Reading through the Bible together
Paul’s transformation from a zealous Jew, persecuting, torturing, and killing Christians (Acts 22:4, 5) to a beloved apostle is simply amazing. Look at the many Paul impacted by his ministry. When Paul and his companions arrived in Tyre, the local members invited them to stay with them for a week. When it came time to leave, “they all accompanied” them to the shore, even “wives and children,” where they knelt and prayed together (vv.4, 5). Then Paul and his companions went on and arrived in Caesarea, where Agabus prophesied that Paul would be arrested in Jerusalem. Upon hearing it, both the local members as well as Paul’s companions tried to persuade him not to go (vv.8-13).
Did the Holy Spirit both encourage the apostle to go to Jerusalem, as well as try to discourage him? A careful reading of these texts shows that the Holy Spirit warned Paul of “chains and tribulations” awaiting him, but did not necessarily direct Paul to Jerusalem. It was Paul’s own desire to be in Jerusalem by the time of the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 20:16). He was eager to turn in the contributions gathered from the Gentile churches for the sake of the churches in Judea in their time of need.
When Paul arrived in Jerusalem, how different was his reception compared to his experience in the mission field. He met with James, the equivalent of the General Conference president at the time, “and all the elders” (v.18). Although they gave glory to God for the work Paul had done among the Gentiles over the past five years, some of these leaders “were unacquainted personally with the changing circumstances and peculiar needs met by laborers in distant fields.” They felt it was their authority “to direct their brethren in these fields” (The Acts of the Apostles, p.400), even after receiving the generous collection from these Gentiles from so far away. The leaders in Jerusalem implied that Paul was teaching “the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses” and turn to Christ (v.21). So, they proposed for Paul to participate in a Jewish purification rite in the Temple so people can see for themselves that you have not turned your back on Judaic traditions.
Paul agreed to do it, and what a mistake it turned out to be. On the last day of the festival, some of the “Jews from Asia,” his old enemies, spotted him and created a big uproar. They dragged Paul out of the Temple “seeking to kill him” (vv.30, 31). Paul was arrested, and his attempt to appease the Jews “only precipitated the crisis, hastened his predicted sufferings, depriving the church of one of its strongest pillars, and bringing sorrow to Christian hearts in every land” (The Acts of the Apostles, pp.405, 406). Great men of God can also make mistakes. But as they keep turning their hearts to God, He uses those mistakes for the good of His work. Paul would end up in Rome, after all.
Ron E. M. Clouzet
NAD Evangelism Institute Director
Professor of Ministry and TheologySeminary, Andrews University