Danger! Would you have risked returning to Jerusalem when everyone who loved you was warning you to stay away? Paul didn’t know what awaited him there, but he felt compelled by the Spirit to go. Just like his master Jesus Christ felt compelled to go to Jerusalem (Mark 10:32-34), Paul was willing to follow no matter the threat. Soon he was seized, dragged, beaten and bound. Yet through it all he felt completely carried by the Spirit, who gave him multiple opportunities to do exactly what Paul wanted—to share his story with crowds and kings alike (Acts 20:24).
Have you ever endured a season when you had little or no control over your circumstances? When each day brought new and unexpected challenges? When life seemed to be spinning out of control? When you had a close call with danger or death? During those times, the Holy Spirit sustains you, carries you. Did you feel it? Amazingly, it is often those times when we are weakest and rely on His strength most that give us a story to share with others later—our story of His faithfulness as we are carried by the Spirit’s fire.
Read Acts 21:1-24:27 in one sitting to get the whole picture. As you do, read it telescopically—in light of the whole. Pray that God would open your heart to the truths He has for you from this text.
Paul heads to Jerusalem, concluding his third missionary trip with a report to the leaders and bringing a sizable offering from the Gentile churches to the suffering church there. Follow Paul’s third missionary journey with this .
1. Discovering the Facts: Compare Acts 20:22-23 and 21:4, 10-14. What does the Holy Spirit consistently declare to Paul? How do his disciples and Christian friends respond to this message? What is Paul’s response to both them and to the Spirit?
Scriptural Insight: In view of the phrase, “through the Spirit,” was Paul wrong in pursuing his course to Jerusalem? Probably he wasn’t violating God’s will for several reasons: 1) Acts 19:21; 20:22; 21:14 imply it was God’s will for Paul to continue on to Jerusalem. 2) The comfort given by God (23:11) implies Paul had not stubbornly refused the Lord’s will. 3) In 23:1 Paul declared he had lived in all good conscience to that day. Probably… they knew through the Spirit that Paul would suffer in Jerusalem; therefore, concerned for his safety, they tried to dissuade him. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 415)
2. Share Your Life: On certain issues, God makes His will known to all of us very clearly in the Bible (avoid sexual immorality, don’t steal). In other areas, He allows us the freedom to make our own choices as we individually follow His leading. In that context, have you ever tried to protect anyone from doing what they believed was the will of God for his / her life? What was your motivation? What happened? What did you learn? Please share with your group.
3. Share Your Life: Paul and his friends agreed that the Holy Spirit promised suffering if Paul went to Jerusalem, but they differed concerning what Paul should do in light of the warning. Have you ever felt led to serve God in a situation that might become dangerous? If so, where? Did loved ones show concern for your safety? If so, how did you feel? What did you learn from that experience?
4. After Paul returns to Jerusalem for Pentecost, he spends time with the elders. What false report about Paul had been circulating among the believers in Jerusalem? According to James and the elders, what was the solution? What did they hope to accomplish?
5. How did Paul submit to their authority and maintain a good conscience? Read 1 Corinthians 9:20-23. What principle of Paul’s ministry is seen here? Do you think Paul was worried?
6. Discovering the Facts: Although Paul’s action satisfied the Jerusalem church elders, his frequent presence at the temple put him in public view of his enemies? Describe what happened to Paul at the Temple and immediately afterwards.
7. What false accusation was proclaimed about Paul? By whom? Did this surprise you? Explain.
Historical Insight: Gentiles were forbidden from passing beyond the outer court into the inner courts on pain of death. Roman authorities sensitive to these scruples authorized the death sentence for this trespass even when the offenders were Roman citizens. Also for any defilement of the Temple by word or deed (Acts 6:13-14; 7:48) (F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 409)
8. Share Your Life: How should we react when we hear accusations concerning other believers? When accusations are made against us? Have you experienced a time of accusation without the accuser having a desire for truth? How did you handle it? Share something that you learned about yourself and God.
9. In a matter of minutes, Paul was seized by an angry mob (v. 27), dragged (v. 30), beaten (vv. 31-32), and bound (v. 33). Yet, Paul kept his cool. Why do you think he could do this? Read John 16:33; 17:9-15, and Mark 13:9-11. In Christ, what comfort and confidence in the midst of such horror can be ours? Find other verses to back up your answer.
In the midst of this chaos, Paul seizes the opportunity not to defend himself against the accusation but to share with this huge, angry crowd his story of an encounter with the resurrected Jesus and decision to follow Him as a Christian. [We studied this section in lesson 5.)
10. Share Your Life: Have you shared your “story” with anyone lately? Could you share it with someone who might harm you? Write in the space below your own encounter with the resurrected Jesus and decision to follow Him. Be willing to share this with your group. Ask Jesus to give you other opportunities to tell your story this week. Trust the Holy Spirit to guide you and speak through you. If you have not yet made that decision, would you consider trusting in Christ today?
11. What did Paul say at the end of his talk that caused the Jews to stop listening and explode? Why? See also Acts 6:13-14 and 21:21, 28. What had become their idol?
Scriptural Insight: Preaching to Gentiles could not have caused such a response because the religious authorities of Israel had preached to Gentiles (Matt. 23:15). The message that infuriated the mob was that Jews and Gentiles were equal without the Law of Moses (Eph. 2:11-12; 3:2-6; Gal. 3:28). (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 418)
12. Paul looked liked he was between a rock and a hard place. How did he use the legal protection available to him?
Historical Insight: As a Roman citizen, Paul had the right to a public hearing and could not be beaten with rods, scourged, or crucified. Unless proven guilty of a crime, he could not be flogged either. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, pp. 401, 419)
13. The commander sought to know why Paul was being accused, so he assembled the Jewish high court (the Sanhedrin). Another opportunity for Paul to tell his story, this time before influential religious authorities. Having once been a companion of this prestigious group (25 years earlier), and knowing their own beliefs and divisions, what is the content of Paul’s message to them? Was this a wise move? Explain.
Deeper Discoveries: Acts 23:4 identifies Ananias as the high priest during this time. The purpose of the high priest was to offer the blood sacrifice for the sins of the people. We know that Jesus is now the High Priest. As a reminder, list the benefits of Christ as High Priest using the following scriptures (and any others you wish to use): Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:14-5:3;
14. Who came to give courage to Paul that night (23:11)? What confirmation did He also give? Was Paul’s imprisonment a surprise or disappointment to Jesus? What is His plan for Paul?
15. Share Your Life: Read 2 Timothy 1:7 and the “Think About It” quote below. Was there a time where you needed courage from God? Did you receive it? How did that help you face the situation? Do you need courage now? Ask the Holy Spirit to give you His courage to replace your fear. How can your group pray for you?
Think About It:
No guilt in life, no fear in death—this is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand. (“In Christ Alone,” Keith Getty & Stuart Townend)
16. Discovering the Facts:
§ What oath did the conspirators take against Paul?
§ How many were involved in the plan against Paul?
§ What plan was devised to get to Paul?
§ Who overheard the plot?
§ Who did he get to speak to expose the plan?
§ The informant was cautioned against what?
§ How many men were provided for Paul’s escape?
§ A letter was sent. To whom? From whom?
§ Who took Paul to Caesarea?
17. God is good all the time—even in hard times, in different ways to different people, and through preventing many of those things from happening to us that we might consider “bad” (Job 1:10, 12). How is God good to Paul in this instance?
18. Share Your Life: Can you think of a close call you have had with serious trouble, even death? How was God good to you through that time? In what ways did He rescue you from what you perceive might have happened to you?
19. Now the religious leaders have secured the services of a lawyer. What charges did Tortullus bring against Paul?
20. Here’s another opportunity for Paul to tell his story. That’s 3 in 12 days—this time to governmental authorities. How did Paul defend himself against the charges? What did he admit to be true? Was there a legal reason Paul was brought to trial?
21. What was Felix’s response to Paul’s defense? What was his response to the opportunities God gave Felix through Paul for the next two years?
Historical Insight: Felix was the governor of Judea from A.D. 52-58. A man of weak character, one historian said, “He held the power of a tyrant with the disposition of a slave.” He was recalled to Rome in A.D. 59/60 to answer for disturbances and irregularities in his rule. (NIV Study Bible, pp. 1692-93)
Deeper Discoveries: Research prison life during this time. (Hint: It’s nothing like today!) Paul was in prison in Caesarea for two years. What opportunities were given to his friends to minister to him at this time? Review the first part of Acts 21 to see who was close by.
22. Share Your Life: Read the following verses and summarize Paul’s attitude about being a prisoner: Ephesians 6:19-22; Philippians 1:12-14; 4:10-13; Colossians 4:3-4; and 2 Timothy 1:8-9; 2:8-10. Are there areas of your life in which you feel imprisoned or in bondage? Glean from the verses above, and apply them to your own situation.
Review the scripture passage covered in this lesson for evidences of the guidance and empowering of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. What will you ask God to do in your life?