For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2001 James Melough 

21:1.  “And it came to pass, that after we were gotten from them, and had launched, we came with a straight course unto Coos, and the day following unto Rhodes, and from thence unto Patara:

21:2.  “And finding a ship sailing over unto Phenicia, we went aboard, and set forth.”

21:3.  “Now when we had discovered (sighted) Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed into Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her burden.”

21:4.  “And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.”

There appears to have been an assembly in Tyre, founded perhaps by those who had been scattered at the time of Stephen’s martyrdom, see 11:19.  The fact that Paul’s company remained there for seven days may indicate that they did so in order to eat the Lord’s supper, see 20:6-7.

Scholars disagree as to whether this was a command to Paul not to go up to Jerusalem, or a warning that imprisonment and death would follow his going.  If it were a command it is highly unlikely that the Holy Spirit wouldn’t have spoken directly to him, and it requires a very great stretch of the imagination to believe that he whose whole Christian life was marked by obedience, would have been guilty of deliberate disobedience on this occasion.  It is far more likely that the revelation was given to the others to show them that Paul was willing to die if his service to the Lord required that obedient sacrifice.  Their attempt to dissuade him appears rather to be similar to that of Peter as recorded in Mt 16:22-23 when he attempted to persuade the Lord not to go up to Jerusalem, and which evoked the rebuke, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men,” Mt 16:23.

21:5.  “And when he 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.”

“... accomplished those days” means “when it was time to leave.”  Those early believers were marked by a love for one another that is sadly lacking today, as is also the reverence that led them to kneel while they prayed.

21:6.  “And when we had taken our leave one of another, we took ship; and they returned home again.”

This would remind us that God assigns each of us a different sphere of service: some are to serve at home; others, far afield; some, in positions of prominence; others, in obscurity.  The Bema, however, will disclose the measure of our faithfulness in rendering our service.

21:7.  “And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day.”

The variety of God’s direction for each life is demonstrated again in that here they remained for only one day, in contrast with the longer periods spent at other places.

21:8.  “And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him.”

He is called the evangelist, perhaps to distinguish him from Philip the Apostle; and his being described as one of the seven further identifies him as being one who began his service by waiting on tables (6:5), going on to become the evangelist who preached the Gospel in Samaria (8:5), and to the Ethiopian eunuch (8:29); and here, as though to confirm his calling, he is referred to explicitly as the evangelist.  He is an example for all of us to follow.  Faithfulness in small things may lead to our being entrusted with greater service.  Nor is any calling higher than that of the evangelist, for without him elders and teachers wouldn’t be needed: there would be no converts, and therefore no Church.

His willingness to open his home to the Lord’s servants, points to him as being also given to hospitality.  This is a ministry much needed, and much neglected today.  1 Pe 4:9 exhorts us to “use hospitality one to another,” while 1 Tim 3:2 and Tit 1:8 declare hospitality to be a requirement of elders.

21:9.  “The same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.”

It is to be remembered that until AD 70, the Apostolic age was also a Jewish age, during which Judaism was giving place to Christianity, but Jewish things had not yet passed away.  There were still prophets, for the canon of Scripture was not yet complete; and the foundation of the Church was still being laid; and there was for Jewish believers, but not for their Gentile brethren, the legitimate use of Jewish ordinances.  With the ending of Jewish autonomy in AD 70, however, the legitimate use of all Jewish ordinances ceased. 

Under the Jewish order the gift of prophecy was given to women as well as men.  Some, however, have seen in their having this gift a partial fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28 relative to the millennial kingdom, “... I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” the gift of tongues given on the day of Pentecost being a genuine partial fulfillment of that prophecy; but it is doubtful whether this gift given Philip’s daughters was of the same character.

21:10.  “And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus.”

21:11.  “And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, 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, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”

In 11:28 this same Agabus prophesied “that there should be a great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.”  As has been noted already, it was still a Jewish age, with an incomplete canon of Scripture: there were still prophets.

This cannot be construed as a command from God forbidding Paul to go to Jerusalem.  Clearly, it is simply a warning of what awaited him there, his going in spite of the warning revealing to the believers that he was perfectly willing to lay down his life if that was God’s will.  As noted already, the Lord also went up to Jerusalem with a full knowledge of all that would befall Him there, see verse 4. 

21:12.  “And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.”

As noted already, so did Peter beseech the Lord, and was rebuked, see Mk 8:32-33.  While certainly in the great majority of cases it is true that “in multitude of counsellors there is safety,” Pr 24:6, there may be an exception to the rule, as in the case of Peter’s advising Christ, and I believe, here also.  The Paul described in Scripture is a man whose devotion to the Lord was absolute, his going to Jerusalem in spite of what awaited him there, and in spite of every attempt to dissuade him from going, simply demonstrates that he was possessed of the same determination as His Lord to do God’s will.  The Lord, having the same knowledge of what awaited Him in Jerusalem, “... when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem,” Lk 9:51.

21:13.  “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.”

His faithfulness to the Lord rebukes our unfaithfulness.  It is unfortunately all too true of us that we are not willing to be bound, much less to die for Christ’s sake.  The sad truth is that most of us are not willing to do much for Him that would cause us any trouble.

21:14.  “And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.”

Admittedly this might mean that they were now leaving Paul to pursue a course marked out by God’s permissive, rather than His directive will, but against this is not only the indisputable evidence of his absolute submission to God’s will, but also his own evident assurance that he was within the sphere of God’s directive will, a place infinitely better than that found only under His permissive will.

Further confirmation of his obedience is found in 23:11, “And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.”

21:15.  “And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem.”

“... took up our carriages” is an archaic term meaning that they packed up their belongings in preparation for their journey.  

Clearly, in spite of any doubt they may have entertained about the advisability of Paul’s determination to go to Jerusalem, they were determined to go with him to lend what support they could.  Those early believers were marked by a love for Christ and for one another that is sadly lacking today.

21:16.  “There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge.”

Mnason’s being described as “and old disciple” doesn’t necessarily mean that he was literally old, but that he had been one of the earliest converts.  Originally from Cyprus, he is believed by some to have been living in Jerusalem at this time, and was willing to make his home available for their accommodation.  Whether he was in fact then living in Jerusalem is unimportant.  Where ever he lived he was willing to share his home with them.

21:17.  “And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.”

There continues to be the same evidence of the deep love that bound those early believers together.

21:18.  “And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.”

There is conspicuous absence of any reference to anyone known as the pastor or the minister, for the very good reason that Scripture knows of no such individual.  Each local church is to be shepherded by its own elders, and ministered to in addition by the gifts given to all the other believers.

While this James is generally taken to have been the Lord’s brother, positive identification is impossible.

21:19.  “And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.”

All the credit was given to God.  Paul recognized that he was simply an instrument in the hand of the Holy Spirit.  Many today, boasting of accomplishments and numbers of converts, would do well to remember this.  Emphasis is laid upon the fact that Paul’s ministry was to the Gentiles, as Peter’s was to the Jews, Ga 2:7.

21:20.  “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:”

This confirms that believing Jews of the Apostolic age continued to observe the Levitical ritual, until at least AD 70, when the destruction of the temple made such observance impossible.  And, as noted already, there is nothing to indicate Divine disapproval, for the very good reason that the millennial kingdom was still being offered; and Scripture makes it clear that the Levitical ritual will be restored during that era.  The only difference between its observance in the OT age, and its use in the Apostolic and Millennial eras, is that the former was the mode of worship which anticipated the coming of the Messiah; the latter was and will be commemorative. 

It is emphasized, however, that this observance was not imposed on Gentile believers; nor, since AD 70, has the Church been authorized to use any part of the Levitical ritual.  The unscriptural character of much that passes for worship today is due to the fact that the professing church has clung tenaciously to the ungodly mixture of pagan and Levitical ritual brought in at the time of Constantine’s alleged conversion at the beginning of the fourth century, and developed during the period between 500 AD and 1500 AD when Roman Catholicism ruled virtually unchallenged.

Nor has Protestantism done any better.  While it has rejected the worship of Mary, adoration of “saints,” belief in purgatorial purification, etc., it still retains many of the trappings of Rome, for example, its hierarchical church government, its robed and collared, and theologically educated and salaried ministers, to name but a few.  And it is with deep sadness that spiritual men and women see that same system replacing Scriptural order in the assemblies which once were bulwarks against the whole unscriptural system.

21:21.  “And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.”

Acceptance of the error that abolition of the Levitical ritual was synchronous with the rending of the veil at the time of the Lord’s death, has created a bias against the proper understanding of the clear statements of Scripture such as this.  Apart from that bias, no one would have any trouble seeing that until AD 70, believing Jews, with God’s approval, continued to use the Levitical ritual, in anticipation of the inauguration of the millennial kingdom, when that same system will be the universal mode of worship, the only difference being that in the OT age it anticipated Christ’s advent, but in the Millennium it will be retrospective. 

21:22.  “What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come.”

As it had been necessary to make it clear that Jewish customs were not to be imposed on Gentile believers, so now it was necessary to make it equally clear that Jewish believers were not obligated to abandon those same customs.  And it is emphasized again, this was in view of the fact that the millennial kingdom, in which that ritual will be reinstated, was still being offered until AD 70.

21:23.  “Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them:”

Is it to be concluded that these men who had been so clearly taught of God regarding what was right for Gentile believers, should have been left in ignorance concerning Jewish believers?  Only biased minds will entertain such an idea.  Clearly the believing Jews of those early days continued to use the Levitical ritual in addition to the two Christian ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper - and they did it legitimately with not one recorded hint of God’s disapproval.

21:24.  “Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.”

It is unnecessary to speculate as to exactly what part of the Levitical ritual was being observed here (some believe it to have been the vow of Nazariteship).  It is sufficient to see that they did observe that ritual - and with not one word to indicate Divine disapproval.  It requires a very great stretch of the imagination to see these men acting in error, much less that Paul would have acquiesced.

All of the controversy that has swirled around these so-called “lapses” of Paul and the so-called “error” of these Jewish believers, and all the attempts to explain them away, would never have been had it not been for the original error of seeing in the rent veil the end of the Levitical ritual, rather than what Scripture says it is: the opening of a new and better way for Jew and Gentile alike into the presence of God, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh....” Heb 10:19-20.  The opening of that new and better way of approach to God doesn’t automatically imply His abolition of the Levitical ritual for the presentation of worship. 

In the OT age, unbelief used the Levitical system of worship simply as a ritual, just as unbelieving Christianity today uses the Christian ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  But with the small believing remnant within the apostate mass of the nation, it was very different.  They saw in that ritual what pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah, the long-promised “seed” of the woman, to make atonement for sin, and inaugurate the millennial kingdom.  In the Apostolic age, until the dissolution of Jewish autonomy in AD 70, believing Jews, presented their corporate worship in the observance of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week, and at the same time worshiped also in the Temple according to the Levitical ritual, but now using the latter retrospectively, not anticipatively as in the past, to express their love and gratitude to God for a Savior Who had already come and atoned for sin by His death on the cross, and Whose imminent return to inaugurate the millennial kingdom, they eagerly anticipated.

Had the nation as a whole believed, He would have returned following the seven years of foretold tribulation, and set up the millennial kingdom in which the Levitical system would have been the universal order of worship.  Jewish national unbelief, however, frustrated the hopes of the believing remnant, so that the Millennium is now still future, but when it is inaugurated, Scripture is very clear that the Levitical system of worship will be reinstated.  In the interval which has now extended over two thousand years, the only form of corporate worship which God recognizes is that presented by the Church on the first day of the week at the Lord’s Supper.  Following the rapture of the Church, however, the Levitical system will be reinstated, but with this difference: the ritual will be invested with a retrospective rather than anticipative character.

In view of all the “mistakes” and “wilful disobedience” with which faulty exegesis charges Paul and the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem, isn’t it very strange that there isn’t as much as a hint of Divine disapproval?  The truth is that it is the exegetes who have been guilty of error, and carelessness in rightly dividing the word of Truth.

21:25.  “As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.”

As has been noted already, all of these prohibitions antedated the law.  This was not the imposition upon Gentiles of any part of the law.  In the Apostolic age, until AD 70, there was one Divinely appointed non-Levitical order for Gentile believers, and another, involving the Levitical form of worship, for their Jewish brethren.

21:26.  “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.”

What part of the Levitical ritual was involved is uncertain, and of no consequence.  What is important is that Paul and these four Jewish Christians participated in it - and there is no hint of God’s disapproval of any of it.

21:27.  “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,”

The enmity of the Jews was unrelenting.  As they had crucified the Lord, so would they be satisfied with nothing less than the death of His followers.

21:28.  “Crying out, 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.”

21:29.  “(For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)”

They were so anxious to destroy Paul that any pretext served their purpose.  It was the same with regard to their treatment of Christ.

21:30.  “And all the city was moved, and the people ran together: and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut.”

Beyond the literal expulsion of Paul, and the closing of the Temple doors (the gates separating the two courts), we may discern the foreshadowing of the terrible judgment that was soon to fall upon the nation that knew not the time of its visitation.

The millennial kingdom with all its blessings had been within their grasp, but their refusal to confess themselves sinners, and trust in Christ as Savior, had exhausted God’s patience, and caused Him to postpone the offer of the kingdom, until a day then far distant, but now imminent, when another generation of that same rebellious nation, will make that confession and exercise that faith, without which no man can be blessed.  Israel as a nation was rejecting the gospel for the last time.  They, with their own hands, were closing more than the doors of the Temple: they were closing the door of mercy and of heaven against themselves for ever.  And so will it be with every man who rejects the gospel.  A day will come when that rejection will be irrevocable, and the man who might have entered heaven to enjoy its blessing eternally, will instead enter hell, and ultimately the dreadful lake of fire to endure eternal torment.

21:31.  “And as they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.”

There is significance in this also that Paul, the representative of grace was taken out of the Jewish hands that would have killed, and received by the Gentiles who preserved his life.  The grace refused by the Jew has been accepted by the Gentile.  The uproar confirms that nothing but spiritual confusion results from rejection of the Gospel.

21:32.  “Who immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down unto them: and when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, they left beating of Paul.” 

21:33.  “Then the chief captain came near, and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and demanded who he was, and what he had done.”

21:34.  “And some cried one thing, some another, among the multitude: and when he could not know the certainty for the tumult, he commanded him to be carried into the castle (barracks).”

With regard to the two chains: he was chained to two soldiers, perhaps as much for his own safety as to prevent his escape.  The contradictory answers to the captain’s questions continue to confirm that failure to believe the gospel makes men the victims of every spiritual and intellectual vagary conceived by men’s darkened minds while they, unaware of their terrible danger, move with the speed of time down the broad and crowded way that ends in hell and the lake of fire.

21:35.  “And when he came upon the stairs, so it was, that he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the people.”

21:36.  “For the multitude of the people followed after, crying, Away with him.”

This was the same murderous cry that expressed their hatred of Christ, and of those who belong to Him.  The servant is not better than his Lord.

21:37.  “And as Paul was to be led into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, May I speak unto thee?  Who said, Canst thou speak Greek?”

21:38.  “Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?”

This reference was to an Egyptian Jew whose attempt to organize a rebellion against the Romans had been crushed by Felix the Roman procurator, though the Egyptian escaped.

21:39.  “But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia,  a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.”

21:40.  “And when he had given him licence, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people.  And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying,”

This would be the last time that Israel as a nation would hear the gospel from the lips of Paul.

[Acts 22]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough