Acts: For the Cause of Christ #30
Title: Paul’s Address to Jerusalem
Last time we saw Paul finish his third missionary journey as he came to Jerusalem, gave an account of the Lord’s work in Asia, Macedonia, and Greece. We saw that we each need to follow God’s will for our lives by spending time in the Word and in prayer, we saw that we shouldn’t say, “The Lord’s will be done” without sincerity, without meaning it, and that we shouldn’t expect an easy life or easy path when we follow Christ.
Today, we continue the drama of the riot started in the temple focused on Paul and his ministry.
Paul’s Plea – 21:37-22:2
Paul had been beaten because of false accusations by a Jewish mob, arrested by the local Roman Commander, and then carried to the top of the stairs of the Roman fortress because the mob was still in such a violent state. This is where find Paul now.
Paul wants to address the crowd and try to explain himself and quiet them, but first he has to get permission from the Roman Commander. This Commander, mistakenly thought Paul was an Egyptian who had led a failed revolt in Jerusalem a few years previous. This Egyptian apparently came to Jerusalem, claimed to be a prophet, convinced a large number of men to join him, convinced them he could miraculously cause walls to collapse so the revolt could catch the Romans off guard and regain the city. Of course this failed as Felix had ordered Roman soldiers to meet them, causing a number of people to get killed, and this Egyptian had been able to escape. This commander assumed Paul was this man and wasn’t surprised that the Jewish population was attacking so if it were that man. But Paul caught the commander off guard by addressing him in educated Greek and explains that he himself is a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia.
Paul standing on the steps of the Antonia Fortress, with guards around, motioned with his hands in someway to quiet the mob down so that he could speak. Paul, the master public speaker, ever knowing how to address whatever audience he had, spoke in the local language, Aramaic [read 40-2]. Paul addresses the crowd in a manner similar to Stephen, by calling them “brothers and fathers” he begins by addressing them in the native language and by stating he is Jewish as well. When they heard him address them in Aramaic the crowd grew even quieter. At least now their interest was piqued and would listen to him.
Paul’s Proclamation – 22:3-22
Paul now having the attention of the mob, that just minutes before was trying to kill him, begins to explain to them who is and his Jewish pedigree.
Paul began his defense by telling this crowd that he is as Jewish as they are. Though he was born in a foreign city, he was raised in Jerusalem. As far as his education, he couldn’t have gotten any better than learning the law and traditions from the famous Gamaliel. Gamaliel, you’ll remember from chapter 5 warned the Sanhedrin against using too strong of force against the Apostles and the Church, in case they were God’s messengers. Paul continues by describing his zeal for God and Judaism.
Paul didn’t condemn this mob for nearly killing him, he simply chalked it up to their zeal for God and the holiness of God’s Temple. He then goes on to describe the lengths he went to in the name of God and Judaism to eliminate the Way, the Church. He also adds that if any of them doubted what he said about his zeal, they could check with the High Priest or the Sanhedrin.
Paul then continues with his testimony by describing his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Paul had stated he was persecuting the Way, those who were Jews and disciples of Jesus. At this point, almost every Jew that was listening to Paul had heard of the Way. But as Paul is recounting his experience with the resurrected Lord, he repeats what Jesus Himself had said. Paul had just equated Jesus to God (called Him “Lord” three times in those 5 verses) and had stated that by persecuting the Jesus’ disciples he had been persecuting Jesus. He mentions that those who were with him, saw the light, and couldn’t hear the words of Jesus. It is possible that they only heard Paul’s side of the conversation.
Paul remarks that because of this event, he had lost his sight and had to be led into Damascus by his companions. Here Paul, ever mindful of who his audience is, says that Ananias, who is called in chapter 9 a disciple, a term Luke uses to describe Christians, was a devout Jew with a good reputation with the Jews in Damascus. And this devout Jew was sent by God to return Paul’s sight. But not only that, Ananias was there to deliver a message and bestow Paul’s commission from the Lord. Paul continues to direct his Jewish audience to legitimacy of his claims by using familiar Judaic and Messianic terms. “The God of our ancestors (or fathers)”, “the Righteous One”. Verse 15 is the commission, “since you will be a witness for him to all people of what you have seen and heard.” Now the reading of verse 16, in every translation I looked at reads in a similar way, but the list part should be translated, “having called on His name” which better indicates that it is the calling on the name of Jesus that saves or cleanses, not baptism. Water baptism is a picture of our identifying with Jesus and shows our new spiritual condition. Water baptism has no supernatural powers that affects our standing before God, it is an act of obedience and devotion.
Verses 17-21 shows that the Lord was involved in Paul’s calling. Paul again directs his audience to the Jewishness of the experience. The crowd would have been impressed by the fact that Paul was praying in the Temple and received a vision from God. Paul receives a warning from Jesus that a Jewish element was seeking to kill him and that Paul should leave Jerusalem. But Paul tells us here that he actually debate with the Lord. He wanted to stay and continue to preach to the Jews, showing that Jesus was Lord and that Paul was a new man, maybe to undo some of the damage he did earlier, especially for the killing of Stephen. But the Lord told him to go because Paul would be the Lord’s messenger far away to the Gentiles.
That did it. To the first century Jews the thought that their God, the God of the patriarchs, the God of Moses, would show concern for the Gentiles was unimaginable. To the crowd, this rabbi was speaking blasphemy, and their original intention was right, kill him! Apparently they missed the point of the book of Jonah, where God teaches the prophet that He cares for people, even the wicked, Gentile city of Nineveh.
Paul’s Protection – 22:23-29
The crowd had listened to Paul up to the Lord sending him to the Gentiles. Upon hearing this unthinkable idea, they began shouting to have Paul killed again.
With the crowd yelling, throwing dust in the air and waving their coats about, the Commander, who evidently didn’t speak Aramaic, knew whatever Paul was saying had enraged the mob again and ordered that Paul be taken into the fortress for interrogation. The commander ordered that Paul was to be scourged as part of his interrogation. We’ve heard this language before, when Pilate turned Jesus over to be crucified the process began with this scourging. This is the Roman flagellum, where the victim is tied to post with his bare back exposed to the soldiers swinging a whip with multiple leather strips which had pieces of metal or bone or pottery embedded into the leather. If the victim didn’t die from the whipping, he could be crippled the rest of his life.
Paul was been beaten by rods 3 times by this point (once in Philippi) and received the Jewish lashing 5 times, but none of these would compare to the torture that the Commander had just ordered for Paul.
As the soldiers were tying Paul to the post, Paul called out to the centurion in charge. With that new information the centurion put a hold on the interrogation as he went to the commander and reported that Paul had claimed Roman citizenship. The Romans had protected Paul from the crowd, and now Paul was using Roman legality as protection from the soldiers. This information about Paul made the commander come out and ask Paul himself. Roman citizens were not to be whipped in this manner or beaten by the authorities unless they were convicted of some crime. The Commander comes and asks Paul if it was true, to which Paul replies yes. The Commander then states that he paid a large sum of money to gain his citizenship. This meant he paid a bribe to some magistrate or someone of influence to gain his citizenship, this was not unheard of at the time. However, to the Commander’s amazement Paul states he was born a citizen. This means, that at the very least Paul’s father had gained citizenship, possibly his grandfather, how this happened is unsure, but Paul was legal Roman by the son of Roman citizen. This scene tends to mean that when Paul told the Commander he was a citizen of an important city at the end of chap 21, the Commander took that to mean of Tarsus only and not of Rome.
Everyone present knew that the entire procedure was illegal. Those who were going to administer the whipping left. The wording here at the end of verse 29 where the Commander is alarmed because he had Paul “bound” more than likely is in reference to the chains Paul was shackled with at the Temple and not just tying him to the whipping post. Paul remained in the barracks for the evening, probably in a cell, but he was spared any further beating for the day.
Paul, addressing the crowd, may have stood on the same steps that Christ did when Pilate presented Him to the crowd and they responded with “crucify”. Paul, when being prepared for the scourging, may have been tied to the same post that Christ was tied too when He received the scourging. I wonder if these things went through Paul’s mind that night as he rested and decompressed. I also wonder if Christ’s own words to and about Paul went through his mind, in Acts 9:16 Christ tells Ananias of Paul, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name”; then in our passage during Paul’s speech he told the crowd what Christ had said in the last part of verse 18, “they will not accept your testimony about me”.
What can we take away from our passage:
That we need to be ready for the Lord to break into our lives. You may not have a dramatic experience like on the Damascus Road, but every salvation testimony is glorifying to God.
Baptism is a symbol, a way to publicly identify with your Savior, we shouldn’t shirk from that.
The Christian life can lead to danger, as Christians we need to trust that God is working out His plan, we need to remain faithful to what He has called us too.