Today’s reading: Acts 21: 17-36
Paul returns to Jerusalem and things have changed. James is there, history tells us he is now the Bishop of Jerusalem. However, none of the other Apostles are mentioned. Again we know from history that they have left the nest and are spreading the gospel far and wide. We are also told that “many thousands” have converted. This is key to remember. Often times we think of this entire period of small groups of converts here and there but that is not necessarily the case. Jesus had many thousands, probably tens of thousands of followers at the time of his death and resurrection. It is likely that most of those converted. In the thirty or so years since it is likely that tens of thousands more have been converted. This is what makes Christianity a problem for the Romans and Jews. These people are behaving differently and there are a lot of them. They are no longer buying idols, they are mixing with sinners, and they are changing society. It is only because this movement is so large that the Roman Empire will ultimately see it as a threat.
It is in this context that we can understand the request that Paul take the Nazirite vow and spend time in the temple. The Jews still have political authority and are in league with the Romans. An uneasy truce exists between the Christians (who at this point probably still consider themselves a sect of Judaism) and the temple authorities. Why would the Christians care to placate the temple authorities? This is payback to Paul. Remember, Paul opposed the application of Jewish law to the converts. However, it is still necessary for Christians to act like and appear to be a Jewish movement so they can continue to have access to the Temple and the synagogues and continue spreading the Gospel in the most fertile soil. What better way to make Paul eat a little crow than to get him to comply with Jewish law for a few days? Politics has always existed in the Church, since the very beginning.
But God turns the situation for good. Paul ends up being beaten and arrested but in doing so the Roman guards end up carrying him up the steps of the temple where the greatest evangelist ever will have the entire crowd of the temple focused on him. He will be given the opportunity to preach to them all.
One last interesting fact. In line 38 we read:
… And he said, “Do you know Greek? Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?”
The word for “Assassins” is “sicarii”. That literally means “short dagger”. As assassin is someone who kills by surprise or in secret, thus they do not carry a big visible sword, the carry a short knife or dagger. We know someone whose name is a derivative of this word … the betrayer Judas Iscariot.
Tomorrow: Acts 21:37 – 22:16