What is the Meaning of Acts 20.1-21.16

“The Journey to Jerusalem”

Acts 20:1-21:16

In these verses, Paul concludes his ministry in Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia (20:1-6) to head to Jerusalem. As he waits to board the ship to Troas, he raises Eutychus (20:7-12). He travels to Miletus (20:13-16) and calls for the Ephesian elders (20:17-38). For the final part of the journey, Luke presents Christians attempting to dissuade Paul from going to Jerusalem, including prediction of his suffering (21:1-16).

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This is similar to Jesus’ purpose to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-53).

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Taking the Gift

Acts 20:1–6 1 After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia. 2 Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, he came to Greece 3 and stayed three months. And when the Jews plotted against him as he was about to sail to Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. 4 And Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia—also Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. 5 These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas. 6 But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread (Passover), and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days.

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So, after the riot, Paul left Ephesus and went to Macedonia and Achaia. He expects to meet Titus at Troas to hear how the Corinthians are doing and all their problems, but they never met up, per 2 Co. 2:12f.

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2 Corinthians 2:12–13 12 Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord, 13 I had no rest in my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia.

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But they did finally meet in Macedonia; Paul is comforted and overjoyed over the good news from Titus.

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2 Corinthians 7:5–7 5 For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. 6 Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more.

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Paul had wanted to make 2 visits to Corinth (2 Co. 1:15-16), but instead makes one longer visit of 3 months (20:3).

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2 Corinthians 1:15–16 15 And in this confidence I intended to come to you before, that you might have a second benefit—16 to pass by way of you to Macedonia, to come again from Macedonia to you, and be helped by you on my way to Judea.

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1 Corinthians 16:5–6 5 Now I will come to you when I pass through Macedonia (for I am passing through Macedonia). 6 And it may be that I will remain, or even spend the winter with you, that you may send me on my journey, wherever I go.

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Now, why is Paul visiting these churches? To encourage and strengthen them and to finish the collection for the Jerusalem believers.

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Romans 15:25–27 25 But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. 26 For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. 27 It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.

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These men in 20:4 are reps to help handle the gifts.

2 Corinthians 8:18–24 18 And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, 19 and not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift, which is administered by us to the glory of the Lord Himself and to show your ready mind, 20 avoiding this: that anyone should blame us in this lavish gift which is administered by us—21 providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. 22 And we have sent with them our brother whom we have often proved diligent in many things, but now much more diligent, because of the great confidence which we have in you. 23 If anyone inquires about Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker concerning you. Or if our brethren are inquired about, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. 24 Therefore show to them, and before the churches the proof of your love and of our boasting on your behalf.

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But Paul changed his plans to avoid a Jewish plot to kill him. Instead of sailing from Corinth to Syria, he traveled north over land through Achaia and into Macedonia. He sails from Philippi to Troas, to get back together with his team (v.6).

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Ministry at Troas

Acts 20:7–8 7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together.

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Paul is attempting to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost (Acts 20:16). Luke is with them (v. 5-6, “we”). The gift bearers went ahead to Troas and waited for Luke, Titus, and Timothy.

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Note v7: no one complained…

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Where are they exactly? When in jail in Rome, Paul asked Timothy to stop at Troas and pick up the cloak he had forgotten at Carpus’ home (2 Timothy 4:13). Therefore, Acts 20 may be taking place in the upper chamber of Carpus’ 3 story home (see v. 9).

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Note: They meet on the first day of the week, contra 7th day sabbatarians (SDA, etc.). Similar language: Mk. 16:2; Lk. 13:10; 24:1; Jn. 20:1, 19.

Acts 20:9 9 And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus (“Lucky”), who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.

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Notice how long Paul preached…up to this point, until midnight! Having worked all day, the hot humid air, the “lamps” i.e., torches with smoke…stuffy, eventually it gets tiresome. And poor Eutychus’ head begins to nod, he snores, and out the window he goes! They rush down and he’s dead!

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10 But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, “Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him.” 11 Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed. 12 And they brought the young man in alive, and they were not a little comforted.

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Similar to Elijah (1 Kings 17:21–22) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:34–35), Paul embraces the man and he revives; a miracle!

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Preach against falling asleep in church from this passage? Um, maybe not! “Lest ye die!” God had sympathy on him and revived him. So should we. Eutychus was there listening as long as Paul could preach!

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But they meet on the Lord’s Day, practiced the Lord’s supper, and they listened to the Lord’s Word. Prepare spiritually and physically, as you are able, for the Lord’s day. And be willing to stay there a while!

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[[[In the Eutychus story, {{the resurrection motif}} is rather explicit. It occurs during Passover time (Acts 20:6), at Easter, when every Christian’s mind would be focused on Jesus’ resurrection. It’s a reminder of the mission they are on: raising people from the dead! ]]]] Is sleep symbolic? Luke 21:34ff

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Like the sleeping disciples in Gethsemane, Eutychus succumbs to temptation and falls asleep. His physical condition betrays the laxity of his spiritual state. Eutychus “falls away from the community that breaks bread on the Sabbath in an upper room while waiting for the dawn to arrive and dies” (Arterbury 2009). Paul’s ministry of reconciliation then is to restore the “fallen” Eutychus to wholeness—physical and communal—by raising him back to life and reintegrating him into the worshiping congregation—they brought the child (home) [1]

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Applications?

1. Paul’s an animal, next verse.

2. Those folks had heart for the Lord, all night!

3. How did the early church worship?

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Acts 20:13–16 13 Then we went ahead to the ship and sailed to Assos, there intending to take Paul on board; for so he had given orders, intending himself to go on foot. [Paul goes on foot to Assos {perhaps to stay at Troas longer. 20 miles, walk it in 10 hours, but going around the coast would take longer? Or, just sick of sailing, get some exercise!}] 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. 15 We sailed from there, and the next day came opposite Chios. The following day we arrived at Samos and stayed at Trogyllium. The next day we came to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost (Feast of Weeks, celebration of harvest, seven weeks after Passover, in May/June).

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Why is Paul hurrying?

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Acts 20:17 17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church [why send them?].

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50 days between Passover (verse 6) and Pentecost (verse 13). Going from Philippi to Troas took 12 of those days. Going north to Miletus would take 4 extra days, then to come back south. That would hinder him from getting to Jerusalem by Pentecost. This could be why he sent for the elders to come to him instead of he going to them. Now, this only works if he sends a messenger ahead of time, like from Troas. It could also be that he did this to avoid getting stuck in Ephesus, with those lovely Ephesians to whom he ministered for 3 years.

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Paul’s sermon in verses 17-35 reveal his pastor’s heart. In it, we can observe his ministry to the Ephesian believers.

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An elder is mature and is selected to serve as an authority in the church. They oversee and shepherd, v. 28.

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Paul discusses the past, v.18-21, the present vv.22-27, and the future, vv.28-35.

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The past: The manner of his ministry

Acts 20:18–21 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you [what manner was that Paul?], 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; 20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

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1. Who he’s serving: Serving the Lord with all humility. Paul told others his genuine motives. His actions backed it up. Prov. 16:18.

2. The cost of service: Many tears and trials through persecution

3. Full proclamation: kept back nothing, proclaimed it all, taught in public and private, regardless of ethnicity.

4. What he proclaimed: repentance toward God; faith toward Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul taught repentance for salvation; we should too.

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The Present: Paul going to Jerusalem and his outlook on persecution.

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Acts 20:22–27 22 And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. 24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count [ILL with counting the cost] my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy [ILL with running the race], and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus [ILL: a good steward], to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. [he witnessed, tells what happened] 25 “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God [he preached what the King commands], will see my face no more. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. [a watchmen again, see Ezek. 3:17-21; 33:1-9. Try a sermon on preacher as a watchmen, Isa. 56:10-12] 27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.

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1. Going to Jerusalem.

2. Holy Spirit says chains and trials await him

3. His viewpoint on persecution: They don’t move him, his life not dear to him (see Phil. 3:1-11). This viewpoint necessary to finish race and ministry with joy, which is to testify of God’s grace in the gospel. He’s single-minded.

4. Won’t see Eph. Elders again.

5. Because he won’t see them, he tells them that he is innocent of everyone’s blood, because he has declared to the Eph. Elders all of God’s counsel. [his discipleship of those men makes him innocent of everyone’s blood. Eph. Elders had a job to do: make disciples.]

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The Future: A warning to properly shepherd

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Acts 20:28–38 28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 Therefore watch [don’t be careless], and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. 32 “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up [take the deep things and bring them to the surface] and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. [no coveting=idolatry, Col. 3:5] 34 Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. [do what it takes to make sure the gospel message is pure; money is a big problem for folks, Phil. 4:10ff] 35 I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” [give and don’t be selfish; blessedness happens in ministry when you give, not receive. But be sure to give others opportunity to be a blessing!]

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1. Pastors take heed [watch, v. 31] to yourselves and to flock to make sure you shepherd the churches

2. Wolves will come in from without and ‘kill’ some

3. From within some will rise up and speak false doctrine and draw disciples away.

4. Paul commends them to God and His word [that’s all he can do, since he’s leaving].

5. Paul argues for his own character: no coveting, he worked himself.

6. Support the weak, as Jesus taught.

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36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, 38 sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.

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They’d no longer see Paul, but they see him now.

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Voyage to Jerusalem Despite Warnings (21:1–16)

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Acts 21:1–16 contains a travel summary (21:1-6), and the story of Paul’s experience in Caesarea (21:7–16). Paul is warned to avoid Jerusalem in both.

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A travel summary

Acts 21:1–4 1 Now it came to pass, that when we had departed from them (at Miletus) and set sail, running a straight course we came to Cos, the following day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. (3 days?) 2 And finding a ship sailing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. [a direct ‘flight’ of 400 miles] 3 When we had sighted Cyprus, we passed it on the left, sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload her cargo. 4 And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days [and worshipped with them]. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem. [the first warning, probably b/c they knew of his future suffering; nevertheless, Paul persists.]

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Paul didn’t found this church in Tyre, but it probably started through persecution. See Acts 8:1-3; 15:3, 11:19.

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Note v4: save yourself from harm? Or is denying self the key?

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Acts 21:5–6 5 When we had come to the end of those days, we departed and went on our way; and they all accompanied us, with wives and children, till we were out of the city. And we knelt down on the shore and prayed. 6 When we had taken our leave of one another, we boarded the ship, and they returned home.

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A touching scene, with the wives and children. Paul who had dragged men and women in chains from Damascus, just a few dozen miles away or so, now, kneels and prays with, perhaps, some he persecuted. He boards a ship heading to suffer the persecution he once gave.

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In Caesarea

Acts 21:7–16 7 And when we had finished our voyage from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, greeted the brethren, and stayed with them one day.

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8 On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist (Acts 8), who was one of the seven (Acts 6), and stayed with him.

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So, Paul’s companions stay with Philip, an original “deacon” and an evangelist. It was 20 years ago now that Stephen had come to Caesarea, Acts 8:40. Stephen and Philip served together (Acts 6:5). Now Paul, who participated in Stephen’s death, comes to meet Philip. Interesting… “What’s he going to say?”

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9 Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied. (fulfillment of Acts 2:17) 10 And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. (Acts 11:27-30) 11 [very OT prophet like…Jer. 19:1-3; Ezek. 4:1-7] When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ” [Holy Spirit promises it…, a third prediction Acts 20:23; 21:4, 11] 12 Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. [… predicted, so why plead with him not to go?] 13 Then Paul (still resolute) answered, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” [unlike Peter in Luke 22:33, Paul will fulfill his oath. Self sacrifice!] 14 So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, “The will of the Lord be done.” [Paul’s Gethsemane, Luke 22:42] 15 And after those days we packed and went up to Jerusalem. 16 Also some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and brought with them a certain Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to lodge.

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Paul is staying with Philip and Agabus offers the second warning to Paul. Paul and Agabus are familiar with each other (Acts 11:27-30).

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Question: Should Paul have gone? We’re these warnings not to go? Acts 22:18, the Lord commands him to get out. He was aware of the dangers. So, did Agabus command Paul? Solution: These had visions of what would befall Paul. They interpret it to say Paul shouldn’t go. But Paul is strengthened all the more in his resolve to go.

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Go to BibleTrove.com Home Page from What is the Meaning of Acts 20.1-21.16

Go to New Testament Books Page

Go to Acts Main Page

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  1. Mikeal C. Parsons, Acts, Paideia Commentaries on The New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 288.

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