Chapter 21: Paul’s second missionary journey finishes
18 So Paul still remained a good while. Then he took leave of the brethren and sailed for Syria, and Priscilla and Aquila were with him. He had his hair cut off at Cenchrea, for he had taken a vow. 19 And he came to Ephesus, and left them there; but he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.
20 When they asked him to stay a longer time with them, he did not consent, 21 but took leave of them, saying, ‘I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing.’ And he sailed from Ephesus. 22 And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up and greeted the church, he went down to Antioch.
23 After he had spent some time there, he departed and went over the region of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.
Paul’s three missionary journeys
Paul nears the last stages of his second of three missionary journeys. He will travel from Corinth via the port of Cenchrea to Ephesus and on to Caesarea. From there he will make the last leg of a round trip to Jerusalem. The second missionary trip started from Jerusalem and went on to Corinth via Antioch in Syria, Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, overland to Troas, and by sea to Samothrace and Neapolis and on to Philippi, Amphipolis, Apollonia, Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens.1
His first journey started in Antioch in Syria and sounds like a travel agent’s itinerary, except that Paul worked very hard, sacrificially and was often in danger in order to share the life-changing truths of the need and blessings of Christian conversion. Starting from Antioch in Syria and ending in Jerusalem, he visited Seleucia, Attalia, Perga, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Derbe, Lystra, then back to Lystra, Iconium, Antioch in Pisidia and Perga, and on to the Cypriot towns of Paphos and Salamis, returning to Jerusalem via Seleucia and Antioch in Syria.2
His third trip will start from Antioch in Syria, which Paul will visit soon after his return to Jerusalem. That trip will go overland through Asia Minor eventually to Ephesus, then back to Thessalonica, Berea and Corinth, before returning to Thessalonica and on to Philippi, then by sea to Troas, on to Assos, then by sea calling at Mitylene, Miletus, and Patara, before crossing to Tyre and descending to Jerusalem via Ptolemais and Caesarea.3
He leaves his Christian brothers and sails with Priscilla and Aquila. But first he has his hair cut off at Cenchrea. It is suggested by some that this is a Nazirite vow to express his gratitude for how God has kept him in Corinth. The Nazirites had their heads shaved as a sign of wholehearted devotion, separation and commitment to God.4 Whether or not Paul’s vow is a Nazirite vow, he is very happy to let people know how thankful he is to God, who has saved him through Christ and kept him safe. Paul leaves his friends at Ephesus and resumes his practice of visiting the synagogue to reason with the Jews, no doubt from the Scriptures as usual! Wherever Paul goes, the gospel goes. That is a God-pleasing lifestyle to follow, through God’s help, grace, and Spirit.
Paul’s plans, God’s will, and via Ephesus to Antioch
Paul obviously is developing a good relationship with the Ephesian Jews. They ask him to stay longer, but he declines as he wishes to be in Jerusalem for the ‘coming feast’. It seems that feast is Passover when Paul will be able to resume fellowship with Christians and friendship with friends. Perhaps even more important to Paul, many thousands of people will be in Jerusalem and he will be able to preach the gospel to them with the church there. He does promise, however, to return to the Ephesian Jews, ‘if it is God’s will’. He is willing if God is: that could be Paul’s epitaph of gracious service on his tombstone if he had one.
Now we are back in the ship with the apostle: this time he sails from Ephesus to Caesarea. He greets the church there to renew friendship and fellowship, and it seems inconceivable that they will not ask him to minister God’s word to them, Whether reaching the lost or blessing the saints in Christ, Paul is always giving out as God works in Him. He is the one who tells the Philippian church, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’.5 In his tiredness, weakness and, at times, loneliness he has certainly proved God’s ever available strength is there for him. Were he with us today who could challenge him as he tells us that he has proved God’s promise to be true, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness’. Who could doubt that by that grace of God he could say and mean, ‘Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me’.6 The same Lord who strengthens and empowers his apostle to the Gentiles, who is such a blessing to the Jews also, will strengthen and enable you if you trust Jesus Christ and seek to live for Him.
After Ephesus, Paul makes the long crossing to Caesarea, where again he greets the church, which is no doubt the church at Jerusalem. What a joyful reunion that must be! He certainly lives out the practical truth taught in the encouragement in the book of Hebrews:
Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.7
Paul’s second missionary journey is over. He now goes down to spend some time in Antioch in Syria.8 It is from Antioch that he will depart before very long to Galatia and Phrygia to strengthen the disciples as he starts his third and last missionary outreach. Paul can never do enough for God and for others. He is determined to present his life as ‘a living sacrifice’ to God. He is determined to ‘very gladly spend and be spent’ for fellow Christians. For those still lost in sin, he becomes ‘all things to all men, that [he] might by all means save some’.9
Three final questions
As we pause at the end of Amazing Acts—act two10 there are three practical questions to ask you.
Are you trusting and fully committed to the Lord Jesus Christ who died for you on the cross and lives today to lead you and be with you throughout life and eternity?
If you are a Christian, are you seeking to be a blessing and help to those who know and follow Christ, and do you loyally and regularly take your part in the work and worship of a church that teaches the Bible and puts Jesus first?
Again, if you know Jesus personally as your Saviour, are you willing to give yourself, your time, your efforts, and your resources to help others to understand the gospel and to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour?
Let the apostle Paul have the last word to you from a letter he wrote to one of the churches he helped to found during his second missionary journey, the church at Philippi:
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.11
Questions on Chapter 21
Acts 18:18–23 Paul’s second missionary journey finishes
A. Assume for now that the suggestion is correct that Paul has his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a Nazirite vow to thank God for His good hand on him in Corinth. How many things can you think of that should cause Paul to give thanks while he was in Corinth? How thankful are you for God’s hand on you?
Acts 18:18–19, Acts 18:1–17, Philippians 4:6–7, 1 Thessalonians 5:18
B. Trace on how many occasions between leaving Corinth and on arriving at Jerusalem via Cenchrea (before he goes to down to Antioch in Syria) he seeks to be a blessing to Christians and non-Christians. Do you look for opportunities to share Christ with unconverted people and to be a help to those who know Jesus?
Acts 18:18–22, 1 Corinthians 15:58, Mark 16:15, Romans 1:8
C. What highlights do you think Paul will share about his second missionary journey with his Christian friends and Jewish contacts when he gets back to Jerusalem for the coming feast?Skim through Acts 15:36 to Acts 18:22 to answer this question.
- Paul’s second missionary journey is covered from Acts 15:36 to 18:22 ↩
- Paul’s first missionary journey is covered from Acts 13:1 to 14:28 ↩
- Paul’s third missionary journey is covered from Acts 18:23 to 21:16 ↩
- Numbers 6:1–21. There are arguments for and against Paul’s vow being a Nazirite vow. They are outside the scope of this book. ↩
- Philippians 4:13 ↩
- 2 Corinthians 12:9 ↩
- Hebrews 10:24–25 ↩
- Jerusalem is on higher ground than both Caesarea and Antioch. That is why Paul goes up to Jerusalem from Caesarea and down to Antioch from Jerusalem. We are considering elevation not points of the compass. ↩
- Romans 12:1–2, 2 Corinthians 12:15, 1 Corinthians 9:21 ↩
- Our journey through the Acts of the Apostles is continued in the third book of the trilogy, Amazing Acts—act three. ↩
- Philippians 3:12–14 ↩