26 The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.
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!”
When I read these verses, the phrase that comes to mind is “mob mentality.” Paul had been warned that the Jerusalem Jewish Christians had it out for him, because they thought he was dissuading others from following the law of Moses. In fact he was not doing that, he was simply teaching that there was another way, the way of Jesus.The reader can assume that because Paul went to such great lengths to demonstrate observance of the law, even having Timothy circumcised, that these are unfounded rumors. But to make sure that there is no doubt about Paul’s loyalty to his Jewish heritage (as well as to Jesus), the Jerusalem elders encourage Paul to participate in a rite of purification. Paul does not hesitate to do so, demonstrating once again his commitment to do whatever is asked of him for the cause of Jesus Christ.
After Paul demonstrated his commitment to the law through a purification ceremony, it is the Asian Jews that accosted Paul and accused him of teaching against the Jewish customs, the temple and the Jews themselves. The uproar drew more people, many of which did not know what was going on in the first place. I wonder how many in this crowd had actually heard Paul’s teachings first-hand. Quickly the crowd mentality took over, and all were trying to kill Paul. Fortunately for Paul, a military officer intervened and took him out of the crowd. He arrested Paul and put him in chains, just to be safe. And when the officer inquired what the commotion was about, the crowd could not get their story straight. They shouted conflicting reports, yet one consistent theme, “Get rid of him!” Most of those in the crowd probably didn't really know why they should be so angry at Paul. But “groupthink” had set in, and they were out for blood.
It is easy to become one of the crowd. In fact, it is probably exciting to follow the mob. I think there is a lot of this “mob mentality” or “groupthink” in our current social and political setting. It takes a thoughtful, self-aware person to stand back, observe and determine if this crowd or cause is something with which to get involved. Sometimes it takes a determined crowd of people to make positive change happen. And other times the crowd only serves to escalate or exasperate an issue. May we each have the discernment to determine which is which, and the courage to follow through on that wisdom.
Do you have any beliefs that are based on following the crowd, rather than following the truth?
God, I commit my way to you. I am ready to follow your call, no matter the direction. Guide me with your Spirit and give me courage to follow you closely. May I continue to grow in my trust and faith in you, oh Lord. You are my rock and my redeemer. Thank you for loving me so. Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.