Lysias, the commandant of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem, heard the noise of the riot and himself rushed down instantly, with some of his subordinate officers and a strong body of men, into the Temple court. At the sight of the flashing arms and disciplined movements of the imperial soldiers, the Jewish mob desisted from their murderous violence and stopped beating Paul (Acts 21:32).
The riotous crowd had for a moment forgotten that the eyes of the sentries were upon them as they were trying to murder Paul. This sudden invasion by their hated and dreaded tyrants reminded them that they were "in danger to be called in question for that day's uproar" (Acts 19:40).
Claudius Lysias proceeded with the soldiers promptly and directly to Apostle Paul, whom he perceived to be the central object of all the excitement in the Temple court. In the first place he ordered Paul to be arrested and chained by each hand to a soldier, for he suspected that he might be the Egyptian rebel, who had himself baffled the pursuit of the Roman force, though his followers were dispersed.
This being done, Lysias proceeded to question the bystanders regarding the arrest, who were watching this summary proceeding, half in disappointed rage at the loss of their victim, and half in satisfaction that they saw him at least in captivity.
When, however, Lysias demanded who Paul was and what he had done, some in the riotous temple crowd cried one thing and some another (Acts 21:33 - 34). When he found that he could obtain no certain information in consequence of the tumult, Lysias gave orders that the prisoner should be conveyed into the barracks within the fortress.
The multitude pressed and crowded on the soldiers, as they proceeded to execute this order, so that the Apostle was actually "carried up" the staircase in consequence of the violent pressure from below. And meanwhile deafening shouts arose from the stairs and from the court, the same shouts, which, years before, surrounded the praetorium of Pilate when the crowd cried for Jesus to be put to death.
At this moment of his arrest the Apostle Paul, with the utmost presence of mind, turned to the commanding officer who was near him, - and, addressing him in Greek, said respectfully, "May I speak with thee?"
Claudius Lysias was startled when he found himself addressed by his prisoner in Greek, and asked Paul whether he was then mistaken in supposing he was the Egyptian ringleader of an earlier rebellion (Acts 21:38). Paul replied calmly that he was no Egyptian, but a Jew and he readily explained his knowledge of Greek, and at the same time asserted his claim to respectful treatment, by saying that he was a native of "Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city" (Acts 21:39). He then proceeded to request that he might be allowed to address the people.
The request by Paul to speak was a bold one and we are almost surprised that Lysias should have granted it. There seems, however, to have been something in Apostle Paul's aspect and manner, which from the first gained an influence over the mind of the Roman officer.
Paul's speech at the temple
And now the whole scene was changed in a moment. Apostle Paul stood upon the stairs, in chains due to his arrest, and turned to the people. He made a motion with his hand before addressing the crowd. And they too felt the influence of his presence.
At these words Apostle Paul's address to his countrymen was suddenly interrupted. Up to this point he had riveted their attention. They listened, while he spoke to them of his early life, his persecution of the Church, his mission to Damascus. Many were present who could testify, on their own evidence, to the truth of what he said.
Even when Paul told them of his miraculous conversion, his interview with Ananias, and his vision in the Temple, they listened still. With admirable judgment he deferred till the last all mention of the Gentiles.
He spoke of Ananias as a "devout man according to the law" (Acts 22:12), as one "well reported of by all the Jews" as one who addressed him in the name of "the God of their Fathers" (verse 14). He showed how in his vision he had pleaded before that God the energy of his former persecution as a proof that his countrymen must surely be convinced by his conversion.
When Paul alluded to the death of Stephen, and the part which he had taken himself in that cruel martyrdom (Acts 22:20), all the associations of the place where they stood must have brought the memory of that scene with pathetic force before their minds.
But when Paul's mission to the Gentiles was announced, though the words quoted were the words of Jehovah spoken in the Temple itself, one outburst of frantic indignation rose from the Temple area and silenced the speaker on the stairs. Their national pride bore down every argument which could influence their reason or their reverence. They could not bear the thought of uncircumcised heathens (gentiles) being made equal to the sons of Abraham.
The Jews firmly believed that the mere arrest of Paul was not enough. They cried out that such a wretch like him ought not to pollute the earth with his presence. In their minds, it was a shame to have preserved his life. In their rage and impatience they tossed off their outer garments (as on that other occasion, when the garments were laid at the feet of Saul himself), and threw up dust into the air with frantic violence.