Montefiore,1 a modern Jewish author, describes Jerusalem as ‘the most illustrious of cities’. It was an impressive city in Paul’s day, but it was also a hotbed of religious fanaticism. In part, this was the reason for Paul’s difficulty.
Commentators disagree over Paul’s motives and actions during this visit to Judea’s national capital. We will restrict our attention to four key questions in this article.
As ever, Paul was selfless in his service. He had been collecting money for poor believers in Jerusalem. His appeals to the Thessalonian and Corinthian churches had been successful, 2 Cor. 8. 1-5, Rom. 15. 26, so he was bringing this charitable gift along personally, with other trustworthy believers, 2 Cor. 8. 19. He would have deposited the money with the elders at Jerusalem, as on previous occasions, Acts 11. 30. The donors and amounts are not known to us! Perhaps they were not known to the Jerusalem believers either. However, each gift has been recorded in heaven’s account books, 1 Cor. 4. 5.
Paul had great respect for the leaders in the church at Jerusalem. He referred to James as one of the ‘pillars’ of the church, Gal. 2. 9, and he was keen to spend time with James again. In addition to his concern for the saints, Paul also loved the Jews, Rom. 10. 1. He longed for their salvation. At Jerusalem, he must have hoped for opportunities to witness to them. These opportunities were certainly afforded to him, although not as he might have anticipated. Do we have such an evangelistic burden for our friends and neighbours?
Paul wrote a letter to the Romans before his visit to Jerusalem. He specifically asked them to pray for his protection, Rom. 15. 31. So it seems that he was anticipating difficulties. The believers at Tyre warned him of unspecified danger, Acts 21. 4. Subsequently the prophet Agabus tells him very definitely that he will be taken prisoner at Jerusalem, v. 11. So Paul was clearly aware of trouble awaiting him at Jerusalem.
Paul was never insensible to the risks attached to his service for Christ. He had already endured tremendous hardships, some of which he catalogued for his Corinthian critics, 2 Cor. 11. 23-33. He was ready to suffer and even to die, Acts 21. 13. Do Christians lack such resolve in contemporary society? Ultimately, Paul knew he was in God’s hands. Like their Master in Gethsemane, Paul and his companions pray for God’s will to be accomplished, v. 14.
Once Paul, along with others, had agreed to take the Nazarite vows, v. 24, he was putting himself under an unnecessary obligation. He knew that he had ‘died to the law’, Rom. 7. 4, but he was paying observance to it. This was probably a judgement call in a grey area. Paul weighed up his options and decided to respect his Jewish brothers with their scruples of conscience, 14. 19. He was ready to answer for this at the judgement seat of Christ, v. 12.
The temple at Jerusalem was one of the largest religious buildings on earth at the time. Paul knew that the Lord Jesus had walked there, John 10. 23, and that the early church met there after Pentecost, Acts 2. 46. There were great historical associations with the temple. Can we point to places where we have seen great spiritual victories occur? Paul certainly could!
Wiersbe2 describes Paul as ‘the misunderstood missionary’. Like the Lord, Paul was unjustly accused by the Jews, ‘His own received him not’, John 1. 11. However, Paul did not lose his dignity. He did not cause a nuisance. Instead, he submitted to the governing authority, Rom. 13.1, while claiming his rights as a Roman citizen, Acts 22. 27.
Paul seized the opportunity to witness. This was almost certainly preaching ‘out of season’, 2 Tim. 4. 2. Nevertheless, Paul was able to give an account of his dramatic conversion. This is the second of three personal testimonies from Paul in Acts. We notice subtle differences between chapters 9, 22, and 26. Each time, the Lord’s glory gets brighter (cp. 9. 3; 22. 6; 26. 13). Also, Paul’s mission is expressed more clearly (cp. 9. 6; 22. 10; 26. 16-18). In summary, Paul never tires of telling of Christ’s sovereign claim upon him. Can we be similarly outspoken regarding our faith?