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Sketches From The Life of Paul

by Ellen G. White

Chapter 20: Paul a Prisoner.

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On the following day Paul proceeded to comply with the counsel of the elders. There were among the believers in Jerusalem at that time [p. 215] four persons who were under the Nazarite vow, [* Numbers 6.] the term of which had nearly expired. Certain sacrifices for purification were yet to be offered, which were so costly as to be impossible for a very poor man. It was considered by the Jews a pious act for a wealthy man to defray the necessary expenses and thus assist his poorer brethren to complete their vow. This, Paul had consented to do for the four Christian Nazarites. The apostle himself was poor, working with his own hands for his daily bread, yet he willingly incurred this expense, and accompanied the Nazarites to the temple to unite with them in the ceremonies of the seven days of purification.

Those who had counseled Paul to perform this act of concession had not fully considered the great peril to which he would be exposed. At this season, strangers from all regions of the world thronged the streets of Jerusalem, and delighted to congregate in the temple courts. As Paul, in the fulfillment of his commission, had borne the gospel to the Gentiles, he had visited many of the world's largest cities, and was well known to thousands who came from foreign parts to attend the feast. For him to enter the temple on a public occasion was to risk his life. For several days he passed in and out among the worshipers, apparently unnoticed; but before the close of the specified period, as he was conversing with the priest concerning the sacrifices to be offered, he was recognized by some of the Jews from Asia. These men had been defeated in their controversy with him in the synagogue at Ephesus, and had become more and more enraged against him as they witnessed his success in [p. 216] raising up a Christian church in that city. They now saw him where they had not supposed that he would trust himself,—within the very precincts of the temple. Now he was in their power, and they determined to make him suffer for his boldness.

With the fury of demons they rushed upon him, crying, "Men of Israel, help! This is the man that teacheth all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place." And as the people in great excitement flocked to the scene another accusation was added to excite their passions to the highest pitch,—"and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place."

By the Jewish law, it was a crime punishable with death for an uncircumcised person to enter the inner courts of the sacred edifice. As Paul had been seen in the city in company with Trophimus, an Ephesian, it was conjectured that he had brought him into the temple. This he had not done, and being himself a Jew, his act in entering the temple was no violation of the law. But though the charge was wholly false, it served to stir up the popular prejudice. As the cry was taken up and borne through the temple courts, the vast throngs gathered there were thrown into the wildest excitement. The news quickly spread through Jerusalem, "and all the city was moved, and the people ran together."

That an apostate from Israel should presume to profane the temple at the very time when thousands had come from all parts of the world to worship there, excited the fiercest passions of the mob. Only their reverence for the temple saved the apostle from being torn in pieces on the [p. 217] spot. With violent blows and shouts of vindictive triumph, they dragged him from the sacred inclosure. Now that they had him in their power, they were determined not to lose their prey. He should be stoned to death, as Stephen had been years before. They had already reached the court of the Gentiles, and the Levites had closed the gates behind them, lest the holy place should be polluted with blood, when they were interrupted in their murderous designs.

News had been carried to Claudius Lysias, the commander of the Roman garrison, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. Lysias well knew the turbulent elements with which he had to deal, and with his officers and a strong force of armed men he rushed down to the temple court. Ignorant of the cause of the tumult, but seeing that the rage of the multitude was directed against Paul, the Roman captain concluded that he must be the Egyptian rebel who had so successfully eluded their vigilance. He commanded that Paul be seized, and bound between two soldiers, a hand being chained to each. He then questioned those who seemed to be leaders in the tumult as to who their prisoner was, and of what crime he had been guilty. Many voices were at once raised in loud and angry accusation; but on account of the uproar the chief captain could obtain no satisfactory information, and he ordered that the prisoner be removed to the castle, where were the Roman barracks.

The rage of the multitude was unbounded when they saw their prey about to be taken from their grasp; and they surged and pressed so closely about Paul that the soldiers were compelled to bear him in their arms up the staircase [p. 218] which led from the temple. Priests and people were actuated by the same Satanic spirit that moved them thirty years before to clamor for the blood of the Son of God. From the staircase and from the crowd below again echoed the deafening shout, "Away with him! Away with him!"

In the midst of the tumult the apostle remained calm and self-possessed. His mind was stayed upon God, and he knew that angels of Heaven were about him. He could not leave the temple without making an effort to set the truth before his countrymen. He therefore turned to the commanding officer, and in a deferential manner addressed him in Greek, saying, "May I speak with thee?" In astonishment Lysias inquired if he was indeed mistaken in supposing the prisoner to have been the ring-leader of a band of robbers and murderers in the late rebellion. In reply, Paul declared that he was no Egyptian, but a Jew of "Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city," and begged that he might be permitted to speak to the people. The Lord had given his servant an influence over the Roman officer, and the request was granted.

"Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people." The gesture attracted their attention, while his bearing commanded respect. The scene changed as suddenly as when Christ drove the traffickers from the temple courts. Quiet fell upon the sea of heads below, and then Paul addressed the throng in the Hebrew language, saying, "Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defense which I make now unto you." At the sound of that holy tongue, [p. 219] there was "a great silence," and in the universal hush, he continued:—

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