Return to Acts Series


The Book of Acts Series

Acts, Chapter 21


John Baugh

February, 2010


Acts 21 (New American Standard Bible)


Key events in Chapter 21


Paul and the group begin the journey to Jerusalem

- To Cos, Rhodes, Patara, past Cyprus, to Tyre of Syria

- Seven days in Tyre

- Paul is warned no to go to Jerusalem

- The group sails to Ptolemais and stay there one day

- They travel to Caeseria and stay some days at house of Philip the evangelist.

- The prophet Agabus comes down from Judea and prophesies about Paul's arrest and deliverance to the gentiles.

- Paul is again begged to not go to Jerusalem, but he insists that he will


Paul and his group leave for Jerusalem

- When they arrive, they stay with Mnasom of Cyprus

- The next day, Paul meets with James and Elders, tells them about his work

- The elders warn him that the Jews will hear that he is in Jerusalem and that he pulls people away from Moses and the Law.

- The elders suggest Paul take four men and take a vow with them to show his commitment to the law.


In the Temple

-          Paul does this and goes to the Temple to report his vow of purification.

-          Paul recognized by Asian Jews in Temple and arrested there. The Jews begin beating him, intending to kill Paul.

Paul Arrested

- The commander of the Roman cohort hears about the disturbance in the Temple and takes Paul from the mob in chains to the Cohort barracks, followed by the mob.

- Paul asks to address the commander and when he speaks in Greek, the commander realizes he has mistaken Paul for an Egyptian who had stirred up trouble earlier.

- Paul tells the commander he is a Jew of Tarsus and asks to speak to the mob.

- Chapter 21 ends as Paul begins to address the mob.



Acts, Chapter 21:

Chapter 21 begins the last section of Luke's account of the Great Commission spread of the Gospel witness from Jerusalem to all of Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

8but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

By the end of Chapter 21, Paul will be a prisoner of the Roman Cohort in Jerusalem and the stage will have been set for his eventual trip to Rome and his house arrest by the end of Chapter 28 of Acts. Once in chains, Paul will remain a prisoner for two years in prison at Caesarea and as much as three years as a prisoner in Rome. While in prison, Paul will write some of his greatest epistles to the churches which are known as his prison letters (epistles). They include Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians and his letter to Philemon.

Acts 21 opens with the story of Paul's last journey to Jerusalem. The apostle and his friends, including Luke, have left the church elders from Ephesus on the beach at Miletus and have boarded ship:

Paul Sails from Miletus


1When we had parted from them and had set sail, we ran a straight course to Cos and the next day to Rhodes and from there to Patara; 2and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3When we came in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo. 4After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.


In these initial verses of Chapter 21, Luke covers the details of the team, as they travel by sailing ship down the coast of Asia Minor to Patara and then locate a second vessel carrying a cargo across the Mediterranean to Tyre, which is north of Palestine and arrange passage on that vessel. For whatever reason, Luke wants his readers to know that the vessel did not stop in Cyprus.

There were disciple sin Tyre that the party knew and they stayed with them for seven days as they (the disciples) attempted to convince Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Evidently the disciples knew from the Holy Spirit that the outcome would not be good.

Bible scholars have pondered this passage form Acts, asking if Paul made an error in the wishes of the Holy Spirit in his insistence that he go to Jerusalem. Obviously Paul was fervent in spirit, strong in character and no one would ever call him weak of heart or in any way a coward. It is difficult to read the things Paul stood for and how he worked for and allowed himself to be used to spread Christ's Church and not love this warrior for Christ. It is hard to believe that Paul would ever deliberately disobey the Holy Spirit. And yet, iswe take Luke's statement at face value, his statement indicates a command of the Holy Spirit which the apostle ignored.

Paul certainly knew that trouble lay ahead of him. Going back to chapter 20, verse 22, in his address to the Ephesian elders, he said,

22"And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me." (Acts 20: 22-23 NASV)

Paul leaves no doubt that he already knows he was heading into trouble if he went to Jerusalem and it seems unlikely that he needed any further warning from the disciples in Tyre about the potential of danger.

For whatever reasons we use to support Paul's decision, there are still the three crucial words -- it was "through the Spirit" that they told Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. The Greek words that Luke used are very strong here -- much stronger than the English translation. Literally the Greek says, "Stop going up to Jerusalem!"

Luke tells us that Paul's resolve to go to Jerusalem began back in verse 21 of Chapter, while he was still in Ephesus on his second missionary journey. At that time Luke resonds his thoughts:


21Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome." (Acts 19:21 NASV)

Paul's resolve to go to Jerusalem began while he was in Ephesus and Luke records that at that time, Paul was under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Many passages of scripture tell us that God expects us to make decisions, to step out on the basis of faith to do what appears to be proper and to change our minds only if we are impressed by the Spirit or by the Lord that a decision is wrong. When he was in Ephesus, Paul had been led to go to Jerusalem.

In chapter 20 of Acts, Luke reports that Paul went through Macedonia and down into Greece to Corinth, where he spent three months. Luke Mentions Paul's desire to make it to Jerusalem in verse 16 of Acts Chapter 20 when he leaves Ephesus. At that point, Luke says,

16For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

Why did Paul want to be in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost? Paul was a Jew. He never made any statements to indicate anything other than his love for his people, their history and the religious traditions of Judaism. Pentecost celebrated the Jewish possession of the promises of God. He knew that the biggest assembly of those he knew Christ came (first) to save would be in Jerusalem at the feast of Pentecost and he longed to reach them. Knowing that at Pentecost there would be a gathering of Jews from all over the Roman Empire, surely there was an incredible longing in his heart a great hunger to be there and to share the good news about Christ Jesus with them.

There is also no doubt that Paul, watching the developing signs of the times in his day, felt that the time of the return of Christ was drawing very near. It seems likely that Paul never anticipated that the period of time before the Lord's return would be anywhere near as long as it has been. Even Jesus himself refused to speculate that it might be a lengthy delay between his resurrection and ascension and his return. When questioned by the Disciples, he indicated that only his Father knew the appointed time. As Jesus said, the times and the seasons were not for them to know. God has always expected his church, in every age, to keep looking for the return of Jesus and Paul likely made the mistake which many have made in the generations since his time. He likely was insistent on reaching Jerusalem to evangelize those he loved because he believed that the time of return was near, when Jesus told all of us that no one can be certain about the time God has appointed for his return. If Paul believed that the time was near, he certainly would have been determined to be involved in it. Certainly he would have longed to be an instrument to reach his people and, moved by the anguish of his heart, he began accordingly to plan to be in Jerusalem on that day when the Jews would be gathered from all parts of the earth, so that he might have a part in proclaiming to them the Kingship and Lordship of Jesus Christ over that nation.

There was nothing wrong with that part of his motive, but evidently God had chosen something else for Paul. He had given him another ministry. Although Paul had a ministry to Israel and witnessed to them in every city to which he went, his ministry was to be in another direction form Jerusalem. He was to carry the message toward the principal city of the Roman Empire, and not to the Jews, but to the Gentiles. And so God used Paul's insistence to travel to Jerusalem to accomplish the actions that occur throughout the rest of Acts.

Toward Jerusalem


5When our days there were ended, we left and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until we were out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another. 6Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again.


And so the team left Tyre and continued on toward Jerusalem. Luke records the departure, indicating that all of the Disciples, together with their wives and children escorted the team out of the city and prayed for Paul and his companions as they sailed away.


7When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day. 8On the next day we left and came to Caesarea,


Paul was now traveling in earnest toward what he believed was his duty, to be in Jerusalem to witness to the Jews he knew would be there.


The Prophet Agabus Predicts Paul's Arrest in Jerusalem


and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. 9Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. 10As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, "This is what the Holy Spirit says: 'In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'"


At Caesarea, another painful scene follows at the home of Philip the evangelist. This is likely the same Philip who led the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ. At Philip's home, Agabus, a well-known prophet of the Lord, who has also been mentioned (Acts 11:28) as the one who predicted the famine over the entire Roman world in the time of Claudius came to bring a prophesy to Paul. In a very dramatic, visual way, Agabus took Paul's belt from around his waist, bound his own feet and hands, and said,

This is what the Holy Spirit says: 'In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'"

Agabus wanted to leave no doubt as to what the Holy Spirit was saying to Paul. And so he said "If you go on to Jerusalem, this is what will happen to you. You will be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles. They will bind you, and you'll be a prisoner."

Agabus offered a clear picture to Paul of what would happen in Jerusalem. In this, he was joined by the whole body of believers at Philip's house. Everyone there urged him not to go, Luke included.

12When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.

Even Paul's close associates recognized the voice of the Spirit, to which the apostle seemed strangely deaf. Still he refused to listen. In his mind all was already settled.

13Then Paul answered, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." 14And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, "The will of the Lord be done!"


15After these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. 16Some 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.


17After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.

There can be no doubt that Paul was committed to whatever would happen in Jerusalem. His words are brave and sincere and earnest. Paul was not one to say things he was not committed to following through. He certainly meant every word he said and what he said was, "Why are you weeping, and breaking my heart? Why do you make it difficult for me? I'm determined to go on to Jerusalem, and I'm ready to die there."

The Gospel accounts say that Jesus steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem; determined to go against all the pleading and the warnings of his own disciples. Paul may have also have seen himself in that role.

When Paul refused to be persuaded his friends said, "Well, may the will of the Lord be done." It is striking that this is the statement people make when they do not know what else to say. Evidently Luke and the others were saying "Lord, it is up to you. We can't stop this man. He has a strong will and a mighty determination, and he believes this is what you want. Therefore, you will have to handle it. May the will of the Lord be done."

And so the team including some disciples from Caesarea, departed for the house of Mnason of Cyprus in Jerusalem.

Paul and the team were received gladly at the house of Mnason. As always, the will of the Lord in Jerusalem was done indeed.

Paul at Jerusalem


18And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20And 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; 21and 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.

The second day Paul was in Jerusalem the team visited James and the elders of the church there. Paul greeted them and then began to relate all of the things God had done among the Gentiles during his ministry (The years of missionary work he had taken on during his missionary journeys).

His report was well received, but there was a problem that occupied the thoughts of those in the Jerusalem church. They knew that many Jews believed that Paul had turned away from the teachings of Moses, telling the Jews he encountered to turn away from the teachings (laws) of Moses concerning circumcision and tradition. The sad thing is that Paul never taught or suggested a Jew should abandon Moses, or not to circumcise his children. What he taught was that the Gentiles should not be made subject to these Jewish provisions.

Rather, he pointed out to the Jews that the Jewish laws and traditions were symbolic, a picture that pointed toward Christ. The very rituals they were performing and the sacrifices they were offering were all foretelling them of Jesus. Jesus' coming had fulfilled, and filled out, the picture that the Old Testament sacrifices had drawn. Thus, in the very process of carrying them out, the Jews were simply retelling themselves of the coming of the Lord Jesus.

In Paul's mind this was the function of the Jewish rituals. They were reminders of what the Lord Jesus had come to do, and had done. All through the book of Acts Luke shows Jewish Christians going into the temple and offering sacrifices, just as the Lord himself had done. There was never a suggestion by Paul that they should have stopped, or that what they were doing was wrong or improper for them to do.

James Responds to Paul


22"What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.


23Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24take 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."

James knows that the Jews in Jerusalem will know that Paul has come to the city and that they will react negatively to his presence. To overcome the problems that will surely arise, he suggests that Paul show his obedience to Jewish practice and use the act of public purification as a witness to the Jews of his obedience to the law of Moses and Jewish custom.

26Then 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.

And so Paul did as James suggested. In doing this, Paul was following his own announced practice. He said that when he was with the Jews, he became as a Jew; when he was with the Gentiles, he became as a Gentile; and when he was with the weak, he limited himself and became as weak as they -- all in order that he might reach them on their level, through the medium and culture to which they were accustomed. He was simply declaring again the freedom he had in Christ. He was free -- free to live as a Gentile among the Gentiles, free to live as a Jew among the Jews, free from the Law, but free also to keep the Law.

So he honored the Jewish practice of purification, willing to become as a Jew, along with the others, in order that he might clear up a misunderstanding which had a totally false basis.

Paul Seized in the Temple


27When 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, 28crying 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." 29For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.

It is interesting that Paul's problems in Jerusalem came not from the Jews of Jerusalem, but from those Jews who came from Asia. The capital of the Roman province of Asia was Ephesus. So those who caused the trouble were likely the same Jews who stirred up all of the problems in Ephesus, causing the riot there that drove Paul out of that city.

There is no doubt that they were still upset by what had happened in Ephesus. A review of Luke's record of the silversmith riots in Ephesus from chapter 19 reminds us that the outcome of their complaints to the town clerk were not in their favor.

Now, Paul's presence in Jerusalem makes him subject to attack by these Asian Jews and through their appeals to the Jews of Jerusalem for support, all of this creating th elikelyhood of a riot in the city. Once again, the charges against Paul are false. He is charged with being anti-Judaistic, i.e., against the religion of Judaism. And further, they invent the accusation that he has defiled the temple by bringing Gentiles (Trophimus the Ephesian) into it.

Temple law was strictly enforced in that any Gentile daring to set foot beyond this wall separating the inner courtyard of the temple from the Courtyard of the Gentiles was subject immediately to the penalty of death. Any observant Jew in those days would be incensed at the very idea of any violation of the temple by a Gentile. And, since they had seen Paul with a Greek in the streets of Jerusalem, they evidently reasoned, "If Paul would walk down the street with a Gentile, he would also take him into the temple." That was enough to result in an immediate explosion of anger toward Paul.

30Then 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. 31While they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32At 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. 33Then 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. 34But 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. 35When he got to the stairs, he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob; 36for the multitude of the people kept following them, shouting, "Away with him!"


Luke's report here is a dramatic and stirring account of a dangerous occurrence in the Temple and with the solders of the Roman Cohort. The Temple crowd had been incised to a riot. They seized Paul and began to beat him. There is no doubt that the mob was within moments of ending Paul's when the Roman solders came running up to where they were beating Paul and intervened. What occurred at that point saved the Apostle's life. He was quickly taken into custody by the commander of the Cohort and bound with two chains. Any violence against him by the mob at that point would have resulted in their death, as they would have been seen as guilty of attacking Roman solders in the commission of an arrest.

The actions of the Roman solders did not reduce the anger of the Jews any at all. Luke reports that they followed the solders all the way to the Barracks. Eventually the mob grew so violent that the solders were forced to pick up Paul and carry him.

Luke continues with an amazing account that shows the courage of the apostle. Paul now makes a bold request of the centurion:

37As 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?" 39But 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."


40When 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,


It is remarkable that Paul would ask permission to speak to the violent mob which had just been ready to beat him to death. Evidently Paul recognizes this as his opportunity to address the Jews. In his heart, he is determined to speak to his nation. Out of the urgency of his love for them he wants to be the instrument to reach this stubborn crowd in the cause he has devoted his life to accomplish. So he seizes the only opportunity he has, hoping the Lord will give him success and asks to speak to the mob.


The Commander of the Cohort is startled when Paul addresses him in Greek, because this Roman officer thought he knew who Paul was. He thought his prisoner was an Egyptian who, according to Josephus, a year or so earlier had led a band of desperate men out to the Mount of Olives, promising them that he had the power to cause the walls of Jerusalem to fall down at his command. He was unable to deliver on his promise, and the Romans had eliminated the rebels who followed him, killing most of them, but the Egyptian leader had escaped.


But when he heard his prisoner speaking in Greek he knew that Paul was not the person he thought he had captured. And so, impressed by something about the apostle, the tribune lets him speak to this crowd. Amazingly, when Paul indicates with his hand that he wants to speak, a great hush falls.



This ends Chapter 21



Copyright 2010, by ToBeLikeHim Ministries


Return to Main Page Return to Acts Series