Previous to this passage, Paul has just finished his last missionary journey and has returned to Jerusalem. While there he is informed that there have been rumors about him, that he is telling the Gentiles to forsake the old testament law. As a result he agrees to go through some purification with some other men, to show that he has not abandoned the Old Testament (note, I'm still trying to work out if Paul was sinning by doing this: Jesus cleanses us, we don't need purification any more, but anyway...back to the story...). As a result...
27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 28 shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)
30 The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. 31 While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.
33 The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. 35 When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36 The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Get rid of him!”
Ok, so three lessons from this passage, but first up, some views on whether Paul was right or wrong in involving himself in Old Testament purification rituals.
Either Paul is sinning because he is fearing man, or else he is doing it for a good reason. Two thoughts for If he is sinning: the elders also sin, by commanding him to do it. This isn't impossible (they are sinful humans also), and it seems in uncharacteristic of Paul to fear man and disobey God because of it. He may have done this to prevent trouble and to stop the Jews from stumbling, or there may have been another reason behind it.
I think in this passage there is a good reminder that we need to be careful to be just and thoughtful in what we do. We see Paul beaten by a number of Jews, most of which don't Even know why they are beating him. We need to be careful not to judge people without evidence, and we must not be led by the crowd, but fear God and obey him. There is no excuse to disobey him, and we must be careful not to simply follow the crowd, but to think clearly for ourselves.
Secondly, we see that the Jews assume that Paul had defiled the temple by bringing a gentile there, while they had no proof. We need to be careful not to assume someone has sinned, and not to falsely accuse someone. Seek truth and don't act before thinking!! Because of this assumption, these people who claim to follow God end up almost killing one of Gods people.
Thirdly, we have the commander, who hears about it and acts just in time. It's undeniable that God is in control, and we see yet again that he preserves his people, he has a plan for us and accomplishes it. He doesn't leave of forsake us (Hebrews 13), and we can trust him completely. I'm not saying God will save us all the time, but I am saying that he will always do his will, and that will be for his glory and the growth/good of his people (Romans 8:28). He can save, but his plan is perfect, good and pleasing and no matter the situation we should and must trust him. He is always faithful and will either save his people from death or through it.