Paul's arrest in Jerusalem

by Dr. Samuel Lee   09/10/2000     0 reads


Acts 21:1-23:11

Key Verse: 23:11

“The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’”


1.  Read 21:1-16. Trace Paul's journey to Jerusalem.  What counsel did

  disciples in Tyre and God's servants in Caesarea give Paul?  Why

  did he not accept their warnings?

2.  Read 21:17-36. How was Paul received? What concern of the Christian

  Jews in Jerusalem overshadowed Paul's report?  What did they ask

  him to do?  Why?  How did he comply? Why didn t the compromise

  work? What happened?

3.  Read 21:37-22:5. How did he get permission to speak to the crowd?

  What were Paul's credentials as a Jew? How had he demonstrated his

  zeal for God? (1-5) How were his fellow Jews making the same

  mistake he had made?

4.  Read 22:6-16. Describe his meeting with Jesus. Who was Ananias?

  What does it mean that Paul's blindness was cured? His sins

  forgiven? (6-16; Gal 5:24; Gal 2:20)

5.  Read 22:17-21. Upon his return to Jerusalem, what warning did Jesus

  give him?  What reveals his broken heart for his own people?

  (20:22-24; 21:13) Why did he think they would listen? What in his

  testimony angered them?  Why? (22:21-22)

6.  Read 22:23-29. Why did the centurion halt the flogging of Paul? Why

  did the Romans send him to the Sanhedrin? Read 22:30-23:11. How did

  Paul address the Sanhedrin?

7.  How did Paul show courage in exposing the corruption of the high

  priest?  (23:1-5) How did he show wisdom in dealing with the

  Sanhedrin? What word of Jesus sustained Paul as he faced his peers?

  (22:21) How did Jesus strengthen him? (23:11) 



Acts 21:1-23:11

Key Verse: 23:11

“The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’”

Today's passage is the story of Paul's visit to Jerusalem. We want

to learn why Paul wanted to visit Jerusalem before going to Rome. His

speech to the Jerusalem crowd was his life testimony based on God's

mission for him. Paul's visit to Jerusalem is one of the most important

events in New Testament history. Let's see why.

I. Going on to Jerusalem (21:1-36)

First, Paul's determination (21:1-16). It was on the sandy beach of

Miletus that Paul's team had a tearful farewell with the Ephesian

elders. The farewell was memorable forever, for there were affectionate

tears of Christian brethren and the resounding sea waves of Miletus.

They came to Tyre, sailing from Miletus to Cos, to Rhodes, and to

Patara. Paul's team stayed seven days at Tyre while the ship was

unloading its cargo. The disciples, through the Spirit, urged Paul not

to go on to Jerusalem (21:4).

Nevertheless, Paul's team left and came to Ptolemais, and the next

day to Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip, one of the seven

deacons (6:5). He had four unmarried daughters who had a gift of

prophecy. The brothers in Caesarea were losing their patience at Paul's

determination to go to Jerusalem. Agabus, who came down from Judea,

took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, "The

Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the

owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles'" (11). On

hearing this, his people pleaded with Paul not to go to Jerusalem. What

they said was all discouraging and scary. But Paul did not change his

mind. Look at verse 13. "Then Paul answered, 'Why are you weeping and

breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in

Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.'" No one could stop Paul from

going to Jerusalem.

Second, Paul was misunderstood and arrested in Jerusalem (21:17-36). As

soon as Paul's team arrived at Jerusalem they visited James, and all

the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what

God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard,

they praised God. But the leaders of the Jerusalem church were worried

about many thousands of Jews who had believed but whose way of thinking

was still Judaistic. They thought Gentiles could not be Christians

without first becoming Jewish proselytes. Many hated Paul blindly

because he preached the gospel to the Gentiles. They twisted his gospel

preaching and spread the rumor that he taught all the Jews living among

the Gentiles to turn away from the law of Moses, telling them not to

circumcise their children or live according to Jewish traditions. The

Jews who heard this information about Paul misunderstood him greatly,

and their pride was hurt. True, Paul had insisted that Jewish law was

irrelevant for Gentiles. But he had never attempted to draw Jews away

from the customs of their fathers' faith. When Paul obeyed God's will

to be a light for the Gentiles, he was greatly misunderstood by his

people and was treated like a criminal.

The Jerusalem church leaders asked Paul to demonstrate that he was

an observer of the law. They asked him to join four of their men in

purification rights by participating with them in shaving his head, and

by paying their expenses. Paul agreed (21:20-26). The next day Paul

took the men and purified himself along with them. But we will see soon

that this political compromise did not work at all. When the seven days

were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the

temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, "Men

of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere

against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has

brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place" (28).

This was not true (29), but the whole city was aroused, and people came

running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the

temple. They were about to kill him. On hearing of this, the commander

of the Roman troops at once took some officers and soldiers and ran

down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers,

they stopped beating Paul (32). The commander came up and arrested Paul

and ordered him to be bound with two chains and taken into the

barracks. While Paul was carried by the soldiers, the crowd that

followed kept shouting, "Away with him!" (36) Paul was arrested like a


II. Paul's testimony to the crowd (21:37-22:29)

Paul was allowed to speak to the crowd. When he spoke in Aramaic

they became very quiet. In his testimony we learn several things.

First, Paul persecuted the early Christians. Look at 22:4,5. "I

persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men

and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and

all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their

brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners

to Jerusalem to be punished." In saying this, Paul wanted to convince

the crowd that he too had been Judaistic, with the same ideas as them.

But after meeting the Risen Christ Paul realized that he was committing

a sin against God because of his Judaism. When Paul realized that his

people were repeating the terrible sin he had committed, his heart was

broken because of his people's narrow-mindedness. So he had decided to

go to Jerusalem to stop his people from committing this same sin in

their Judaism. Furthermore, he wanted to help them realize God's

purpose for them to be a chosen people and a light for the Gentiles.

For this, Paul did not spare even his life.

Second, Paul met the Risen Christ. In verses 6-11 Paul explains how he

met the Risen Christ. Through this meeting he realized he had been a

spiritually blind man--in fact, his eyes were blinded--and that in his

ignorance he was persecuting the Son of God by persecuting his


Third, Paul received the grace of God's forgiveness. Look at verses

12-16. A man named Ananias came to see Paul after his meeting with the

Risen Christ. Ananias was highly respected by all the Jews. He stood

beside Paul and said, "Brother Saul, receive your sight!" And at that

very moment Paul was able to see him (13). Then Ananias said, "The God

of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous

one and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all

men of what you have seen and heard" (14,15). Ananias said, "Get up, be

baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name" (16). By the

help of Ananias Paul was baptized and received the grace of God's


Fourth, Paul heard the Lord's voice. After talking with Ananias Paul

returned to Jerusalem. When he was praying at the temple, he fell into

a trance "and saw the Lord speaking. 'Quick!' he said to me. 'Leave

Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony

about me'" (18). Look at verses 19,20. "'Lord,' I replied, 'these men

know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat

those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was

shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of

those who were killing him.'" Paul was pleading with the Risen Christ,

that he might somehow stay over in Jerusalem and persuade his people by

telling them all the sins he had committed against God. Paul felt like

dying when he realized that his people were sinning against God due to

their Judaistic ideas just as he had done, not knowing God's great

purpose for them to be a light for the Gentiles. Paul was ready to

suffer and die if only he could help his people realize their sins as

well as God's great and glorious purpose for them. But the Lord said to

him in verse 21, "Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles." God

did not allow him to help his own people in Jerusalem. God had a

greater purpose for him. It was to bring the gospel to the whole


What was the response of the crowd to Paul's testimony? As soon as

they heard the word "Gentiles" they were disgusted. They hated most

that Paul offered God's grace to the Gentiles. They raised their voices

and shouted, "Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!" (22) At

this, the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks, flogged

and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him

like this. As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the

centurion standing there, "Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen

who hasn't even been found guilty?" Then the commander no longer

treated him arbitrarily.

In this part we learn about the tragedy of Israel; they did not

realize God's great purpose for them to be a light for the Gentiles.

They were blinded by their fixed ideas and small desires. After Paul

met the Risen Christ, he did not dwell any longer in his own fixed

ideas or in his passion and pride. In Galatians 5:24 he said, "Those

who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its

passions and desires." He said again in Galatians 2:20, "I have been

crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The

life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved

me and gave himself for me." Paul lived no more in his fixed idea; he

lived in Jesus. He was broken-hearted because of his people's bigotry

and ignorance of God's high purpose. He was very sorry that his people

were not living up to God's high calling. He decided to risk his life

to help his people open their spiritual eyes to see God's great purpose

for them (20:22-24; 21:13). This was the reason Paul decided to visit

Jerusalem before going to Rome.

III. Paul was tried before the Sanhedrin (22:30-23:11)

The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why

Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the

chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul

and had him stand before them.  As we have studied, Paul had been

assailed by the crowd. But for the Roman commander's help, Paul would

have been killed by them. Paul was fighting all by himself against a

frantic crowd of several thousand (21:35,36). He could have been

daunted by the peer pressure. But he was not, because he had Jesus'

word in his heart. Look at 22:21. "Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I

will send you far away to the Gentiles.'" Let's see how Paul acted

before the Sanhedrin.

First, Paul's courage. The Sanhedrin was the Supreme Court of the Jews.

There, all the rulers of the Jews gathered in pompous and glamourous

robes. They had authority to judge and sentence people. The usual

beginning address to the Sanhedrin was, "Most honorable rulers and

elders of Israel," with a trembling voice to impress them. Let's see

how Paul acted before them. Look at 23:1. "Paul looked straight at the

Sanhedrin and said, 'My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in

all good conscience to this day.'" Paul called them, "My brothers,"

instead of calling them, "Most Honorable Sirs."  Paul was not afraid of

them, because he knew what he was doing. At his words the high priest

Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth

(2). Was Paul threatened by the high priest's order? No. Look at verse

3. "Then Paul said to him, 'God will strike you, you whitewashed

wall!'" Paul knew it was a crime to speak evil of a ruler of the

people. Also, he knew Ananias was the high priest. But he saw that

Ananias was a devil in shepherd's clothing. So Paul rebuked him: "You

whitewashed wall!" It meant, "You corrupted man!" Paul hated God's


Second, Paul's wisdom. Paul knew that the Sanhedrin consisted of

Pharisees and Sadducees. In God's wisdom Paul was inspired to divide

them into two parts so that they might argue among themselves. He said,

"My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial

because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead" (6b). What happened

when he said this? As Paul expected, a dispute broke out between the

Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided.  (The

Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither

angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.) (8) They

began to fight among themselves, arguing vigorously (9). The dispute

became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to

pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from

them by force and bring him into the barracks. God was with Paul.

Third, the Lord was with Paul (11). To Paul, trial before the Sanhedrin

was a nightmare. The uproar of the people and the falsity of the

Sanhedrin members must have gone through his mind like a panorama.

Though Paul was a man of God, he was afraid. When he was afraid, the

Lord visited him and said (11), "Take courage! As you have testified

about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." Here we learn

that though thousands of people were against Paul, God was with him.

God is always with his people. Once Elijah challenged Baal priests and

defeated them, demonstrating God's power. He seized 400 prophets of

Baal and slaughtered them (1Ki 18:40). After that, he had to run for

his life. When he arrived at Beersheba, he was afraid, thinking he was

all by himself. He prayed that he might die: "I have had enough, Lord.

Take my life" (1Ki 19:4b). God said to him, "Yet I reserve seven

thousand in Israel..." (1Ki 19:18). Elijah thought he was alone; but he

was not. God was with him, and 7,000 remnants of God as well.  Though

King David was a warrior, he was afraid from time to time. But he

believed that God was with him. So he said in Psalm 23:4, "Even though

I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,

for you are with me."

The Lord also said to Paul, "Take courage." This exactly means,

"Have faith in God." The antonym of faith is fear. God's people must

not be slaves of fear. We must fight and defeat fear with faith. This

is an unavoidable battle for God's people. If Jesus' people give up

fighting against Satan's fear, they are no more Jesus' people; they are

slaves of Satan. Goliath was the ferocious Philistine champion. He

taunted and terrorized the Israelites with fear. But David overcame his

intimidation and defeated him in a duel when he had faith in God. Faith

is the most potent weapon to overcome all fear.

God also renewed Paul's mission when he was tired. He said to Paul,

"You must also testify in Rome." This meant Paul would not die until

his mission was completed. So he did not have to worry about his life,

because God decided to use him as a witness of Jesus' death and

resurrection in Rome also. Likewise we do not have to worry about our

lives, because we will not die until we complete God's mission assigned

to each of us.

May God give each of us a shepherd's heart like Paul to pray for our

own people's spiritual condition. May God help our people realize God's

great purpose for this nation to be a kingdom of priests and a holy