And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!” (Acts 21:35-36 ESV)
Hostile environments are far from welcoming.
Very few people are looking for all-inclusive resorts in Afghanistan or in North Korea at the moment. Typically, when someone considers his workplace a hostile environment, he looks for another job. When someone is in the midst of a hostile relationship, she looks for a way out.
Why, then, would anyone ever seek to run toward a hostile environment?
That’s what it seems like Paul is doing in our passage. Remember, Paul was warned repeatedly about what awaits him in Jerusalem, and yet, in Sunday’s text, we find him in the epicenter of hostility: the Jerusalem Temple.
None of this suggests that the Temple’s purpose was to create hostility; ironically, this location was the center of peace offerings. But, over time, the Temple became a symbol of Jewish pride and separation: priests separated from common folk, men separated from women, Jews separated from Gentiles. This last separation was violently enforced – a 4.5 ft wall around the Temple’s sanctuary warned, “Let no foreigner enter within the screen and enclosure surrounding the sanctuary. Whosoever is taken so doing will be the cause that death overtaketh him.”
Now we had noted in our exposition of the previous passage that Paul and the elders of Jerusalem had devised a strategy to publicly display Paul’s respect for the Jewish law. However, even though Paul was clearly attempted to purify himself, it was precisely during this time that he was accused of defiling the Temple! And, given the hostilities that were high, it’s no surprise that chaos soon ensued!
Paul would soon experience the fulfillment of what had been predicted – he found himself chained and bound, apprehended by Roman authorities.
Despite the relative peace you and I experience as Christians in the modern, Western world, we must grapple with the reality of persecution. Persecution takes different forms, but the Bible tells us it ought to be expected for all those who love Christ. Paul’s example for us leads us to not run away from hostile environments, but, out of love for Christ and others, run toward them if it means bringing the gospel!
Why take such a risk? Because for hostile environments to experience peace, their only hope is the gospel.