Read: Acts 21:37-22:29
Paul finally gets to speak to the crowd, the preacher is given the microphone and seized the opportunity to set the record straight. The sermon goes well until Paul mentions spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles. This is the turning point. In Part 2, the main accusation against Paul was that he led a Gentile into the temple. This was impossible to prove because it didn’t happen, but when Paul announces to the crowd that he was sent to the Gentiles, they bridge the gap and lose their minds. He has to play the Roman citizenship card again.
Part 4 will show Paul before the Sanhedrin and explain why the Romans had to remove Paul from Jerusalem. I’ll try to stay focused on this piece, but honestly, I had to read through the end of Acts to keep things in perspective. For now, let’s try to focus on these events as Paul’s time in Jerusalem is coming to an end.
Paul Speaks to the Crowd
Paul was falsely accused of allowing a Greek to enter the temple, that was an offense that allowed the Jews to issue the death sentence on the offender. Paul was not arguing about this rule, though he probably would have if he were given the chance. There was great confusion among the crowd as well as the ranks of Roman soldiers.
“Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?” Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.” Acts 21:38-39
The NIV Study Bible refers to the writings of Josephus to explain that there was a false prophet that caused a revolt in this timeframe. Apparently, the Romans attacked and killed hundreds, but the leader got away. If Paul were this guy, his trial would be brief indeed! The Romans would have publicly executed him with great joy and the commander would have probably been promoted for finding the Egyptian responsible for the revolt.
In my mind, Paul has to act quickly. Given this point in history, my guess is the Roman response of guilty until proven innocent would result in his premature death. Paul explains that he is a Jew at this point and the commander allows Paul to speak.
When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic: “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.” When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. Acts 21:40-22:2
The crowd became very quiet. That’s pretty amazing all by itself. Now Paul has the chance to clear the air, right? The narrative provides further insight into Paul’s conversion discussed in Acts 9. Paul provided his credentials as a Pharisee and explains what happened on the road to Damascus. He even talks about how Jesus spoke to him with prophetic words about his ministry:
“When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’ Acts 22:17-18
So far, so good. For some reason the crowd isn’t excited until Paul includes this comment:
“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” Acts 22:21
Suddenly, all bets are off. The crowd turns on Paul. Did they somehow think this whole sermon was about allowing a Greek into the temple? It seems the court of popular opinion quickly concluded Paul was trying to justify why this law should be broken. The riot starts all over again.
The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!” Acts 22:22
The Roman Citizen Card
The Roman response in those days was to beat people into submission, or so it seems. Paul is between a rock and a hard place so he has little choice but to tell them he is not only a Jew but he is also a Roman citizen.
As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”
Seriously? The commander is going to lose his mind. First, there is a riot. He gets the crowd to settle down so this Jew can talk. Then he speaks and gets them riled up all over again. He orders the guards to flog Paul only to discover one more detail about the guy. “Honey, I had a bad day at the office.” This admission sets the course all the way through the end of Acts.
Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains. Acts 23:29
The dramatic events captured in this passage compel us to hit the pause button. So much is going on that we have to stop and reflect. On one hand, Paul is merely preaching what he was compelled to say. On the other hand, he had to know these words would not be accepted by the crowd.
What I find amazing is that the crowd didn’t get unruly when Paul spoke about Jesus. Apparently, they were all ears at this point. It wasn’t until he spoke about preaching to the Gentiles that they lost it.
What is the lesson learned here? I could write a long list of rhetorical questions here, but I think I’ll conclude that there are those who simply will not listen to reason no matter what I might say. Some people are bent on hearing exactly what they want to hear as the rationale for continued anger. There are indeed lose-lose situations in life. This was one great example.
There are times when we have to choose between two bad outcomes. The featured image I chose includes two doors with the thought that sometimes we have to make a choice without knowing what’s behind either door. This is a hard pill to swallow, but it happens in life and at times it sucks. I can’t end this post without fast-forwarding to this verse:
the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” Acts 23:11
The Lord will be with you and I if we are loyal to Him. Go and make disciples with a promise from Jesus: He will be with you!