Acts 21:17-36 – Paul Returns to Jerusalem


Acts 21:17-36


Paul is warmly welcomed when he arrives in Jerusalem. Although he follows a prescribed rite in the temple so as to allay some believers’ fears that he undermines the law, still a crowd is stirred up against him.


This passage follows the experiences of Paul and those with him as they come to Jerusalem, a journey Paul undertakes to bring relief to hungry sisters and brothers in that city. Although warned by a prophet about what will happen in Jerusalem (21:10-12), Paul and at least seven others arrive there. He is “warmly welcomed” by the brothers, including James (the brother of Jesus) and the elders. There are echoes of Paul’s prior experience at the council in Acts 15, for again Paul makes a report, again it is well received, and again the issue of commitment to the law (that is, Scripture) is noted as a potential problem for Paul. A strategy is developed that will allow Paul to honor God’s law visibly and subdue the anger of those who hear gossip about his disrespect for the law.

Paul and the others go forward with purification rites and spend several days in this process, but a faction (divisions are indicated by the “Jews from Asia” in v. 27 and “the brothers” in v. 17) explodes over mistaken interpretations of Paul’s behavior. It is at this point of uproar caused by error, ignorance, and zealotry (according to Acts) that the friendly, warm relationships are compromised and the Roman government is brought into the picture. In the verses that follow, the Roman military tries to bring order, but the whole scene is so chaotic that protecting Paul is about all it can do. In Acts 22 Paul tries to calm the crowd with a speech that highlights his Jewishness, but to no avail. The author has described outrageous reactions to positive mention of Gentiles in Luke 4:16-30, when Jesus speaks in Nazareth. Here it happens again.

This passage heralds Paul’s journey to Rome. Once he returns to Jerusalem, the prophecies about him from the Lord in 9:15-16 and from Agabus in 21:11 will be fulfilled. Important leaders will hear him, and he will indeed suffer. Paul’s journey will also show that he is a citizen of Rome and a fine speaker. As a trained speaker and citizen, Paul provides a symbol of the higher social level and public character of this faith (it is not some silly sect, hidden away and dangerous). He is also shown as a reasonable and responsible man, over against the disruptive and wild behavior of his opponents.