With the riot conditions in Jerusalem, sparked by the thought that Paul may have taken a Gentile into the Temple, having gotten the attention of the commanding officer of the squadron of soldiers responsible for the security of the Temple area, “He immediately took soldiers and centurions and ran down to the crowd” (21:32a). This crowd, which was about to experience the force of the Roman military machine (all Gentiles, by the way), was clearly not eager to embrace Gentiles as equal members of the covenant. This continues to reinforce the world-altering (for a Jew) nature of the new covenant boundaries emphasized by Jesus and preached by Paul.
In a way, this intervention was fortunate for Paul, as “When they saw the commanding officer and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul” (21:32b). This is new information, elaborating on the seizing and dragging of Paul. For his “crime,” Paul is being beaten by the crowd. When Luke writes in verse thirty-one that they were trying to kill Paul, it is more than just a way of expressing a strong sentiment of anger or rage. They were beating Paul because they were intent on killing him. Truly, the message he preached was revolutionary, and it serves to explain some of the motivating factors behind the successful effort that saw Jesus put to death at the hands of the Romans.
Paul was taken into something resembling protective custody (which would be his lot for the remainder of the record of his life as presented by Acts), as the commanding officer sought to take measure of the situation. He inquired “who he was and what he had done” (21:33b), and the crowd, still agitated by this supposed usurpation of Israelite privilege and position, offered little help, as “some in the crowd shouted one thing, and others something else” (21:34a). The disturbance continued (the expansion of the covenant to encompass all peoples being the greater and continuing disturbance, ironically) in such a way that “Paul had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob” (21:35b). Indeed, “a crowd of people followed them, screaming ‘Away with him!’” (21:36), in a scene terribly reminiscent of that which had been experienced by Paul’s Lord.
Paul’s subsequent and brief examination by this same commanding officer is an echo of the examination of Jesus by Pilate. However, as Jesus remained largely silent, offering very few words (according to Luke’s record of Jesus’ time before Pilate in the first part of his two-volume work), Paul is given and accepts the opportunity to speak to his accusers and to those that are calling for his death, having been prevented from carrying out that intention themselves. As Paul spoke, the crowd appears to have listened patiently. Undoubtedly, this was owing to multiple factors. The first factor is that “he addressed them in Aramaic” (21:40b). Luke informs us of as much, writing “When they heard that he was addressing them in Aramaic, they became even quieter” (22:2a). Having quieted the crowd, the second factor comes into play, as Paul begins offering them certain assurances that effectively relieves them of the fear that he would have taken a Gentile into the Temple.
He says “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated with strictness under Gamaliel according to the law of our ancestors, and was zealous for God just as all of you are today” (22:3). Talk of being a Jew, raised in Jerusalem, trained under Gamaliel, who honors ancestors, and is zealous (this is a specific term for a way of life and approach to the law and the covenant), would be quite satisfactory. Furthermore, Paul says “I persecuted this Way,” that being the belief in a crucified man by the name of Jesus being the Messiah (we can never forget that the message of a crucified messiah would have been extraordinarily shameful for a Jew, and would be something from which all would have naturally recoiled), “even to the point of death, tying up both men and women and putting them in prison, as both the high priest and the council of elders can testify from me. From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I was on my way to make arrests there and bring the prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished” (22:4-5). As the crowd listens, they can begin to realize that not only are these not the words of a person that would bring a Gentile into the Jerusalem Temple, but that they are not the words of somebody who “teaches everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this sanctuary” (21:28b).
Paul’s audience remains respectful until such time as he touches what was obviously the rawest of raw nerves. When he reports the words of the one that he now calls Lord, telling the crowds that the command of the one called Messiah, who was being worshiped as the physical embodiment of the Creator God of Israel by a small and growing group of believers that were composed of both Jew and Gentile, was that “He said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles’” (22:21), the crowd resumes its earlier disposition. To that end, Luke reports that “The crowd was listening to him until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, ‘Away with this man from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live!” (22:22) No longer is the issue the content of Paul’s teaching nor the possible defiling of the Temple. The lone issue is the extension of the covenant to the previously excluded non-covenant-marker-adopting Gentiles, and the idea that the title of “saints of God” would no longer be reserved for national Israel and those that had adopted the covenant marks of national Israel alone. This is representative of part of the mindset of the world and the entrenched worldview into which Paul delivers his message and his letters.