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The Book of Acts

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Chapter 21

Paul Takes a Jewish Vow   (Acts 21:1-40)

Many students of the Word are quick to criticize Paul for making his last visit to Jerusalem. Still a larger number argue that he was entirely out of the will of the Lord when he arrived at Jerusalem, entered the temple and took a Jewish vow, and waited for the accomplishment of the days of purification, "until that an offering should be offered for every one of them." At first thought it does seem difficult to understand why Paul would move on to Jerusalem in direct opposition to the urge of the Holy Spirit, who spoke to him through Paul's brethren. It is even more difficult to understand how Paul, the writer of the book of Galatians, could go so far as to take the vow referred to in this 21st chapter of Acts.

We remember Paul's testimony in Acts 20:24, "Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus to testify the gospel of the grace of God." We are convinced by this testimony that Paul had practiced what he preached—"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Gal 2:20). The burden of his heart was the preaching of the truth and he did not count the cost. His motto seemed to be "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal 6:14). This is why he could honestly say "neither count I my life dear unto myself."

It seems clear that the course of the apostle led him to a return trip to Jerusalem and then to Rome. In Acts 20:16, we are told that he "hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost." He also said, "and now, behold, I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me" (Acts 20:22-23). This proves that the Holy Spirit had made it plain to the heart of Paul that his last ministry in Jerusalem would be bitterly opposed by the enemy, and that the same Holy Spirit "bound" him to go there to suffer for Christ.

After Paul had "gotten from," or torn himself from, the disciples of Ephesus, he moved on toward Jerusalem, stopping at Tyre, where he sought and found disciples (Acts 20:37-21:4). Paul and his company tarried "seven days" with these disciples at Tyre, "who said to Paul through the Spirit that he should not go up to Jerusalem" (Acts 21:4). This urge on the part of Paul's brethren seems to have been divinely designed to test his obedience to that inward moving of the Holy Spirit which "bound" him to witness again in Jerusalem.

A much stronger test, along this same line, came to the apostle when he and his company "came unto Caesarea" where they tarried for many days "in the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven" mentioned in Acts 6. This test came through "a certain prophet named Agabus," who came down from Judaea. Agabus came in, "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" (Acts 21:8-11).

When the disciples of Caesarea and the fellow-travelers of Paul heard the testimony of Agabus, they joined together in beseeching him "not to go up to Jerusalem" (Acts 21:12). The united urge of these brethren brought a definite response from the apostle Paul. Note his frank reply—"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" (Acts 21:13). These words from the lips of the Spirit bound apostle seemed to settle the question which was in the minds of his co-workers and the other disciples. Their testimony is as follows—'And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done" (Acts 21:14).

This question being settled, Paul's company took up their luggage and went with him unto Jerusalem. Certain of the disciples of Caesarea also accompanied him. When they arrived at Jerusalem, the brethren received them gladly (Acts 21:15-17).

Paul Takes a Jewish Vow

The day following their arrival in Jerusalem, "Paul went in" with his co-workers "unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. 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; and they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after their customs. What is it therefore? The multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: we have four men which have a vow on them; 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. 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. 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" (Acts 21:18-26).

This decision on the part of the elders in Jerusalem was accepted by the apostle Paul. He demonstrated to the thousands of Jews which believed that he himself was walking orderly and keeping the law. This move on his part was in perfect harmony with his testimony found in I Corinthians 9:19-22—"For though I am free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law of Christ), that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became as weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." Paul continued this method of being all things to all men that he might by all means win some throughout his book of Acts ministry. That is, until the Jews as a nation were set aside according to Acts 28:25-28. We never find Paul submitting himself to the practices of shadow day forms and ceremonies after the turning point referred to in Acts 28:28. Compare Colossians 2:14-17.

The Lord saw to it that Paul did not remain in the Jerusalem temple until an offering was offered for him. "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, crying out, Men of Israel, help: this is the man, that teacheth all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hash polluted this holy place. (For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus, an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple). 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" (Acts 21:27-30).

As the Jews went about to kill the apostle, "tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar" (Acts 21:31). The chief captain took soldiers and centurions with him and rescued Paul from the hands of the Jews. He had him bound with two chains "and demanded who he was and what he had done." Some of the confused Jews cried one thing and some another and when he could not find out who Paul was and what he had done because of the tumult he carried him as a prisoner unto the castle. The multitude followed, "crying, away with him." This reminds us of the cry against Jesus Christ.

"As Paul was led into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, may I speak unto thee? Who said, canst thou speak Greek? Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers? But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Silicia, a citizen of no mean city; and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people" (Acts 21:37-39). When Paul was given a license to speak, he beckoned with his hand unto the people. After silencing them he spoke in the Hebrew tongue. His message in full is recorded in the following chapter.


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