RIOT AT THE TEMPLE (ACTS 21:27-31). It was the time of Pentecost A.D. 57 and Jews were present in Jerusalem from all over the world. The Temple and city pulsated with national and religious pride. Paul kept alert for danger with the prophetic warnings resounding in his mind. It came suddenly and without instigation on his part.
The seven days of purification were still in process when some Jews from Asia (non-Christians, of course) saw Paul in the Temple, probably in the Court of Israel, that is the Court of Men. They were familiar with Paul from his long stay in Ephesus, and may have also known Trophimus. Remembering that they had seen Paul and Trophimus together in the city, they jumped to the conclusion that Paul had brought the Gentile into the forbidden area of the Temple.
A low balustrade (railing) known as the Soreg separated the Court of the Gentiles from the inner courts to which only Jews were allowed. Signs in Greek and Latin were posted. One of these plaques is in the Louvre; it reads:
No foreigner is to enter within the balustrade and enclosure around the temple area.
Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for the death which will follow.
Even the Romans took this warning so seriously that they allowed the Jews the right to execute violators of this prohibition, even including Roman citizens.
The Asian Jews accused Paul of three wrongs: (1) destroying the Law; (2) insulting the chosen people; (3) defiling the Temple. What ensued was far worst than the riot at Ephesus.
Word spread like wild fire that Paul had brought a Gentile into the forbidden court. The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the Temple, and immediately the gates were shut to prevent further trouble inside the sacred area. While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar.
In the northwest corner of the Temple area there stood the Fortress of Antonia, which had been build by Herod the Great. At the great festivals when the atmosphere was tense, it was garrisoned by a cohort of one thousand men. One thing Rome insisted on was civil order. A riot was an unforgivable sin both for the populace who staged it and for the commander who allowed it.
PAUL ARRESTED (ACTS 21:32-36). The commander, Claudius Lysias, at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul and the commander arrested Paul and ordered him bound just as the prophet Agabus had predicted. The commander tried to get at the truth but could not because of the uproar. The original troublemakers did not come forward to substantiate their charges.
It was a struggle for the soldiers to reach the steps of the barracks at the Fortress; they had to carry Paul through the mob, which kept shouting, “Away with him!” Their abbreviated cry meant, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” Jesus had heard this same cry (John 19:15).