In Acts 20:16, we read: "For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost." Why did Paul want to be in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost? He knew that on the day of Pentecost there would be many Israelites from many different countries visiting at Jerusalem to keep the Feast; and so, he would be able to reach more of these Israelites with the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. He felt a great burden for his kinsmen by race, as he relates in Romans 9:1-3 and Romans 10:1-4.
He also states, in Acts 20:22-24: "And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, TO TESTIFY TO THE GOSPEL OF THE GRACE OF GOD." So, Paul again demonstrates here his desire to take the gospel to Jerusalem.
Continuing the story in Acts 21, we read in verse 8: "On the morrow we departed and came to Caesarea; and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. And he had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied." So, we find Paul and his travelling companions visiting with Philip the evangelist. The first mention of this Philip is in Acts 6:2-6, where we read of him as one of the seven chosen by the twelve apostles to "serve tables". We also read of Philip in Acts 8:4-13 where we are told of his preaching Christ in Samaria; and in Acts 8:26-40 where we learn the story of Philip preaching Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch and also baptizing him.
We also read in Acts 21:15-16: "After these days we made ready and went up to Jerusalem. And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge." So, here we see Paul visiting with the early disciples: that is, Philip the evangelist and Mnason.
Then, in Acts 21:17-20, we read: "When we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James; and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. AND WHEN THEY HEARD IT, THEY GLORIFIED GOD." So, here we have a picture of Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, meeting with James, the elders of the Jerusalem church, and the brethren of the Jerusalem church; and together they glorify God for the things done among the Gentiles through the ministry of Paul. Surely, here is unity among believers!
Then, in Acts 21:27-36, we read of a riot in the city of Jerusalem in connection with Paul's presence there. In verses 27-28, we read: " ... the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up all the crowd, and laid hands on him [that is, Paul], crying out, `Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching men everywhere against the people and the law and this place; moreover he also brought Greeks into the temple, and he has defiled this holy place.'" So, we see here who it was who started the riot, that is, "Jews from Asia". Is it just a coincidence that Jews from Asia (where Paul had founded several churches) happen to be in Jerusalem when Paul is there? No, it is no coincidence, for Paul had indeed arrived in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, when Israelites from many parts of the world were also there to keep the Feast. It was Paul's habit, when bringing the gospel to a new place, to start at the synagogue. One can cite many examples: Acts 9:20, 13:5,14, 14:1, 17:1-3, 18:1-4,19, 19:8-10, among others. In bringing the gospel message to the synagogue, he had made some enemies among the unbelieving Jews who did not accept his message (see Acts 14:1-2 and Acts 19:9 for an example of this); and these Jews from Asia were of these enemies.
These Jews from Asia had spread a false rumour that Paul had brought Greeks into the temple, and that he had spoken against the law. As a consequence of this false rumour which they shouted out among the people in the city, we read in verses 30-31: "Then ALL THE CITY was aroused, and the people ran together; they seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. AND AS THEY WERE TRYING TO KILL HIM [that is, Paul], word came to the tribune of the cohort that ALL JERUSALEM was in confusion." So, Paul is in trouble now! The tribune arrests Paul, and thus saves him from the crowd.
Then, in Acts 22:1-21, we read Paul's defence to the rioters. He addresses them in the Hebrew language, and thus has their rapt attention. He speaks as a Jew to fellow Jews, and tells them all of his past life as a persecutor of the "Way" (verse 4). Then he proceeds to tell them of his experience on the road to Damascus, and of how Jesus spoke to him, saying: "I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting." (verse 8). Of course, these Jews have heard of Jesus, for Jesus' ministry was a very public one with many signs and wonders performed by Jesus, and the Crucifixion was also very public. And the witness and teaching of the church, both in Jerusalem and among the Gentiles, was also known among them (Acts 6:8, 19:10). Paul continues his story, and then tells his listeners more words of Jesus (verse 18): "Make haste and get quickly out of Jerusalem, because they will not accept your testimony about me." So, here we can see that Paul is speaking to the many unbelieving Jews who are in Jerusalem at this time to keep the Feast of Pentecost, for they will not accept Paul's testimony about Jesus. The Jewish believers have already accepted Jesus as Saviour, and some were of those original believers present at the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, as related in Acts 2.
Paul's speech to the crowd in Jerusalem is concluded with Paul's statement of what Jesus had told him: "Depart; for I will send you far away to the Gentiles."(Acts 22:21). Now, at this statement, the listeners are enraged, and they shout as a body: "Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he ought not to live." (Acts 22:22). These unbelieving Jews cannot bear to hear that one of their own will go to the Gentiles with God's message of salvation. Paul, in saying this, has again provoked them to jealousy as he says in Romans 11:13-14: " ... I magnify my ministry in order to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them."
So then, we see that the believing Jews were in harmony with Paul's converts among the Gentiles, in their acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. These believing Jews truly rejoiced with Paul in the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry (Acts 21:19-20).
I will conclude with Paul's words as found in I Thes. 2:14-16: "FOR YOU, BRETHREN, BECAME IMITATORS OF THE CHURCHES OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS WHICH ARE IN JUDEA; for you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all men by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they may be saved."
This commentary of Paul's Journey to Jerusalem would not be complete without further discussion of the meeting between Paul and James as related in Acts 21:17-24.
In verse 20, James tells Paul: "You see, brother, how many THOUSANDS there are among the Jews of those who have believed; they are all zealous for the law ..." So, we see here that there are many believing Jews who have accepted Jesus as the Christ, and who have received the Holy Spirit; for they are indeed called believers. And yet, these Jewish believers are still keeping the law. We know that Jesus never spoke against the law, and that he came to fulfil (that is, complete) the law (Matt. 5:17). And we also know that Paul never spoke against the law. On the contrary, Paul said: "So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good." (Romans 7:12). But, Paul was adamant that law-keeping should not be forced on the Gentiles (Romans 2:28-29; Gal. 6:15). So, we see then that many Jewish believers continued to keep the law according to their age-old custom.
Now, in Acts 21:17-18, we read: "When we had come to Jerusalem, the BRETHREN received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to JAMES; and all the ELDERS were present." Here, we learn of Paul's meeting with James, the elders of the Jerusalem church, and the brethren of the Jerusalem church. So, who are these thousands of Jews spoken of in verse 20? These thousands of Jews are those believers among the Jews who are still keeping the law, and who have also come to Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Pentecost, as have their unbelieving brethren. These believing Jews have come from distant parts of the Roman Empire, such as those places listed in Acts 2:9-11.
Now, James tells Paul that there are THOUSANDS of these believing Jews who have arrived in Jerusalem. If we look at this word which is translated THOUSANDS in the RSV, we find that the Greek word so translated is "murias" which means a "myriad", that is "ten thousand" (Young's Concordance).
Young's Literal Translation of the Bible renders Acts 21:20 as follows: "Thou seest, brother, how many MYRIADS there are of Jews who have believed, and all are zealous of the law, ..."
The Concordant Version translates Acts 21:20 as follows: "You are beholding, brother, how many TENS OF THOUSANDS there are among the Jews who have believed, and all are inherently zealous for the law?"
And Weymouth's New Testament in Modern Speech renders this verse as: "You see, brother, how many TENS OF THOUSANDS of Jews there are among those who have accepted the faith, and they are all zealous upholders of the Law." Weymouth adds a footnote to this verse which says: "Or perhaps `what multitudes', the definite numeral being used for the indefinite."
This Greek word "murias" is used ten times in the New Testament (Concordant Version, Keyword Concordance); and of these ten occurrences, twice by Paul.
In I Cor. 4:15, Paul says: "For if a MYRIAD of child-conductors ye may have in Christ, yet not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus, through the good news, I - I did beget you" (Young). Paul seems to be using the word "murias" here in a figurative sense, for I am quite certain that the Corinthians could not possibly have had ten thousand "child-conductors" (that is,"instructors") in Christ!
In I Cor. 14:19, Paul says: "But in an assembly I wish to speak five words through my understanding, that others I may instruct, rather than [a] MYRIAD[S] of words in an unknown tongue" (Young). And I suppose Paul could be said to be using the word "murias" here in a literal sense of ten thousand words. [Note: Young, in his Concordance, lists this occurrence of "murias" as a singular; and yet, in his translation, uses the plural form. The other translations to which I have referred use the singular form in this case.]
So, we can see that the word "murias" can be used both in a literal sense to mean "ten thousand" (singular) or "tens of thousands" (plural); and also in a figurative sense so as to mean "a multitude".
Returning to Acts 21:20, we do not know whether James was using the word "murias" literally to mean "tens of thousands", or figuratively to mean "a multitude". Whichever way James may have been using the word MYRIAD, we can be sure that Paul understood the meaning, for Paul agreed to James's suggestion (Acts 21:23-24). And whatever the number of these believing Jews who still kept the law may have been, we can be sure that they would have been FAR OUTNUMBERED BY THEIR UNBELIEVING BRETHREN, both in Jerusalem to keep the Feast and in their homelands in the Roman Empire. For Paul says in Romans 11:2-5: "God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? `Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have demolished thy altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.' But what is God's reply to him? `I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.' SO TOO AT THE PRESENT TIME THERE IS A REMNANT CHOSEN BY GRACE."
And so, this mention of a REMNANT refers to those believing Jews
who had accepted Jesus as the
Christ and had received the Holy Spirit, and yet continued to keep the
law according to their age-old
Copyright © 1996 by Deborah Cox
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