Study 24: Paul returns to Jerusalem and is arrested

Acts 21

Paul found leaving the elders of the church at Ephesus exceptionally difficult. He had spent about two and a half years living amongst them, explaining what new life in Jesus meant to them. When they accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, he encouraged them in their faith, and taught them how the word of God (the Old Testament only at that stage, as the New Testament was still in the very early stages of being written) applied to their lives. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

When we become Christians, it is important for us to understand the word of God as soon as we can. The Holy Spirit caused the Bible to be written just for us. It is not any old book. The Bible contains God’s instruction manual on how to live successfully in the world and how to ensure that our Christian lives are prosperous in every sense of the word. We need to read it and to apply the principles we learn from it to everything we do, including the way in which we treat people.

Acts 21:1-16

Paul finally left Miletus where he had met with the Ephesian elders and set out for Jerusalem. His journey took him from Miletus via Cos, Rhodes and Patara, where they changed ship to one going to Phoenicia. (See the map for study 23.) They sailed south of Cyprus and landed at Tyre in Syria Third Missionary Journey Patara to Jerusalemwhere the ship was to unload its cargo. Paul and his companions called to see the disciples here and they stayed with them for a week. It is interesting to note that the gospel had now been preached in almost every town and city and that believers were spread throughout the entire known world. These believers knew how to listen to the Holy Spirit, who told them what would happen to Paul if he set foot again in Jerusalem. The believers then told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. So, did Paul get it wrong? Did Paul disobey the Holy Spirit by going to Jerusalem? No. More likely, the Holy Spirit warned these believers about the suffering that Paul would face in Jerusalem. They drew the conclusion that he should not go there because of that danger. This is supported by Acts 21:10-12 where the local believers, after hearing from Agabus the prophet that Paul would be turned over to the Romans, begged him to turn back.

When it was time to go, Paul and his party started on their way to Jerusalem via Ptolemais (the modern port of Acco) where they met the believers, then to Caesarea. They were accompanied by the disciples, their wives and children, Acts 21:5-6. Paul, above all else, wanted to please God and be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ – whatever it cost him. (Acts 21:7-9)

At Caesarea, they stayed with Philip. Philip was the man who had been chosen along with Stephen (who was tried before the Sanhedrin, gave his testimony there and was sentenced to be stoned – the first Christian martyr). (Acts 6 and Acts 7)

Philip was also the man who was holding a series of meetings in Samaria, telling the people there about Christ. Crowds listened intently to what he had to say because of the miracles he did and there was much joy in that city! (Read Acts 8:4-8.) Even though there was much success in Samaria, the Holy Spirit asked Philip to go down to the Gaza road, where he met the Ethiopian eunuch, told him the good news, introduced him to Jesus, then baptised him in water. At this point the Holy Spirit took Philip away and he found himself in Azotus. He preached the good news there and in every city along the way, as he travelled to Caesarea. (Acts 8:38-40) Philip’s daughters all had the gift of prophecy. This gift is one that the Holy Spirit gives and it takes two forms. The first is the gift given to a specific person in order for him or her to operate in the “office” of a prophet for the purpose of building up the body of Christ, preparing the people to serve God and the community in which they live. Ephesians 4:11-13.

Gifts of the SpiritThese gifts are often referred to as “the five-fold ministry gifts” or “gifts of structure” and it would be expected that people having these gifts would be involved in leading a church. A person with an apostolic gift would typically be involved in breaking new ground, establishing churches, then moving on (just as Paul did – and he was called an apostle), leaving the new converts in the safe hands of the elders who are leaders or managers, who can teach them how to grow as Christians.

Prophets literally speak out the word of God. This can be in an explanatory sense -interpreting Bible passages for the times in which their own church is living – or it can mean speaking God’s word into a situation where God can provide leading to a church or to people within that church, for a specific instance or opportunity.

Evangelists lead others to Jesus then move on to the next people who need to know Him and tell them. The new converts gained by them are handed on to the appropriate leaders in the church, so that they can be provided with teaching and advice and guidance concerning their new lives.

A pastor is a person who has the gift of the Holy Spirit to look after a “flock” – a church full of Christians of all ages and levels of maturity. He will give his life for his people and take it as his responsibility to shepherd them into a relationship with Jesus like no other. But a pastor is not a “one-man-band” in his church; he is simply a part of Jesus’ body.

Secondly, there is also the gift of prophecy referred to where Paul is speaking to the church generally. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, he lists various gifts for the body of Christ. These gifts are often referred to as “claimed gifts”. It is generally accepted that these gifts are given to people for use at the time they need them, so that they can minister to others, believers or not, at a specific time and where there is a specific need. As a simple example, consider when someone is sick and needs healing. The gift of healing is available from the Holy Spirit for a believer to use to help another person at that time and for that purpose. These gifts are not exclusive and, whilst hearing of the results does encourage and build up the faith of the church, the person using them at that time is not a prophet in the “five-fold ministry” sense.

The gift of prophecy can be given to both men and women. Throughout the Bible, women actively participated in God’s work. (Acts 2:17; Philippians 4:3) Other women who prophesied include: Miriam (Exodus 15:20); Deborah (Judges 4:4); Huldah (2 Kings 22:14); Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14); Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:3); Anna (Luke 2:36-38) and, here in Acts, Agabus. (Acts 21:10-12)

Fifteen years earlier, Agabus had predicted the famine in Jerusalem. (Acts 11:27-29) Paul knew he would be imprisoned in Jerusalem. Although his friends pleaded with him to not go there, he knew that he had to because God wanted him to. Our desire to please God should overshadow our desire to avoid hardship and suffering. When we really want to do God’s will, we must accept all that comes with it – even the pain. Then we can say with Paul and Jesus: “The Lord’s will be done”. (Acts 21:13-14) Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied Paul and his friends to Jerusalem where they took him to the home of Mnason. He was one of the early disciples from Cyprus. The Bible doesn’t say if he was one of Paul’s converts on his first missionary journey in the years 46-48 AD. (Acts 21:15-16) He may have been, but it is testimony to the fact that Mnason’s conversion was not just some passing fad – something to accept for convenience or because one day he felt like it. It was solid and strong in his life. What about you and me? Do we have a faith that will stand the test of time. If we feel shaky about our lives, then it is time that we begin to learn more about Jesus and to study His word. Now would be an excellent time to start. It was never Jesus’ intention that we should be introduced to Him then go our separate ways. Rather, it was always His intention that we should establish a growing and eternal relationship with Him. Start NOW!

Hospitality is a blessing and, just like with any form of giving, it is more blessed to give than to receive. I am convinced that Mnason would have considered it as such. (Hebrews 13:2)

Acts 21:17-26. Paul arrives in Jerusalem and is put on trial

When Paul arrived in Jerusalem, several important things happened. (We should take note of these for ourselves when we return from a journey where we have been working for the Lord, or when someone comes to tell us about what is happening in the church in a different location. Acts 21:17-20)

* The brothers received them warmly.
* Paul went to meet with James and the elders of the Jerusalem church.
* Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
* When they heard this, they praised God.
* James and the elders reported what God had done in Jerusalem; how many thousands of Jews believed and how all of them remained zealous for the God’s law.

Finally they raised a problem with Paul. Jesus First(Acts 21:21-22)

The problem was that the Jewish believers were insisting that the Jewish converts should continue to follow the Jewish traditions and customs. (The Jerusalem council – Acts 15 – had settled the issue of circumcision of Gentile believers.)

Evidently, there was a rumour that Paul had gone far beyond their decision, even forbidding Jews to circumcise their children. They also knew that the Gentile believers who had become Christians under Paul’s ministry were taught that they did not have to adhere to the demands of the Jewish law and that, in Jesus, the demands of the law were fulfilled. In fact, Paul wrote to the Galatians explaining to them (and so to Christians down the ages) the doctrine of “justification by faith and faith alone”.

So-called “Judaisers” dogged Paul’s footsteps wherever he went on his missionary journeys. They attempted to combine Judaism with Christianity (which obviously does not work), thus leading the new believers away.

I ask you again, does God give you the power of the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you as a result of your trying to obey the Jewish laws? No, of course not. It is when you believe in Christ and fully trust him.” (Galatians 3:1-5)

This is the biggest challenge today: to not compromise or dilute our Christian life in any way.

So James and the elders proposed a solution to the problem that they believed would face them when it became generally known that Paul was in Jerusalem. (Acts 21:23-26) Shaving the head was part of a “Nazirite” vow. Evidently four men had made a religious vow and Paul was going to participate with them in the vow. (Apparently, he was asked to pay for some of the required expenses.) He would need to take part in the purification ceremony for entering the temple. (Read Numbers 6:9-20.) Paul submitted himself to this Jewish custom to keep peace in the Jerusalem church. Although Paul was a man of strong convictions, he was willing to compromise on non-essential points, becoming “all things to all people so that he might save some“.

When I am with those whose consciences bother them easily, I don’t act as though I know it all and don’t say they are foolish; the result is that they are willing to let me help them. Yes, whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him. 23 I do this to get the gospel to them and also for the blessing I myself receive when I see them come to Christ.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Often a church is split over disagreements about minor issues or traditions. Like Paul, we should remain firm on Christian essentials, but flexible on non-essentials. Of course, no one should violate his or her true convictions, but sometimes we need to submit to one another for the sake of the gospel.

Read Acts 21:27-36

The plan might have seemed to be a good one but it didn’t work! The Jews did not even wait for the seven days of the vow to expire in order to see what might happen next. Instead, they stirred up the crowd. We have seen this happen before – in fact, it happened almost everywhere that Paul had been. He had previously  been beaten, imprisoned and stoned for his faith so, in one sense, this was nothing new. The whole population of the city was electrified by these accusations and a great riot followed. Paul was dragged out of the temple and, immediately, the gates were closed behind him. 31 As they were killing him, word reached the commander of the Roman garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar“. Acts 21:27-31

Jerusalem - Temple and FortressThe commander of the Roman garrison had to do something to stop the riot. To have let it continue would have been political suicide for the commander himself. He would have been summoned to Rome by the emperor and would have been lucky to escape with his life if he had not quelled the disturbance. Ruling a conquered foreign country was always difficult, but ruling Palestine was all the more difficult as they were so into their religion!

In this case, he saved Paul from certain lynching, bound him in chains and then had to have him carried into the armoury – part of the Antonia Fortress that was accessible from the temple courts.

The crowd was yelling “Away with him, away with him“, but it wasn’t immediately obvious what the cause of the problem was.

Some Jews from (what is now known as Turkey) had roused the mob against him.” (Acts 21:27-29)

There are two ways to think of the Jewish laws. Paul rejected one way and accepted the other.

 1. Paul rejected the idea that the Old Testament laws bring salvation to those who keep them. Our salvation is freely given by God’s gracious act. We receive salvation through faith. The laws are of no value for salvation – except to show us our sin.

 2. Paul accepted the view that the Old Testament laws prepare us for and teach us about the coming of Jesus Christ. Christ fulfilled the law and released us from its burden of guilt, but the law still teaches us many valuable principles and gives us guidelines for grateful living. Paul was not observing the laws in order to be saved. He was simply keeping the laws as custom required to avoid offending those he wished to reach with the gospel. (See Romans 3:21-31; Romans 7:4-6; Romans 13:9, 10. For more on the law, see Galatians 3:23-29; Galatians 4:21-31.)

Read Acts 21:37-40

The garrison commander had jumped to the wrong conclusion, believing that Paul was a rebel who had attained a major following then had disappeared into the desert – perhaps what we would call a terrorist.

On hearing Paul speak Greek, a language that only educated people used, he discovered that his first impressions may have been wrong, so he allowed Paul to begin to speak to the crowd.

To discover what he said and the outcome, read on in the book of Acts. Then we will investigate it in the next study!



Study 24: Paul returns to Jerusalem and is arrested – Challenge Questions

Please complete all questions marked with * and then complete the rest of the study. The more you look in God’s word, the more you will get out of it.

Read the chapter at the beginning of the week then you have time to meditate on it, rather than rushing! Make God’s word your number one priority.


 1. *Read the notes and the Bible verses referred to in them. Highlight the points that “speak” to you and share with the group.


 2. What do you feel about Paul being advised to not go to Jerusalem yet he still left. Do you know anyone who you felt was making a big mistake; did you advise them or keep quiet? Give reasons.


 3. *From the gifts mentioned in the notes where do you see yourself fit into the church? Share an experience of using your Holy Spirit gift.


 4. *What do you think of Paul having his head shaved to try and reach the people? Have you ever compromised your beliefs to reach someone? Is there anything you would not compromise to reach the unsaved?


Read Acts 22:1-21

 5. Why is it important for us to speak calmly and clearly when we are telling others about how we became Christians? Why do you think people are likely to respond to what has happened to you rather than to a lecture about Christianity?


 6. *Paul began by explaining who he was and where he had lived, but then he said that he had been just as zealous for God as any of the Jews he was speaking to. Why did he use these examples when he spoke to his fellow Jews?


 7. *Paul explained his conversion to his listeners. His conversion was a dramatic one; not all are as dramatic as this one. Describe what are the key parts of becoming a Christian which might be meaningful to others when you tell them what happened to you when you became a believer.


 8. Why was Paul on the way to Damascus when Jesus stopped him in his tracks? What changes did Paul make to his itinerary as a result?


 9. *The men who accompanied Paul appreciated that something was happening, but did not understand what. Is it possible that when we become believers others close to us may also not understand what has happened to us? Explain.


10. Did Paul understand who was speaking to him as he lay on the ground? Give reasons for your answer.


11. Paul returned to Jerusalem from where he had set out just a short time earlier. The men who knew him before he had become a believer were still in that city. What had they known him as, and why did the Lord send him away?


12. *What was the commission (calling) that the Lord gave Paul and how far-reaching was it in terms of the spread of the word of God? Why did the Lord need an additional Apostle (1 Corinthians 15:9-11) on top of the twelve to accomplish this task?


Read Acts 22:22-30

13. *Did the Jews who were listening to Paul speak appreciate his testimony and his commissioning by the Lord? Give reasons. Have people changed from that day to this in their reactions to people becoming Christians? Explain your answer.


14. Why was what the Roman commander had ordered illegal? Can you think of another time when Paul had been illegally flogged by the Romans. Explain the passage in your own words.


15. *When the commander realised his error, what information did he give to Paul and why was he so amazed at Paul’s explanation? Was the commander concerned at his error? Why?


16. *The next day, Paul was released, but he was ordered to be brought before the Sanhedrin. What was the Sanhedrin and who do we know were members of it? Were any of the members of the Sanhedrin believers?


17. *Write out the essential points of your own testimony so that you can speak it in no longer than one minute – one day this might be all the time you have to tell someone what Jesus has done for you!