Paul’s Defense (Acts 21:37-22:21)

Paul’s Defense (Acts 21:37-22:21)


Certain Jews from Asia (v.27) accused Paul of “teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place” (v.28). In Paul’s defense he will address each one of these charges, but it is cleverly included in a testimony of God’s transforming work in his life.

Read Acts 21:37-22:21

Paul’s speech was a very personal testimony (“I”/“me” with reference to himself more than 30x). His defense would not be a canned presentation. He doesn’t take time to develop points of systematic or biblical theology. He simply gets personal.

Christianity should not be cold and detached. Wherever true discipleship is taking place, there is vibrant gospel transformation.

A Christian testimony must involve a personal encounter with the Living Lord.

1. An Urgent Concern (37-40)

2. A Humble Confession (1-5)

3. A Miraculous Conversion (6-13)

4. A Costly Commission (14-21)

An Urgent Concern (37-40)

Millions of Jews swarmed Jerusalem for Passover. A raging crowd is now shouting “Away with him!”

What’s going through Paul’s mind? Expecting execution, he wants one last word with the people (37).

The revolt involving 4,000 assassins (38) speaks to the tense environment in Jerusalem.

Paul clarifies and begs to speak to the crowd (39). With permission, he turns around and, from the steps, he begins addressing them in Hebrew/Aramaic (40).

So you can imagine the scene. Paul knows he won’t have much time to speak. What will he say?

  • Stephen developed Redemptive History focusing on Abraham, Moses, and David.
  • Peter summarized the ministry and substitutionary death of Jesus calling the people within Cornelius’ house to repent and believe (Acts 10:34-43).
  • At Antioch in Pisidia (13:13-52) Paul summarized Old Testament history with the prophetic fulfillment of Christ.

Instead, Paul shared his testimony.

Paul’s urgent concern for a people who moments before were shouting for his death is deeply convicting. He seems to have had tremendous opportunities to share his faith (i.e., temples, marketplace, Areopagus in Ephesus, etc.), but it began with an overwhelming burden for the lost.

Are you concerned that somewhere between 80-90% of the residents in the central valley are unchurched? An effective testimony begins in the heart.

Paul’s concern leads him to…

A Humble Confession (1-5)

Paul was chained to soldiers on each side. Bleeding and swollen from the beating he had just received. Blood stained his clothing, a painful strain was heard in his voice. He was exhausted from the pummeling and running on pure adrenaline.

There was nothing he could do to escape. Everyone must have thought he was about to recant everything in utter humiliation. Paul had been humbled, but it wasn’t how they expected.

Paul’s opponents possibly spoke Greek since many were untrained in Hebrew/Aramaic. His use of the Hebrew/Aramaic proved his training. The hush > complete silence (1-2).

He explained how he received a strong education under Gamaliel (3), one of the most respected rabbis. He understood their zeal for the law even if he no longer shared their position.

In fact, no one was more zealous than Paul in persecuting “the Way” (4-5).

In the end, Paul considered these credentials rubbish (Phil. 3:7-8). What used to define him had become worthless.

What is the back story in your testimony? How have you changed? What characterized your past but means absolutely nothing to you now?

Was there ever a time where you like the SF Giants? Don’t hide it! God can use those humiliating moments.

Paul’s confession brought him in connection with the same people he longed to experience…

A Miraculous Conversion (6-13)

Considering the strength of his background and credentials, Paul would have been the last person anyone would have expected to change. His commitment to his Jewish heritage was as strong as it had ever been. He wasn’t someone who lived on the fringes of Judaism. He was the face of Judaism in Jerusalem.

Paul’s eyes were opened physically and spiritually when he met the Lord on the road to Damascus.

Paul’s testimony carried strong implications that the crowd was fully aware of. When Paul said he was zealous like them, they knew that was a warning that they were opposed to God.

When they persecuted him, as he persecuted others, they were persecuting Jesus Christ. And their judgment was sure to come if they refused to repent.

But there is also a hope attached. If God could transform Paul, he could transform you too!

None of us have Paul’s testimony, but all of us must have a testimony that involves a personal encounter with the Living Lord.

When was that point in your life where your faith became real and active? Have you lost touch with that experience?

Remind yourself of that encounter frequently. Share it often. People will see God’s story more clearly when it is plainly connected to your story.

Paul’s miraculous conversion was followed by…

A Costly Commission (14-21)

Ananias informed Paul of God’s plans for him (14). Notice what he was called to testify about (15). In other words, Paul was called to share his testimony wherever he went. He was also informed “how much he must suffer” for Jesus’ name (9:16).

Ananias commands Paul to signify God’s work in his life by baptism (16). The “calling on his name” is the instrument of Paul’s cleansing from sin.

Paul’s vision (17-21) accomplishes two things:

  1. The fact that he was in the temple shows that he was not “against” the temple at all.
  2. It aligns him with the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles. Paul’s reluctance to accept the commission (thinking his testimony would be convincing) is also typical of the Old Testament prophets.

Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles was not due to his rejection of the Jews, but the command of God.

Why did Paul choose to share his testimony? Because that was part of what he was commissioned to do. Paul’s life experience would be an example of God’s saving power.

I believe that as he looked out into the faces of the crowd it was like looking into a mirror. He saw a multitude of Saul’s staring back. In their rage, he saw his own rage that had driven him to heinous acts of persecution.


God was bringing salvation to the nations through the transformation of one of the greatest persecutors of the church. As Paul shared the work of God in his life, the nations responded with faith.

The Mission of God should begin with An Urgent Concern for the lost, followed by A Humble Confession that whatever we were living for in the past is now meaningless. We should frequently speak of the way God brought about A Miraculous Conversion in our lives, followed by the Costly Commission we have received.

Does your testimony involve a personal encounter with the Living Lord?