JEOPARDY IN JERUSALEM (ACTS 21:17-26). The arrival of Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles, was the spark that could set ablaze Jerusalem. His fame had filled the entire Jewish world. The Jews hated him with more intensity than ever.
The political atmosphere of Jerusalem had deteriorated while Paul was away from Palestine. Matters had been bad enough in Judea under the Roman procurator Cumanus, five or six years before. Riots and reprisals had been the order of the day in Jerusalem. Now Felix had been sent as procurator, and affairs had disintegrated rapidly. There had been bloody conflicts in Galilee and Samaria, and the Jewish population in general had gone over to the side of Sicarri or Daggermen, who were the conspicuous figures in the revolt. The country was seething with rebellious feeling, which every now and then broke into open revolt.
Paul received a warm welcome from the brothers, but they immediately discerned the turmoil that his presence might bring. The second day in Jerusalem, the apostle and his companions met with James, the Lord’s brother, and the other official of the church. They praised God when they heard Paul’s report of the spiritual victories among the Gentiles during his Third Missionary Journey.
Paul had devoted a part of his Third Missionary Journey to taking up a love gift for the Jews in Judea. He had hoped the collection would pacify the hostile Judaizers at Jerusalem. It was a practical way for the Gentiles to show their oneness with their Jewish brothers and sisters, and to repay them for sharing the Gospel with the Gentiles (Romans 15:25-27, 31).
The brethren informed Paul, however, of the developing problem. Reports were circulating that he had been urging the Jews of the Diaspora to abandon the Mosaic traditions including circumcision. This was clearly untrue for Paul never mocked his Jewish heritage nor demanded that Jewish Christians repudiate their Scriptures. The church leaders suggested to Paul that he could put this slander to rest by showing publicly his respect for the Mosaic Law by participating in the Nazirite vow of men of their number. Historically, this is a time of transition and the Jewish segment of the church still participated in some of the Temple traditions and feasts. As long as it was voluntary and not imposed upon Gentiles, Paul nowhere teaches that such activity was wrong for Jews. Indeed, what they asked him to do was not inconsistent with his desire to come to Jerusalem for Pentecost.
Paul had urged the Galatians as Gentiles not to observe the Jewish feast (Galatians 4:10), but for the Jews such matters were subjects for individual freedom (Romans 14:4-8). The brothers make it plain to Paul that this conduct is not to be interpreted as a reversal of the decision made at the Jerusalem Council. Paul is between a rock and a hard place—a very difficult situation. If he refuses, it will be construed as proof of the charge against him. A mark of a truly great man is that he can subordinate his own wishes and views for the sake of the church if they do not violate God’s will. We know Paul’s mind on “gray” issues.
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
So the next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the Temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.