As Paul is conducting his business in the Temple, something goes horribly wrong. Contrary to what was insisted would be the result of Paul’s activity in the Temple, which was that “everyone will know there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself live in conformity with the law” (21:24b), we read that “When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from the province of Asia who had seen him,” that being Paul, “in the Temple area stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting ‘Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this sanctuary!’” (21:27-28a) So much for expectations. Instead, a near-riot ensues. Of course, what is here mentioned is only half of that which is causing people to take issue with Paul.
Reading further, we find revelation of the generalized attitude towards Gentiles, proving just how deep these long-cherished notions ran, as we are able to read “Furthermore he has brought Greeks into the inner court of the Temple and made this holy place ritually unclean!” (21:28b) This, of course, was patently untrue, as Luke parenthetically inserts “For they had seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him previously, and they assumed Paul had brought him into the inner Temple courts” (21:29). The inner Temple courts were strictly off-limits to Gentiles. The words of the crowd, as reported by Luke, are thoroughly informative, as the insistence in regards to Gentiles in the Temple and subsequent ritual uncleanness dovetails well with Paul’s insistence that Gentiles (at the point in Colossians that stands in for the Temple-specific language in Ephesians) are in fact able to be presented before Israel’s God (the one whose dwelling place was the Temple), based on their trust in Jesus as the Messiah and as the one mediator between the Creator God of Israel and all men, as holy, without blemish, and blameless. This naturally stands in contrast to their being ritually unclean and their being able to confer ritual uncleanness upon the Temple itself.
We cannot dismiss the drama that unfolds here in Jerusalem. The roots of the drama run deep, portending an ideological, theological, and eschatological divide that is, as revealed in Paul’s constant attention to it, more than a little bit difficult to bridge. For centuries, Jews stood on one side of that divide, with their covenant and their Temple that so epitomized and represented that covenant and its heretofore exclusive limitation to Israel. On the other side of that divide stood Gentiles---outside of the covenant unless they were willing to become Jews. Even then, they would be excluded from full access to the Temple, and by logical extension, from full participation in the covenant. In the middle stood the Christ, arms out-stretched to bridge that divide. It would be part of the mission of His church, as understood by men such as Peter and Paul and others, to represent the all-embracing Christ of God, to bring it to pass that when one spoke of “all the saints,” that this was no longer the exclusive domain of national Israel, but was a phrase that was being spoken of a kingdom of all peoples.
Clearly, the journey to bring such a thing about was going to be long, as even some that participated in the church, conceivably thinking of themselves as components of a new Temple and as citizens of that new kingdom, found it difficult to allow that bridge to be built in such a way as to allow Gentiles and Jews to meet in the middle, figuratively standing upon Jesus alone, and the Gospel claim about Him, as both the bridge and its underlying support. Opposition to Gentile participation within the covenant was not restricted to Jews that rejected the messianic status of Jesus. Many believers, from national Israel, presumably along with other Gentiles that had previously Judaized and subsequently became believers in Jesus, accepted Jesus as the bridge and the foundation of that bridge, while also believing it to be necessary for Gentiles to cross that bridge to the side of the Jews as they had, taking upon themselves and placing themselves under the marks of the covenant, so as to participate in the long-awaited and greatly anticipated blessings promised to Abraham.
So yes, the passions ran deep. In fact, as Luke speaks with all of the fitting hyperbole that the situation required, we learn that “The whole city was stirred up, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the Temple courts, and immediately the doors were shut” (21:30). It doesn’t end there. “While they were trying to kill him,” theoretically for brining Gentiles into the Temple and thereby polluting the Temple, “a report was sent up to the commanding officer of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion” (21:31).