The Altar-cation

Acts 21:27-36

And when the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the multitude and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people, and the Law, and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. And all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together; and taking hold of Paul, they dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut. And while they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the ccommander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. And at once he took along some soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them; and when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the commander came up and took hold of him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; and he began asking who he was and what he had done. But among the crowd some were shouting one thing and some another, and when he could not find out the facts on account of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. And when he got to the stairs, it so happened that he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob; for the multitude of the people kept following behind, crying out, “Away with him!” 

Well, that didn’t take long. This is, after all, Jerusalem, near the time of the feast of weeks, Shavuot or Pentacost, a pilgrimage festival. Therefore, we would expect to see plenty of pilgrims parading around the city. It’s no wonder that James and the elders wanted to use caution concerning Paul. We also have a better understanding of Paul’s accepting of the accommodations asked of him. If you are here for the first time and find yourself lost, welcome, here we take a long view of Scripture and consider the continuing context, reading the Bible as it was written, seeing the sublime string and mining for gold. Because our teachings and traditions have caged the Scriptures and created all sorts of presuppositions and preconceived notions, we work to unlock the CAGED Scripture by taking a long view and using a hermeneutical tool called the CAGED method, where; Context is King, Author’s Aspirations to his Audience are Apex, Genre is the General, Expository Exegesis of Examples Enlightens and Dividing Rightly the Word of Truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. We are walking through the book of Acts, letting the Bible interpret the Bible.

After many missinons and miracles Paul has made his way back to Jerusalem. We don’t know if he made it by Pentecost but it certainly appears that he did. Being careful not to be offensive, Paul is ritualistically purifying himself with some other men. Ironically, while doing this act of religious tradition, he is spotted by some of those from Asia Minor (Ephesus, Sardis, Smyrna), who had previously persecuted Paul. No kid gloves today; we are going to see and slam dunk the hypocrisy. Rather, Luke is, we’re simply considering the continuing context.

“And when the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the multitude and laid hands on him, crying out, ‘Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people, and the Law, and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.’ For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.”

But Paul never brought him to  a the temole. Objection; assuming facts not in evidence; more prejudicial then probative; arguing the law; badgering the witness; lying under oath. Unfortunately Paul is not in an American courtroom but in the courts of the temple, absolutely adhering to the religious customs in Jerusalem. Notice the accusations; “This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people.” That’s speculation and hearsay; have they actually heard Paul speak everywhere and does Paul speak out against them? No, in fact, Paul calls them brothers but does highlight tbeir hypocrisy. But look closely at their statement; “This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people.” Jumping to the end of their statement–“he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” How much hypocrisy can they heap onto the head of Paul?

Here, we don’t assume facts not in evidence, we take the long-view approach to Scripture. Therefore we know, having read Matthew’s gospel, and examining all the prophecies fulfilled therein, that Jesus was the Messiah and the true Israel. Jesus’ life mirrors the path of Israel to the promised land but everywhere that Israel failed, Jesus succeeded. Jesus was the only one in history to fully keep the Law of Moses as it was intended. He also explained the Law and expounded on it; making everyone guilty before a holy God. “But God demonstrates his own love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Nevertheless, Paul’s accusers don’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah–they believe in the Law. Since Jesus was the epitome of the Law, I have no problem judging both them and Paul by the Law–both parties are guilty–we know this but let’s zoom in on the recent activities.

Quickly, for time’s sake: “Don’t bear false witness.” “This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people, and the Law, and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” While having some semblance of the appearance of authenticity, they are not only breaking the ninth commandment, but also the spirit of the first and second along with sundry other laws, “you shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in Egypt.” They have made the temple and the Law of Moses idols, forsaking the true God, and actually don’t obey the law that has become the object of their worship. Notice what Luke says immediately after the allegations. “For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.” They spoke ill of a God-fearing stranger, presuming that Paul had brought him into the temple–they never saw it, they lied. Paul is being the Hebrew of Hebrews while in Jerusalem but they are being the hypocrites of hypocrites. This is very important to remember as we walk through the book and the rest of the Bible, especially remembering Matthew 24. We have to acknowledge that this generation, these people present, lived in unprecedented times. The Messiah has come to them and they murdered him, says Peter in Acts 3:13-16 and again in Acts 4:10. Look at it this way, they had Jesus and the temple, the apostles and the Law, Paul and the sacrifices, Philip and the festivals and even in their Law, was the promises of the prophets that this would be the case. Yet they chose the way in which they had always done it. They kept their traditions, presuppositions and preconceived notions, loving the Law and the temple due to traditional teachings rather than considering the continuing context of the sacred Scripture. They embraced who they were as a people, in their own minds.

Paul was Jewish, as was Jesus, the apostles and all of the very early church. Paul doesn’t speak out against Jews, he speaks out against them, the hypocritical Jews in their own generation just as Jesus did. And they take it personally and probably should but Paul is preaching to them on what real Israel is supposed to be, using their​ sacred Scripture. But because of their teachings and traditions, presuppositions and preconceived notions, they are blind to the grace of God which grants forgiveness of sins by the sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross, as foreshadowed by their own sacred Scripture. For example; Genesis 3:15, Numbers 21, Isaiah 53 et al. In fact, the entire Old Testament tutor points to Jesus, especially Abraham and Isaac, when God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his own son, providing the offering himself. Matthew, more than any other book, confirms this. Much more could be said and written but the overwhelming evidence is that while Paul was purifying himself, obeying the traditional teachings, the Asiatic, unbelieving Jews were trampling on their traditions and teachings.

“And all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together; and taking hold of Paul, they dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut. And while they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the ccommander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. And at once he took along some soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them; and when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.” A little history​ lesson is in order.

Rome rules the region. We find Paul in Jerusalem somewhere in the reign of Nero or possibly a little earlier during Claudius but this is doubtful due to everything we have read. Either way, many small skirmishes and even insurrections are now common place in Judea and Galilee. Even though, about 25 years ago, the people yelled, “we have no king but Caesar,” tensions are running high because Judea has now been annexed by Rome. Jerusalem no longer has much autonomy at all and the Roman presence has increased. The context confirms this because after Paul is grabbed by the Jewish people present from Asia Minor, he’s then grabbed and beaten by others but it is not long before the Romans arrive. They break up the melee but place Paul in chains.

“Then the commander came up and took hold of him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; and he began asking who he was and what he had done. But among the crowd some were shouting one thing and some another, and when he could not find out the facts on account of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks.” In an all too familiar scene, like at the crucifixion of Christ and Peter’s arrest, no one can get their story straight. It reminds me of live-action police shows where the detained people babble all sorts of nonsense. He said–she said type of nonsensical noise. But it appears that Paul says nothing and the people present are contradicting themselves and each other. Not that there are any solid allegations but confusion and nonsense. Maybe it is more like a Monty Python sketch. “Paul turned me into a newt!” But we actually see in the text that it was specifically because of the uproar that the commander couldn’t ascertain what had happened; collective chaos. Therefore he took Paul away, in chains, and brought him to the barracks to figure it all out. I have no doubt that this all happened very quickly because I believe that they would have killed Paul if given the time. This shows not only the large Roman presence, but also the need for a large Roman presence. We will see this more next time.

“And when he got to the stairs, it so happened that he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob; for the multitude of the people kept following behind, crying out, ‘Away with him!'” Look at that again; “he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob.” Paul preaches about the prince of peace and is clobbered by his supposed brethren. With all of this building context and all that we have seen, if dispensationalism is correct, why didn’t Paul proclaim it here and now–other than the fact that he was beaten and mobbed so badly that he had to be carried? I am getting a little ahead of myself because Paul does give his defense and we will examine it closely. But before we do, I would like to go into his defense with clear and open minds, putting aside our preconceived notions and presuppositions.

Let’s use some dogmatic-dispensationalists verbiage and vernacular and hypothetically explore what Paul didn’t say. For instance, if God has two distinct people with two distinct plans, why was Paul even in Jerusalem? The answer is not that he wanted to celebrate Shavuot. This was a reason why he hurried in haste but it was not his reason for going. Remember also that the elders where timid about Paul being there. Why didn’t they have Paul preach on the two distinct people with two distinct plans? He could have simply said, “People of Israel, you are the ‘apple of God’s eye, you are untouchable by the nations’ but this Greek man with me, is part of God’s parenthetical plan, something called the ‘church’ because you all know the Scripture that says; ‘in him will the gentiles hope.’ And since we know that the gentiles cannot enter the temple nor obey the Law of our father Moses, God has granted a special dispensation for them. Only we, Israel, are clean by our laws and sacrifice and temple of the most high God. Therefore let’s leave the gentiles alone, oh apple of God’s eye.”

He couldn’t because it wasn’t true. Paul is not there to preach a parenthetical plan, but the plan. Why else would Paul go to Jerusalem, knowing that this was coming, unless he had a message other than they were the apple of God’s eye? I know the dispensationalists dogma better than they do, like Paul was once a Pharisee, I was once the most dogmatic of all dispensationalists. Here’s what their argument will be against what I have recently written. “The church is not Israel nor does she replace Israel but is parenthetical to God’s plan for Israel, therefore Paul would have preached Jesus to the Jewish people in the first century because Israel doesn’t get saved until after the fulness of the gentiles comes in, after the rapture of the church but during the Great Tribulation, or, Time of Jacob’s Trouble. There, Paul would have absolutely preached Jesus to them because it was during the time of the church and gentiles, which we are still in.” The problem with this is that their go-to passage in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was written already and Paul, as they always point out, said, “we who are alive and remain.” That’s their biggest argument that the rapture could have happened at any time because Paul believes it will happen during his lifetime, indicated by his use of the first-person, plural. And they are adamant about it. It’s the foundation of their dubious dogma. But if Paul thought that tribulation and the time of Jacob’s trouble were right around the corner, which they were, why would he be willing to die for Christ if their generation would see his coming? Exactly, it was not his second coming but coming in judgment against the generation that not only killed Christ, we can all forgive that because we all needed that, but the generation that stoned the prophets and scribes and apostles sent specially to them. Plus, like Paul, they persecuted Jesus by persecuting his church. In dispensationalists jargon; “the apple of God’s eye” persecuted and killed the “Lamb’s bride.” “But” and there’s always a but, “God demonstrates his own love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Forgiveness is absolutely available if they repent, as John the Baptist has said, but also, the axe is already at the foot of the tree. Paul knows that forgiveness can be found but that judgment is right around the corner. This is why he is there and willing not only to be bound but also to die.

Being short sighted and ripping verses out of context can lead to all kinds of crazy dogma. Look at the number of christian denominations, the false christian churches and all of our end times beliefs–they can’t all be right. Therefore many must be wrong. And since the Scripture is the only inerrant word of God, we have to take a long view of Scripture and consider the continuing context carefully. And a careful consideration of the context, or even a little more than a cursory reading reveals, they put a beat down on Paul. And it was the Romans that came to the rescue. This hornet’s nest is stirred up. Stay tuned to see what unfolds.

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