Acts: For the Cause of Christ #31
Title: Paul’s First Trial
Last week we saw as Paul delivery his defense to the Jewish people. We saw how Paul, through his testimony, demonstrated that the Lord can break into our lives at any point, and that baptism is important to the life of the believer as it publicly identifies us with Christ. We also recognize that the Christian life can be full of danger, but as Christians we need to remain faithful to Christ and what He called us to do.
This week we see Paul still in Roman custody, and still in danger. Paul wanted to get to Rome, will he get the chance?
Paul and the Sanhedrin – 22:30-23:11
After a night in the barracks, Paul is brought before the ruling Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin.
Since the Roman governor wasn’t staying at Jerusalem at the moment, this Roman Commander was essentially the highest Roman official in the city, so when he ordered the Sanhedrin to meet, they met. The Commander needed to find out what trouble Paul was in and if it was serious enough to place him under arrest or to turn him over to the Jews, so the Sanhedrin had to meet to decide to charge Paul or not. Whether this was an informal meeting, a formal council, or something in between we’re not sure on and I’ll get to that in a few minutes.
Paul begins the meeting by stating that he had lived before God with a clear or good conscience all the way up to that moment. Paul is not saying he is sinless, or that he was never wrong, but that his public life was blameless and he had lived up to the demands of the Law. Paul makes a similar statement in Philippians 3:4-6, “although I have reasons for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.”
But this statement was too much for the High Priest, to him it sounded close to blasphemy, so he ordered that Paul be slapped across the face. Is response Paul makes comment back. Now there is much criticism and debate over the next few verses and whether Paul was right or not. I think that Paul was justifiably angry about this. Paul hadn’t been proven guilty of anything and the High Priest should be counted on to act fairly if he isn’t going to be compassionate. Paul calls the High Priest a “whitewashed wall”, this is similar to Jesus’ remarks to the Pharisees in Matthew 23, Paul was calling him a hypocrite. Someone nearby asks Paul if that was any way to talk to the High Priest. Paul’s apology, I think, shows respect for the office, but not for the man that was currently holding it.
Ananias was one of the most corrupt men whoever held the position of High Priest. This man stole tithes from other priests and did whatever it took to increase his own authority. He was known as a brutal man who cared more about gaining favor from Rome, than caring for Israel. Paul’s comment about God striking Ananias proved to be somewhat prophetic. In AD 66 when the Jewish revolt began, Ananias had to run and hide. He was hunted because of his known sympathies for Rome. He was found hiding in an aqueduct in Herod’s palace in Jerusalem where he was killed. Paul’s response in verse 5 has been interpreted in a number of ways. Some think he didn’t actually know who was High Priest, some think Paul had poor eyesight and didn’t really see who had ordered him struck, some even think that this meeting was more informal so Ananias wasn’t wearing the traditional dress for the council, or that Paul was speaking with a touch of sarcasm. I think Paul is using a touch of sarcasm, along the lines of “Could a man like that be high priest?”because he quotes Exodus 22:28, I think he knew that the High Priest was the one who ordered him struck, but he is showing respect for the office and not the man.
Paul changes tactics and realizes the divide of the Sanhedrin between Sadducees and Pharisees. History tells us that Ananias was a Sadducee, and I think Paul maybe knew that he wouldn’t get a fair trial from the Sanhedrin. So Paul claims the issue is his belief in the resurrection, which of course the Sadducees think is heresy that crept in from the Babylonian captivity. These groups were greatly divided on this point. Pharisees begin to say they can’t find anything wrong with Paul and the groups debate grows violent and the Commander orders Paul removed and taken back to the barracks. I can’t help but think that if given the chance, that Paul would have explained further that the real issue was his belief in the resurrection of Jesus Chirst and not just about the teaching of the final resurrection.
That night when Paul was back at the Roman barracks, the Lord appears to him. This is one of 5 visitations from Lord to Paul recorded in Acts. First is the appearance on the Damascus Road (9:3-6), a few years later Jesus appeared to Paul in a vision in the Temple (22:17-21), then when Paul was in Corinth and thinking of heading elsewhere the Lord appears in a vision (18:9-10), then this appearance and then in the storm at sea in chapter 27:23-25 an angel is sent to encourage him.
For this visit the Lord had three things for Paul. First, “have courage” or “be of good cheer”. The Lord is always near and always with us, we can have courage in difficult times because we know this. Second, Paul was commended for testifying about Jesus there in Jerusalem. I think this confirms the thought that Paul was supposed to come to Jerusalem, and though the Jews didn’t respond to his witness, Paul testified of Jesus. Third, Paul knew that he would get to Rome. Christ told him that he needed to testify there as well. Since Ephesus Paul had wanted to get to Rome, now he knew he would get there. Paul just needed to trust the Lord to work out His plan.
Secret Plots – 23:12-22
Whether Paul had any ideas of what was going to happen next, I don’t know. He knew he would get to Rome and be able to testify and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. But some Jews weren’t ready to give up yet.
Forty men, possibly Jews from the region of Asia that started the riot a couple of days previous, bound themselves into a vow with each other calling down a curse from God on themselves if they didn’t kill Paul. To add to their urgency, they swore off eating and drinking until the murder was done. There is a tradition that such a vow could be rendered void if it could not be completed because of reasonable constraint. These conspirators then go to some of the members of the Sanhedrin, certain elders and chief priests, to inform them of their vow and to get their assistance to get Paul in the open. One source remarks that these men, “knew how morally rotten their leaders were, or they would not have suggested such a scheme to them” (Kent Jr, Homer A., Jerusalem to Rome, © 1972, p 170). What did they need from the Sanhedrin? They wanted the leaders to request Paul be brought back for another hearing so the Sanhedrin could question Paul more, but the conspirators would make sure, that once Paul was out of the fortress, Paul would never make it to the council room. These men must have thought themselves so pious, so zealous for God and thought Paul was such a problem that murder was the only way to bring peace to Judaism.
But something these conspirators didn’t know, was that their plot was known. We don’t know anymore about Paul’s sister and nephew than what is recorded here. How did this young man hear of the plot? We can only speculate. Perhaps he was in Jerusalem for his education just like his uncle, or perhaps he and his mother lived in Jerusalem and were known at the temple. It is generally thought that they weren’t fellow Christians as Paul’s comment in Philippians 3:8 of “I have suffered the loss of all things” is inferred to include Paul being disinherited from his family.
Paul wasn’t under arrest in the fortress, he was more or less under protective custody. He was an unconvicted, and uncharged, Roman citizen, therefore he was allowed to receive visitors, and centurions saw to it that many things Paul requested were done. So once Paul heard about this plot he called for a centurion and instructed that his nephew be brought to the commander to repeat the information.
The commander receives the young man, and perhaps, since Paul sent this messenger the commander may have realized that this might be a serious matter and led the young man to a more private area where he was told of the plot against Paul. The Commander understood the seriousness of the plot and sent Paul’s nephew home instructing him not to let anyone know that he had met with the commander about the plot.
Safety in Caesarea – 23:23-35
The Commander knew he had to act quickly to get Paul to safety, as Jerusalem was obviously the last place for Paul to stay, and he wasn’t going to take any chances.
If the Jews wanted to kill Paul so bad, they’d have to convince the governor or try to overtake 470 Roman troops during the night. After issuing his orders to his centurions, he needed to write a letter to Felix. How Luke knew what was written is not known, but we can speculate that Paul may have heard the letter read and told Luke the basic parts of the letter. We read for the first time the name of the commander, Claudius Lysias. More than likely he was a Greek has his second name is Lysias, and he purchased his Roman citizenship during the reign of Emperor Claudius as Claudius became is primary name. Claudius makes a change in the timeline of discovering Paul’s citizenship to remove himself from any discipline for his actions. But he continues to say that all he was able to determine is that the problem is based on Jewish doctrines and law, and nothing that warranted Paul’s imprisonment or death. But with the discovery of the plot to kill Paul, Claudius was forced to send Paul to Felix for Paul’s protection and to let Felix try the case.
That night about 9 pm, or the third hour of the night, those centurions with the 70 cavalry, 200 spearman and 200 soldiers left with Paul heading to Caesarea. In what was probably a forced march or quick march, the whole group arrived at Antipatris which is about 35 miles north of Jerusalem. Now at the foot of the Judaen hills, and the conspirators left behind them, Paul no longer needed such an escort. The next morning the group split with the infantry returning to Jerusalem and Paul escorted by the 70 cavalry continued to Caesarea. When they arrived, they brought Paul and the letter from Claudius to Felix the Governor.
Felix read the letter and then asked Paul what city he was from. If Paul was from a small client kingdom, it would be politically and diplomatically better for Felix to consult with that ruler, but upon learning Paul was from the Roman Province of Cilicia he could render judgement on his own without consulting anyone else. Felix became governor of Judea about AD 52, about 4 years previous to our passage. He wasn’t really well liked by many Jews as there was an increase of insurgency by more militant Jews, but Felix was rather ruthless in putting the uprisings down which upset more moderate Jews and led to more uprisings. A Roman historian summarized Felix’s character and career by quipping, “he exercised the power of a king with the mind of a slave”. This was the man Paul’s fate now rested with, of course Paul knew and trusted that the Lord would do what He said, that Paul would testify about Him in Rome itself. Felix ordered that Paul stay there in the fortress, the palace Herod the Great and built for himself that the Roman governors used as their home and in Judae. Paul would have to wait for the representative from the Sanhedrin to come before a hearing could happen.
Paul still in custody, but in a less dangerous place than in Jerusalem, still unable to get to Rome yet. But Paul is trusting that the Lord would do what He said, Paul continued to trust God.
What can we take away from this passage?
We need to trust God in difficult and even dangerous situations to do His will. This is especially true if we have been and continue to do what the Lord has commanded us to do as Christians. Jesus promised in Matthew 28, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Remember God has established the government, which means as long as we have legal means and the government still protects the rights of its citizens, we do not need to be afraid of using legal means. God can use one person in or before the government to work His will and plan.
Paul was confident that the Lord would work His plan out, are you? Paul was willing to lay his life down for the cause of Christ, it is an easy thing to say but hard when put the test. What are we willing to do for the cause of Christ?