Paul’s Arrest: Acts 21:37-40
“37) As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, “May I say something to you?” And he *said, “Do you know Greek? 38) Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39) But Paul said, “I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.” 40) When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, saying,” Acts‬ ‭21‬:‭37‬-‭40‬ ‭
The riot was violent and deadly. They intended to kill Paul. The confusion was terrible. A few charged that Paul had brought gentiles into the temple. It was not true, but they concluded he had therefore defiled the holy place. They also leveled the charge that he was preaching against both the Jewish people and the Law. All Jerusalem was in confusion. (Acts 21:31)
It appears that the lines between Orthodox Judaism and Messianic Judaism were beginning to blur in Jerusalem. This fed the confusion. There seemed to be a concession that you could be a follower of Jesus if you kept the whole Law. Jewish Christians were tolerated as long as they didn’t rock the temple system boat.
The Roman commander thought Paul was the leader of a band of an Egyptian assassins who had previously led a revolt. He imagined the worse and thought he had captured a “Most Wanted” criminal and had him in chains. (Acts 21:38) I suspect brutality in the way the soldiers handled Paul.
Paul’s appeal to address the crowd was classic. (Acts 21:37) It clarified his Jewish identity to the Roman Commander and afforded him the opportunity to share his testimony and plant the seeds of the gospel. He exploited every opportunity to point people to Jesus Christ.
But there is one question that haunts me about the text and the rest of the book of Acts. If this riot was fueled by Jewish believers as Acts 21:20-21 indicates, where were the voices of Peter, James and John in the defense of Paul and the gospel? They are nowhere mentioned in Acts 22-28.
I understand that Peter and John may have been absent on a missionary journey and news and travel were slow in those days. But James and the other church elders were present and appeared to remain silent. (See Acts 21:18) Make no mistake, it was the Sanhedrin and the old guard that stepped in to lead the formal opposition against Paul. No one dared speak on Paul’s behalf.
To his credit, Peter did appeal for peace and briefly defended Paul in 2 Peter 3:14-18. The timing of his Epistle was most likely well into Paul’s imprisonment. It could be deemed as “too little too late.” Nevertheless, he did endorse Paul and his writings as being “Scripture.”
This drops the Bible student at the doorstep of Philippians 1:7-30 where Paul clearly explains his calling to define and defend the pure gospel message by both his life and his death. He clearly understood his calling. The word “gospel” is used six times in Philippians chapter one. It was the theme of Paul’s life.
There is much confusion about “the gospel” in the modern church. We have a social gospel, humanitarian gospel, woke gospel, prosperity gospel, religious gospel, ritualistic gospel and good works gospel. All of them feed confusion and cloud the true message of the gospel. It is well past time for a radical return to the writings of Paul that define and defend the true gospel.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global