Paul’s Goodbye to Ephesus and Journey to Jerusalem – Acts 20-21

After the riot in Ephesus had passed, Paul said his farewells and went to Macedonia, then to Greece where he spent three months until a plot against him by the Jews was discovered. So he headed back to Macedonia accompanied by others, including Timothy, Aristarchus and Gaius (two victims of the riot from Acts 19:29), all of whom were sent on to Troas. It is there that Paul broke bread with them on the first day of the week and, preaching to midnight, a young man named Eutychus fell asleep and fell from a third-story window. But Paul took him in his arms, and in verse 12 “they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.” Indeed, excitement over this resurrection would no doubt have contributed to their staying up until daybreak (verse 11). Then, Luke says that he and the others set sail for Assos, while Paul went by land and met them there. From there, they sailed to To Chios, Samos and Miletus, as Luke says that Paul had decided not to stop at Ephesus because he wanted to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost.

Ephesus, in modern Turkey, is the best-preserved classical city on the Mediterranean, and one of the best places in the world to get the feeling for what life was like for early Christians in Roman times. Roman theater.

Ephesus, in modern Turkey, is the best-preserved classical city on the Mediterranean, and one of the best places in the world to get the feeling for what life was like for early Christians in Roman times. Roman theater.

But while at Miletus, Paul called the elders at Ephesus to come to him, a journey of perhaps 30 miles or so. Verses 18-37 end with a tearful goodbye, as he tells them that he knows he will never see their faces again. He tells them that he is going to Jerusalem and that he does not know what will happen to him “except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” He recounts his faithfulness to preaching and teaching the word in the three years that he had spent with them, declaring that he was “innocent of the blood of all.”

These very emotional parting words have an important point besides the obvious. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul had stressed the importance of the local church members having respect for those who had been appointed as elders of their congregation (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Here in Acts 20, he is making it clear to these elders – and to all elders of the church everywhere – that they have the responsibility to shepherd the flock among them. Fierce wolves, he says, will come in “not sparing the flock,” and that “from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” The elders of the local church everywhere have an awesome responsibility, and must always be on guard for the souls of those in their midst. It was true then, as it is now.

So in Chapter 21, Paul began the journey to Jerusalem. They sailed past Cos, Rhodes, Patera, Cyprus and landed at Tyre, where they remained for seven days, then on to Ptolemais and finally Caesarea before setting off on foot to Jerusalem. While in Caesarea, they stayed at the house of Philip, who Luke says was “one of the seven.” Most likely he means that he was one of the seven chosen to serve in Acts 6:1-6, and was the same Philip who converted the Ethiopian eunuch. And after that event, he did end up in Caesarea (Acts 8:40).

After arriving in Jerusalem, Paul went to see James and told him and the elders about his travels and the many Gentile conversions, for which they glorified God. They then asked Paul to demonstrate that he was not preaching that Jews had to become like Gentiles and give up all of their customs in order to be a Christian, as many were falsely reporting. So Paul participated with four men under a vow in a purification ritual. This event is the subject of much confusion and controversy. But it does not have to be. Paul never preached that Jews had to give up their entire way of life or never participate in any ritual or feast (remember Romans 14 and 15), nor that they should not circumcise their young. Remember that he circumcised Timothy to avoid offending the Jews they were going to visit in Acts 16:3.

But still Paul was arrested, having been dragged from the temple first and beaten by a mob that had gone wild with accusations and fervor. Until Paul spoke Greek to him, the tribune that arrested him was under the impression that he was an Egyptian revolutionary (verse 38). The event he mentions in that verse was written about by the historian, Josephus. At Paul’s urging, the tribune allows him to speak to the mob; and he does so in Hebrew, as the chapter closes.

/Bob’s boy

Bible Reading Schedule for this month
Click links below to read or listen to audio of one of this week’s chapters in Colossians and Luke

Acts 18, Acts 19, Acts 20, Acts 21, Acts 22


some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

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All of my comments in this blog are solely my responsibility. When reading any commentary, you should always refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word.






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