Diffusing Crisis to Manage Adversity

Paul’s Crisis Management in Jerusalem

Paul was arrested in Jerusalem by a mob that tried to kill him but were forced to surrender him to the custody of Roman authorities. He tried to diffuse the crisis by showing respect to Jewish law, custom, and heritage; the Roman commander; and his rights as a Roman citizen. Although his attempt at crisis management did not end the persecution, the attempt was successful because the persecution changed from beating and torture to detention and a series of public trials and hearings. Also, the trials and hearings became an opportunity for Paul to preach the gospel among his people in Jerusalem and Caesarea as he had in parts of Europe and Asia.

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In this installment of our study on Responding to Adversity, we discuss Paul’s interactions at his arrest in Jerusalem to learn about managing adversity by taking deliberate actions to reduce the intensity of a developing crisis. Paul was attacked in Jerusalem by a mob of Jews stirred up through public accusations against his teaching and religious allegiance. The local Roman commander rescued him from the mob by arresting and taking custody of him. We discuss his interactions with the Roman commander and with the mob to understand his attempt at diffusing the crisis.

Mob against Paul at the temple
Mob against Paul at the temple
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He showed himself respectful of the commander when he ignored the commander’s obvious but irrelevant mistake and focused instead on providing information to introduce himself. Regarding the mob, he almost won them over by presenting himself as a “son of the soil:” sharing with them the same language; laws, custom, and traditions; and respect for the same heroes and heritage. However, his peace with the mob was short-lived as he re-ignited their ire by reminding them of his long sojourn among Gentiles and his claim of common destiny with the Gentiles. Thus, the persecution continued despite his attempt at diffusing the crisis. Although he was not able to free himself from persecution, his effort at crisis management was partially successful as he asserted his Roman citizenship to win protection against torture or any punishment without trial. He would be tried publicly to determine if he did anything deserving punishment.

Preaching gospel in chains
Preaching gospel in chains
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Additionally, he used the opportunity of addressing the mob to preach the gospel in Jerusalem for the first time, as he had during missionary journeys through parts of Europe and Asia. He would go on to also preach to other predominantly Jewish audience during trials in Caesarea. Therefore, although his attempt at diffusing the crisis did not end the persecution, the attempt was successful in that it transformed the persecution into a series of trials and public hearings and, thus, an opportunity for him to preach the gospel among his people in Jerusalem and Caesarea as he had in parts of Europe and Asia.

Paul Arrested in Jerusalem

Paul was arrested in Jerusalem after a mob seized him at the temple, dragged him out, and started beating him. They intended to beat him to death. Some Jews visiting Jerusalem from Asia had seen Paul at the temple and incited a mob against him with accusations regarding his teaching and religious allegiance [Acts 21:28]: “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” It did not matter whether the accusations were true or false (they were, in fact, false), but they were effective in inciting a mob against Paul. People heard the commotion and ran in from all directions, believing that someone deserving death had been caught.

The beating must stop
The beating must stop
YoMinistry.com freebibleimages.org

The mob action was the beginning of Paul’s adversity. The events occurred because he was there. The beating could have progressed to a violent end for Paul if news of the uprising had not reached a Roman commander that decided to find out more. The commander arrived with some officers and soldiers as the mob was beating Paul to kill him: “…When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul” [Acts 21:32]. The commander had Paul arrested and bound in chains. He tried to find out what Paul did, but failed because no one there could present a coherent case against Paul: “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” [Acts 21:34].

Interaction with Roman Commander

The intervention by the Roman commander provided Paul opportunity to try to influence the events. His first attempt came as he was being taken into the barracks. He requested to speak to the commander [Acts 21:37]: “Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, ‘May I speak to you?’” The commander responded with a question that implied he thought Paul was Moses [Acts 21:38]: “Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?”

Led away in chains
Led away in chains
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The commander appeared to be referring to an event that occurred several generations back and somehow believed he just arrested the “rebel leader.” Paul could have responded by correcting him but decided instead to overlook the mistake and focus on introducing himself respectfully to the commander. Correcting the commander on this point of history could possibly have put him on the defensive by making him ashamed of his ignorance. Paul determined quickly that he would gain nothing by trying to explain to the commander that he was not Moses. Instead, he introduced himself and requested to speak to the people [Acts 21:39]: “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”

The commander granted him permission to speak to the people.

Interaction with the People

Paul stood on the stairs and motioned to the crowd to indicate he wanted to speak to them. They quieted down to listen. They became all the more quiet when he spoke to them in the Hebrew language: “When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet” [Acts 22:2]. He spoke proudly of his Jewish heritage and upbringing: born in Tarsus of Cilicia, brought up in Jerusalem, trained in Jewish law under highly respected teacher Gamaliel, zealous for God like many of them, and persecuted followers of Jesus like many of them did.

He went on to explain his change of life started when he encountered Jesus on his way to Damascus. The encounter left him blind. Later, a respected Jewish leader Ananias came to him in Damascus, restored his sight, and delivered a message to him regarding a special assignment from God [Acts 22:12–15]: “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him. Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.”

Addressing angry crowd
Addressing angry crowd
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They listened attentively to him and might even have come close to deciding that he did nothing wrong. However, he proceeded to explain why he spent all this time abroad carrying his mission to the Gentiles (non-Jews). He told them about a second encounter with Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem, during which they discussed that he should leave Jerusalem “because the people here will not accept your testimony about me” [Acts 22:17], considering his previous persecution of “those who believe in you” [Acts 22:19]. Jesus directed him to take his mission “far away to the Gentiles” [Acts 22:21].

DEALING WITH FACTS IN CRISIS MANAGEMENT The mob was re-ignited by Paul’s information about taking his mission to the Gentiles. He had almost won them over with the account of his life up to his conversion in Damascus but lost them by explaining why he spent a long time abroad among the Gentiles. Therefore, whereas facts regarding his Jewish upbringing were favorable to his crisis management, facts regarding his sojourn among Gentiles were unfavorable. In trying to diffuse a crisis to manage adversity, it is important to know the facts and understand how they might affect the crisis. Some facts may reduce a crisis while others aggravate it. If all that Paul needed was to convince the mob to disperse, then he might have done better by focusing on the first part of his address. However, he needed to lay down the facts as he knew. Incidentally, the facts regarding his mission to the Gentiles exacerbated the crisis. As we discuss in a previous bible study under Christian Basis for Mediation, managing a crisis requires an assessment of the situation to determine the facts and circumstances that may affect the disputants’ understanding of the crisis and relevant facts.

Paul Asserts Right of Citizenship

The next attempt by Paul at managing the crisis was more successful. After his interaction with the crowd resulted in a new round of mob hostility, the commander ordered that he be taken into the barracks. Further, he ordered Paul flogged to aid interrogation.

Prepared for flogging
Prepared for flogging
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As the soldiers prepared him for flogging, Paul asked an officer standing nearby [Acts 22:25]: “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” The officer apparently understood the legal implication of Paul’s question. He consulted with the commander, who immediately went to Paul to verify the information. The commander was a Roman citizen by naturalization. He ascertained that Paul was indeed a Roman citizen, immediately called off the torture, and was even alarmed that “he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains” [Acts 22:29]. Thereafter, Paul’s persecution became a tale of public hearings and trials to determine if he did anything wrong. The commander took special care to protect him from torture or any form of punishment without being found guilty of an offense deserving punishment.

CONFLICT RESOLUTION Thus, Paul won a mitigation of the adversity of persecution by asserting his right as a Roman citizen. He understood the facts, legal principle, and process of applying the principle to assert his right. He bypassed the soldiers preparing him for flogging and protested to the officer, because he knew the officer was more likely to understand his protest. As we discuss in a previous bible study under Conflict Resolution Example from Daniel, effective conflict resolution requires understanding the chain of command: who has knowledge and authority to make necessary decisions? The officer understood Paul’s protest and had access to the commander that had authority to address the protest.

Citizens of Kingdom of God

There is also a spiritual implication of Paul’s assertion of his right of citizenship. A citizen of a nation is a legally recognized subject or national of that state acquired by birth or naturalization. A believer, bought by the blood of Jesus is a citizen of God’s Kingdom. We are not just children of the father but joint heirs with Christ [Romans 8:17]. A citizen owes allegiance to the government of the state and in turn, enjoys the privileges and rights that citizenship confers, including right of protection and defense.

Persecution by trials and hearings
Persecution by trials and hearings
Sweet Publishing freebibleimages.org

Paul had tried to get himself out of the adversity by explaining who he was, his previous persecution of Christians, and how God called him to a special Christian mission. However, these did not help him but rather got him deeper into trouble. He was playing his own advocate! The moment he declared his citizenship of Rome, demonstrated that he knew and claimed his rights, his captors and punishers listened.

As it was with Paul, so it is with us as believers. How often do we declare our citizenship of the kingdom of God, declare and claim our rights when the devil throws challenges and tosses us around? The devil knows who we are, but do we know who we are in Christ? When Jesus was tempted by the devil with the promise of giving him powers and the glory of all that is in the world, he rebuked the devil with the word and the knowledge that the devil instead should worship and serve only the Lord God [Luke 4:5–8]. Jesus declared that allegiance is to the Lord God. It was only then that the devil left him alone and the angels of God came and ministered to him. Paul was playing the role of his own advocate, not surprisingly, that didn’t get him far. It did not get him of the hook. By declaring his citizenship and the right to trial before punishment, his case was taken to the appropriate court for trial as a citizen. In the same way, our every adversity will be referred to the “appropriate court” (i.e., surrendered to God) if we acknowledge and assert our rights and privileges as citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Summary of What We Learned

Paul was arrested in Jerusalem by a mob that tried to kill him but were forced to surrender him to the custody of Roman authorities. He tried to diffuse the crisis by showing respect to Jewish law, custom, and heritage; the Roman commander; and his rights as a Roman citizen. Although his attempt at crisis management did not end the persecution, the attempt was successful because the persecution changed from beating and torture to detention and a series of public trials and hearings. Also, the trials and hearings became an opportunity for Paul to preach the gospel among his people in Jerusalem and Caesarea as he had in parts of Europe and Asia.

More Information

Please watch this bible study on video at VIDEO_LINK , listen to or download the audio at AUDIO_LINK . You can also download a PDF copy of the PowerPoint presentation from PDF_LINK.

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