For likely more than a year Paul had written and visited churches to raise funds to relieve the needs of Jerusalem’s saints, and Acts 21 records the delivering of those funds to the elders of that church. Paul had apprehensions about how the gift from the Gentile Christians would be received (he had written Roman saints that they would pray that the gift “would be acceptable to the saints”, Romans 15:31), but his fears must have melted away when he and the messenger brethren were “received gladly” by the elders (Acts 21:17). If Paul could have safely left Jerusalem and visited Rome on his way to Spain (as the apostle hoped to do, Romans 15:23), the ending of the history of the apostle would have been much different than the way it actually did.
God knows the future. He knows the hearts of all men and He knew the hatred which Jewish rulers and other Jews had toward Paul. This hatred would bring bonds and imprisonment for him, and God warned Paul long before he set foot in Judaea that bonds and afflictions awaited him there. Even before he had left the Ephesian elders at Miletus in the early days of the journey, he had already had warnings from God through His prophets in various churches that bonds and afflictions awaited him in Jerusalem.
Those bonds might have come from two sources. In almost every city on this journey he was warned what those who were disobedient in Jerusalem would do. He asked the Roman brethren to pray that he would be delivered from such there (Romans 15:31). There was also danger from his own brethren in Jerusalem for they had been told falsehoods about the apostle. They had been told that Paul taught the Jews among Gentiles “to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise they children neither to walk after the customs” (Acts 21:21). To Jerusalem Christians who “were all zealous for the law”, this misinformation prejudiced them against the apostle and his presence in Jerusalem would not be a welcome event to them.
The report these brethren had been told was a false one. Paul taught, “For neither is circumcision anything, or uncircumcision, but a new creature” (Galatians 6:15). He also, when he was among the Jews, “became as a Jew”. Nowhere, in any of his letters, did he intimate that he taught Jews among to Gentiles “to forsake Moses, not to circumcise their children nor to walk after the customs”. He had taken and circumcised Timothy, who was of Jewish heritage (Acts 16:3), and on the other hands, refused to submit to demands that Titus (who was of a Gentile background) be circumcised (Galatians 3:3). This showed that there was no wrong in circumcising their children if this was their custom and practice, but on the other hand he strongly forbade that the Gentiles, whose custom was not to circumcise, to be circumcised themselves and circumcise their children, saying, “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that, if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing” (Galatians 5:2). But these facts did not alter the convictions which many held in Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem elders proposed to Paul that he show “there is no truth in the things whereof they have been informed concerning thee” (Acts 21:24) by standing as charge for four men who had a vow upon them and were offering certain sacrifices in the fulfillment of that vow. Paul agreed to their suggestion. The history does not record what Paul’s action in this regard to “ease the minds” of Jewish Christian accomplished. What it does tell is that before the process with the four men was done, unbelievers who knew him from Ephesus saw him in the temple and created a great riot by charging Paul with grievous untruths, saying, “Men of Israel, help: This is the man that teacheth all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place; and moreover he brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath defiled this holy place” (Acts 21:28). All these charges were clearly false, but their words ignited the smoldering feelings the unbelievers had about Paul and it created a great riot, which, had not the mob been retreated from its intent to kill Paul, would have done so. By the grace of God, a Roman centurion and his soldiers intervened, snatched Paul from those who were seeking to kill him, took him into their custody, and become thereby embroiled in a lengthy legal struggle with the Jews which persisted through the rest of the history Luke recorded.
God had warned Paul this would occur, and His warnings came true. He had warned Paul of what awaited him there and while He did not foreordain this would occur, Paul’s desire to see that the physical needs of his Jewish brethren be relieved was greater than his desire to escape his enemies’ hands. “I hold not my life as dear unto myself” he told brethren when they had urged him not to go to Jerusalem. As the saying goes, he went “with his eyes open”. And, while had he not gone to Jerusalem and fallen into the hands of disobedient Jews there, the opposition of unbelieving Jews wherever else he sought to preach would just as certainly continue. Paul had escaped many, many plots of the Jews to kill him before (cp. Acts 9:29-30; 20:3) and had he escaped the plot of the Jerusalem Jews, it was almost inevitable one day he would not escape.
From God’s warning to Paul, with its fulfillment, comes a warning to us. God’s Word is true. Sometimes His warnings are conditional (we will be lost if we do not believe and are baptized; but if we believe and are baptized we will be saved, Mark 16:16), but make no mistake, when Paul went to Jerusalem with the full knowledge he would be bound and suffer afflictions, that came true because God’s Word is true. When one ignores the escape from being lost through the door Jesus gave us (“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved”), we will be lost. “Today, if ye would hear his voice, harden not your hearts”.