Lesson 80: Paul Meets Up With the James Gang – Acts 21:18-30

by Pastor Ricky Kurth

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Paul met with James (v.18), who had clearly replaced Peter as head of the 12 apostles, and head of the Jewish kingdom church.  This shows the saints were no longer filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4), and that the kingdom program was breaking down now that the Jews had rejected the kingdom Peter offered them in Acts 3:19-21. They probably replaced Peter with James simply because he was the Lord’s brother.

But God still loved the Jewish kingdom church, so He decided to honor their decision, and even let James write a book of the Bible.  He knew this was coming, and pictured it when James’ namesake supplanted his brother (Gen.27:36), which means he replaced him by questionable means.  His father honored it though (Gen.27:33), and accepted that Jacob would be head of Israel’s 12 tribes.  That pictures how God accepted James would be the head of the 12 apostles.  God even inspired him to write that he was His servant (Jas. 1:1).

Paul reported to James (Acts 21:19), who was glad to hear his report (v.20), but was quick to boast about what he’d doneHe didn’t even want to hear about Paul’s ministry. He had summoned Luke, and Paul came with him (v.18).

But someof what James heard about Paul was true, and some wasn’t (v.21).  He didn’t tell Jews to “forsake” Moses.  He told them Christ was the answer to the law of Moses (Acts 13:38,39).  The law needed an answer because it required keeping “all” the law to be saved (Deut. 6:25), and no one can keep it all.  Jews got saved under the law by believing their sacrifices were the answer to the law.  Paul was just out there giving Jews God’s new answer to the law (Rom.10:4).

But after Jews got saved, Paul did tell them not to circumcise their sons or walk after the law.  So Paul didn’t know how to answer that charge. But James suggested he answer it by taking the Nazarite vow (Acts 21:22-24 cf. Num.6).  But first, he told Paul in verse 25, as it were, “I’m not talking about Gentiles you lead to Christ. We decided in Acts 15 they don’t have to keep the law, and wrote and told them so.  I’m talking about Jews you lead to Christ.”  They hadn’t discussed that in Acts 15, so James didn’t know that Paul wasn’t wrong in telling Jews he led to Christ they weren’t under the law.

Paul took the vow (Acts 21:26), even though it required the “offering” of an animal sacrifice.  He did it to try to win the Jews to Christ (ICor.9:20), but God providentially stopped him by allowing a riot to break out (v.27-30).

Unsaved Jews were always giving Paul grief, but these Jews “of Asia” that incited this riot (v.26) were provoked to jealousy when Paul reached the Gentiles they hadn’t (Acts 19:8-10 cf. Rom.11:11).  So they charged him with speaking against the “people” of Israel (v.28), when all he ever did was lift Gentiles up “with” the people (Rom.15:10).  They also charged him with being against the law, when he wasn’t. And they said he brought a Gentile into the temple, which shouldn’t be done (Lam.1:8,10).  And not just any Gentile, an Ephesian Gentile (Acts 21:29).  Everyone back then knew Ephesus was the epicenter of idolatry (19:35), making Trophimus a pagan of pagans, and a heathen of heathens.

The Jews closed the temple door (21:30) so Paul couldn’t run to the altar for mercy like Adonijah (IKi.1:50).  But in closing the doors to Paul, they also closed them to themselves.  In keeping him from God’s mercy, they were also symbolically keeping themselves from it. They were symbolically pounding another nail in their nation’s coffin, and this was another sign God was closing the book on Israel.  This was especially so when you consider that Joab didn’t get mercy at the altar (IKi.2:28,29) because he killed two men.  Israel had killed two men also, the Lord and Stephen.  And there was no provision in the law for mercy for murderers.  Israel’s only hope was Christ! 

A video of this sermon is available on YouTube: “Paul Meets Up With The James Gang” Acts 21:18-30

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