In Part 1, we considered Paul’s extended visit to Ephesus, where a remarkable work of God took place, Acts 19. Satanic opposition ensued, culminating in a city-wide uprising with Paul narrowly escaping death. In Part 2, we will consider Paul’s return journey to Jerusalem described in Acts chapter 20 and chapter 21 verses 1 to 17. After spending some time encouraging believers in Macedonia and Greece, Acts 20. 1-3, Paul leaves Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, v. 6. Paul has a strong compulsion to return to Jerusalem before the day of Pentecost, v. 16, and has less than six weeks to make the journey.
Acts chapter 20 provides more extensive details of events in two locations on the return journey, Troas and Miletus, both towns on the west coast of modern-day Turkey. Given the time pressure, the events in Troas and Miletus serve to remind us of several important spiritual priorities. Acts chapter 21 describes the final stages of Paul’s journey to Jerusalem and of the repeated warnings he received from God. We will consider whether it was right for Paul to make this trip.
Few details are given of the several months that Paul spent in Macedonia and Greece, except of his exhortation of believers in the region, v. 2. Other scriptures indicate that this was a busy and stressful period for Paul. He was deeply troubled concerning the Christians at Corinth after dealing with problems in the assembly. He was awaiting news from Titus about the situation and was in turmoil over whether to visit or not.1 Paul also probably wrote the book of Romans during this time.
He intended to commence his journey towards Jerusalem in verse 3, but a plot was made to apprehend him as he was about to set sail. He decides to make a detour by land through Macedonia and meet up with his co-workers in Troas. The list of Paul’s fellow-labourers is provided in verse 4 and deserves further personal study. Some of them, such as Timothy, we know better than others, although no doubt Paul valued the support they all provided. The list reminds us of the importance of fellowship and that, whether we are well-known or unknown, the Lord takes account of our labours for Him.
Paul is in a hurry to arrive in Jerusalem before the day of Pentecost, probably because it was the last significant gathering of the Jewish nation for several months.2 The events we read of in Troas and Miletus highlight several activities Paul prioritized under time pressure. Many of us are pushed for time with the demands of work and family life absorbing much of our week. These verses teach us the importance of prioritizing certain spiritual activities when we are busy:
The Breaking of Bread, v. 7: Although the expression can also be used to describe a meal (see v. 11), we believe that verse 7 describes the Lord’s supper.3 The verse strongly suggests that it was the practice of believers at this time to break bread on the first day of the week, i.e., Sunday or the Lord’s day.4 Possibly, Paul and his companions intentionally stayed longer to partake of the Lord’s supper, v. 6. The breaking of bread is a time of the week when we do not consider ourselves, or our needs, rather we put the Lord Jesus first and give Him the pre-eminent place. We gain so much personally, however, from engaging in this meeting as it serves to recalibrate and recentre our lives. It puts the many concerns we may have, often caused by the busyness of life, into the perspective of eternal realities.
The teaching of the scriptures, vv. 7-12: Luke paints a vivid picture for us. Paul holds an extended teaching meeting in an upper room, going on late into the night. Without the convenience of air conditioning, the open windows of the upper room provided better air flow, keeping the room cool. One young man, Eutychus, takes advantage by sitting on a windowsill high up in the building. It was late at night, probably after a long day’s work. With many people in attendance and oil lamps burning, the carbon dioxide levels increase in the room. Eutychus nods off and falls from the window with devastating consequences, v. 9.
Meetings often come at the end of a long day, or at the weekend when we try to catch up on rest. The honesty of the scriptures provides encouragement for us, whether we are hearing or teaching the word of God. The saints may drop off to sleep at times, but we shouldn’t be overly concerned, provided the seating is not precariously situated. The Lord ‘knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust’, Ps. 103. 14. Better to be at the meeting in the presence of the Lord, even when we feel tired, than not at all. What follows is one of the ten resurrection miracles described in the Bible as Paul is used by God to bring Eutychus back to life.5
The work of shepherding, vv. 17-38: These are key New Testament verses that provide instructions on the recognition and practice of elders in a local church.6 Since Paul was pressing to get to Jerusalem on time, he calls the elders from the church at Ephesus over to Miletus, a distance of almost forty miles on foot. Probably the ship Paul was on stopped at the port of Miletus and not Ephesus. The fourteen-hour walk, required by the elders to meet Paul, emphasizes the priority of this occasion, especially since this was possibly the last time Paul would see their faces, vv. 25, 38.
Paul recounts the past, vv. 18-21, and the time he spent at Ephesus (see Part 1 of this article). He reminds them of his commitment to share the gospel and teach the word of God despite the personal cost to himself. Paul informs them of the present situation, v. 22, and of his compulsion to visit Jerusalem and of their responsibility to protect, care for and feed the church at Ephesus, v. 28. Paul also speaks of the future and the possibility of his imprisonment and/or death, v. 23. He also warns the elders at Ephesus of an approaching Satanic attack on the assembly, through false teachers attempting to infiltrate the people of God, vv. 29, 30.
Verse 28 is a key verse. Firstly, we discover that the terms ‘elder’, v. 17, ‘shepherd’, and ‘overseer’ are interchangeable terms describing the same leaders of God’s people in an assembly. Much confusion has come from cherry-picking a specific label, such as pastor (derived from the word shepherd), or bishop (translation of the word overseer), when the biblical pattern is for a plurality of elders, v. 17. The terms highlight three different areas of responsibilities. Elders lead. They demonstrate spiritual maturity, and lead by example. Shepherds feed. They have the primary responsibility to tend and feed the flock of God, through teaching the scriptures, v. 28. ‘Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?’ Ezek. 34. 2. Overseers take heed. Like the shepherds in the nativity story, Luke 2. 8, they keep watch over the flock of God to care and protect it in the dark and dangerous environment of this world today, vv. 29-31.
Paul also reminded the Ephesian elders that the local assembly did not belong to them, but rather the Lord Jesus, who has purchased it with His own blood, v. 28. It is an entity, therefore, that is of inestimable value. Elders have a weighty responsibility, and they need the prayer, support, and encouragement of God’s people. Elders will also be rewarded if they carry out this work faithfully, with a crown reserved for them. Peter reminds all elders, ‘And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away’, 1 Pet. 5. 4. It is an emotional time as Paul leaves these church leaders he dearly loves, praying, weeping, and kissing them as he leaves, v. 37.
This section outlines Paul’s journey to Jerusalem which included various stopping off points. Repeatedly on his journey towards Jerusalem, Paul is warned of the dangers that await him on his arrival. Paul had told the Ephesian elders in Miletus that the Holy Spirit had witnessed in ‘every city, that imprisonments and afflictions await me’, 20. 23 ESV. Likewise, the believers in Tyre warn Paul, through the Spirit, not to go to Jerusalem, v. 4. In Caesarea, Agabus provides a graphic illustration of what Paul can expect, taking Paul’s belt and binding his hands and feet. He warns him, ‘so shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles’, v. 11.
This action pictured the next main phase of Paul’s life, in which he would be incarcerated for around nine years, under varying degrees of freedom.7
Remarkably, these restrictions were instrumental in causing one of the most spiritually productive periods of Paul’s life. He was able to witness to several political and religious leaders and dignitaries, including the Roman emperor himself.8 It was also when Paul wrote the New Testament prison Epistles which have been a source of immeasurable spiritual benefit through the centuries.9
The repeated warnings to Paul clearly came through Spirit-given prophetical revelations causing many to debate whether he was right to take this journey. The two books written by Luke, the Gospel of Luke and Acts, pivot around a decisive journey towards Jerusalem taken by the central characters, the Lord Jesus and Paul, respectively.10 Both knew of the difficulties facing them. It is the view of the author that, in both situations, prior knowledge of the dangers faced was not an indicator that the journey should not be taken. Like the Saviour he sought to imitate, Paul demonstrated his faithfulness to God and love for his own people, Israel, by taking this journey even though difficulties and suffering awaited him.
See 2 Cor. 1. 8, 9; 2. 12-14; 7. 5-7
The spring feasts were an important time of gathering of the Jewish diaspora from around the Mediterranean world, Acts 2. 1-11. Possibly the autumn feasts were less well attended, Neh. 8. 14-18.
See Luke 22. 1-23 and 1 Cor. 11. 23-34.
See also 1 Corinthians chapter 16 verses 1 and 2 which suggest that New Testament Christians gathered on the first day of the week.
The other nine are covered in the following article: https://www. gotquestions.org/raised-from-the-dead.html.
See also, 1 Tim. 3. 1-7; Titus 1. 6-9.
Time approximated from https:// www.blueletterbible.org/study/paul/ timeline.cfm.
Included in the list of people that Paul witnessed to are Felix, Festus, Agrippa and Drusilla, Acts 23-26, the whole Roman Pretoria, Phil. 1. 13, and very likely the Roman Emperor Nero, 2 Tim. 4. 16, 17.
The prison Epistles traditionally include Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon although 2 Timothy was also written during Paul’s last imprisonment.
Read Luke chapter 9 and especially verses 43 to 45 and verse 51.
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