Paul has a conviction that he must go to Jerusalem and after that, to Rome (Acts 19:21). He has shared with the Ephesian elders that he is compelled to go to Jerusalem by the Spirit, who also forewarns him of impending persecution and suffering (Acts 20:22–23). Both danger and God’s protection are going to be Paul’s experience.
His friends warn him against entering Jerusalem (Acts 21:4). Agabus warns him (vv. 10–11) and his fellow travellers plead with him not to go (v. 12), but he persists, insisting he is “to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 13).
Just as it was for the Lord Jesus (Luke 18:31–33), Jerusalem will once more prove to be a centre of aggressive opposition to the gospel.
We read that thousands of Jews have believed, but retain their zeal for the law (v. 20) and rumours abound that Paul disregards the Old Testament law (v. 21). Anticipating trouble, James urges Paul to join the purification rites of four men in the temple. As is evidenced in the case of Timothy’s circumcision (Acts 16:3), Paul did not object to observing the law in cases where no gospel issue was involved. It may have been the outworking of 1 Corinthians 9:19–20.
Professor E. M. Blaiklock comments on these events: “He sought to love, to understand, to act in selfless humility. The result, by that tragic irony which Heaven sometimes permits, was apparent disaster.”11
Because of unfounded accusations by certain Jews from Asia Minor, Paul is set upon by a mob when he goes to the temple to deal with matters concerning the purification rites (vv. 27–31). Wisely, the Romans have placed their barracks near the temple and the garrison is on hand to rescue Paul from his own people and a premature death. This rescue, God’s protection of Paul, is the first of four. The others are recorded in Acts 22:2 and 23:10, 20–21 and 31.
Paul is rescued from a hopeless situation—and imminent death—four times by an unlikely ally: the Roman commander stationed in Jerusalem. The original word spoken to Ananias in Acts 9:15–16 is about to be fulfilled, for Paul will later be sent to Felix the governor in Caesarea (Acts 23).
God can be trusted to protect His workers and church as they proclaim the good news in this world.
11E. M. Blaiklock, The Acts of the Apostles: A Historical Commentary, Tyndale Commentaries on the New Testament (London, Tyndale Press, 1959), 172.
Paul listened to Agabus before (Acts 11:27–30). Why doesn’t he do so now?
In Romans 15:31, Paul asks the church to pray that he will be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea. Here we see that he is indeed delivered from unbelievers—by other unbelievers. Is there a lesson here about how God answers prayer?