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Acts 21:27-40 No Mean City?

07/07/2021

No Mean City

Text. Acts 21:27-40

At Jerusalem Paul has been coaxed into a compromise that will bring him into disrepute and ruin his entire life’s work.  There’s not a lot of application in this section, but jet’s just do a little bit of historical work.  

1. Perjured Capture.

Paul is seized, not by the police, but by a lying lynch-mob of frenzied anti-Christian Jewish zealots. V27 See the circumstances:-

  • WHERE:  And when the seven days were almost ended, He was seized in the temple, – violently attacked by the Jews, the very people who would have professed to have a great love for the temple, and yet were prepared to defile its courts by setting upon another man, there to worship God as they were.   
  • WHO: the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, He was attacked by Jews who had travelled down from Ephesus not by the Jews who dwelt at Jerusalem. They would remember the success of the gospel in Ephesus, they would remember the number of converts and they would hate Paul just as much as they hated the Saviour Himself.   We’ve all met people like that!
  • HOW:   stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him, The method they used was typical – it was just rabble rousing.  They didn’t go along to the temple authorities and report the matter, nor to the Romans, the secular courts to pursue their case, certainly the Romans would have made little of their claims.  Instead they simply roused up the crowd with their rhetoric against Christ.  
  • WHY: Paul is their enemy!  Look at the unreasonable, irrational charges they laid against him that day, before the mob.   V28   The charges were false:
    • Crimes against Israel.  They claimed Paul had been guilty of turning Jews away from their customs and religion. Yet Paul loved the Jewish people and longed for them to be saved  Romans 10:1.  
    • Crimes against the Law.  I wonder were they thinking of Paul’s teaching in passages like Romans, 2:17-20  Romans 3:20.  Jews would have seen his understanding of the purpose of the law – as a tutor, to tach us our own unrighteousness and thus drive us to Christ, who alone kept the law perfectly, as an attack on the Law of God itself.
    • Crimes against the Temple.  They accused Paul, of bringing Gentiles into the temple. They had seen him in the streets with Trophimus of Ephesus, a Greek, and surmised that he would have brought this man into the temple courts. V29 There is a ‘Court of the Gentiles’ at the Temple, but the next area, the ‘Court of the women’ was strictly forbidden to them under penalty of death. Aiding and abetting such a crime was also worthy of death.  Paul  hadn’t brought Trophimus into the forbidden areas.

Now, you can see that these charges are completely without foundation. V30 The riot spread, and the city was filled with confusion.  Paul was dragged from the temple and the doors of the temple were shut, perhaps just to cut off his escape back into a place of sanctuary and the lethal beating began.  

2. Protective Custody.

At that point the Romans stepped in.  If they hadn’t, Paul was a dead man.  v31 In the north-west corner of the outer court of the temple was a set of steps, two flights, leading up into the Tower of Antonia, the home of the permanent garrison of Roman troops.  At festivals, the garrison would have been strengthened to around 1000 soldiers.  

  • The Restraint. The commander of the local garrison, now concerned that a riot was taking place under his watch, marched into the city. 200 of them at least – for there were at least two centurions.  On their arrival at the scene, the riot calmed, – and you can be sure that those 200 men didn’t stand around! Paul was handcuffed and arrested.  V32-34  At this stage there was so much confusion that the charges against Paul and the reasons for the riot were completely incoherent!  
  • The Reports.  Of course, when an arrest is made, there must be a report written!  There are two other accounts of this arrest. 
    • The soldiers’ report. The first one is by the Roman captain who effected the arrest, Acts 23:27-28  
    • The prosecutor’s account. In Ch24, the Jewish prosecutor, Tertullus, speaking before the Roman governor, described the scene and named the Roman commander involved, 24:6-8  The Roman commander considered it a rescue – the Jews complained about the violence!  

Presumably, when the Romans had arrested Paul, they had knocked about a few of the Jews as well!  Despite this, the mob still bayed for blood, with confusion and anger.  The people were acting so violently that Paul actually had to be carried by the soldiers to get him out of the reach of the mob, who followed, crying “Kill him!”  v35 -36 

  • The Request.  v37 Note that Paul is respectful; he asks for permission to speak. Up to now, he hasn’t even been allowed to speak, all these events seem to have happened in a very short space of time.   His words surprise the captain.  He speaks in GREEK!  How unusual!  This man is speaking in a cultured Greek language!  ‘Canst thou speak Greek?’  He is surprised, for had thought Paul was an escaped Egyptian insurgent!v38   Paul replies, identifying himself to the man,  V39  

So Paul begged leave to speak, – humbly, firstly establishing his credentials as a Jew, a man of Tarsus, – a respectable and prominent city.   

3. Powerful Communication.  V40  

Finally look at Paul’s boldness here.  He has been beaten, again – and has been arrested, and is about to go to prison, yet with boldness he stands on the steps of the prison and faces those who have beaten him!  

  • He spoke unto them.  Greek: τη εβραιδι διαλεκτω λεγων – The ‘Hebrew dialect’ – a lot of commentators (Not Matthew Henry) think that the ‘Hebrew tongue’ would be better understood as ‘the language of the Hebrews’ – which would have been a form of Aramaic, – the common language of the people of Jerusalem at that time, but whatever…
  • He silenced them!  Whatever language he used, it cause a great hush to occur across the mad crowd.  When Paul gestured for silence, the baying mob stopped baying, the screaming stopped, the ranting ceased, and the very power of God flowed through Paul as he began to witness for Christ!

Kent Hughes in ‘The Church Afire’  –  “What was it that caused the bleeding and broken apostle to ask for permission to speak ? – the desire even to be anathema for their sake, that they might know ChristRomans 9:2-4  

© Bob McEvoy July 2021

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