Paul in Ephesus en route to Antioch of Syria Part 2 of 3
by John Lowe
20 When they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not;
They were apparently interested in what he had to say, because he received an invitation from the Ephesian Jews to stay with them longer. But Paul was in a hurry to catch his boat to Syria and refused the invitation. The prohibition on his preaching in Asia was now apparently lifted (16:6), as indicated by his warm reception. The Ephesian Jews must have already heard much about “the Way”8 and no doubt would like to have heard more. The Jews seldom rose against the Gospel till the successful preaching of it stirred them up, and there was no time for that here; so he came and went without incident.
21 But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.
“But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem.” The statement “I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem” must not be interpreted to mean that Paul and the early Christians felt obliged to observe the Jewish feasts (see Acts 20:16) being in Jerusalem during the important feasts (in this case, Passover; though at least one interpreter says it was probably Pentecost14) would give Paul opportunity to meet and witness to Jewish leaders from throughout the Roman Empire. He would also be able to minister to Christian Jews who returned to their homeland.
Paul taught clearly that the observing of religious feasts was neither a means of salvation nor an essential for sanctification (Galatians 4:1-11). Christians are at liberty to follow their own conscience so long as they do not judge others or cause others to stumble (Romans 14:1-15:7). Also, keep in mind Paul’s personal policy with regard to these matters of Jewish practice (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)9.
For a second time, someone may ask what business Paul has in keeping feasts. Remember his background. He is a Jew like Simon Peter. He has the background of the Mosaic system. He knows a lot of his friends will be in Jerusalem for the feast. He wants to go up to witness to them. He feels that he must by all means keep this feast that is coming in Jerusalem16. He is under grace. If he wants to do that, that is his business.
But I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus. He promised to return, “If it is God’s will10.” Knowing and doing God’s will is one of the blessings of the Christian life (Acts 22:14)11. In some of his letters, Paul identified himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” (1 Corinthians 1: 1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1). At a most critical time in his life and ministry, Paul found courage in affirming, “The wIll of the Lord be done!” (Acts 25:10-12). The stage was set for Paul’s third mission (19:1-21:16). In the meantime, Aquila and Priscilla would carry on the witness in Ephesus until his return.
Paul caught his ship, but why the rush to get to Palestine? The Western text provides an answer, adding to verse 21 the note that Paul was hurrying to Jerusalem for the upcoming festival. Although that is almost surely not the original text, it may be an accurate assumption. On the other hand, Paul may have been hurrying to Jerusalem to complete his vow. Or perhaps he simply felt the need for a change. Considering their eagerness to hear more from Him, there must have been some pressing reason for his not remaining in Ephesus and making the most of this opportunity.