Our passage today picks up in the middle of a tense scene. Paul was at the temple and some rabble-rousing Jews spread the lie that Paul had taken non-Jews into the temple (21:28). A buzz began to stir and a Roman commander caught wind that something was happening. An Egyptian insurrectionist had been in the area causing problems for the Romans and this commander thought he was back at it. The Romans showed up in force to take control of the scene thinking they had caught this Egyptian rebellion leader. That’s why when Paul spoke to the commander his first response was, “Do you know Greek?” (21:37). Upon realizing the mistake, the commander gave Paul a chance to defend himself from his accusers.
Our passage picks up as Paul is offering this defense. Paul said in verse 21, “And [Jesus] said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” The response from the crowd was immediate and harsh. “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” But why?
One commentator answers the question this way, “Paul’s message that infuriated the mob was that Jews and Gentiles were equal without the Law of Moses (cf. Eph. 2:11–22; 3:2–6; Gal. 3:28)” (Bible Knowledge Commentary). This statement by the Jews shows their rejection of Jesus and the gospel. This is a momentous moment in the book of Acts when the line in the sand is drawn for a final time.
Because the crowed is once again stirred up, and the Romans have no idea why, Paul was taken away to the barracks. What happens next is, I believe, one of the most humorous moments in Scripture. So he might understand the situation, the commander order that Paul be scourged so he can learn the “truth.” They stretch him out, and seemingly, right as the whip is being raise, Paul says, “Ahem, I’m Roman.”
Things like this only happen in the movies. The soldier’s eyes probably bugged out of his head as he ran off to go find the commander. Why Paul waited until the last second to tell these guys, we can only speculate. However, Roman citizens could not be punished in this way, and the consequences for doing so were severe.
For the second time in as many hours, Paul’s identity had been mistaken twice. He wasn’t an Egyptian rebel leader and he wasn’t just some lowly Jew from a backwater town of the Roman Empire. While the commander purchased his citizenship, Paul was born into his. We don’t know when or how this happened, but the fact that Paul was Roman was of tremendous importance.
There are two things we need to realize from this passage: (1) God has a plan, and (2) we are part of it. The consequences of the Jewish rejection of Christ ultimately led to the destruction of the city by the Romans in AD 70. That devastation pales to the eternal consequences of rejecting Christ. Gentile inclusion was God’s plan from the beginning in Genesis 12. The prophets spoke of it, but when the moment came, the religious leaders rejected it.
Paul was a part of God’s plan to spread redemption throughout the ancient world. However, we are the beneficiaries of his ministry—especially his writing ministry. We have his message and the divine opportunity to see God’s plan unfold as we share with people.
By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate