google-site-verification: google3e8cc4742c5fd8a2.html The Spirit Explodes 20
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The Spirit Explodes

Part 20 of 22 - Jewish justice.

Acts 21:1 – 23:11


by Roger Kirby


From this point on Luke tells his story with big incidents, difficult to ask questions about. These first two and a half chapters are about how Paul was tried before the Jewish authorities and found innocent; the next two and a half are about how the Romans found him innocent; the last two tell the story about his voyage to Rome. We will have to take them in those big chunks with more explanation and less questioning than we have been used to.

But first Paul still has to get to Jerusalem. Luke is still with him on this journey and so we get a vivid account of where they went.

Read Acts 21: 1–16.


Luke must have been aware that he was leaving a great puzzle behind for all this readers. In the last chapter he records Paul saying: ‘compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem’. Here he tells us the Christians in Tyre ‘through the Spirit urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem’.

Question 1: How can the Spirit have said these two apparently contradictory things? How can we resolve the conflict and what should we learn from it?

The Spirit was, as always, speaking through fallible human beings, so here we have human misunderstandings of what they were being told. With hindsight it is easy to see that Paul was being led in his thinking to look at the long-term implications of what he was to do. He had done a good job of evangelising what we now call Turkey and Greece and he was looking to the next step: Rome, modern Italy and modern Spain. He was right, at least in part, eventually reaching Rome and therefore Italy. Whether he ever reached Spain we do not know but he may well have done so. The good folk in Tyre were taking a very short-term view, thinking that Paul should avoid the problems they correctly foresaw awaiting him in Jerusalem. Both these prophecies turned out to be right in their own way.

For us this is a warning. People may correctly understand what the Spirit is saying to them but misinterpret its implications. Be careful of those who are sure they have the only local correct hotline to God!

The other interesting point in this passage is the description of the four daughters of Philip, who reappears here having been last heard of in Caesarea shortly after his conversation with the Ethiopian eunuch. All four are described as prophetesses. The role of women in the church is much disputed with great attention being given to what appear to be absolute statements about what they should wear (head coverings) and should not do (talk in church and teach). The early church had to work out carefully what it was appropriate to do within the culture in which they operated. We have the difficult task of deciding which of their cultural decisions are binding for all time and which are not – requiring different and apparently contradictory decisions from us. When we have finished with the inevitable arguments that this will create we need also to ask whether Philip’s daughters, Priscilla, Dorcas, Phoebe, etc. would be able to carry out the ministry they clearly had in the days of the NT, if they were in this church and that church in the present day. The practice, which is not so culture dependent, needs to be roughly the same in every cultural situation.


Question 2: Would they be able to do carry out those or equivalent ministries in your church? If, why not?


Read Acts 21:17–29.


What the leaders in Jerusalem said they had heard about Paul is, of course, quite wrong. He had argued against Gentile believers having to be circumcised or obey Jewish customs but he had never suggested that Jews should not continue to follow all their ancestral customs if they set out to follow Jesus. It is hard to know what to make of the advice Paul received from these leaders. Was it ever likely to work? We cannot tell. This passage does remind us that we need to do all we can to attract people to the Lord as Paul was prepared to do.

Read Acts 21:30–39.


By the time he reached Rome Paul had many things to thank the Romans for. Here they rescue him from the mob, thus probably from certain death. The commander was very quick to intervene and rescue Paul; full marks to him!

Read Acts 21:40–22:22.


It is hard to understand why the mere mention of the Gentiles should have caused such a strong reaction from the crowd. The foundational text for Israel was Genesis 12: 2 and 3 which include the statement ‘all peoples on earth will be blessed through you’, that is Abraham, who they all claimed as their ancestor. ‘All peoples’ must include the gentiles, indeed they must be nearly all gentiles.

Question 3: What particular aspects of human nature does this teach us about?

The power of crowds is one obvious factor. In a large crowd people can do things they would never think of doing when acting as individuals. The power of strong teaching is also in evidence here. People can be taught to think and do things that are totally inconsistent with their core beliefs. Totalitarian states have made great use of this quirk of human behaviour in the last 100 years. Beware!

Read Acts 22:23–30.


Everything that happened in New Testament times happened in the social setting so clearly visible here: the top Jewish controlling body, the Sanhedrin, could be ordered to assemble and try Paul, by the garrison commander of this one city. Imagine how much the Jews must have hated the Romans because of things like that.

Read Acts 23:1–11.


At sometime in the events of this study, probably more easily when he first arrived in Jerusalem, Paul could have decided he had had enough and quietly withdrawn from the scene.

Question 4: Why did he not do so? What should we learn from his experience?

Paul had a strong and compelling conviction that he still had much more work to do. He was the sort of character who was single-minded and would not take ‘no’ for an answer but kept on going through all the things that would discourage a more ordinary mortal. Such people tend not to be the easiest of folk to work with but they are vital for the church and many other human endeavours. He had received visions, at his conversion, as he planned his ministry journeys, as he determined to go to Jerusalem and then Rome and now one assuring him that he would actually get to Rome, unlikely though that must have seemed.

We will probably never see an angel but an angel was just a messenger. The words ‘angel’ and ‘message’ are closely connected in Greek, and the Lord has many ways of getting a message to us – through the word of God written, other people, things written or just from a strong inner conviction. Be careful to listen for such messages and be even more careful to hear them!

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