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” (Acts 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), 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 the audience 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.