Acts Chapters 21:17-23:22 Notes

Acts 21:17-26  Paul’s Reception in Jerusalem

  Paul arrived in Jerusalem when the city population was swelled with Passover Feast celebrants.

  • He brought to the church leaders an amazing report of all that God had been doing among Jews and Gentiles.
  • He brought an offering that the newly planted churches took up to help support the saints in Jerusalem.
  • Quickly, Paul came to understand that rather than being a triumphant time for the church–his presence created a problem!
    • an old problem was rearing its ugly head in the believers in Jerusalem.
    • the number of Jewish Christians had grown in the ten years since the letter from the Jerusalem Council.
    • the believers there believed in Jesus BUT were still zealous for the law.
    • they had heard stories that Paul was not zealous for the law and was not teaching new converts to obey the customs of Israel.
    • Paul was widely criticized in Jerusalem and the elders had listened rather than silenced the criticism.
      • Their unwillingness to address the criticism and to point Jewish Christians to the pure gospel muddied the waters of faith — mixing the message of Jesus’ free gift of righteousness with that of  works righteousness.

Key Point: What is at stake here is huge.  If you add any requirements–encourage people to trust in their willing or their working  rather than to faith, you torpedo the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is Jesus plus nothing!  If we add to His work –His death was in vain and God’s wrath is s

till upon us!

Q: As a champion for the pure gospel message, why did Paul agree to join in the purification rites suggested by the elders of the church?

  • Elder’s Motive:  Prove you are a good Jew!  Show you are a keeper of our customs so that we can keep the peace!
    • Sadly, these leaders reveal that they fear man more than God.
    • They are satisfied with outward show–proving that they are not in concert with the will of God which is always keyed to the heart of a person.
      • they are giving lip service to grace and pursuing self righteousness
      • they are compromising the gospel
      • they are holding on to past prejudices and refusing to see them as the evil they are.
      • they are zealous for a set of rules not the rule maker!
  •  Paul’s motive:
    • “Though I am free and belong to man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews.  To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak, I became weak, to win the weak.  I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”  (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
    • “Before this faith come, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.  So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.  Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:23-26)

Outcome: The goal of unity and reconciliation with Jewish “Christians” failed miserably–a riot broke out and Paul was thrown out of the Temple with the gates decisively slammed after him. 

If Paul was blaspheming the Temple, there were laws in place to charge him for the offense–these alleged law keepers were willing to break what they supposedly held dear in order to vent their hateful prejudice on Paul.

Hypocrisy is a sure sign that we have stepped outside the truth.

Q: What is the truth?

A:  Paul’s Jewish brothers just took it upon themselves to close the place that God used to demonstrate open so that there was new access to God.  When Jesus died, the veil of separation that kept the Holy of Holies from all but the High Priest was torn from top to bottom!  They have attempted to undo what God has done.  A true righteousness by faith was thrown out in favor of a human righteousness that because its source is in sinful man is no righteousness at all!

Acts 22:1-30.  The Missionary does not slam the door of his heart–He shares the gospel with the hostile crowd.

  • Paul spoke to the crowd in their language
  • He established his credentials–claimed common ground and boasted to proud people about the things they took pride in–born a Jew, studied law under the finest Jewish scholar, zealous for the law.
  • Rather than accuse them of being persecutors of the Way–he chose to share how he had been guilty of what these people were doing to him and for the same reason.
  • He describes a vision that witnesses also saw signs of but did not understand who was speaking–the implication is that the crowd is not understanding Him either.
  • Another devout, highly respected, law loving Jewish Christian came to him with a message from God–the message was that Paul had been chosen to do God’s will of witnessing to all men of what he had seen and heard.  He proclaimed that he had seen the Righteous One–Ananias used an Old Testament “God Name” for Jesus making the link that Jesus is God.
  • Paul also testified that Jesus had spoken to him in the Temple where Paul was just booted out–Jesus told him to leave Jerusalem because “they will not accept your testimony about me.” (vs. 18)

Key Point: Paul highlights a key difference in his faith and that of his hearers.  Through his testimony it is clear that he was listening to a living Lord–it is clear that he is in personal conversation and then obediently following Jesus.  He is no longer trusting his life to law keeping that feeds pride and caused him to look with hatred on others.  He is expressing the inclusive heart of Christ for those who are hostile and desiring to destroy his life.  He stands remembering the day he was one of them–approving the death of Stephen.  Rather than stand as one of them again, he is willing to die like Stephen for the sake of the gospel.

  • Even though Paul was yielded to Christ in this event–God used the Roman army to keep his servant alive. (vs. 24) 
  • The Roman Commander called the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, together to uncover what charges Paul was being accused of.

Acts 23:1-22   Paul before the Sanhedrin

  • Luke allows us a peek inside the courtroom and establishes Paul’s sense of command when he says, “Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin.” (vs. 1)  The word used here means a long steady gaze–he looked each of the 70 men directly in the eye.
  • When he made an opening statement of his innocence the high priest ordered that Paul be struck in the mouth–an action that was in itself was illegal and offensive.
    • this hypocritical action irritated Paul and he fired off an accusation that the Lord Jesus often used when he encountered the Pharisaical attitude that preached one thing and did another.
    • Paul called the man a “whitewashed wall.”   Tombs were whitewashed so that law abiding Jews could avoid them and not be defiled by coming near the dead.  Paul is suggesting that this man make look good on the outside but inside he is foul with corruption.
  • Realizing that he has also broken a law by disrespecting the high priest, Paul admitted his mistake.

Key Point:  It is pride that keeps us from confessing our mistakes and imperfections–this is another sign that Paul is a recovering Pharisee!  He is no longer satisfied to feel “more right” than another–he wants His Lord to be more glorified by all his words and deeds.

  • Paul was the one who identified what the charge was against him–he stated that he was on trial because of his hope in the resurrection of the dead.

The Comfort of Christ ( vs. 11)

  • Luke records that it was the following night that the Lord came near to Paul.  He stood near to him and invited him to take courage!  It is crucial for us to know that Jesus is the source of all that we need. Courage is a gift offered by the Lord.  He is committed to standing near and bringing the stability to see us through.  “As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify in Rome.”  With the courage Jesus spoke words of purpose for Paul’s life–he would be immortal until he had accomplished what was set ourt for him!
  • Luke proves that in the verses that describe how a plot to ambush and murder Paul was uncovered.


  • What are the areas of prejudice in my own heart?  What words can people use that makes my mind shut and my emotions go wild?
  • What do I want to slam shut and keep Christ’s searching eye from ?
  • Am I clear enough on what the gospel is that I am unwilling to compromise or add other “good ideas” to it?  Do I know what is at stake if I do?

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