ARRESTED BY THE JEWS Part 2 of 3 (Acts Series)
by John Lowe
There is some question whether the warnings are of a common ancient taboo type, i.e., a warning that the divinity will strike down any violator. From the testimony of Josephus, it seems more likely that the Jews themselves enforced the prohibition. A speech attributed to Titus indicates that the Romans allowed the Jews to execute violators; even if the violators were Roman citizens. There is no evidence in the existing literature of anyone ever being executed for this offense. Whether Josephus’s testimony on this matter can be trusted and whether the warnings were actually enforced, the stones have been found and are a vivid testimony to the exclusiveness of first-century Jewish religion: “NO GENTILE TO DEFILE OUR TEMPLE ON PAIN OF DEATH.” This barrier with its warning stones is likely the “wall” between Jew and Greek to which Paul alluded in Ephesians 2:14: “Christ is the reason we are now at peace. He made us Jews and you who are not Jews one people. We were separated by a wall of hate that stood between us, but Christ broke down that wall. By giving his own body.” Paul certainly was familiar with it. He had experienced it firsthand.
29 (For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)
The Asian Jews had seen Paul in the city with Trophimus, one of the Ephesian representatives in the collection delegation “Several men were traveling with him. They were Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea; Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica; Gaius from Derbe; Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia” (20:4).. They were looking for something to pin on Paul, and they quickly jumped to the conclusion that Paul had taken the Gentile into the inner area of the temple beyond the warning stones. Paul had in fact been there himself. He would have gone there in connection with his “purification.” He had not taken Trophimus there. Trophimus, apparently a convert through the ministry of Paul, when he was in Jerusalem with Paul, would have no inclination to go to the temple or take part in any ritual in the temple. That was not part of his background. Under grace, he could have if he had wanted to. This is what I mean by our freedom under grace.
The charge made against the apostle was unfounded and, like most mobs, they had not verified their allegations; Luke made that clear. They must have known full well, from even the most casual acquaintance with him, that Paul would never do such a thing. Paul was the very soul of honor. He knew all about the barrier, what he later called in his letter to the Ephesians “the middle wall of partition” (Ephesians 2:14). On an occasion when he was trying to establish his Jewishness, it was the last thing he would have done! It was an instance of sheer irony. In the temple for his own purification, Paul was accused of having defiled it.
30 And all the city was moved, and the people ran together: and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut.
Luke could be accused of exaggerating for saying that “all the city was aroused.” But one must recall that the temple area was like a “town square.” The court of the Gentiles was a large area, and great crowds would gather there. When all the hubbub started, people came running from every direction. Paul was dragged out of the temple proper into the court of the Gentiles. The gates to the sacred precincts were slammed shut, perhaps to protect the area from any “further” defilement from the unseemly mob action taking place outside.
Notice their bitterness and hatred aimed at Paul. They hate him because he is teaching that one does not need to go through the Mosaic system to be saved. Paul is right in following one of the customs of his people if he wants to do it. He is trying to win his own people. Although it didn’t accomplish the purpose that he had in mind, I think it accomplished a God-given purpose.
Nobody can reason with a mob. The Asian Jews had achieved their purpose. With malicious satisfaction, they saw the whole city now ablaze with religious passion and Paul the focal point of its hate. The apostle had indeed run his head into a noose. He had often been in peril before, and he would be in peril again, but it is doubtful that, until the time of his final arrest by Nero, he was ever in such a danger as this.
The intention of those in the mob who had instigated the riot seems to have been to kill him then and there. As soon as the crowd was clear of the inner courts, their doors were closed (by the temple police), perhaps to prevent Paul from claiming sanctuary or perhaps to prevent further pollution, for the crowd was about to add murder to the alleged defilement by Gentiles (2 Kings 11:4-16; 2 Chronicles 24:21).
You and I may wonder, “What did James and the others think of themselves?” They heard the uproar, they suspected and then learned that Paul was being mobbed—thanks to their advice. They apparently did nothing to secure his release, nothing to speak on his behalf, nothing to appeal to the Jews of Jerusalem to be fair and impartial toward Paul. They sent no one to the Roman authorities to assure the commander of the garrison that Paul was innocent of the charges leveled against him. It was part of Paul’s fellowship in suffering with Christ.
31 And as they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.
But along the northwest corner of the wall that surrounded the whole temple complex stood the Tower of Antonia, a fortress built by Herod the Great for defense of the temple. The Roman troops were garrisoned there. Antonia had several high towers, one which is said to have been 100 feet high, allowing a full view of the entire temple area. Perhaps it was a sentry posted there who first caught sight of the gathering mob and sent word to his commander, the Roman Tribune in charge of the Jerusalem cohort. The report was vivid and accurate and delivered in the proper manner, according to military regulations. It would reach him in the Tower of Antonia, which overlooked the temple at its northwestern corner. Some have suggested that the report was sent by the Christians. Luke’s expression, however, suggests an official report, either from the temple authorities or from the guards patrolling the roofs.
This Tribune, whose name is later disclosed as Claudius Lysias (23:26), would play a major role in the following two chapters. As a Tribune he was a high-ranking Roman military officer in charge of a cohort, which consisted of 1000 soldiers (760 infantry and 240 cavalry). Since the procurator (in ancient Rome, an administrative official with legal or fiscal powers) resided in Caesarea and only made periodic visits to Jerusalem, Lysias had the prime responsibility for the Roman administration and peace-keeping within the city. Not accidentally the barracks were located in Antonia adjacent to the temple. Stairs led from Antonia directly into the court of the Gentiles. The Romans were well aware that should any unrest arise in the city, it would most likely begin in the temple area. There was no question about the intention of the mob. The people were determined to kill Paul, and they would have accomplished their purpose if it had not been for the commander of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem.
32 Who immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down unto them: and when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, they left beating of Paul.
33 Then the chief captain came near, and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and demanded who he was, and what he had done.
Lysias lost no time in dealing with this riot. He evidently took a considerable contingent of soldiers with him. Verse 32 indicates that he took along “centurions” (“officers”). Since a centurion commanded a hundred soldiers, and since more than one centurion is indicated, Lysias’s force on this occasion consisted of at least two hundred. It must have been a significant show of force, for the crowd immediately stopped beating Paul. Since Paul was the obvious object of the crowd’s ire, Lysias immediately arrested him, binding him with two chains. It was a most timely intervention for Paul, who was in danger of being torn in pieces by the mob.
No mob, regardless of the extent of their rage, is a match for disciplined troops. With shields in place and swords drawn, the Roman soldiers deployed into the outer court. The rioters saw them coming and backed away, leaving Paul much the worse for his mauling, but still not seriously injured.
The significance of the “two” chains is not altogether clear. Paul may have been handcuffed on both arms and chained to a soldier on each side, or he could have been bound hand and foot, as Agabus had predicted he would be (21:11). In any event, from this point on Paul was “in chains,” if not always literally so, at least in the sense that he was a prisoner to the very last word of Acts.