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Jesus Fish 3

Acts: Chapter 21

Written By: Steve Shirley

     Let’s begin by reading (Acts 21:1-14).

     (Verses 1-2)(NKJV) “Now it came to pass, that when we had departed from them and set sail, running a straight course we came to Cos, the following day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. (2) And finding a ship sailing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail.”

***Note: Let’s put a bookmark on a map of Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey (maps are usually found in the back of most Bibles).

     Paul, and his traveling companions “departed” from Miletus (Acts 20:17-38), and set sail for Cos (about 40 miles south). The “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible” says this of the phrase, “When we had departed from them” – “May be rephrased as “after tearing ourselves away from them.” The apostle Paul’s affection for his fellow believers ran deep (20:37). It must have been a difficult life for Paul, constantly leaving friends and family as he traveled about proclaiming the gospel.”

     “Cos” (“Coos” – KJV) – Cos was the capital city of a small island (about 100 sq. miles) in the Aegean Sea, which was also called Cos. “Nelson’s Bible Dictionary” says, “Cos was famous for its wines, ointments, and purple dyes, and for its fine textured silk and cotton.” “Unger’s Bible Dictionary” says, “It is now called Kos and has a population of more than twenty thousand.” The “Zondervan Bible Dictionary” adds that it was, “the birthplace of Hippocrates, the father of medicine and of Ptolemy Philadelphus.”

     “Rhodes” – Rhodes was the capital city on the SE side of a large island which was also called Rhodes. The island was located in the Aegean Sea, and was about 46 miles long and 18 miles wide. One of the “7 Wonders Of The Ancient World,” called the “Colossus of Rhodes” was located on this island, but it had been destroyed long before Paul arrived. “Nelson’s” says the “Colossus” was, “a huge bronze statue of the sun-god Apollo built by the Greek sculptor Chares between 292 and 280 B.C.” (The “Zondervan Bible Dictionary” says the “Colossus” was “more than 100 feet high, and it was wrecked by an earthquake about 224 B.C.”). The harbor where Paul’s ship docked can still be seen today, and it is called “St. Paul’s Harbor.” Its population today is about 75,000.

     “Patara” – Patara was a seaport of Lycia. It was perhaps most famous for its temple to Apollo, however, the city apparently had many impressive buildings. “Unger’s Bible Dictionary” mentions that many ruins from Patara are still visible today, however, most that have survived date to shortly after Paul’s time such as: “the handsome gate of c. A.D. 100; the baths of Vespasian A.D. 69-79; the granary of Hadrian, second century; the theater with its second-century stage building.”

     “Phoenicia” (“Phenicia” – KJV) – Phoenicia is rarely mentioned in the New Testament. It is mentioned only here, and in (Acts 11:19)(Acts 15:3)(Acts 27:12). It was a coastal country, located on the northeast Mediterranean, north of Judea, and was about 15 miles wide, and 120 miles long. Two major ports were located there: Tyre and Sidon. Today, this area is known as Lebanon.


     (Verses 3-4)(NKJV) “We saw the island of Cyprus to our left but went on to the country of Syria. We came to land at the city of Tyre. The ship was to leave its load of freight there. (4) We looked for the Christians and stayed with them seven days. The Christians had been told by the Holy Spirit to tell Paul not to go to Jerusalem.”

     Looking at our map of Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey, we can see that this leg of Paul’s journey was a long one. The distance from Patara to Tyre was just under 400 miles. On the way, we see the island of Cyprus that they passed by on the left.

     “Cyprus” – Cyprus is mentioned by name in the New Testament only in the book of Acts (8 times). It was a large island (about 140 miles long, and 60 miles wide [at its greatest width]), located in the northeast Mediterranean Sea. It was the home of Barnabas (Acts 4:36), and had a large Jewish population.

      “Syria” – Prominently mentioned in the Old Testament (67 times), it is mentioned only 8 times in the New Testament. As we saw in (Acts 15:41), it was the first place Paul went to on his “2nd Missionary Journey.” 

     “Tyre” – As mentioned above, it was located in the coastal country of Phoenicia. It is often mentioned in the New Testament with “Sidon,” which is 22 miles north of it. First mentioned all the way back in the Book of Joshua in the Old Testament (Josh 19:29), it was a very ancient city (perhaps founded as early as 2750 B.C.). While on earth, we see that Jesus visited Tyre and Sidon (Mt 15:21-28)(Mk 7:24-30). It was well known for its “purple dye,” and “cedars” (1 Kin Ch. 5) (the “cedars of Lebanon” – Judg 9:15, 1 Kin 5:6).

     “We looked for the Christians and stayed with them seven days” – From the “MacArthur Study Bible” – “The church at Tyre had been founded by some of those who fled Jerusalem after Stephen’s martyrdom (11:19) – a persecution Paul himself had spearheaded.” From the “Zondervan NIV Study Bible” – “seven days – These, added to the 29 days since the Passover in Philippi, would leave only two weeks until Pentecost.”


     “The Christians had been told by the Holy Spirit to tell Paul not to go to Jerusalem” – Since Paul failed to heed this warning given to the “Christians by the Holy Spirit,” and went to Jerusalem anyway, there is a debate as to whether Paul disobeyed God by doing so. Here are several thoughts:

1. Paul may not have known that the “Holy Spirit” told the “Christians” what they said to him, but rather, he may simply have thought they were telling him (of their own accord) not to go to Jerusalem out of concern for his safety.

2. As we mentioned in (Acts 20:22), Paul said “I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem.” The Greek word for “bound” in this verse is “deo,” and it is defined as, “The verb implies that he felt there was no freeing himself from the impulse to go” (“Cambridge Commentary”). In other words, Paul was driven inside (in his spirit) to go to Jerusalem. (Some believe the “spirit” in Acts 20:22 may have been the Holy Spirit).

3. As we mentioned in the previous chapter (Acts 20:4), a number of churches had collected a significant amount of money to give to the church at Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1-4)(Rom 15:26)(2 Cor 8:2-4). Paul was carrying this donation, and certainly had to believe that God had been behind the giving of it. This being the case, God would want him (and those traveling with him who represented the churches) to complete delivery of this God-ordained offering to the church at Jerusalem.

4. As we will see in a few verses (10-14), the prophet Agabus warned Paul what would happen when he got to Jerusalem (he would be bound, arrested, and imprisoned). This prophecy, which was from the “Holy Spirit,” and was fulfilled, indicates that God knew Paul was going to Jerusalem, and was preparing him for what would happen. (Agabus did not say, “Don’t go.”)

5. Later, while Paul was imprisoned in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11)(NKJV), Jesus seems to be confirm that what Paul did in going to Jerusalem was His will, saying, “But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.””


     (Verses 5-6) “And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed. (6) And when we had taken our leave one of another, we took ship; and they returned home again.

     When the 7 days with the Christians at Tyre were completed, and the ship had unloaded its cargo (v. 3), Paul, Luke (“we” – 1st person, he was with Paul), and the rest of Paul’s traveling companions headed to the ship to continue their journey to Jerusalem.

     “we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed” – (From “Ellicott’s Commentary”) “The choice of the place was in itself natural enough. It was the spot where the two sets of friends were to part. It was removed from the stir and bustle of the city. We may add that it fell in with the common Jewish practice of using the banks of rivers or the seashore as a place of prayer.” (i.e. Acts 16:13)

     “kneeled down” – “Kneeling” often occurred in conjunction with prayer: (2 Chr 6:13)(Dan 6:10)(Lk 22:41)(Acts 7:60)(Acts 9:40)(Acts 20:36).

***Note: Notice that “children” would have been taking part in this too.


     (Verses 7-9)(NASB) “When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and after greeting the brothers and sisters, we stayed with them for a day. (8) On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. (9) Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses.

     “we arrived at Ptolemais” – The distance from Tyre, south to Ptolemais was only about 25 miles. They arrived that same day, and “stayed with” the “brothers and sisters” for the rest of the day.

     “Ptolemais” (today called “Tolmeita”) (From the “Nelson’s Bible Dictionary”) “A seaport in northern Palestine. In the Old Testament, the city is known as Acco (Judg. 1:31; Accho, KJV). Today the city is about nine miles north of Haifa, and 12 miles south of Lebanon.”

     “Caesarea” – Caesarea was built by Herod the Great between 25 – 13 B.C., and he named it in honor of Caesar Augustus. (More on “Caesarea” in Acts 9:30.)

     “Philip the evangelist” – We first see Philip in (Acts 6:1-6), when he was 1 of 7 men “of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom,” who were “appointed” by the 12 apostles to be a deacon, and help lighten their load. 

     All that we know about Philip is basically found in (Acts Ch. 8). After the death of Stephen in (Acts Ch. 7) (1 of the 7 men chosen along with Philip), we are told in (Acts 8:1-3) that there was “great persecution against the church at Jerusalem,” and Christians “scattered” to other places. We are told in (Acts 8:4-5) that Philip was one of those who “scattered,” going to Samaria.” In (Acts 8:6-13), we see that while there, Philip performed “miracles,” cast out “unclean spirits,” “healed the paralyzed and lame,” and led many people to the Lord, including a “sorcerer named Simon.”

     In (Acts 8:26-38), we are told the well-known story of how Philip led an Ethiopian eunuch to the Lord, and baptized him. After this baptism, “the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away,” and sent him to “Azotus, And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea” (Acts 8:39-40). Many years later, we see here that Philip is still in Caesarea. He is now called an “evangelist,” and “(has) four virgin daughters who (are) prophetesses.”

***Note: It is important to remember that the “Philip” we are speaking of here is different from the “Philip” who was a disciple of Jesus.

***Trivia note: Philip is the only person specifically called an “evangelist” in the Bible. (Paul tells Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” in 2 Tim 4:5).


     “four virgin daughters who were prophetesses” – 

     There are 9 women in the Bible who are called true prophetesses (Hebrew “nbiyah” / Greek “prophetis” meaning “inspired woman”). They are:

Miriam (Ex 15:20)
Deborah (Judg 4:4)
Huldah (2 Kin 22:14)
Isaiah’s Wife (Isa 8:3)
Anna (Lk 2:36-38)
These 4 daughters of Philip (Acts 21:8-9)

     While these 9 are the only women called prophetesses specifically, most agree that it is not a complete list of all of the women in the Bible who prophesied. Some others who are believed to have spoken prophetically are:

Rachel (Gen 30:24)
Hannah (1 Sam 2:1-10)
Abigail (1 Sam 25:28-31)
Elisabeth (Lk 1:41-45)
Mary (mother of Jesus)(Lk 1:46-55)

     The Jewish Talmud also adds Sarah and Esther to the list of prophetesses.

     In addition, 2 other women are considered “false prophetesses.” These are Noediah (Neh 6:14) and Jezebel (Rev 2:20). (Ezek 13:17) gives a warning specifically about “women” who prophesy falsely.


     (Verses 10-11) “And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. (11) And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle (belt), and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle (belt), and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”

     “Agabus” – “Agabus” (desire) – We know absolutely nothing about Agabus personally. All we know is that he was a “prophet” of God, who made two prophecies, both of which came true. The first prophecy is found in (Acts 11:27-30), where Agabus prophesied that there would “be a great famine throughout all the world,” and the second prophecy is found here. (The “great famine” happened in 45-46 A.D., about 15 years before this second prophecy.)

     This second prophecy will be fulfilled shortly, beginning in (verse 26)

***Note: Dramatically “acting out” a prophecy happened on a number of occasions in the Bible. Can you think of some other examples of this in the Bible?


     (Verses 12-14) “And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought (pleaded with) him not to go up to Jerusalem. (13) Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. (14) And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.”

    “we, and those of that place” – Luke, Paul’s traveling companions, and the Christians in the Caesarean church.

     “I am ready… to die… for the name of the Lord Jesus” – Paul makes a similar statement in the following verses: (Phil 1:20-21)(Acts 20:24)(Rom 14:8).

     “The will of the Lord be done” – Many verses in the Bible tell us the importance of doing “the will of the Lord.” Can you think of some of these verses?


     Next, let’s read (Acts 21:15-25).

     (Verses 15-17) “And after those days we packed and went up to Jerusalem. (16) Also some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and brought with them a certain Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to lodge. (17) And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.”

    “up to Jerusalem” – Remember, as we have mentioned in previous studies (i.e. Acts Ch. 15), that over and over in the Bible, people are described as “going up” to Jerusalem, or “coming down” from Jerusalem (i.e. see: Mt 20:17-18, Mk 3:22, Lk 2:42). This is because Jerusalem sits upon a hill, and all roads leading to it are “up.”

     The distance between Caesarea and Jerusalem is about 75 miles. Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, likely in time for Pentecost, which had been Paul’s goal (Acts 20:16), Paul’s third, and final missionary journey is done.

     “Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple” – Other than where he was from, we know little about Mnason. The fact that he was able to give “lodging” to Paul’s traveling party, plus “some of the disciples from Caesarea” seems to indicate that he had a large house, and therefore may have been affluent. The “Meyer’s Commentary” says that, “The name is Greek, and probably he was, if not a Gentile Christian, at any rate a Hellenist (Hellenistic Jew).” 

     An “early disciple” may indicate that Mnason was one of the “120 disciples” mentioned in (Acts 1:15), or perhaps he became a Christian at Pentecost (Acts Ch. 2). Going back even further, perhaps he was one of the “70 disciples” that Jesus sent out in (Lk Ch. 10). He may have known, Barnabas, who was also from Cyprus (Acts 4:36).

     “the brethren received us gladly” – The “MacArthur Study Bible” states – “This was because of the much-needed offering they brought. Also, and more importantly, the Jerusalem believers rejoiced because the Gentile converts with Paul provided visible evidence of God’s work of salvation in the Roman world. This initial, unofficial reception may have taken place at Mnason’s house.”


     (Verses 18-20) “And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. (19) And when he had saluted (greeted) them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. (20) And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord…

     “James” – This is the half-brother of Jesus (Mt 13:55)(Mk 6:3)(Gal 1:19), who was the leader of the church at Jerusalem (also see: Acts 15:13-21, Gal 2:9,12), and who also wrote the “Book of James.” He is called an “apostle” in (Gal 1:19) (but not one of the 12). (A complete biography of James can be found in the Acts Ch.15 study.)

      “and all the elders were present” – The fact that none of the “apostles” (i.e. Peter, John) are mentioned by name here likely indicates that they were doing the Lord’s work elsewhere. The importance of “elders” in the church is mentioned many times in the New Testament (I discuss this in detail here: Qualifications for elders are primarily found in these verses: (1 Tim 3:2-7)(Titus 1:5-9)(1 Pet 5:1-4). Because of its size, the “church at Jerusalem,” likely had many elders.

     “things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry” – Remember that Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey began back in (Acts 18:23), and ended with (verse 16) of this chapter. So, thinking back (or looking back), what “things” (“highlights”) could Paul have told James and the elders about his 3rd Missionary Journey?


     (Acts 21:20-22)(NASB) “… and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; (21) and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. (22) So what is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.”

     “how many thousands there are among the Jews who have believed” – “Thousands” of Jews had become believers in Jesus Christ. If these believers are referring to new believers in the Church at Jerusalem, it would mean that the church was growing again (after the earlier persecution and dispersion: Acts 8:1-4). However, the “thousands” may also refer to the many Jews who were in Jerusalem at this time to celebrate Pentecost. It seems that many of these new believers placed more emphasis on keeping the “Law” than they should have. 

     Was Paul actually teaching these things to the Jews? (From the “Believer’s Bible Commentary”) – “He did teach that Christ was the end of the law for righteousness to those who believe. He did teach that once the Christian faith had come, believing Jews were no longer under the law. He taught that if a man received circumcision as a means of obtaining justification, then such a man cut himself off from salvation in Christ Jesus. He taught that to return to the types and shadows of the law, after Christ had come, was dishonoring to Christ. In view of this, it is not hard to see why the Jews should think of him as they did.”

     However, Paul was not telling Jews to ignore their heritage. In fact, he still participated in things associated with his Jewish heritage. For instance, he participated in the Jewish feasts (Acts 18:21)(Acts 20:6,16)(Acts 24:12)(1 Cor 16:8), he took Timothy to get him circumcised (Acts 16:1-3)(also see: 1 Cor 7:18-20), he took a Nazirite vow (Acts 18:18)(next verses), and more. But, he did not do these things as a means to obtaining salvation, or to receive favor from the Lord.


     (Acts 21:23-25)(NKJV) “Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. (24) Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law. (25) But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.””

     “Therefore do what we tell you” – In order to refute what the Jews had been told, and believed about Paul, James and the elders came up with a plan, which follows.

     “who have taken a vow” – We don’t know what kind of vow this was. Some think it was a Nazirite vow, which is explained in (Num 6:1-21).

     “be purified” – From the “MacArthur Study Bible” – Having just returned from an extended stay in Gentile lands, Paul was considered ceremonially unclean. He therefore needed to undergo ritual purification before participating (as their sponsor) in the ceremony marking the end of the 4 men’s vows. “pay their expenses” – For the temple ceremony in which the 4 would shave their heads, and the sacrifices associated with the Nazirite vow. Paying those expenses for another was considered an act of piety, and by so doing, Paul would give further proof that he had not forsaken his Jewish heritage.”

     “pay their expenses” – (if this was a Nazirite vow) (From the “Nelson’s NIV Study Bible”) – “Paul’s part in sponsoring these men would include (1) paying all or part of the expenses of the sacrificial victims (in this case eight pigeons and four lambs, Nu 6:9-12) and (2) going to the temple to notify the priest when their days of purification would be fulfilled so the priests would be prepared to sacrifice their offerings (v. 26).”

     Regarding this vow, the “Believer’s Bible Commentary” gives us this to think about: “The action of the apostle in taking on himself the Jewish vow has been defended and criticized. In defense of Paul it has been argued that he was acting according to his own principle to be all things to all men, if by any means he might save some (1 Cor 9:19-23). On the other hand, Paul has been criticized for going too far in an effort to conciliate the Jews, and thus creating the impression that he was under the law. In other words, Paul has been charged with being inconsistent with his view that the believer is not under the law, either for justification or as a rule of life (Gal. 1 and 2). We tend to agree with this criticism, but also feel that one should be careful in judging the apostle’s motives.”

     So, what do you think?


     In (verse 25), James is restating again what he decreed at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:6-29) regarding the Gentile Christians. The Gentiles should not be required to keep the “Law of Moses,” or the rituals associated with it (i.e. circumcision”). However, James did tell the Gentiles that they should “abstain from,” or not “observe” 4 things. (These rules [“things”] predated the Law, and “were held to be binding upon all mankind; while the Law, as such, was binding on Israel only” – Ellicott’s Commentary.) These 4 things were:

(1.) Things offered to (“contaminated”) by idols (2.) From blood (3.) From things strangled (4.) From sexual immorality.

     James originally said this at the Jerusalem Council in (Acts 15:19-20) (Also see: Acts 15:24-29). (***Note: I explain why James chose these 4 “rules” for the Gentiles to keep in the Acts 15 study: verses 19-21.)


     Finally, let’s read (Acts 21:26-40).

     (Verses 26-29) “Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them. (27) And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him, (28) Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.”

     “to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification” – (From “Ellicott’s Commentary”) – “The process lasted, as the next verse shows, for seven days, which were probably reckoned from the completion of the thirty days, or other term, of the vow itself. St. Paul, having made himself the representative of the Nazarite company, had to give, in their name, the formal notice to the priests, who were to be ready for the sacrifices when the seven days had expired. Seven days was, it will be noted, the ordinary period for the more solemn purifications (Ex 29:37; Lev 12:2; Lev 13:6; Num 12:14; Num 19:14, et al.).”

     “the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place” – Similar charges had previously been brought against Jesus (Mt 26:61)(Mk 14:57-58), and Stephen (Acts 6:13). The 3 charges against Paul were that he was teaching: #1. Against the people (his heritage), #2. Against the Law, #3. Against this place (the Temple). We discussed #1. and #2. above in (verse 21). We discuss #3. below.

***Note: Regarding #2., the “MacArthur Study Bible” says –  “Originally, Pentecost was a celebration of the firstfruits of the harvest. But by this time, it had become a celebration of Moses receiving the law on Mt. Sinai. Thus, the Jewish people were especially zealous for the law during the feast.”

     “brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place” – (From the “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible”) – “The temple in New Testament times was surrounded by three courts. The innermost court was the Court of Israel where Jewish men could offer their sacrifices. Only consecrated priests actually entered the temple building itself, and only the high priest could enter the inner sanctuary of the Most Holy Place – once a year on the Day of Atonement (see Heb. 9:7). The second court was the Court of the Women where Jewish families could gather for prayer and worship. The outer court was the Court of the Gentiles, open to all who would worship God. If any Gentile went beyond the barrier into the second court, he or she would be liable to the death penalty. The Roman authorities, out of respect for the Jewish religion, authorized the death sentence for this trespass even for their own Roman citizens.”

     Regarding that Gentiles were not allowed beyond the “Court of the Gentiles,” the “Enduring Word Bible Commentary” says, “Signs were posted which read (in both Greek and Latin): “No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the temple and enclosure. Any one who is caught trespassing will bear personal responsibility for his ensuing death.””


     (Verse 29) “(For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)”

     “Trophimus” – Trophimus is mentioned 3 times in the New Testament: (Acts 20:4)(here)(2 Tim 4:20). He was one of 7 men mentioned in the previous chapter (Acts 20:4) who had been traveling with Paul to Jerusalem, likely as a representative of one of the churches that sent money for the financial assistance of the church at Jerusalem (see: 1 Cor 16:1-4).

     How did the “Jews from Asia,” know that Trophimus was a “Greek” (“Gentile”)? The chief city of “Asia” was Ephesus (Acts 20:16-18), and it was the place that Paul had recently left after being persecuted by the Jews of that city (see: Acts Ch. 19). These are probably the same Jews from Ephesus (“Asia”) that had previously persecuted Paul, and now they are in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost (just as Paul was). Now, notice where “Trophimus” was from: “Ephesus” (Asia” – Acts 20:4). Trophimus was a fellow countryman of the Jews that were attacking Paul, and this being the case, they knew him, and knew that he was a “Gentile.”

     “whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the Temple” – The accusation that Paul had taken “Trophimus” into the Temple, past the “Court of the Gentiles” was ridiculous, because Paul never would have placed the life of his traveling companion, and friend at risk by doing so.

***Note: Notice that they hadn’t actually “seen” Paul take Trophimus into the Temple, but instead, they saw Paul with Trophimus “in the city” and “supposed” that he took him “into the Temple.” In addition, if Trophimus “had” gone into the “inner courts,” “he” should have been the one that was attacked, not Paul.


     (Verses 30-32)(NASB) “And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut. (31) Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. (32) He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.”

     “all the city was disturbed, and the people ran together” – Due to the celebration of Pentecost, there were certainly more people in the city than usual.

     “dragged him out of the temple” – Their plan was to murder Paul, and doing so in the Temple would defile it.

     “the doors were shut” – The doors were likely shut by the Levite gatekeepers. The most probable reason why they were shut was to prevent any chance of the Temple being defiled by the blood of Paul. Another possible reason was to prevent Paul from taking refuge at the horns of the altar (see:  Ex 21:13-14, 1 Kin 1:50, 1 Kin 2:28).

***Note: This led me on a “rabbit trail” about why people “took refuge at the horns of the altar.” It turned out to be a FASCINATING study! Check it out here:

     “news came” – The “commander” and the “soldiers” were stationed at a place called Ft. Antonia. The “Zondervan NIV Study Bible” says this, “The Fortress of Antonia was connected to the northern end of the temple area by two flights of steps. The tower overlooked the temple area.” Therefore, from their vantage point, soldiers would have seen what was going on in the temple, and reported it to the commander.

***Note: The “Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary” adds, “The fort was built by Herod on a high rock at the northwest corner of the great temple area, and called after Mark Antony.”

     “the commander of the garrison” – The Greek word used for “commander” (“captain” – KJV) here is “chiliarchos,” and it is used 22 times in the NT. A “chiliarchos” was a commander of 1000 soldiers (“chilios” = a thousand / “archos” = to rule). The “commander” here was named “Claudius Lysias” (see: Acts 23:26).

     “immediately took soldiers and centurions” – “Centurion” comes from the Greek word “hekatontarches,” meaning “the captain of 100 men.” Since the “commander” took “centurions” (plural) with “soldiers,” this seems to indicate that he took at least 200 men with him to quell the riot.


     (Verses 33-36)(NKJV) “Then the commander came near and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and he asked who he was and what he had done. (34) And some among the multitude cried one thing and some another. So when he could not ascertain the truth because of the tumult, he commanded him to be taken into the barracks. (35) When he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob. (36) For the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, “Away with him!””

     “bound with two chains” – Fulfilling the prophecy of Agabus in (verse 11). This probably means that Paul was chained to a soldier on each side (see: Acts 12:6).

     “commanded him to be taken into the barracks… when he reached the stairs” – The “stairs” were the “two flights of steps,” mentioned above, that led back to Ft. Antonia. The “barracks” would have been where the soldiers lived.

     “he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob” – (From the “Cambridge Bible Commentary”) – “The crowd pressed on St Paul with all the more fury because they saw that he was now to be taken out of their hands. Hence it came to pass, that some of the soldiers were obliged, in order to keep him safe, to lift him from his feet and carry him up till he was out of reach, their comrades meanwhile keeping back the people from the foot of the stairs.”

     “Away with him” – As we see more clearly in the next chapter (Acts 22:22 – “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live”), this term was used when a mob wanted a person to be “killed.” This term was also used when the mob wanted Jesus to be crucified (Lk 23:18)(Jn 19:15).


     (Verses 37-40)(NKJV) “Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, “May I speak to you?” He replied, “Can you speak Greek? (38) Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?” (39) But Paul said, “I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people.” (40) So when he had given him permission, Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, saying,”

     “Can you speak Greek?” – Thinking he had arrested an Egyptian criminal, the commander was surprised to hear him speak the language of “cultured” people: Greek.

     From the “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible” for verse 38) – “When Paul spoke Greek, the commander realized that he was not the Egyptian assassin who had come to Jerusalem in A.D. 54 claiming to be a prophet. This Egyptian had led four thousand fanatical Jews up to the Mount of Olives, promising that at his word the walls of Jerusalem would fall and the Roman Empire would be destroyed. Felix, the governor of Jerusalem at the time, ordered his men up the Mount of Olives, where they killed some four hundred Jews and captured another two hundred. However, the Egyptian and some of his followers slipped away into the desert. These followers were called sicarii, meaning “dagger men.” They would mingle with the crowds in Jerusalem during festivals and murder pro-Roman Jews.”

     Based on this, Lysias almost certainly assumed that Paul was the leader of the “sicarii,” who had been caught trying to “mingle with the crowd,” perhaps to murder someone during the Pentecost celebration.

     “from Tarsus, in Cilicia” – This is the second of 3 times in the book of Acts that Tarsus is mentioned as the birthplace of Saul / Paul (also see: Acts 9:11, Acts 22:3). “Cilicia” was the province that Tarsus was located in. The “Believer’s Bible Commentary says of Tarsus, “It was famous as a place of culture, education (a top ranked university was located there), and commerce (located on the banks of the Cydnus River), and had been declared a “free city” by Augustus.” ***Note: This area today is our modern Turkey.”

     “spoke to them in the Hebrew language” – Standing at the top of the stairs, bound by two chains, surrounded by Roman soldiers, Paul began to speak. Most scholars believe that Paul spoke Aramaic here, rather than Hebrew. While the “commander” was surprised that Paul spoke Greek, the “mob” was surprised that Paul spoke Hebrew (Acts 22:2).

Copyright: © Steve Shirley