The plan that the leaders in Jerusalem had devised for preventing trouble for Paul almost worked. Their suggestion was that Paul should participate in a temple ritual alongside four Jewish believers who were fulfilling a Nazarite vow, similar to the vow Paul had completed on his previous visit to Jerusalem. The trouble came from opponents that he had encountered previously, Jews from the province of Asia with good memories. They had seen him in the city with Trophimus, a Gentile believer from Ephesus, and assumed that he had been taken into the temple by Paul.
This incident raises several matters connected to God’s providence. First, we can assume that Paul and the leaders of the Jerusalem church had prayed earnestly about the situation. For almost a week, it looked as if the prayer was going to be answered. Then, when all seemed well, the situation changed and what was feared happened. As Christians, we have to face the prospect that our prayers for particular blessings may be refused by God.
Second, the accusation against Paul was untrue. If he had been attacked because of something wrong that he had done, then the opposition might have been justified. But Paul had shown great respect for the temple rituals and had not broken any of their rules. There was no objection raised about other Jewish believers in Jesus taking part in the rituals. The reality was that the motives for arresting him came from long-bred opposition to his message about Jesus. As Christians, we have to face the prospect that nothing we can do will remove the enmity of some opponents.
Third, we have to remember that God can rescue his people even from the most difficult of situations through unlikely means. Through an unknown person, the authorities discovered that riotous behaviour was occurring in the temple area. Since it was a common expectation that the Jews could be troublesome, it is likely that the authorities were always ready for a disturbance. So Paul found himself being carried by the agents of the emperor away from the place of danger. As Christians, we have to remind ourselves that God can use civil authorities to defend his people even when they don’t expect it.
Fourth, this incident brought about a crucial change in Paul’s ministry. From now on, as far as the Book of Acts is concerned and from deductions in his other writings, Paul will be a prisoner. For those years, he will not be free to engage in missionary travels or visit churches in person, although he would still do a great deal for the kingdom of Christ. As Christians, we can find that God uses an event to bring about life-changing consequences that we could not have imagined when we arranged the activity.