Acts 21:1-26

A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds

October 22, 2009 


Paul’s Third Missionary Journey – Part 4

(Acts 21:1-26)


Acts 21 is a chapter of transition.  In this chapter we see the Apostle Paul traveling back toward Jerusalem after completing his work with the churches in Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia on the third missionary journey.  Acts 20 ends with Paul saying an emotional good-bye to the leaders of the church at Ephesus.  They had met with Paul in the seaport town of Miletus.  Chapter 21 quickly moves Paul toward Jerusalem.  In the portion of the chapter on which we will focus in this session there are four main movements:

  • The trip from Miletus to Tyre (Acts 21:1-6)
  • The trip from Tyre to Caesarea (Acts 21:7-14)
  • The arrival in Jerusalem (Acts 21:15-16)
  • The meeting with the James and the other church leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17-26)


The first part of Acts 21 provides an interesting picture of travel by boat in the 1st century.  In Acts 20 we saw Paul and his companions traveling by coastal boat that put in at seaport towns along the way.  That mode of travel continues in the first part of Acts 21.  At the various stops cargo would be loaded and unloaded and passengers taken on and off the commuter ships.  These short trips from town to town were normally made during daylight hours.  Because there were very few lighthouses and navigation tools were very elementary, it was extremely difficult and dangerous to navigate these coastal ships at night.

From Miletus to Tyre (Acts 21:1-6)

Verse 1 mentions three ports of call made by the ship on which Paul was traveling.

“Cos” – This is a small island about 40 miles south of Miletus.  Hippocrates, who is often referred to as the father of medicine, was born on Cos.

“Rhodes” – This island was famous for its great lighthouse that was known as the Colossus of Rhodes.  The giant figure straddled the entry to the port of the city of Rhodes and was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  Rhodes became a key stopping place for the crusaders on the way to and from the Holy Land.  To this day, there is an elaborate restored crusader city at Rhodes.

“Patara” – This port was located on the coast of the province of Lycia.


Verse 2 tells us that at Patara Paul and his companions changed ships (probably going to a larger vessel) to make the long trip to Phoenicia that is just north of Judea where Jerusalem is located.


Verse 3 this was a non-stop voyage all the way from Patara to Tyre.


Verses 4-5 describe a moving scene with some disciples in Tyre.  We have no record of Paul previously ministering in Tyre, but he found a Christian community there and spent a few days with those believers.  Some have speculated that the church in Tyre was made up of Jewish Christians who had been forced to flee Jerusalem after the persecution that broke out following the death of Stephen.  Saul, now known as Paul, spearheaded that persecution!  If that is the case, this passage is a beautiful example of Christian forgiveness and reconciliation.  Luke mentions several things about the brief stay in Tyre:

  • When the Christians in Tyre heard of Paul’s plans to go to Jerusalem, they warned Paul not to go.  Luke tells us this warning came “through the Spirit” or as a result of impressions made by the Spirit.  Paul apparently interpreted this warning not as a prohibition from going to Jerusalem but as a warning that the outcome was not going to be good.
  • Paul made such an impression on these people in just the few days he was there, they and their families accompanied him all the way to the beach and knelt with him to pray before he departed.


From Tyre to Caesarea (Acts 21:7-14)

The ship on which Paul and his companions were traveling made an overnight stop in Ptolemais.  This city, which is one of the oldest in the world, was called Acco in the Old Testament and is known as Acre today.  It is located in northern Israel on top of a the bay on which Haifa is located.  This is one of the best natural harbors on the Palestinian coast.  As Paul did in Tyre, he found the Christian community in Ptolemais and visited with the believers there.


From Ptolemais the party sailed to Caesarea.  This city, also known as Strato’s Tower, began in the 3rd century B.C.  It came under Roman control in 63 B.C.  Herod the great rebuilt the city and named it in honor of Caesar Augustus.  In the 1st century it was the Roman capital of Judea and the official residence of the governor.  Luke tells us two things about Paul’s stay in Caesarea:

  • He stayed in the home of “Phillip the evangelist” (v.8).  We were introduced to Phillip in Acts 6 (about 20 years earlier than the events in Acts 21) when he was chosen to be one of the seven helpers of the apostles in serving food to the widows.  In Acts 8 we see him preaching the good news to the Samaritans.  Verse 9 tells us that Phillip “had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses.”  As we have seen elsewhere in this study, the word “prophet” was used to describe someone who not only foretold future events but who told forth the word of God.  One writer says the word describes those who “had the gift of speaking for God utterances given them under the immediate direction of the Spirit.”  In other words, Phillip’s daughters were preachers!
  • Agabus, a prophet from the area of Jerusalem, joined the chorus of people who were raised up by the Lord to warn Paul that trouble awaited him in Jerusalem.  We met Agabus earlier in Acts (see Acts 11:28) when he prophesied that a famine would come to Judea causing great suffering among Christians.  As in Tyre, Paul interpreted this warning not as a prohibition from the Lord of going to Jerusalem but as intended to prepare him for what was ahead.  Paul was convinced the Holy Spirit was leading him to go to Jerusalem (see Acts 20:22).


From Caesarea to Jerusalem (Acts 21:15-16)

Jerusalem is 64 miles southeast of Caesarea.  The journey, either by foot or on horseback, probably took between two and three days.  Paul and his traveling companions were joined by some of the believers from Caesarea on this journey.  Perhaps they went to introduce Paul to Mnason in whose home they were to stay.  Mnason is described as “a disciple of long standing” (v.16).  This means he was probably one of the original Jerusalem Christians, perhaps converted on or near the Day of Pentecost.  This has led some to speculate that he was one of Luke’s sources for the events that occurred in the early days of Christianity.


Paul’s Meeting with the Leader’s of the Jerusalem Church (Acts 21:17-26)

The James mentioned in verse 17 is the half-brother of Jesus who became one of the key leaders of the church in Jerusalem.  The fact that none of the other original apostles are mentioned may mean that by this time they had scattered to other parts of the world.  This meeting with leaders of the Jerusalem church included the following:

  • Verses 18-19a – A recounting by Paul of the way God had moved among the Gentiles in Asia and Greece and probably a presentation of the offering given by the Christians in Greece for the Christians in Judea.
  • Verses 19b-21 – An expression of concern about how the Jewish believers in Jerusalem would respond to Paul’s presence.  False rumors had been spread that Paul was urging Jews to forsake their religious traditions.
  • Verses 22-24 – The proposal from the church leaders to diffuse the situation.  They asked Paul to take a Nazarite vow of purification along with four other believers and to pay the expenses of the four in taking such a vow.  The process would take seven days and according to Numbers 6:14-15 would require two lambs, a ram, bread, cakes, and meat and drink offerings from each person.  So this process would require a substantial time and expense commitment from Paul.  Earlier in his life Paul may have balked at such a requirement.  But now, being older and more mellow, he saw the wisdom in the suggestion and agreed to do it.
  • Verse 25 confirms the original decision the church had made some years (see Acts 15) earlier concerning what to require from Gentile believers.
  • Verse 26 reports that Paul followed through on his commitment to undergo the rite of purification.




Practical Lessons from Acts 21:1-26:

    1. Following God’s will for one’s life is often difficult and demanding.  While the Lord led Paul to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22), He did not promise the reception there would be pleasant (Acts 21:11).
    2. We should actively seek the fellowship of other believers.  At virtually every stop along his journey Paul intentionally sought out the Christian community.
    3. We must be careful about placing limits on the people the Lord can and cannot use in ministry.  In an era when women were treated more like property than people, Phillip had four daughters who had been given by the Lord the gift of prophecy.
    4. Following Jesus is a life-long commitment.  Perseverance in the faith is what the Lord desires from us.  Phillip and Mnason are examples of two disciples who stayed committed for the long-term.
    5. We should go out of our way to accommodate other believers.  Paul did not have to take the purification vows but did so to foster peace in the fellowship.