, and having raised his reputation amongthe people, he gathered together a great multitude, which amounted at least to thirty thousand men. It is probable, that before he left the city, he had so concerted matters with some friends whom he left behind him, as to entertain hopes, that, upon his return, his design would be favoured by great numbers of the Jews in Jerusalem, and that he should have no opposition from any but the Romans. Having assembled a sufficient number, he brought them round out of the wilderness up to the mount of Olives, whence he intended to force his way into Jerusalem; for, when he came thither, he promised his deluded followers that they should see the walls of the city fall down at his command. However, he hoped, by surprise, to have attacked and beaten the Roman guards, and then designed to bring the people into subjection, and govern them bythe help of his armed associates. Upon his arrival at the mount of Olives, Felix came suddenly out upon him, with a large body of the Roman soldiers, both horse and foot, and the citizens in general prepared also to defend themselves against him. This speedy and general opposition so surprised him, that he dared not venture an engagement; but presently fled away with a body of his most trusty friends, as is usual in such cases. The Roman soldiers were ordered to engage with those in particular, neglecting the rest, who were only a confused multitude, and who immediately made off as they could by different ways. All accounts agree that the Egyptian himself escaped, though his attempt came to nothing. Upon a review of this account, which is taken from Josephus, &c. the reader will remark the great accuracy with which St. Luke has represented Lysias speaking of this matter. The men were led into the wilderness; the impostor's name was unknown, he being only called that Egyptian: he had escaped alive, and most of his followers had deserted him; so that the tumult of the Jews about him would have been no unnatural circumstance, since he had long ceased to be their idol.


Verse 39

Acts 21:39. A Jew of Tarsus, The inhabitants of Tarsus, (which city seems to have taken its name from Tarshish, the son of Javan, (Genesis 10:4.) boasted extremely of their antiquity; and Strabo tells us, that they were so considerable on account of learning, as well as commerce, wealth, and grandeur, that they might dispute the prize with Athens and Alexandria. Tarsus was the metropolis of Cilicia.


Verse 40

Acts 21:40. In the Hebrew tongue, Literally In the Hebrew dialect, which was the Syro-Chaldaic, and the language, or vulgar tongue, then in use among the Jew

Inferences.—Who can fail to admire the excellent and heroic temper which appeared in the blessed apostle, in the journey that he took to Jerusalem, when still the Holy Spirit testified in every city that bonds and afflictions awaited him; when his friends, in so affectionate a manner, hung round, and endeavoured to divert him from his purpose. He was not insensible to their tender regards: so far from it, that his heart melted, and was even ready to break under the impression; yet still he continues inflexible. There glows a sacred passion, warmer in his soul than the love of friends, or liberty, or life. The love of Christ constrains him, 2 Corinthians 5:14 and makes him willing, joyfully willing, not only to be bound, but to die at Jerusalem for his name, who had indeed died for him there. May this be the temper, these the sentiments of every minister, of every Christian, in such a case as his; where imprisonment is better than liberty, and death infinitely preferable to the most prosperous life, secured by deserting the Redeemer's service, or flying from any post which the great captain of our salvation hath assigned us.

On the other hand, we may learn from these wise and pious friends of St. Paul, to acquiesce in the will of God, whenever its determination is apparent; how contrary soever it may be to our natural desire, or even to those views which we have formed for the advancement of his cause and interest in the world; for who can teach him knowledge, or pursue the purposes of his glory by wiser and surer methods than those which he hath chosen? In the instance before us, the bonds of St. Paul, which these good men dreaded as so fatal an obstruction to the gospel, tended, as he himself saw and witnessed while he was yet under them, to the furtherance of it: and what they apprehended would prevent their seeing him any more, occasioned his returning to Caesarea, and continuing there for a long time; when, though he was a prisoner, they had free liberty of conversing with him. (See ch. Acts 23:33, Acts 24:23; Acts 24:27.) And even to this day we see the efficacy of his sufferings, in the spirit that they have added to those epistles which he wrote while a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and in that weight which such a circumstance also adds to his testimony. Let JESUS therefore lead us and all his servants whithersoever he pleases, and we will bless his most mysterious conduct, in sure expectation of that day, when what is now most astonishing and inexplicable in it, shall appear beautiful, and ordered for the best.

It is pleasing to observe the honour paid to Mnason, as an old disciple: it is truly an honourable title, and wherever it is found, may days speak, and the multitude of years teach wisdom! Job 32:7. May there be a constant readiness, as in this good old man, to employ all the remaining vigour of nature, in the service of Christ, and in offices of cordial love and generous friendship to those who are engaged, like the great apostle, in the work of their redeeming Lord!

It is no less delightful to see how the same principles of humble and benevolent piety wrought in the mind of St. Paul on the one hand, and, on the other, in those of St. James and the brethren of the circumcision; while the one recounted, and the others rejoiced in, what God had done by his ministry among the Gentiles. Thus should ministers always remember, that whatever good is done by their ministry, it is the work of GOD, and that the praise of it is to be rendered to him only. Whenever such assemble together for religious and friendly conference; may they have the same cause for mutual thanksgiving, while they hear and tell what efficacy God is giving to the word, as spoken by them; that efficacy, which is never likely to be greater than when the ministers of it appear least in their own eyes.

A prudent precaution, consistent with the strictest integrity, discovered itself in the advice of St. James and the Jewish Christians to their beloved brother St. Paul, to conform to certain customs of the Mosaic worship, in an affair in which he might so innocently comply. Yet what prudence or integrity may not sometimes be mistaken, or misrepresented? What good may not be evil spoken of, and abused as a cloak for mischief, when men's hearts are overflowing with malice, and are so wretchedly corrupted, as to take pleasure in indulging it under the disguise of religion? What numerous falsehoods attended every article of the charge which these furious Jews brought against St. Paul?—And yet,—so strong is bigoted prejudice!—it is believed on the credit of a noisy rabble. Who can help adoring that divine and remarkable Providence, whose gracious interposition prevented this light of Israel from sudden extinction; which saved the holy apostle from bring torn in pieces by an outrageous mob, fierce and irrational as so many wild beasts, before he could have liberty to speak for himself?

Let religion only not be condemned unheard, and then surely it cannot be condemned at all. Blessed be God, he can raise up guardians for its support, even from the most unexpected quarter, and animate men, like the Roman captain, from considerations merely secular, to appear most seasonably and effectually in the defence of his faithful servants. Christians should learn to glorify the wise conduct of an over-ruling Providence in instances so palpable as these,—and hence be stimulated in the firm and courageous pursuit of every duty, since God can never be at a loss for expedients to secure them in their honest adherence to his service.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, With deepest reluctance St. Paul had as it were by violence torn himself from the embraces of his dear Ephesian brethren; and now, since God had so directed, he pursues his voyage.

1. He proceeds to Tyre. They came in a straight course to Coos; the next day to Rhodes, famed for its colossus; and thence to Patara, to which port the ship wherein they sailed was bound, or was from thence to take a different course from that which they pursued; therefore, providentially finding another ship ready to sail for Phenicia, they embarked, and leaving Cyprus on the left, arrived on the coasts of Syria, and landed at Tyre, where the ship was to unlade her burden.

2. Seven days St. Paul and his companions halted at this celebrated mart, spending one Lord's day with the disciples whom they found there, and improving this short stay for their edification and comfort. Note; When we travel, we should inquire after the disciples; their profession will make them singular, and they may be easily found.

3. There he received from some of the inspired prophets of the church, a warning of the dangers which were before him, and that, if he meant to escape them, he must not go to Jerusalem; but his resolution was fixed, and his call evident; and therefore he departed at the expiration of the seven days.

4. They took a solemn farewel of him, when he thus determined to proceed; and brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city, willing to shew the apostle and his companions the greatest honour and respect, and desirous that they and theirs might to the last moment improve the blessing of his presence and company: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed for the blessing of God on the voyage, and upon those who were left behind. Then affectionately taking their leave of each other, the apostle and his friends proceeded on their course, and the Tyrian brethren returned.

5. From Tyre they sailed to Ptolemais, where St. Paul went on shore, desirous to salute the brethren, though he could stay but one day with them; yet one day of his company must have been a singular blessing and comfort to them. The visits of such men, though short, are highly to be prized.

2nd, From Ptolemais they journeyed to Caesarea, where they designed to make some considerable stay.

1. At Caesarea, Philip the evangelist hospitably received them. He was one of the seven deacons, and, after his successful labours among the Samaritans, and with the Ethiopian eunuch, was now settled in this great city. He had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy, endued with the miraculous gift of foretelling future events, (see Joel 2:28.)

2. There St. Paul receives a full prediction of the sufferings which were before him. As we tarried there many days, there came down from Judea a certain prophet, named Agabus, who had foretold the famine (ch. Acts 11:28.), and now probably came on purpose with this prophetic intelligence. Taking up Paul's girdle, he bound his own hands, and then his feet therewith, to affect the spectators the more by this significant action, which he explained of St. Paul, whom the Jews should thus bind, and deliver as a criminal to the Romans.

3. St. Paul's companions, as well as the brethren at Caesarea, hearing these melancholy tidings, united in their endeavours to dissuade him from going to Jerusalem; and with tears entreated him to consult the safety of that life, which, however ready he might be to part with, would be to them a loss irreparable.

4. St. Paul nobly replied to their entreaties, What mean ye to weep, and to break mine heart? Their tears affected him more than all his own expected sufferings; they were a temptation to shake his courage; and it troubled him, both that they should shew such timorousness, and labour to dissuade him from what was his duty; and that he should be obliged to deny them any request; since he could not comply, without grieving the Divine Spirit, under whose influence he now acted; and therefore he dares defy the fury of all his persecutors; for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus; prepared, if God so pleased, to shed his blood in confirmation of the truth which he preached, and to glorify his Master, as a martyr in his cause. Note; (1.) The foolish fondness of our friends is often a more dangerous trial than the avowed opposition of our enemies. (2.) Faithful souls are unmoved with the fear of sufferings. Death is welcome, if Jesus be but glorified thereby.

5. Perceiving his unshaken resolution, his friends desisted, submitting to the will of God, and acquiescing in his determination, which, they perceived, proceeded not from any inflexibility of temper, but from the conviction that he acted agreeably to the call of the Spirit of God. Note; Submission to God's will is not only our duty, but should be our delight, when we know that all he does is righteous, and that it will ultimately tend to our good, as well as his own glory. 3rdly, We have, 1. The journey of St. Paul to Jerusalem. His resolution was taken; and his companions, if they cannot dissuade him from his purpose, are ready cheerfully to share the danger: they therefore packed up their baggage, which they perhaps carried on their backs, and marched forward, accompanied by other brethren of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason, of Cyprus, an old disciple, venerable for his age, and his long standing in the profession of Christianity; with whom we should lodge, he having a house at Jerusalem, and it being very difficult to obtain lodgings there during the festival.

2. The brethren at Jerusalem gave him at his arrival a most hearty welcome. And the day following Paul went in with us unto James, the only apostle who seems to have been at that time resident at Jerusalem; and all the elders were present; when, after friendly salutations had passed, St. Paul gave them a particular and distinct account of all the churches that had been planted by his ministry, and the great success that God had given to his labours; which afforded them the most singular satisfaction, and excited their warmest praises; they glorified the Lord, who had done such great things by him. Note; God must have the glory of all our success; for whatever our labours are, it is he who giveth the increase.

3. St. James, in the name of the rest, hereupon offers his brother Paul his advice, desiring him, in condescension to the prejudices of the Jewish brethren, to shew his compliance with the ceremonial law. For though it was by no means to be imposed on the Gentile converts, nor was any justification before God, in whole or in part, to be expected from it; yet the Jewish converts being still attached to these rites, to which from their infancy they had been taught to pay such reverence, as being of divine appointment, they were in general zealous for their observance; and as it was not sinful to comply with them herein, St. James and the elders judged it would be prudent in him to conform to them for the preservation of mutual love and peace. The number of the disciples from the Jews was now increased to many thousands, or rather myriads, tens of thousands; and many had imbibed prejudices against St. Paul, through the false reports of the Judaizing teachers; as if, not content with teaching the Gentiles that they were free from the ceremonial law, he had also dissuaded the Jews from conforming thereto, leading them to apostatize from the institution of Moses, and to discontinue the usage of circumcision. What therefore was to be done in the present case? the multitude must soon know of his coming, and there was a danger of their assembling together to complain of him, as prejudiced against him. To promote therefore St. Paul's usefulness, which might be impeded hereby; and to reconcile the Jewish converts to him who had deserved so highly of the church of God; they propose to him an expedient which would silence the cavillers, and remove the prejudices of his Jewish brethren, who, when they saw him conform to the law, would be convinced of the falsehood of the reports which had been propagated concerning him. They advise him therefore to join himself with four other converted Jews, who were under a vow of Nazaritism, and to go through the usual rites with them, providing the sacrifices offered on this occasion, (Numbers 6:1; Numbers 6:27.) which would most effectually silence gainsayers: not that this should be any infringement of the Gentile liberty, that being already determined by a solemn decree.

4. St. Paul, willing to the weak to become as weak, readily yielded to their proposal: and taking with him the men who were under a vow of Nazaritism, entered peaceably into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification to the priests, which they would observe with the usual rites, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them as the law directed, Numbers 6:13-20.

Some have censured St. Paul's compliance, as countenancing the Jews in prejudices which ought to have been opposed; but I am persuaded that the thing was justifiable, and agreeable to the avowed maxim on which he always proceeded, (1 Corinthians 9:20.) according to which he had also circumcised Timothy; willing to please all men for their good to edification; charitably condescending to the infirmities of the weak; desirous, as far as he could with a good conscience, to comply with them in all indifferent matters, if by any means he might save some.

4thly, Soon we shall find the faithful Paul in bonds, and see him no more at liberty to the end of this history.

1. A tumult is raised against St. Paul. When he had nearly accomplished the seven days' attendance on the temple, and was about to offer his sacrifice, the Jews of Asia, who had come up to celebrate the passover, observed him in the temple; and, fired with rage, as if his presence there was a profanation of the holy place, they incensed the people against him; and raising a mob, as if he was the vilest criminal alive, they cried out for every Israelite to help in seizing and punishing most exemplarily such a miscreant, whom they accuse of apostacy from their religion, and as the arch-seducer, teaching every where, with a view to prejudice men against the Jewish church and nation, against the sacred law of Moses, and that hallowed temple in which they so highly gloried. And, not content herewith, they charge him with the most atrocious profanation of that holy place, by introducing uncircumcised Gentiles into the court of the Israelites—a calumny malicious and false in the highest degree, and grounded on their merely seeing Trophimus an Ephesian in St. Paul's company in the city. Note; (1.) The ministers of truth and goodness have been often first branded with an ill name; and then suggestions have been cast out against them, as if they were guilty of ill things. (2.) Innocence is no protection against calumny: some strained inuendo, or misrepresentation, easily turns the most innocent word or action into something highly criminal.

2. The city was soon in an uproar: exasperated by these suggestions, the people ran together, seized the apostle, and dragged him out of the temple; and forthwith the doors were shut, to prevent St. Paul's flying to the horns of the altar, or the Gentiles from rushing in; or rather that this holy place might not be defiled with his blood; for the intention of the people was evidently to murder him; and they began now to beat him violently, and must, if suffered of God, have quickly put an end to his life.

3. St. Paul is, through the divine Providence, rescued from instant death. The chief captain of the Roman forces, which kept garrison in the castle of Antonia, hearing of the uproar, ran down with a detachment to quell the tumult; and, seeing him appear with an armed force, the people immediately desisted from beating St. Paul. The captain hereupon, having seized and bound him, that it might appear he intended not to rescue him, but to proceed against him in a legal way, demanded who he was, and what he had done. Note; (1.) Popular tumults are highly dangerous, and to be suppressed at their first rising. (2.) God often makes even the earth to help the woman, Revelation 12:16.

4. The noise was so great, and the clamours so various, that it was impossible for the chief captain to get a satisfactory answer, while some cried one thing, some another, among the multitude. Therefore he commanded the prisoner to be carried into the castle, where he might examine into the affair; and as the soldiers guarded St. Paul thither, the crowd pressed so hard upon them, crying away with him, hang him, crucify him, that they were forced to take him in their arms, to prevent his being pulled to pieces, or smothered in the throng.

5. The apostle respectfully begs leave to speak a word with the chief captain, who expresses his surprise to hear him talk the Greek language, and intimates his suspicion of him, that he had been that Egyptian impostor, who, a few years before, had raised a sedition at the head of four thousand murderers, who soon increased to a considerable army; but they were defeated, and the ringleader, with a few of his accomplices only, escaped. St. Paul soon undeceived him, informing him, that he was by birth and religion a Jew, a citizen of Tarsus in Cilicia, a city of distinguished renown, and wished that he might be permitted to speak to the people, to clear himself from the malicious accusations of his persecutors. Note; Many are borne down through misrepresentation, and oppressed by those who, if they knew the truth, would never have joined in the cry against them.

6. Lysias, the chief captain, readily granted his request; when St. Paul, standing on the stairs, beckoned with his hand, intimating his desire to speak to the people; and a great silence being made thereupon, he addressed to them, in the Hebrew tongue, in that dialect which was in common use, the noble defence recorded in the following chapter.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Acts 21:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/acts-21.html. 1801-1803.

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Wednesday, February 19th, 2020
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