THE BOOK OF ACTS: PART FORTY

                                           SERMON DELIVERED ON 11-02-19

       Last time we were together we left Paul participating in a purification rite at the request of the leadership of the Jerusalem Church who wanted Paul to demonstrate he was not teaching against the Law of Moses as he had been accused of by Jewish converts to Christianity. We discussed that whole issue in some depth and today we will continue with what happened next to Paul.

       Going on in Acts 21 we see that some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple and began to speak abusively about him and thus created the same type of mob effect we saw with the Ephesians and their goddess Artemis. Except now it wasn’t because Paul was speaking against a pagan god or goddess but because Paul was seen as speaking against the God of Israel.

      This led to Paul being seized and dragged from the temple. In verse 29 it is reported that these Jews had previously seen Paul with some Greeks and assumed he had brought them into the temple area which apparently he had not. Here is what they said.

       Acts 21:27b-28:  They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, "Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place."

       It is further recorded that while they were trying to kill Paul, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. The commander took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the commander came up and arrested Paul and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then the commander asked who Paul was and what he had done.

       It is recorded that some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another. Very much like the uproar we read about at Ephesus.  Since the commander could not get at the truth of what the uproar was all about, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks.  It’s recorded that the violence of the mob was so great that the soldiers had to carry Paul to the barracks while the crowd was shouting “Away with him.”

       Acts 21:37-40: As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, "May I say something to you?"   "Do you speak Greek?" he replied. "Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?" Paul answered, "I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people." Having received the commander's permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic:

       Apparently Paul addresses the soldiers in Greek.  It is interesting that Paul is asked if he spoke Greek.  Apparently the arresting authorities believed Paul to be some uneducated rift raft who was stirring up the people with messianic claims.  We see this in their thinking that Paul was the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time previous.  False messiahs were appearing regularly during this period of time as witnessed by the historians of the time. 

       The first-century historian Josephus wrote about Theudas who twelve years after the death of Christ claimed to be a great prophet and deceived a great multitude into believing he could divide the Jordan River.  Many of his followers were killed and Theudas was beheaded.  Both Josephus and the Church historian Eusebius wrote about the messianic Egyptian aspirant who led 30,000 people to the Mount of Olives and the desert proclaiming that he would cause the walls of Jerusalem to be destroyed.  As we see, the Roman authorities appear to have thought that the Apostle Paul was this Egyptian.

       Origen spoke of a certain first-century wonder-worker named Dositheus who claimed he was the Christ foretold by Moses.  In Acts 13:6, we read about the false prophet Bar-Jesus.  In his Antiquities, Josephus wrote that, “so many false christs began to appear among the Jews of Judea during the time of the early Church that hardly a day went by that the Roman procurator did not put some of them to death.”  Josephus further states that, “the country was full of robbers, magicians, false prophets, false messiahs, and impostors who deluded the people with promises of great events.”

       So when the Roman authorities took Paul into custody, they probably thought “here we go again,” another rebel rouser trying to make a name for himself and causing us to have to once again intervene to keep the peace. 

       So why did the Jews react the way they did to Paul. Paul had peacefully arrived in Jerusalem and had joined himself to the leadership of the Jerusalem Church. He was willing to participate in a purification ritual to demonstrate he was not teaching against the Mosaic Law.  And yet at the instigation of some apparently unbelieving antichrist Jews from the province of Asia, it appears many Jews in the city rose up in opposition to Paul so intense that they were out to kill him.

       Remember, earlier in chapter 21 we saw that the leadership of the Jerusalem Church had told Paul that there were many thousands of Jews who had come to believe in Christ.  When we covered the Pentecost event when the Holy Spirit was given it is recorded that around 3000 were added to the number of believers that very day.  Now many years had passed and we can only assume that many more thousands of Jews had become believers in Christ.  We are talking here about Jewish converts. 

       Were some of those that made up this mob against Paul the zealous for the Law Christian Jews that Paul was asked to appease by participating in a purification rite?  We don’t know but they could have been. The leaders of the Jerusalem Church were certainly concerned about how they would react to Paul’s being there.  Remember they had said “What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come.”

       On the other hand, there were plenty of unbelieving antichrist Jews in Jerusalem. These are Jews who did not believe Jesus was the promised Messiah to Israel.  These were the Jews who were vehemently opposed to the developing Christian community. These were the Jews who were following Paul everywhere he went trying to prevent him from teaching Christ.  These antichrist Jews were especially angry with Paul for going to the Gentile world with a message of salvation and teaching that the promises made to Abraham extended to both Jews and Gentiles.

       Under Jewish theology at the time, only Israelites were considered eligible for having a relationship with God.  Only Israelites and proselytes to Judaism were believed to be eligible recipients of the promises made to Abraham. Gentiles could become recipients of the promises made to Abraham only if they became circumcised and kept the Mosaic Law. Paul was teaching that Gentiles were included in these promises without having to be circumcised or keep Mosaic Law. 

       By the time Paul had returned to Jerusalem he had been in the mission field for many years preaching to both Jews and Gentiles.  His teachings were well known by this time to both Jewish converts to Christ and to the unbelieving Jews. While it is apparent that Peter and James and other leadership of the Church understood that Gentiles were to be included without the need to be circumcised and keep Mosaic regulations, this understanding was not universal among Jewish converts to Christ and certainly wasn’t true among the unbelieving Jews.    

       It is recorded that Paul spoke to the crowd in Aramaic.  Aramaic is a Semitic language spoken from about the eleventh century BC by ancient Middle Eastern people known as Aramaeans. It is closely related to Hebrew, Syriac, and Phoenician and was written in a script derived from the Phoenician alphabet.  Aramaic had replaced Hebrew as the language of the Jews as early as the 6th century BC.  While most of the Old Testament is written in Hebrew, parts of the Book of Daniel and Ezra are written in Aramaic.

       The Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud’s are written in Aramaic.  The Talmud’s are commentaries on the Hebrew Scriptures. In first century Israel, Hebrew remained the language of the Jewish religious leadership and upper class but Aramaic was the language of the people.  It is believed Jesus spoke mostly in Aramaic.  Aramaic continued in wide use until about 650 AD, when it was supplanted by Arabic. 

       It is recorded that when Paul spoke to the crowd in Aramaic they became very quite. They probably expected Pau to speak to them in Greek as it is recorded that he spoke to the soldiers in Greek. When he began speaking in their native tongue they momentarily warmed up to him a little. What then follows is a rehearsal by Paul of how he came to be a follower of Jesus. He begins by providing background information about himself.

       Acts 22:3-5:. I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

       So Paul begins by telling his accusers that in the past he was one of them, zealous for the Law and intently against the Christian movement, being a prime mover in trying to destroy the movement’s very existence.  He goes on to tell of his experience on his way to Damascus when a bright light from heaven flashed around him and he fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him  `Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?'

       He goes on to tell how the person speaking to him identifies himself as Jesus of Nazareth whom he was persecuting.  He continues to tell how he was blind from the light and was led into Damascus by his companions. He them says the following:

       Acts 22:12-18: A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, `Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very moment I was able to see him. "Then he said: `The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.  And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.'  "When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking. `Quick!' he said to me. `Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.' 

       What we have here is Paul being quoted in the first person as he addresses his accusers. He is giving an account of what happened to him on his way to Damascus and immediately thereafter. It is interesting that Paul speaks of Ananias as a devout observer of the Law and highly respected by all the Jews living in Damascus. Here again we have an example of a convert to Christ continuing to keep the Mosaic Law.

       It is instructive that Paul leaves out a significant amount of information as to his activities immediately following his baptism.

       In Acts chapter 9 where Paul’s conversion is recorded by Luke, it is stated that he stayed with the Damascus disciples several days and then began to preach Christ in the Jewish synagogues in Damascus.  It is recorded that after many days had gone by, the Jews who he had been preaching to in Damascus planned to kill him.  Learning of their plot, Paul’s followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the city wall.  Paul then proceeded to travel to Jerusalem.  The fact Paul is seen as having followers indicates he stayed in Damascus for a significant period of time.

       Acts 9 records that when Paul came to Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples there but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. However, the disciple Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and told them about Saul’s conversion experience in Damascus and how he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus to the Jews in Damascus.  Luke then records the following in Acts 9.

       Acts 9:28-30.  So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

       In his defense before his accusers in Jerusalem, Paul says nothing about what Luke records in Acts 9 as having transpired subsequent to his conversion and before he traveled to Jerusalem. Paul says nothing about meeting with the Apostles or freely moving around Jerusalem preaching Christ.

        All he says is that when he returned to Jerusalem subsequent to his conversion experience at Damascus, he was praying at the temple, fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking to him and telling him to leave Jerusalem immediately because his testimony about Jesus would not be accepted.  Paul apparently didn’t feel it necessary to provide additional information as to his activities subsequent to his conversion at Damascus. It could even be that Paul had forgotten some of what he did immediately following his conversion.  It must be understood that his current stay in Jerusalem was two decades after his conversion.

        Paul’s conversion is believed to have occurred around AD 36.  His arrival in Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 22 is believed to be around AD 58 which is some 22 years after the events recorded in Acts 9.  During these 22 years Paul had traveled extensively throughout Asia and Macedonia covering thousands of miles on three separate missionary journeys during which time he interacted with thousands of people and established a number of churches.  I am sure he didn’t remember all that he did during this period of time.

       Now let’s get back to Paul’s defense against his accusers in Jerusalem. As already cited, Paul relates how after coming to Jerusalem at some point after his conversion, he was praying at the temple, fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking and telling him to leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept his testimony about Jesus. He then tells them what else the Lord said to him.  

       Acts 22:21:  "Then the Lord said to me, `Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'" 

       It is recorded that the crowd listened to Paul until he said this.  Then as the old saying goes, all hell broke loose. When Paul said the Lord had said to him to leave Jerusalem and he would be sent to the Gentiles the crowd erupted.

       Acts 22: 22b-24:  Then they raised their voices and shouted, "Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!"  As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 

       Well, why were the people shouting at him like this?  Let’s go back and look at how this incident developed in the first place.  As covered last time, Paul had come to Jerusalem and joined himself to the church leadership who advised him that there were thousands of Jewish believers in Christ and they were all zealous for the Law. It is recorded that these believers had been informed that Paul was teaching that all the Jews who live among the Gentiles did not have to keep the Law of Moses or circumcise their children and live according to Jewish customs.

       The leadership of the Jerusalem Church was very concerned about these reports about Paul and asked him to participate with some other Jews in a purification rite to demonstrate that there is no truth in these reports but that Paul was living in obedience to the law.

       Paul agreed to participate in the purification rite but before the seven day period of this ceremony was over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple and began to speak abusively about him.  They accused Paul of teaching all men everywhere against the Jewish people and their law and the temple. They accused Paul of bringing Greeks into the temple which was considered a defilement of the temple.

       In is recorded that these Jews from the province of Asia were successful in arousing the whole city and people came running from all directions to join what became a mob event. The people seized Paul and probably would have killed him if it wasn’t that the Roman authorities intervened.

       Paul is allowed to defend himself and give a brief overview of how he became a believer in Christ.  However, it is when he speaks of the Lord telling him he will be sent to the Gentiles is when they rose up in arms and wanted to kill him. As already discussed, under Jewish theology at the time, only Israelites were considered eligible for having a relationship with God.  Only Israelites were believed to be eligible recipients of the promises made to Abraham. Gentiles could become recipients of the promises made to Abraham only if they virtually became Jews by being circumcised and keeping the Mosaic Law.

       We know from Paul’s letters that he was teaching that Gentiles were included in these promises without having to be circumcised or keep Mosaic Law.  It is apparent from what we read in Acts 21 and covered in detail last time is that Jewish converts to Christ had come to believe Paul was also teaching that Jews who live among the Gentiles did not have to be circumcised or keep the Law of Moses, something that was very troubling to them.

       So it is very likely that some of the makeup of this mob attacking Paul were Jewish believers who had come to believe Paul was teaching against Jewish converts to Christ having to be circumcised and keep the Mosaic regulations. Then there probably was a significant contingent of unbelieving Jews who looked upon Paul as a traitor to Judaism and wanted him dead. When Paul spoke of the Lord telling him to go the Gentiles, this was the last straw and they became apoplectic in their hatred for Paul and wanted to put him to death.

          We read that the Roman soldiers proceeded to take Paul into the barracks and were about to flog him

       Acts 22: 25b-29: Paul said to the centurion standing there, "Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?" When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. "What are you going to do?" he asked. "This man is a Roman citizen." The commander went to Paul and asked, "Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?"   "Yes, I am," he answered. Then the commander said, "I had to pay a big price for my citizenship."   "But I was born a citizen," Paul replied.  Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.

       As briefly covered in a sermon last May where we see both Paul and Silas claiming Roman citizenship, being a Roman citizen was special.  There were three ways you could become a Roman citizen. You could actually purchase Roman citizenship, gain it through military service or be born in a Roman province. So how did Paul become a Roman citizen? We know Paul was born a a Hebrew. He was of the tribe of Benjamin. Linage is usually traced through the Father so it is likely Paul’s father was a Hebrew as well.  Yet Paul tells the authorities he was born a Roman citizen.

       The best guess as to how Paul gained Roman citizenship is that because he was born in the Roman city of Tarsus which was in the Roman province of Cilicia, he automatically became a Roman citizen. Beginning as early as the first century BC, during the reign of Julius Caesar, laws had been passed expanding Roman citizenship beyond Roman Italy. Part of the reason for this was to elicit loyalty from the indigenous populations of areas being conquered by Rome.

       There is an interesting article on Roman citizenship during imperial times in the November/December 2019 issue of the National Geographic publication “History,”  It is stated in this article stated that “any Roman citizen from any part of the Empire facing trial could express their desire to appeal directly to Caesar.”  We will read of Paul using this privilege when we get to chapter 25 of this series.        

       Acts 22:30: The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.

       Next time we will see how Paul defends himself before the Sanhedrin


       In 1 John 4:10, Apostle John writes that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sin.  In the John 11:25-26 Jesus is recorded as saying that He is the resurrection and the life and that those who believe in Him will live, even though they die.  Jesus went on to say that whoever lives and believes in Him will never die.

       Well, we all die don’t we?  It is not physical death that the sacrifice of Jesus delivers us from.  Jesus plainly said we die and yet if we believe and live in Him we will never die.  It is staying dead that the sacrifice of Jesus delivers us from. The sacrifice of Christ delivers us from eternal death and it does this not only by His death on the cross but through his resurrection from that death.

       There were some in the Corinthian Church who were saying there was no resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15).  Paul responded to this by pointing out that if the dead are not raised then Christ hasn’t been raised either and they are still in their sins.

       Paul is essentially saying that it is both the death and the resurrection of Christ that facilitates our resurrection to life.  Because of what Jesus did we don’t stay dead. Life is restored to us.  Paul wrote in Romans 4:25 that Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

       Our salvation is based on both the death of Christ and His resurrection. In Revelation 1:18 Jesus is quoted as saying “I died, and behold I am alive for evermore.” Resurrection is all about restoration of life after having experienced cessation of life. This was true for Jesus and because it is true for Jesus it is true for us.

       While our partaking of the bread and wine relates primarily to Christ’s death on the cross, let us not forget as we take partake of the elements that it is through His resurrection we are restored to life.

       As Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.