“And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem . . .” (v. 17). Paul is the speaker. The site is outside the temple in Jerusalem on the steps leading to the compound that served as headquarters to Roman soldiers. The audience consists of Jews who knew of Paul’s teaching and believed that he had taught things contrary to the law of Moses and had defiled the temple. The words which Paul delivered to this audience begin with verse 3 and end with verse 21. The text between verses 17 and 21 describe a happening which took place twenty years before. The date on which Paul “was come again to Jerusalem” was 37 A.D. The date on which Paul speaks in the scene before us is at the close of his third missionary journey, 57 A.D.
The action which transpires in the text before us can be summarized in three sentences. (1) Paul continues to deliver his personal testimony to Jews who were stirred up against him. (2) Paul’s testimony is interrupted by a strong protest triggered by his words. (3) Paul is brought into the Roman headquarters adjacent to the temple for interrogation.
The audience that Paul addresses in 22:3-21 was made up of Jews who had attempted to kill him earlier. These Jews sought to kill him because certain Jews from Asia had accused him of blasphemous teachings and of defiling the temple (see 21:28-31). Quick action by Roman soldiers saved Paul from stoning. The time interval between the initial accusation against Paul and the words which he now speaks would have been less than an hour, perhaps less than one-half hour.
Following his rescue, Paul was granted permission to address his accusers by the Roman commander. Paul, speaking in Hebrew (a language unknown to the Roman commander), informed the stirred up crowd of his upbringing, of his zealousness for the law, of his pursuit and arrest of them who believed Jesus to be the Promised One, of his conversion on the road to Damascus, and of his being called to be a witness to all men of that which he had seen and heard. The people listened until Paul related that Jesus said, “Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.”
They had remained silent when Paul told them that Jesus appeared to him a second time as he prayed in the temple. They were silent when Paul informed them that Jesus told him to leave the temple quickly because “they will not receive thy testimony concerning me” (v. 18). They were quiet when Paul repeated the words which he spoke to Jesus in verses 19 and 20. When Paul repeated the words of Jesus in verse 21, their silence ended. They erupted, shouting, “Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live.”
The Jews were offended by that which they had just heard. Paul had made it known to them that the Promised One said the Gentiles would listen to Paul’s testimony but that they (the Jews) would not. The Jews heard Paul’s words but they did not hear that which he said. Paul had told them that the Just One, the Messiah, the one in whom God placed His Spirit, instructed him to minister to the Gentiles. What they heard was the words of Jesus (one whom they thought to be a pretender). They did not hear the words of God. Had they not closed their ears, they may have heard the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 42 in Paul’s address. Isaiah 42:9 states that the Messiah would declare that former things are no longer in effect and that He would speak of new things to come. Isaiah 42:6 states that the Messiah would be both a covenant to the people (Israel) and a light to the Gentiles. New Testament believers know that the Lord fulfilled the law and former things have passed away. We rejoice in the new relationship we have with God through the Son. We know that He shall return in the last hour to deliver Israel. We know that He shall keep his covenant with Israel. We know these things because we are the recipients His light. Paul was the lamp by which that light was brought to us, the Gentiles.
In verse 23, the Jews cast off their clothes and threw dust in the air, an action symbolizing that which was in their hearts. They wanted to stone Paul. The Roman soldiers stood between them and acting on their desire.
The Roman commander lacked knowledge of the Hebrew language (see 21:37) and was totally perplexed by that which had transpired. He had Paul brought into headquarters so that he might learn the cause of the disturbance. He intended to extract the truth from Paul by scourging him. This interrogation by scourging never took place because Paul made it known that the action would be unlawful because he was a Roman citizen.
Paul was a Roman citizen by birth because he was born in Tarsus, a free city. He was born with privileges that his Roman interrogator had obtained at great cost (v. 28). One does not choose his place of birth. By grace, Paul was born in Tarsus. It was by grace that Paul was spared scourging.
All believers are born by grace. By grace, we have obtained a privilege that was acquired by a great cost. That cost was borne by our Lord and Savior upon the cross at Calvary. It is by the grace and love of God, that we are clothed in His righteousness.
Let us declare the grace of God to all men in all places.