God’s Word for You
Acts 21:30-32 Paul seized in the temple
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, January 7, 2021
30 The whole city was riled up, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. 31 They wanted to kill him, and then a report went up to the commanding officer of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them right away. When they saw the commanding officer and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.
In any town or smaller city, certain sounds will attract everybody’s attention. Today that might be the sound of the med-flight helicopter overhead, or the claxon of the fire trucks. When the city I live in today was young, shouts, rifle shots and even cannon fire alerted the citizens that poor treatment of the local native American population was causing an uprising that would claim many lives on both sides before the day was over. In Jerusalem on this day, the day of Paul’s sacrifice, the shouts of the Judaizers stirred up a mob that certainly alerted the whole city that something was going on in the temple.
A group seized Paul and dragged him from the inner court back at least as far as the Court of Gentiles. Since it was clear that they meant to kill him, the Levite police closed the doors to the inner courts to keep the altar and the holy places from being defiled by blood—Paul’s blood.
Two flights of steps above the Court of Gentiles was one of the main doors into the Roman fortress of Antonia. The report (not written, but a dispatched soldier) ran up to the man in charge. This was an officer called in Greek a “chiliarch,” a man who commanded a tenth of a legion (about six hundred soldiers) and who would have been the equivalent of a colonel in our military today. You can almost hear his armor and sword ringing one against the other as this Colonel clinked down the steps and ran into the mob.
Here Luke adds a point we might otherwise have missed. The arrival of the Colonel made the mob stop beating Paul. We were told in verse 31 that they wanted to kill him, but we don’t know until verse 32 that they were putting their desire into action, and that Paul was being beaten once again, as he had been beaten in Philippi (Acts 16:22,37) and stoned and left for dead in Lystra (Acts 14:19). Later he would mention such beatings when he recalled: “Three times I was beaten with rods” (2 Corinthians 11:25, 6:5). These three beatings by Roman soldiers are separate from eight or so times he was beaten by the Jews. The three are sometimes thought to be the ones recorded in Acts 16:37, 21:32 and 22:23-25. Because of his Roman citizenship, Paul could not legally be beaten by the Romans in this way, but he would not press this point until the beating in chapter 22. However, since Paul wrote 2 Corinthians before this beating in Jerusalem, there must have been at least two beatings by Roman soldiers (‘lictors’) using rods earlier, during Paul’s three missionary trips or perhaps even before, while he was in Tarsus after his conversion on the way to Damascus. So while Paul tells the Corinthians “I was beaten three times with rods,” he was beaten again after that, and probably more than once. After Paul’s death, an early pastor wrote, “Paul was imprisoned seven times, he was exiled, stoned; and all the while a herald in the East and in the West, gaining fame on account of his faith” (1 Clement 5:6). And again, “The upright have been persecuted, to be sure, but by the lawless. They have been imprisoned, but by the impious. They have been stoned, but by transgressors. They have been slain, but by such as have been possessed by a depraved and unjust jealousy. Yet they endured gloriously the suffering of such things” (1 Clement 45:4-5).
Just as Paul was beaten personally, the church of Jesus is frequently oppressed and attacked, even by some who think they belong within its numbers. The church cries out like the bride in the Song, “They beat me, they bruised me, they took away my cloak, those watchmen on the walls!” (Song of Solomon 5:7). She wonders what prayers will rise up to Christ about this mistreatment: “O daughters of Jerusalem… what will you tell him?” (Song 5:8). Persecution will come to God’s people, and when trouble or persecution comes, some Christians “will quickly fall away” (Mark 4:17). But we are blessed when we endure. John said, “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commands and remain faithful to Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). Johann Gerhard explained (with reference to the great enemy of the church, the Antichrist): “It is required that they keep the commandments of God and faith, that is, the sound doctrine concerning Christ, and that they not give any place to the seductions of the Antichrist. For it is better to be subjected to persecution for a time than to be tortured with the Beast in the infernal flames for eternity” (Annotations on The Revelation of St. John the Divine). When troubles come to us because of our faith, we are blessed by enduring them for the sake of Christ. We can be his witnesses even in our suffering. But don’t seek out such suffering, Better to give glory to God with your everyday tasks, reach out to him for forgiveness and enlightenment, and trust in him for everything. He will supply you with everything you need for today, for tomorrow, and forever.
Pastor Timothy Smith