Have you ever been lied about, and lashed back in response? It’s hard to hold one’s tongue amid false accusations, but holding one’s tongue until the strategic moment is a supreme skill. May God grant us such skill!
27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him,(A) 28 shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.”(B) 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus(C) the Ephesian(D) in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)
30 The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul,(E) they dragged him(F) from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. 31 While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.(G)
33 The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound(H) with two(I) chains.(J) Then he asked who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another,(K) and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks.(L) 35 When Paul reached the steps,(M) the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36 The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Get rid of him!”(N)
37 As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks,(P) he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”
After only seven days in Jerusalem, Paul was in a row! Jews from Asia had stirred up the crowd with a pack of lies. They said Paul preached against the Jews, the Law, and the Temple. They even falsely accused him of bringing Greeks into the Temple to defile it. Imagine how Paul, hardly a shrinking violet, had to bite his tongue in the face of these lies! What is most notable here is what Paul did not do: Paul never took on the crowd to defend himself. He let himself be taken, dragged out of the Temple, and even when they sought to kill him, he did not utter a word!
Trust in God's purposes
Thankfully God sent the Roman cohort in like the cavalry in a Western. The Tribune (commander of a thousand men) tried to address the crowd, but a thousand accusing voices arose. Paul still said nothing, until the dramatic moment in verses 37–39 when he could speak privately to the Tribune: ‘I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.’ Paul chose his words wisely for the strategic man and moment. His trust in God’s purposes allowed him to ‘tame the tongue’ (see James 3:3–12).
Pray for opportunities to ‘solemnly testify’ about Jesus today, but the wisdom also for the strategic moment.
Paul is nearly at the end of the time of purification he had entered into a week earlier (v 26), but he cannot shake the rumour that he is out to destroy everything that the Jews placed their identity in (v 28). Through making assumptions (v 29) and with the volatility of crowds, some Jews from Asia incite a riot with the aim of killing Paul. The riot becomes so great that even the Romans, who are responsible for maintaining law and order, struggle to control the crowd.
The sanctity of the Temple was paramount to any faithful Jew. There is an irony in this account, however: the ‘whole city’ (v 30), who rushed to the Temple from their daily activities and therefore were not in a state of ritual purity, drag Paul out of the Temple while he is in a state of ritual purity. The crowd are prevented from killing him by the intervention of the Romans, but they clamour for his death like the crowds screaming for Jesus’ death (Luke 23:18). It reminds us, again, that those who follow Jesus can expect to be treated as he was.
Being ‘compelled by the Spirit’ (Acts 20:22) to do something does not mean that suffering will be avoided. The life of Paul, never mind that of Jesus, demonstrates that sometimes suffering is God’s way of working out his purposes. When we are suffering, do we believe that God is working out his purposes in our lives, even if it is hard for us to see it at the time? This does not mean that humans who cause our suffering are less culpable before God, but God has not removed his promise to be with us ‘always, to the very end of the age’ (Matt 28:20 Leviticus 23,24; Acts 12). May that promise give you the comfort you need and the courage to go on.Julie Robb