In our recent studies, we have demonstrated that Jerusalem was a very dangerous place, yet Paul was determined to travel there, testify before the council, complete the necessary rituals of purification, fulfill the requirements of the Nazarite vow, and deliver to the believers the funds he had collected on their behalf from the believers in the diaspora.
When Paul arrived in Caesarea, the prophet Agabus spoke a warning to Paul about what would happen to him while in Jerusalem. Very quickly, this prophecy came to be. When Paul appeared before the Jerusalem Council, he was instructed to pay the purification expenses of four other men who had also come to Jerusalem from the diaspora. Seizing upon the opportunity presented to them, Paul’s enemies among the Jews, accused Paul of brining Gentiles into the Temple; something very much forbidden in Jewish religious law.
The result was a great commotion and near riot in the temple. With the city already on the edge, and tensions running high, Paul was taken away by the Roman garrison and the Temple shut down in an effort to control the situation.
When Paul arrived in Jerusalem for the Feast of Shavuot in the spring of 57 CE, he was met with questions about what exactly he was teaching the Jews and Gentiles to believe and practice. The elders among the believers in Jerusalem devised a plan to demonstrate both Paul’s own observance of Torah and his support for Jewish observance of Torah in general. In their plan, Paul agreed to pay for the sacrifices necessary for four of his fellow Jewish believers.
The next day, Paul went with the four men to begin the process of purification leading up to redeeming their Nazarite vow. Everything seemed to be going as planned until the last day of the purification process when everything changed. The prophecy by Agabus that Paul would be put in chains was about to be fulfilled.
Yeshua had warned his disciples that they were not far removed from the days of betrayal. He cautioned that a man’s enemies will be members of his own household. Twenty-five years later, there was trouble in Jerusalem, especially among the Jews.
Since before the days of Yeshua, the Jewish people had been under the political thumb of the Rome. Much had changed since Paul last visited Jerusalem. Rome had taken over every aspect of Jewish life including the Temple and priesthood. The sect of the Sadducees, who dominated the Sanhedrin and the priesthood, had totally thrown in with the Romans. The high priest was essentially a political appointment and the position was no longer filled according to Torah law.
Several rival factions had risen up among the Jews, several of which advocated open revolt against Rome. One in particular was an offshoot of the Zealots who had been around for some time. This group was called the Sicarii, named after the curved bladed dagger that many of them used as their weapon of choice for murderous rampages and political assassinations carried out in Jerusalem and beyond.
Just before Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem, the appointed High Priest Jonathan was assassinated by members of the Sicarii in the Temple courts. This was the environment that Paul was heading into, yet Paul was determined to go up to Jerusalem and deliver the funds he had collected from the believers in the diaspora.
When Paul had left Syrian Antioch for this third journey through Asia and Macedonia, he purposed to take a collection for the believers in Jerusalem and Galilee who were facing persecution from both the non-believing Jews and the Romans. Now, nearly four years later, Paul is heading back to Israel. He will swing through Macedonia and Greece to encourage the congregations and to pick up the funds that the congregations had been setting aside for their brothers in Israel.
This trip would not be the easy journey home like his return from Corinth on his second journey. On this trip, he would be faced with enemies who either wanted to kill him or steal the funds he was bringing back to Jerusalem.
Paul had longed to travel to Ephesus for quite some time. Having always gone where the Holy Spirit led him, Paul was prevented from traveling to Ephesus on a previous journey. He did however have a brief stopover there on his way to Jerusalem to complete his obligation to his Nazarite vow.
Paul fully intended to return to Ephesus at a later time. Perhaps Paul realized the great potential to further the kingdom of God in this important city. As it turns out, when he did return, Paul stayed on in Ephesus for more than three years. Many of the epistles that Paul wrote to the other churches were written during his time in Ephesus. Aside from Syrian Antioch, Paul’s mission in Ephesus would be one of the most successful in terms of furthering the kingdom of God among both the Jews and the Gentiles.
Paul spent a year and a half in the city of Corinth. While many of the Jews of the city rejected the gospel, some of the most prominent Jews in the city received Paul’s message. The first of these was Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue when Paul first arrived in Corinth. His successor, Sosthenes, originally an antagonist of Paul’s message and one who brought him to the Roman judgment seat, also, eventually accepted the message. Sosthenes apparently joined Paul at some point in his journeys and was with Paul at the time he wrote his first letter to the Corinthians.
This second journey of Paul’s to spread the gospel had lasted for about three years. It was time to return to Jerusalem, rest for a while in Syrian Antioch and then check in with the other believers in Galatia and Phrygia.
As Paul left Athens for Corinth, I am sure he felt like he had taken another beating. Not a physical beating this time, but he was out Hellenized by the Greeks in Athens. Even though He had some success in Athens, Paul also recognized that trying to present the gospel of salvation in a Greek philosophical construct was a big mistake. He admits this mistake in his first letter to the Corinthians.
Going forward, Paul realizes that he faced two disparate worlds. The Jewish people largely looked for prophetic signs and proofs, while the Greek world looked to their philosophical reflections for wisdom and truth. For several reasons, the Jews by and large, were turned away by the message of a crucified Messiah. And the Greeks found the gospel message of Yeshua to be foolishness and superstition.
This week, we observed the Passover Seder and remembered the death of Yeshua as our Passover Lamb. As the Passover Lamb, He was and is the Threshold Covenant Sacrifice that allows us to invite God into our lives. We are now in the midst of the week long Feast of Unleavened Bread marking the flight of the Children of Israel out of Egypt and the burial of Yeshua. Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of Fruitfruits which seemingly has no connection to the events of the Exodus from Egypt. It is, however, the day on which Yeshua rose from the grave. These feasts fall one on top of the other and have all come to be lumped together under the title of “Passover” or Pesach. In reality, each one of these feasts is unique and corresponds to part of God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants.
Paul’s journey from Berea to Athens and the difference between these two cities marks as stark a contrast as any to be found among the journeys of Paul and the other apostles. Berea was a place where Paul’s message of the Good News of the kingdom of Messiah and the salvation grated to the Gentiles was accepted and embraced by the local Jewish community. Paul had appealed to them, and they searched the scripture for themselves.
Athens, on the other hand, was a completely different animal. There was a Jewish population in Athens and a synagogue or two, but mindful of his mission to the Gentiles, Paul took a bold step into the quagmire of a city obsessed with all the varied philosophies of humanist origin and the birthplace of the most prominent of pagan philosophies and gods.
Paul and Silas’ time in Philippi bore fruit for the kingdom of God. Many people received salvation through Yeshua including the Philippi jailer and his household. As a result of the incident leading up to and including their arrest, Paul and Silas had to leave Philippi. From Philippi, Paul, Silas and Timothy would travel to Thessalonica and Berea. Each of these cities had a sizeable Jewish population, but the reception of the gospel message would be quite different in these two cities.