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, shouting, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.”
… The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions … (verses 27-28, 30)
Sometimes it’s good to poke around in the Scripture to see what you find. When I poke around in this passage, what I find is a whole lot of irony. Here’s what I spotted:
(1) There’s a complaint levelled at Paul – he’s accused of teaching against the Jewish Law. The irony is that the mob takes this as their rallying cry, but then focuses on “trying to kill him” (verse 31), which, by anyone’s standards, is itself completely “against the law.” Such blindness.
(2) Further, the reason Paul is physically in the crowd’s line of sights at all is precisely because he’s in the process of following the Jewish Law, engaging in a purification rite at the temple. His very actions disprove the accusations against him.
(3) More ironic yet is the fact that “our people and our law and this place (the temple)” all find their essential meaning in the promise of Messiah. Paul, of course, holds tightly to this promise, having realized its fulfilment in Jesus. It’s this very promise that has brought him to this place. The mob, on the other hand, by its opposition to Paul’s message, has placed itself in firm opposition to all of it.
(4) From a different angle, it’s “Trophimus the Ephesian” who is the one that raises the throng’s ire. Knowing he’s Paul’s friend, they assume he has accompanied Paul into the temple, even though he’s a Gentile. This assumption enrages them. Ironically, Trophimus is one of the seven companions we met back in Acts 20:4, whose very raison d’etre was to provide support and encouragement for the Apostle. Instead, his support here has been completely twisted out of shape and used against Paul. It’s a sad irony.
(5) Finally, the only person in the whole melee who seems to be at all supportive of Paul is the Roman commander, a non-Jew who is not of “our people,” has no commitment to the law, and has no place in the temple. Even so, his support (relatively speaking) is ongoing through the next two chapters. Those who should have known better are hostile. Ironically, the outsider is the one closest in.
Meanwhile, in this wild swirl of events, I wonder how much Paul himself was able to clutch on to the prophetic preview the Spirit had given, knowing that this chaos was all in his hands, and that the sovereign purpose of the Almighty Lord was not lost. The very things his friends had warned him about, through the Spirit’s anointing, Paul was now experiencing. Yet, Paul had been fully convinced, all the way through, that it was the Spirit himself who was compelling him on.
Now he was in the midst. Ironic. Yet secure.
Sovereign Lord, even when things look out of hand, you are the God who reigns. You told Paul in advance. Thank you for the sighting we get of the unfolding story, secure in your hands.
Help me to fully trust you in the midst of my own out-of-control moments, knowing that you always are the Sovereign Lord. Lead me by your Spirit. May it be to the glory of Jesus’ name. Amen.
Reflect: Is there any point in your current experience that feels chaotic, out of control, perhaps unjustly oppressive? Whether big or small, put it again in the hands of the Sovereign Lord. Trust.