Trusting God With the Hard Stuff of Life – Acts 21:1-36: Reflection Guide

Reflection Guide

Key Terms

Philip – One of the seven chosen to help with the daily food distribution in Acts 6. Because of persecution in Jerusalem, Philip went to Samaria where he proclaimed Jesus and eventually became known as an evangelist (v. 8).

Prophecy – The exact nature of prophecy and what it means to prophesy varies throughout the Bible, but, essentially, prophecy is “a message from God.” Several people are called prophets or prophesy in Acts, including Agabus (Acts 11:27-30; 21-1-14), Judas and Silas (15:32), and Phillip’s four daughters (21:9). Both the OT and NT warn that some who claim to be prophets are actually false prophets and that some so- called prophesies are not in fact a message from God (see Deut 13 & 1 Cor 14:29-31).

Did you know?

The incredible amount of detail given in this section of Acts is likely because Luke was present for these events and made notes in a diary.


Leaving Miletus, Paul continues his journey towards Jerusalem, making two short stops at Tyre and Ptolemais, where Paul spent time with the Christians in those cities (vv. 1-7). Journeying on, Paul came to Caesarea where we stayed with Philip and his four daughters who prophesied (v.9). While there, Agabus (see Acts 11:27-30) came to Caesarea and prophesied that when Paul gets to Jerusalem he will be arrested and bound (vv. 10-11). In response to this message, Paul’s friends urged him not to go up to Jerusalem (v. 12). Paul, however, says that he is ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus (v. 13). After hearing Paul’s words, the Christians gathered in Caesarea say, Let the will of the Lord be done, and Paul heads to Jerusalem (vv. 14-16).

In Jerusalem, Paul is received gladly (v. 17), but when he meets with James and the other elders the following day, he learns that, while thousands of Jews in Jerusalem have believed in Jesus, many of those Jews are angry at Paul over his teaching about the law (v. 20-21). Their concerns seem dubious and exaggerated (i.e. as far as we know Paul never tells Jews not to circumcise their male children), but there’s also some truth to what they say because we do have examples of Paul saying that an aspect of the law is unnecessary (see 1 Cor 8:4-13). In order to ease the tensions, James encourages Paul to help four men who have taken a vow by paying for them to complete the vow (v. 23-24). Paul goes along with the plan and also purifies himself, which would have been expected for a Jew who had been away from Jerusalem (v. 26). However, James’ plan is unsuccessful and a group of Jews who have come from Asia stirs up a crowd to beat Paul and attempt to kill him (vv. 27-31). Before he’s killed, Paul is officially arrested and taken away by the tribune as the crowd shouted Away with him! (v. 36), the very words shouted at Jesus (John 19:15).

Going Deeper

Read John 16:33. Sometimes we think that following Jesus means bad things won’t happen to us. But Jesus promised hardship in this world and Paul’s life is an example. Read Psalm 34:18 and Psalm 9:9-10. What do these verses show you about God’s heart towards his people during suffering?

Reflection Questions

Learning the Word

  1. Read Acts 21:7-16. What stands out to you about Paul’s time in Ptolemais? Make 4-5 observations.
  2. Read Romans 14:7-8. How does Paul’s understanding of whom he belongs to give him the strength to face whatever awaits him in Jerusalem?
  3. Read Acts 21:27-36 and Luke 23:13-18. What similarities do you see between Paul’s arrest and Jesus’? Do you think there is any significance to the similarities between the two stories?

Living the Word

  1. Jesus said that his followers would face hard things in this world, but our culture often paints a picture of the good life as fun and pleasurable all of the time. How can this cultural mindset be harmful to our discipleship?
  2. What hard things are you facing right now? What emotions are you feeling because of your current circumstances? Even if it’s not natural for you, use this time to practice following the example of Paul by being honest with your community.
  3. How does believing that you are not your own but belong to Christ both challenge and encourage you?
  4. In what ways does the gospel – that Jesus died a sacrificial death for our sins, was raised from the dead on the third day, and promises to return to bring about a new heavens and new earth with no more suffering – give you the resources you need to face the hard things in your life?

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