Pastor David B. Curtis


Agabus' Prophecy Is Fulfilled

Acts 21:15-40

Delivered 04/25/2010

In our last study we left Paul and his companions in Caesarea at the house of Philip. They are on their way to Jerusalem. Paul had set his heart on arriving in the city before the Feast of Pentecost, bringing with him the money that had been collected from the Greek churches for the famine relief effort in the city. He hoped that this collection would serve to help unite the Jewish and Gentile factions in the early church. As he headed toward Jerusalem from Asia Minor, however, he was given several warnings from the Holy Spirit through the mouths of fellow-believers that he would face imprisonment.

After these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:15 NASB)

Paul and his Gentile companions leave Caesarea, and the hospitality of Philip, and head up to Jerusalem. Notice they went "up," even though they are heading south. Everything is up to Jerusalem.

Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge. (Acts 21:16 NASB)

Paul and his companions are escorted to Mnason's home. He was a Hellenistic Jewish Christian; he was from Cyprus, like Barnabas. He was raised in a Greek country and had a Greek name. As such, he would have been more open to entertaining a mixed group of Jewish and Gentile Christians than many Hebrew Jewish Christians in Palestine would have been.

The Greek word that is used here for "long standing" is archaios, which is the word from which we get archaic. It has the idea of "a disciple from the beginning." I assume that what is meant by this is that this man has been a disciple from the beginning of the church in Jerusalem, maybe from Pentecost. It's possible he even had known the Lord in the flesh.

After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. (Acts 21:17 NASB)

Paul and his delegation from the Gentile churches arrived at Jerusalem, bearing the gift for the poor that had been collected from the Gentile churches. This is the apostle's fifth visit, and his first in five years with James and the elders in Jerusalem. Paul and the others received a warm welcome:

And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. (Acts 21:18 NASB)

On the next day the Gentile representatives arranged to meet James, along with all the elders. Paul also went with them. The fact that all the Jerusalem church elders were here meant that it was an official meeting. The non-mention of the apostles suggests that they were elsewhere, carrying out the great commission.

This James was the Lord's half-brother, author of the Epistle of James, who was obviously a leader of the Jerusalem church.

I think we see the evolution of the Church here. In the beginning of Acts the apostles were running things. Then we see in Acts 15:

And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. (Acts 15:2 NASB)

First it's just apostles, then apostles and elders, and now it's just elders. Verse 18 ends this "we" passage, which means Luke is no longer an eye witness of what happens.

After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it they began glorifying God... (Acts 21:19-20 NASB)

The words "relate one by one" have the sense in the Greek of "recounting every single thing." Paul told these Christians from a Jewish background everything God had done in his missionary efforts. He shared about his revisiting the Galatian churches; the three-year ministry in Ephesus; the visit to Corinth; the writing of the letters to the Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans; his second visit to the Corinthians; the collection from the Greek churches; the death and resurrection of Eutychus in Troas; his visit with the elders of Ephesus at Miletus; and his visit with the disciples in Tyre, Ptolemais, and Caesarea. The reaction of James and the elders to Paul's good news was very favorable: "And when they heard it, they began glorifying God."

Notice the humility of Paul here--he is careful to give all the glory to God, "he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry." Although Paul worked very hard, he saw every accomplishment as a work of God. Humility is a spirit of utter yield-ness and submissiveness to the Lord as master. The humble person sees himself as clay in the Potter's hands. When asked what were the three most important Christian virtues, Augustine replied, "Humility, humility, and humility."

And when they heard it they began glorifying God; 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; (Acts 21:20 NASB)

The Jewish church was multiplying too. And because they were Jewish Christians, they were zealous for the Law. So it is emphasized that among both Jews and Gentiles the Word was being powerfully effective:

and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. 22 "What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. (Acts 21:21-22 NASB)

The word "told" here is the Greek word katecheo, from which we get the word catechized. The word katecaho means: "to teach orally by repetition." They were repeatedly taught that Paul was teaching the Jews to forsake (apostasia) Moses.

The saints in Jerusalem were distressed by the false reports that Paul had been teaching Jewish converts to turn from the Law and from all of their Jewish practices.

What they were saying about Paul was not true. Paul never taught Jews to forsake Moses. He taught Gentiles not to think they had to become Jews. He taught Gentiles not to be circumcised. Why? Because they didn't need that. He taught Gentiles that they didn't need the ceremonies of the Law. He did not teach Jews not to be circumcised, and he did not teach Jews not to follow those traditions. In fact, in the case of Timothy, he actually had Timothy circumcised:

Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. (Acts 16:3 NASB)

The reason he had him circumcised was he was a Jew.

The Jerusalem elders knew that they needed to try to defuse this situation. This thing could blow sky-high. There were tens of thousands of Christians who had been drilled that Paul is an apostate. So it seemed like a good idea to these Godly men that Paul should prove his Jewish credentials so that such people might recognize that they were wrong about Paul after all:

"Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. 25 "But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication." (Acts 21:23-25 NASB)

"Therefore do"--this is an imperative, which means: "they command it." They tell Paul to pay the expenses of four young Jewish Christian men who were involved in a Nazirite vow. This would involve him purifying himself in the temple for seven days with them for only then could his offerings be acceptable. And he would thus be sharing in their last week of consecration before they shaved their heads, and presented the hair to God with appropriate sacrifices. These sacrifices were very expensive, because he had to offer two lambs and a ram, then offer loafs and cakes with meal and drink offerings. So for poor people, this was a very expensive offering, and, remember, there were many poor in Jerusalem among the Christians. So Paul is asked to bear the expenses of the four. This was a commonly recognized act of piety, according to Josephus (Josephus Jewish Antiquities 19.294).

Paul could settle this matter once and for all, by publicly worshiping in the temple, as a Jew, and as the Jerusalem Jewish Christians did. And the result would be that all Jewish Christians would recognize that Paul was truly faithful to, and approved of, the customs of the Jews with regard to the Law of Moses:

Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them. (Acts 21:26 NASB)

There are some scholars who doubt that this never happened, because they cannot see how Paul, in the light of his teaching in the Epistles, could ever have done anything like this. They think that his teaching concerning the Law is so plain and clear that we are not under the Law, that he would never even have observed a Jewish custom. So they think that this is really a tradition that is not true and that Luke has relied upon a source that is untrue; not true to the nature of Paul as they know it. Well they obviously deny the inspiration of Scripture. If Luke says this happened, it happened.

Then there are some who say Paul was in sin. Some say he was a hypocrite, he preached that we are not under the Law and yet he puts himself under the Law. G. Campbell Morgan, who has written a very well-known commentary on the Book of Acts, has said with regard to Paul's purification of himself with these men, "Paul made here the greatest mistake of his ministry." Donald Grey Barnhouse, Presbyterian minister of the tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, said, "Paul demonstrated here that he was an opinionated, stubborn, old man."

Well here's the thing, if Paul was in sin here, so were all the elders of the Jerusalem church. It was their idea. The main question for us is this: Were these elders wrong for asking Paul to do this, and was Paul wrong for doing it? Notice what Jesus taught about the Law:

"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18 NASB)

The phrase "until heaven and earth pass away" refers to the duration of the whole First Testament's authority. So, Jesus is saying that not a single item of the Law--the First Testament--will ever be changed until heaven and earth pass away.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his commentary on "The Sermon On The Mount," writes: "The first proposition is that God's Law is absolute; it can never be changed, not even modified to the slightest extent. It is absolute and eternal. Its demands are permanent, and can never be abrogated or reduced 'till heaven and earth pass.' That last expression means the end of the age."

John Brown said: "'Heaven and earth passing,' understood literally, is the dissolution of the present system of the universe, and the period when that is to take place, is called the 'end of the world.' But a person at all familiar with the phraseology of the Old Testament Scriptures, knows that the dissolution of the Mosaic economy, and the establishment of the Christian, is often spoken of as the removing of the old earth and heavens, and the creation of a new earth and new heavens" (vol. 1, p. 170).

So the "passing away of heaven and earth" was the dissolution of the Mosaic economy, the Old Covenant, which took place in A.D. 70 with the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. Now look at the next verse:

"Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19 NASB)

Paul, in our text in Acts, is obeying this precept of his Lord. He didn't annul the commandments, nor did he teach others to do so. All through the book of Acts we see Jewish Christians going into the temple and offering sacrifices, just as the Lord Himself had done.

God made if very clear when the Law ended. In A.D.70 He destroyed Jerusalem through Titus. Not one stone was left upon another. Within a few years after that, 985 towns in Palestine were destroyed and everybody killed. He made if very clear that the Law had ended. But until Jerusalem was destroyed, every bit of that old Law was in effect.

If this is so, how could Paul teach Gentiles that they were not under the Law?

For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:14 NASB)

First of all, we must understand that the Gentiles were never under the Law. God gave the Law to Israel:

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, (Romans 2:14 NASB)

Look at what Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands­ 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:11-12 NASB)

The Judiazers were Jewish Christians that were following Paul around and teaching that yes you had to have faith in Jesus, but that wasn't enough, you also had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. This teaching Paul constantly fought.

Well if all the Law was in effect until the Second Coming of Christ in A.D. 70, then why in Acts 10 did God tell Peter that what God had cleansed was no longer unholy?:

Again a voice came to him a second time, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." (Acts 10:15 NASB)

When Peter saw this vision in Acts 10, heaven and earth hadn't passed away. Peter saw this vision around A.D. 40. So there was still about 30 years until "heaven and earth would pass away." This poses a dilemma. Jesus said none of the Law would change until heaven and earth passed away. And yet, God was telling Peter that the dietary laws were set aside. How could this be?

I think the best way to understand this is to see God's statement that He had "cleansed the unholy" as a prolepsis. A prolepsis is the representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished. What God was teaching Peter was that the Law was beginning to fade away. The process had started and would culminate in the destruction of the temple.

I think the only way to understand this apparent contradiction between God saying dietary laws didn't matter and what Jesus said about all the Law remaining in tack until heaven and earth pass away is to understand the transition period: Heaven and earth were passing away while the Church was growing to maturity. The Law was fading away:

When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. (Hebrews 8:13 NASB)

Notice that the text says, " becoming obsolete...ready to disappear." Is that speaking to us? NO! This is written to the first century Hebrew believers. As of A.D. 65, the Old Covenant had not yet become obsolete, but it was about to. The Old Covenant was fading away, while the New Covenant, the Church, was growing to maturity:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 NASB)

The process was still occurring. They were "being built" for a dwelling place of God. But the clear blessing of the New Covenant was that God would dwell with His people. But man's access to God--the consummation of the New Covenant--did not take place until the Old Covenant tabernacle was destroyed:

The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing, (Hebrews 9:8 NASB)

Jesus spoke of this process of the Law going out and the Church growing to maturity early in His ministry. Speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees He said:

"And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:10 NASB)

This axe speaks of judgment that was to come upon Jerusalem in forty years, and Jesus said the axe is already coming down. The process had started. So when God speaks of the abolishment of the dietary laws, He is saying that the process has already begun. The Law was passing away.

So the old Law was in effect until A.D. 70, but when a Jew trusted Christ, he was set free from the Law:

Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. (Romans 7:1-4 NASB)

He is speaking to those who know the Law--Jews. The Law only has jurisdiction over a person who is alive. You get that, don't you? If a woman's husband dies, she is free from the Law of her husband. And these Jewish Christians were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ. They were joined to Christ, who had died to the Law, and they were raised with Him. So the Jewish Christian was free, free to obey the Law and free to not obey the Law because they had kept the Law perfectly in Christ.

The Jerusalem elders probably clarified the fact that Jewish Christians could continue to keep the Law, not as a means to salvation, but as an expression of love and obedience. They could delight in the Law, not because it gave them any merit or standing before God, but because it had been fulfilled in Christ, and because they were now righteous in God's sight. The standards of righteousness, which the Law upheld, were now no longer a cause of fear, but the basis for rejoicing and worship. They once were frustrated by their own failure to fulfill the law's demands, but now they rejoiced because Christ had fulfilled the entire Law, and they were not under the curse.

And, believers, all this was taking place during the transition period, which ended in A.D. 70. Today we are not in any way under the Mosaic Law, but churches are trying to put their people under these laws, such as tithing, Sabbath keeping, etc.

When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, "Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place." 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. (Acts 21:27-29 NASB)

Notice who instigates this trouble. It was not the Jerusalem Jewish believers, nor even the unbelieving Jerusalem Jews who caused this trouble for Paul. It was the "Asian Jews" who had come there for Pentecost. It's obvious they were from Ephesus. They knew Trophimus, who was an Ephesian. It is possible that these Jews had heard the apostle preach earlier in the city of Ephesus, and they had rejected his message. Perhaps they were among those who had even sought to kill him back then.

They accuse Paul of preaching, "against our people and the Law and this place"--that is against the Jews, the Jewish Law, and the Jewish Temple. These were all lies, but it got the crowd stirred up. What feast was going on at this time? Pentecost. The Rabbis have gone through the careful arithmetic in the Torah and have come to the conclusion, thousands of years ago, that the Law was given at Sinai on Shavuot; which was fifty days after the Feast of First Fruits. So, they associate Pentecost as the feast that gave them the Torah. So they are all worked up celabrating the giving of the Torah and someone starts shouting that Paul preaches against the Torah. Its like throwing a bloody piece of meat into a shark feeding frenzy.

Now. as upset as these charges got these Jews, they were not punishable under Roman justice by death. There was only one crime that allowed instant execution, and that was bringing a Gentile into the inner courts. The temple area was divided into several concentric rectangular courts. There was the court of the Gentiles; the court of the women; and then there was the court of Israel, where only the Jewish men could enter. And so, strict separation was maintained.

There were in fact notices warning of this, and one discovered by an archaeologist read, "No man of another nation is to enter within the fence and enclosure round the temple. And whoever is caught will have himself to blame that his death ensues." So that was the crime that they now accused him of.

This applied as much to a Jew who brought a defiling person into the sanctuary as to the unclean person himself. No trial was required. The charge alone was sufficient to warrant being delivered into the hands of the temple police; dragged into the outer court, the court of the Gentiles; and beaten to death. The Romans normally did not interfere with such executions (Josephus Jewish Wars 6.124-26).

The Greek word translated "supposed" is nomizo. It is used 15 times in the New Testament, and in most of its uses, it has the meaning of: "supposing something that is not true." Paul had not brought Trophimus into the temple.

Furthermore, it was unlikely, because all doors to the temple were policed by Levites, one of whose duties was to ensure that no Gentile, whether accidentally or deliberately, entered the inner courts.

Then all the city was provoked, and the people rushed together, and taking hold of Paul they dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. (Acts 21:30 NASB)

In these few brief details of the Jerusalem Jews' final rejection of the Christian Gospel, we see the last major spiritual and geographical turning point in Acts. Never again will Paul return to Jerusalem for worship or witness. The temple doors would now symbolically shut against God's messengers forever, and the only apostle left in Jerusalem would be transferred to Rome.

The verb "were shut" is in the passive voice, often used to depict God's actions. Not only did the Jews shut the doors, but God shut them. He was with Paul on the outside leaving Jerusalem for good. By shutting out the messenger and the message of salvation, Paul's opponents have sealed the city's doom (Lk 13:34-35; 21:6, 20).

While they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 At once he took along some soldiers and centurions and ran down to them; and when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. (Acts 21:31-32 NASB)

If the commander of the Roman garrison had not arrived, Paul would have been beaten to death. Now you can believe that they had accomplished quite a bit by pummeling him, pounding him, kicking him, and hitting him with their fists in the face as they had been doing for some time until the soldiers arrived.

Adjacent to the temple area, at the juncture of the western and northern porticoes that formed the outer boundary of the court of the Gentiles, was the Antonia fortress. It was headquarters of the Roman garrison stationed at Jerusalem. This spacious sixty-foot-high building had the general appearance of a tower; turrets stood at its four corners, the one on the southeast being 105 feet high. From it Roman soldiers commanded a view of the whole temple area. Stairways into the northern and western porticoes gave direct access to the court of the Gentiles ( Josephus Jewish Wars 5.192, 238-247; Jewish Antiquities15.409).

During festival times, they would be on guard at the porticoes of the outer court, alert to any signs of insurrection (Josephus Jewish Wars 5.244).

By the time of Paul's visit to Jerusalem described here, Judaea was a hotbed of violence and insurrection, religious disquiet and extreme dissatisfaction, and continual ferment, which was kept in control by harsh measures on the part of the procurators.

Running down the steps from the fortress, they came down on the crowd--this was a well rehearsed action--it was required only too often. And the moment that the crowd saw the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul:

Then the commander came up and took hold of him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; and he began asking who he was and what he had done. (Acts 21:33 NASB)

Two chains means Paul was handcuffed to a solider on either side. This is fulfilled prophecy. Paul must have immediately remembered the prophecy of Agabus (Acts 21:11).

This is the last of the ministry of Paul as a free man. From verse 27 on, Paul becomes, as he called himself in Ephesians 6:20, "an ambassador in chains." From here on out, the man is a prisoner, which does not minimize his ministry in any way at all. It doesn't have any effect whatsoever on the accomplishment of his objectives.

But among the crowd some were shouting one thing and some another, and when he could not find out the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. (Acts 21:34 NASB)

He couldn't get any information out of the crowd. They were all hollering all different things. Nobody had the faintest idea what was going on:

When he got to the stairs, he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob; 36 for the multitude of the people kept following them, shouting, "Away with him!" (Acts 21:35-36 NASB)

The soldiers had to carry Paul away from the mob who was still trying to kill him:

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?" (Acts 21:37-38 NASB)

At the top of the stairs, just as the Roman soldiers are about to take Paul into the Antonia fortress barracks away from the tumult of the pursuing mob, the apostle asks permission to speak with the commander. Paul's polite and polished Greek catches the tribune off guard; he replies, "Do you speak Greek?" When this soldier saw them grabbing Paul, his first assumption was they've caught one of those assassins that mingles in the crowd, maybe that Egyptian himself.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, in his account of the Jewish wars, speaks of this Egyptian who was seeking to suggest that certain Messianic prophecies might be fulfilled, and Josephus, with characteristic exaggeration of the fact, says, "He led out thirty thousand people."

The Egyptian's followers came from the ranks of the Assassins (lit. dagger-men). These were radicals who mingled with crowds, with daggers hidden under their cloaks, and stabbed Romans and pro-Roman Jews stealthily in an attempt to gain Jewish independence from Rome.

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." (Acts 21:39 NASB)

If it were me, I would have wanted to get as far away from these blood thirsty Jews as possible, but Paul begs for permission to speak to them.

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 21:40 NASB)

As they saw the bruised and bloodied figure, whose death they sought, quite unexpectedly turn to speak to them with the gesture of an orator, they were astounded. It was the last thing that they had expected. We may see this silence as the work of the Holy Spirit active through Paul.

Picture Paul, beaten, bloody, cloths all torn up standing on the stairs with no thought of his own well being, all he cared about was giving the Gospel to this crowd of Jews who had just tried to kill him. Just like Stephen, Paul's desire is that God would forgive these Jews, that He would grant them salvation. Paul is here fleshing out what he had previously written to the Romans:

For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, (Romans 9:3 NASB)
Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. (Romans 10:1 NASB)

It reminds me of Jesus' words:

"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 NASB)

This is where Acts 21 ends and is a terrible place for a chapter division, because Acts 22 is where Paul launches into his speech. We will look at that next week.

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