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Sketches From The Life of Paul
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 18: Paul's Last Journey to Jerusalem
Paul greatly desired to reach Jerusalem before the passover, as he would thus have an opportunity to meet the people who came from all parts of the world to attend the feast. He had a [p. 195] continual hope that in some way he might be instrumental in removing the prejudice of his countrymen, so that they might accept the precious light of the gospel. He was also desirous of meeting the church at Jerusalem, and bearing to them the liberalities donated by other churches to the poor brethren in Judea. And he hoped, in this visit, to bring about a firmer Christian union between the Jewish and Gentile converts to the faith.
Having completed his work at Corinth, he determined to sail directly for one of the ports on the coast of Palestine. All his arrangements had been made, and he was about to step on board the ship, when he was informed of a plot laid by the Jews to take his life. These opposers of the faith had been foiled in all their efforts to put an end to the apostle's work. Since the unsuccessful attempt to secure his condemnation by Gallio, five years before, they had been unable to arouse the people or the rulers against him. The work of the gospel had advanced, despite all their opposition. From every quarter there came accounts of the spread of the new doctrine by which Jews were released from their distinctive observances, and Gentiles admitted to share equal privileges as children of Abraham. The success attending the preaching of this doctrine, which with all their hatred they could not controvert, stung the Jews to madness. Paul, in his preaching at Corinth, presented the same arguments which he urged so forcibly in his epistles. His strong statement, "There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision," was regarded by his enemies as daring blasphemy. They determined that his voice should be silenced. [p. 196] While he was under the protection of the Roman authorities, it might not be prudent to molest him; but they would have their revenge as soon as the ship had left the shore. It would not be a difficult matter to bribe captain or sailors to do any deed of violence.
Upon receiving warning of the plot, Paul decided to change his course, and go round by Macedonia, accompanied by a sufficient number of brethren to protect him. His plan to reach Jerusalem by the passover had to be given up, but he hoped to be there at Pentecost. An overruling Providence permitted the apostle to be delayed on this occasion; for had he been present at the passover, he would have been accused of instigating a riot and massacre which was caused by the pretensions of an Egyptian impostor claiming to be the Messiah.
At Philippi Paul tarried to keep the passover. Only Luke remained with him, the other members of the company passing on to Troas to await him there. The Philippians were the most loving and true-hearted of the apostle's converts, and he enjoyed a peaceful and happy visit with them during the eight days of the feast.
The passage from Philippi was hindered by contrary winds, so that five days instead of two, the usual time, were required to reach Troas. Here Paul remained seven days, and as was his custom, improved the opportunity to encourage and strengthen the believers.
Upon the last evening of his tarry with them, the brethren "came together to break bread." The fact that their beloved teacher was about to depart, had called together a larger company than usual. They assembled in an upper room [p. 197] on the third story, the coolest and pleasantest place for such a gathering on that warm spring evening. The nights were then dark, but many lights were burning in the chamber. Paul's mind was impressed with a sense of the perils that awaited him, and the uncertainty of again meeting with his brethren; he had matters of great interest and importance to present before them; and in the earnestness of his love and solicitude for them, he preached until midnight.
On the broad sill of a window whose shutters had been thrown open, sat a youth named Eutychus. In this perilous position he sank into a deep slumber, and at last fell from his seat into the court below. The discourse was interrupted. All was alarm and confusion. The youth was taken up dead, and many gathered about him with cries and mourning. But Paul, passing through the affrighted company, clasped him in his arms, and sent up an earnest prayer that God would restore the dead to life. The prayer was granted. Above the sound of mourning and lamentation the apostle's voice was heard, saying, "Trouble not yourselves, for his life is in him." With rejoicing, yet in deep humility at this signal manifestation of God's power and mercy, the believers again assembled in the upper chamber. They partook of the communion, and then Paul continued his discourse till the dawn of day. Eutychus was now fully restored, and they brought him into the congregation and were not a little comforted.
The time had now come when the company must separate. The brethren who accompanied Paul went on board the ship, which was about to set sail. The apostle, however, chose to take [p. 198] the nearer route by land between Troas and Assos, and rejoin his companions on shipboard at the latter city. The difficulties and dangers connected with his proposed visit to Jerusalem, the attitude of that church toward himself and his work, as well as the condition of the churches and the interests of the gospel work in other fields, presented subjects for earnest, anxious thought, and he chose this lonely walk that he might have opportunity for reflection and communion with God.
As the travelers sailed southward from Assos, they passed the city of Ephesus, so long the scene of the apostle's labors. He had greatly desired to visit the church there; for he had important instruction and counsel to impart to them. But upon consideration he relinquished this purpose. Any delay might render it impossible for him to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost. On arriving at Miletus, however, he learned that the ship would be detained for a short time, and he immediately sent a message to the elders of the Ephesian church to come to him. The distance was but thirty miles, and the apostle hoped to secure at least a few hours' intercourse with these men upon whom the prosperity of the church must largely depend.
When they had come, in answer to his call, he thus addressed them: "Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews; and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and [p. 199] from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ."
Paul had ever exalted the divine law. He had presented before the people their great sin in transgressing its precepts, and their duty to repent of such transgression. He had showed them that there was in law no power to save them from the penalty of disobedience. While they should repent of their sins, and humble themselves before God, whose holy law they had broken, and whose just wrath they had thus incurred, they must exercise faith in the blood of Christ as their only ground of pardon. The Son of God died as their sacrifice, and ascended to Heaven to stand as their advocate before the Father. By repentance and faith they might be freed from the condemnation of sin, and through the grace of Christ be enabled henceforth to render obedience to the law of God.
The apostle continued: "And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there, save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more." Paul had not designed to bear this testimony; but while he was speaking, the Spirit of inspiration came upon him, confirming his former fears that this would be his last meeting with his Ephesian [p. 200] brethren. He therefore left with them his counsel and admonition as his will and testament to be carried out by them when they should see him no more.
"Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men; for I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God." No fear of giving offense, no desire for friendship or applause, could lead him to withhold the words which God had given him for their instruction, warning, or correction. The minister of Christ is not to present to the people those truths that are most pleasing, while he withholds others which might cause them pain. He should watch with deep solicitude the development of character. If he sees that any of his flock are cherishing sin, he must as a faithful shepherd give them instruction from God's word applicable to their case. Should he permit them in their self-confidence to go on in sin unwarned, he would be held responsible for their blood. The pastor who fulfills his high commission must instruct his people in every point of the Christian faith, all that they ought to be or to do, in order to stand perfect in the day of God.
The apostle admonishes his brethren: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." Could ministers of the gospel constantly bear in mind that they are dealing with the purchase of the blood of Christ, they would have a deeper sense of the solemn importance of their work. They are to take heed unto themselves and to the flock. Their own example must illustrate and [p. 201] enforce their instructions. Those who teach others the way of life should be careful to give no occasion for the truth to be evil spoken of. As representatives of Christ, they are to maintain the honor of his name. By their devotion, their purity of life, their godly conversation, they should prove themselves worthy of their calling. By a right example they may exert an influence which words alone could not have, to encourage faith and holiness, fervent love, devotion, and integrity among those for whom they labor. God requires of all his servants fearlessness in preaching the word, fidelity in exemplifying its precepts, however it may be despised, reviled, opposed, or persecuted. Every faithful teacher of the truth will at the close of his labors be able to say with Paul, "I am pure from the blood of all men."
The Holy Spirit revealed to the apostle the dangers which would assail the church at Ephesus: "I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." Paul trembled for the church as he looked forward to the attacks which they must suffer from external and internal foes. It is while the husbandman sleeps that tares are sown; while the shepherds are neglecting their duty, the wolf finds entrance to the fold. With solemn earnestness he bids his brethren guard vigilantly their sacred trust. He points them for an example to his own unwearied labors: "Therefore watch, and remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day and with tears."
"And now, brethren," he continued, "I [p. 202] commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel." Some of the Ephesian brethren were wealthy; but Paul had never sought to receive personal benefit from them. It was no part of his message to call attention to his own wants. He declares, "These hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me." Amid his arduous labors and extensive journeys for the cause of Christ, he was able, not only to supply his own wants, but to spare something for the support of his fellow-laborers and the relief of the worthy poor. This was accomplished only by unremitting diligence and the closest economy. Well might he point to his own example, as he said, "I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive."
"And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more." By his fidelity to the truth, Paul inspired intense hatred; but he also inspired the deepest and warmest affection. Sadly the disciples followed him to the ship, their hearts filled with anxiety, both for his future and for their own. The apostle's tears flowed freely as he parted from these brethren, and after he had embarked there came to him from the shore the sound of weeping. With heavy hearts the elders turned homeward, [p. 203] knowing that they could expect no further help from him who had felt so deep an interest and labored with so great zeal for them and for the church under their care.
From Miletus the travelers had a prosperous voyage to Patara, on the southwest shore of Asia Minor, where they left their ship, and took passage on another vessel bound for the coast of Phenicia. Again they enjoyed favoring winds, and, fully two weeks before the Pentecost, they landed at Tyre, where the ship was to unload its cargo.
The apostle's anxiety about reaching Jerusalem was now at an end. There were a few disciples at Tyre, and having succeeded in searching them out, he spent the next week with them. The Holy Spirit had revealed to these brethren something of the dangers which awaited Paul at Jerusalem, and they endeavored to dissuade him from his purpose. But the same Spirit which had warned him of afflictions, bonds, and imprisonment, still urged him forward, a willing captive. When the week was over, Paul left them. So strong a hold upon their affections had he gained in this brief period, that all the brethren, with their wives and children, started with him to conduct him on his way; and before he stepped on board the ship, they knelt side by side upon the shore and prayed, he for them, and they for him.
Pursuing their journey southward, the travelers arrived at Caesarea, and "entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven, and abode with him." Here Paul tarried until the very eve of the feast. These few peaceful, happy days were the last days of perfect [p. 204] freedom which he was for a long time to enjoy. Before he should enter upon the stormy scenes that awaited him at Jerusalem, the Lord graciously refreshed his spirit with this season of rest and happy communion.
Philip the evangelist was bound to Paul by ties of the deepest sympathy. A man of clear discernment and sterling integrity, Philip had been the first to break away from the bondage of Jewish prejudice, and thus had helped prepare the way for the apostle's work. It was Philip who preached the gospel to the Samaritans; it was Philip who had the courage to baptize the Ethiopian eunuch. For a time the history of these two workers had been closely intertwined. It was the violent persecution of Saul the Pharisee that had scattered the church at Jerusalem, and destroyed the effectiveness of the organization of the seven deacons. The flight from Jerusalem had led Philip to change his manner of labor, and resulted in his pursuing the same calling to which Paul gave his life. Precious hours were these that Paul and Philip spent in each other's society; thrilling were the memories that they recalled of the days when the light which had shone upon the face of Stephen upturned to Heaven as he suffered martyrdom, flashed in its glory upon Saul the persecutor, bringing him, a helpless suppliant, to the feet of Jesus.
Soon after the apostle's arrival at Caesarea, the prophet Agabus came down from Judea. He had been warned by the Holy Spirit, of the fate which awaited Paul, and in the symbolic manner of the ancient prophets he loosened the apostle's girdle, and with it bound his own hands [p. 205] and feet, saying, "So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles." The companions of Paul had been aware that his visit to Jerusalem would be attended with great peril; but they had not foreseen the full extent of the danger. Now apprehension had become certainty; and to the perils to be encountered from the Jews were added the horrors of a Roman imprisonment. They earnestly entreated Paul to stay where he was, and permit them to go to Jerusalem to deliver the contributions from the Gentile churches. The brethren at Caesarea also united their prayers and tears with those of his companions: Why should he face this great peril? Why expose his precious life to the malice of the Jews? Would it not be presumptuous to go, after receiving definite warning from the Spirit of God?
The apostle was deeply moved by the entreaties of his beloved brethren. To human judgment he had sufficient reason to relinquish his plan as unwise. But he felt that he was moving in obedience to the will of God, and he could not be deterred by the voice of friends, or even the warning of the prophet. He would not swerve from the path of duty to the right hand nor to the left. He must follow Christ, if need be, to prison and to death. His tears fell not for himself, but in sympathy with his brethren, upon whom his determination had brought so great sorrow. "What mean ye to weep, and to break mine heart?" he exclaimed; "for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord Jesus." Seeing that they caused him pain, without changing [p. 206] his purpose, the brethren ceased their importunity, saying only, "The will of the Lord be done."
The time soon came for the brief stay at Caesarea to end, and, accompanied by some of the Caesarean brethren, Paul and his company set out for Jerusalem, their hearts deeply shadowed by the presentiment of coming evil. The crowd at the annual feasts was so great that strangers often failed to find shelter within the city, and were obliged to resort to booths outside the walls. But, according to previous arrangements, the apostle and his attendants were to be entertained at the house of "one Mnason, of Cyprus, an old disciple."
Since his conversion, Paul's visits to Jerusalem had always been attended with anxiety, and with a feeling of remorse as he gazed upon scenes that recalled his former life. There was the school of Gamaliel, where he had received his education, the synagogue in which he worshiped, the house where the high priest had given him his commission to Damascus, the spot where the blood of Stephen had witnessed for Christ. As the apostle gazed upon the place for martyrdom, the scene in all its vividness rose up before him. Was he going forward to a similar fate? Never had he trod the streets of Jerusalem with so sad a heart as now. He knew that he would find few friends and many enemies. In the crowds around him were thousands whom the very mention of his name would excite to madness. He was in the city which had been the murderer of the prophets, which had rejected and slain the Son of God, and over which now hung the threatenings of divine wrath. Remembering [p. 207] how bitter had been his own prejudice against the followers of Christ, he felt the deepest pity for his deluded countrymen. And yet how little hope could he feel that he would be able to benefit them! The same blind wrath which had once burned in his own heart, was now with untold power kindling the hearts of a whole nation against him.
And he could not count upon the sympathy and support of even his own brethren in the faith. The unconverted Jews who had so closely followed upon his track, had not been slow to circulate the most unfavorable reports at Jerusalem, both personally and by letter, concerning him and his work, and some, even of the apostles and elders, had received these reports as truth, making no attempt to contradict them, and manifesting no desire to harmonize with him. Yet in the midst of discouragements, the apostle was not in despair. He trusted that the Voice which had spoken to his own heart would yet speak to the hearts of his countrymen, and that the Master whom his fellow-disciples loved and served would yet unite their hearts with his in the one work of the gospel.Click here to read the next chapter: "Meeting with the Elders"