The Trance: Acts 23:17-21
““17) It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, 18) and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ 19) And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. 20) And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’ 21) And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’  ”” Acts‬ ‭22‬:‭17‬-‭21‬ ‭
This introduces a new chapter in Paul’s story. Verse 18 was very specific; “and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.” It is not clear during which trip back to Jerusalem Paul fell into a trance and was warned by God to flee. He made several trips to Jerusalem.
His argument with God recorded in Acts 22:19-20 fell on deaf ears. God was not listening to him. His past work as a persecutor of Christians did not enhance his story or influence with the Orthodox Jews. To the contrary, they viewed him as a traitor.
Three things according to the text accompanied Paul’s persecution of Christians. They were beaten, imprisoned and killed for their faith. All three eventually happened to Paul.
His final quote from Jesus in Acts 22:21 ended his address to the crowd; “Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” Again, God warned him to flee from Jerusalem. Twice in this text he received the same command to flee.
Two plaguing question nags the reader; “Why was Paul back in Jerusalem?” “When did God change His mind?” Several times on his way back to Jerusalem God warned him of the fate that would befall him. (Acts 20:23; 21:10-12) Many begged him not to return.
The book of Acts gives no answer to these questions. They remain a mystery. Was Paul’s presence in Jerusalem contrary to the clear will of God? I confess, I wrestle with this issue. Acts 22:17-21 does nothing to settle the dilemma.
Nevertheless, God worked mightily through Paul as a result of his imprisonment. Listen very carefully to what I am about to say. Do not stretch it beyond face value. Paul’s story screams that our missteps and innocent disobedience cannot nullify the providence and power of God in our lives. This points directly to Romans 8:26-28. God does not give up on us, but He causes all things to work together for good, to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
I believe there are many Christians who are sidelined in life because the enemy has them believing they have disobeyed God and missed His will for them. Paul shines as an example that we should forget the past and press on in seeking and serving Jesus. (See Philippians 3:12-16)
This applies to both big mistakes years ago and small mess up’s yesterday. Don’t let the enemy hitch you to a whipping post over shortcomings in your past! We all have them! Jesus can give you a new future, but your past is etched in stone. It can be forgiven but not changed!
No matter your past or present circumstances, Jesus calls you to follow Him starting right now with new devotion and abandonment. Keep in mind, our calling is first and foremost “to Him” and then “for Him.” Throughout his entire life, Paul’s #1 goal was to know Jesus intimately. (See Philippians 3:10-11) That never changed!
No external circumstance can thwart this calling. You can start flourishing in your communion with God in a prison cell, in the bonds of an addiction, a bad relationship or a dead end career. The turn around is always personal revival through a right relationship with Jesus Christ and walking in the Spirit. No matter your past, you can start living a fruitful life!
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global