Welcomed by Brethren Part 1 of 4

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Acts of the Apostles
By: Tom Lowe


Lesson: IV.E.1: Welcomed by Brethren (Acts 21:15-26)


ACTS 21:15-26 (KJV)

15 And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem.
16 There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge.
17 And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.
18 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.
19 And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.
20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:
21 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.
22 What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come.
23 Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them;
24 Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.
25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.
26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the Temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.


INTRODUCTION

Paul’s third missionary journey was complete, having begun after a visit to “the church” in the holy city (18:22) and now ending there. His Greek mission was also complete. He would not return. Luke had prepared his readers well for this reality. Paul had made the fact clear in his address to the Ephesian Elders (20:25). Paul’s own forebodings (20:22) and those of the Christians at Tyre and Caesarea have prepared us for the events that are about to unfold in Jerusalem. Paul showed notable courage in appearing openly at Jerusalem for the festival. His Gentile converts would not be there to support him; Jewish Christians present might well include some of his Judaizing opponents from Antioch, Galatia, and Corinth; and there would be crowds of orthodox Jews such as had plotted against him at the various towns he had visited. Paul would no longer give his witness as a free man in the subsequent narrative of Acts. He would be in chains, but the chains would be unable to bind his witness. His witness would indeed become bolder.


COMMENTARY

15 And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem.

Paul’s journey was now nearly complete. There remained only the final sixty-four miles overland between Caesarea and Jerusalem; a two-day journey by horseback and three days by foot. After spending several days in Caesarea at the house of Phillip, Paul and his party packed up their belongings and set out for Jerusalem. For this final leg, they may have used pack animals{1]. This is all the more likely when one recalls that they were carrying the sizable collection from Paul’s Gentile churches. It would have been a considerable group making the trip, including Paul and Luke, those delegated by the churches to assist Paul in delivering the collection (20:4), and some of the Caesarean Christians (v. 16).

Although they had been told repeatedly that Paul would be beaten and arrested in Jerusalem, Paul’s traveling companions continued to travel with him. They would not leave Paul in his moment of crisis. Nothing could have been more definite than these warnings, but, like Christ on his final journey to Jerusalem, Paul knew what was ahead. Yet he did not allow the prospect of danger and suffering to prevent him from pursuing God’s will. Sometimes in obedience to the will of God, believers may find it necessary to refuse the reasonable counsel of friends who mean well, but do not understand the compelling leading of God’s Spirit.

Jerusalem was southeast of Caesarea, located on a high plateau, so travelers were always said to go “up” to it (11:2; 15:2).


16 There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them

one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge.

A more plausible translation is, “There went with us also certain disciples of Caesarea, and they brought us to one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we did lodge.”

Once in Jerusalem, the Caesareans led them to the home of a disciple named Mnason (pronounced may’-son) with whom arrangements had been made for their lodging. This gesture by the Caesarean believers and especially Mnason was particularly helpful, because few homes in Jerusalem would be open to Paul and his Gentile companions—an important consideration if this was indeed the season of Pentecost (the fiftieth day from Passover), for the city would have been crowded with Pilgrims. It is possible that Mnason who lived in Jerusalem had been visiting in Caesarea when Paul and his cohorts arrived there. He was “an old disciple,” not an aged disciple, but probably “a disciple of long standing,” perhaps one of the 3000 converted on the day of Pentecost, or even more likely, drawn to the Savior Himself during His lifetime. He may have been a founding member of the Jerusalem church, and Luke, showing his characteristic interest in hosts, probably had many questions about what it was like in the early days of the church. Luke further described Mnason (his Greek name) as a Cypriot (originally from Cyprus), so we may infer that a few Hellenists were left in the church of Jerusalem after the dispersion that followed Stephen’s death.


17 And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.

When Paul arrived in Jerusalem, he received a somewhat mixed reception. On the one hand, he was received “gladly” by the brethren there. This is the only bright spot in the story of this visit of Paul to Jerusalem; but, this does not mean that all of the Christians in the city responded in like fashion to their arrival. If Paul delivered to the elders, the collection from the Gentile churches, this may account in part for their enthusiastic welcome of Paul and his companions. Just who formed the reception committee is not at all clear. Perhaps it refers only to the associates of Mnason with whom Paul lodged (v. 16). It is more likely that Luke intended verse 17 as a general introduction to Paul’s arrival at Jerusalem and that “the brethren” were the reason for his favorable reception by the Jerusalem Christian community as a whole{2]. These Gentile converts who came with Paul provided visible evidence of God’s work of salvation in the Roman world. This initial unofficial reception may have taken place at Mnason’s house.

What was it that made the Jews so glad? Was it the money or one of the other factors mentioned above? If so, their appreciation was short-lived. It is not even recorded that they so much as thanked Paul for all his efforts or his Gentile friends for their generosity.


18 And the day following Paul went in with us{8] unto James; and all the elders were present.

Not everyone was glad that Paul was there. There were some with reservations, and these quickly unfolded the next day when Paul and his traveling companions reported to the elders of the Jerusalem church (v. 18){3]. No mention is made of the apostles—had any other apostles been in Jerusalem on that occasion, it could hardly fail to have been noted—so we assume that most of them had died or were out of the city. Leadership of the congregation—the house churches that met in Jerusalem—was now in the hands of a group of elders, with James, the brother of Jesus, as the presiding elder{4]. This at first sight seems remarkable in the case of one who in Jesus’ own time was not a believer, and may have been partly due to the thoroughly Jewish idea that religious offices were essentially hereditary, so that Jesus’ nearest male relative would seem to be marked out by divine right to be his vicegerent (substitute) until His return. Being the brother of Jesus certainly helped his rise into the hierarchy of the Christian church and many of the elders and members of the congregation might have already read the epistle of James, the first of all the New Testament epistles. James had sent it to the Jewish believers in other lands and it had been in circulation for over a dozen years.

This was a historic meeting. The Elders of the Jerusalem church were brought face to face with Gentile believers, fruit of Paul’s labors in distant lands. But Paul probably did not know more than one or two of the believers in the Jerusalem church, which by now numbered thousands and might have had as many as 70 elders—making up a kind of church Sanhedrin. They were all there on this occasion.

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