Where the world comes to study the Bible

From the Sanhedrin to Caesarea (Acts 22:30 - 23:35)

Related Media

30 The next day, because the commanding officer wanted to know the true reason Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and the whole council to assemble. He then brought Paul down and had him stand before them.

1 Paul looked directly at the council and said, “Brothers, I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God to this day.” 2 At that the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit there judging me according to the law, and in violation of the law you order me to be struck?” 4 Those standing near him said, “Do you dare insult God’s high priest?” 5 Paul replied, “I did not realize, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You must not speak evil about a ruler of your people.’” 6 Then when Paul noticed that part of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, he shouted out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead!” 7 When he said this, an argument began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.) 9 There was a great commotion, and some experts in the law from the party of the Pharisees stood up and protested strongly, “We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 When the argument became so great the commanding officer feared that they would tear Paul to pieces, he ordered the detachment to go down, take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.

11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Have courage, for just as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

12 When morning came, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink anything until they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty of them who formed this conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have bound ourselves with a solemn oath not to partake of anything until we have killed Paul. 15 So now you and the council request the commanding officer to bring him down to you, as if you were going to determine his case by conducting a more thorough inquiry. We are ready to kill him before he comes near this place.” 16 But when the son of Paul’s sister heard about the ambush, he came and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commanding officer, for he has something to report to him.” 18 So the centurion took him and brought him to the commanding officer and said, “The prisoner Paul called me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.” 19 The commanding officer took him by the hand, withdrew privately, and asked, “What is it that you want to report to me?” 20 He replied, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as if they were going to inquire more thoroughly about him. 21 So do not let them persuade you to do this, because more than forty of them are lying in ambush for him. They have bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink anything until they have killed him, and now they are ready, waiting for you to agree to their request.” 22 Then the commanding officer sent the young man away, directing him, “Tell no one that you have reported these things to me.” 23 Then he summoned two of the centurions and said, “Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea along with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen by nine o’clock tonight, 24 and provide mounts for Paul to ride so that he may be brought safely to Felix the governor.” 25 He wrote a letter that went like this:

26 Claudius Lysias to His Excellency Governor Felix, greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, when I came up with the detachment and rescued him, because I had learned that he was a Roman citizen. 28 Since I wanted to know what charge they were accusing him of, I brought him down to their council. 29 I found he was accused with reference to controversial questions about their law, but no charge against him deserved death or imprisonment. 30 When I was informed there would be a plot against this man, I sent him to you at once, also ordering his accusers to state their charges against him before you.

31 So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him to Antipatris during the night. 32 The next day they let the horsemen go on with him, and they returned to the barracks. 33 When the horsemen came to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. 34 When the governor had read the letter, he asked what province he was from. When he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive too.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.1

Introduction2

Among all of the disciples, I find that Christians most readily identify with Peter. It’s no wonder, because Peter is the fellow who is always getting himself into trouble by saying the wrong thing. It isn’t that the other disciples are so much better, but at least they keep their mouths shut. Perhaps they were more aware of this proverb:

Even a fool who remains silent is considered wise, and the one who holds his tongue is deemed discerning (Proverbs 17:28).

On the other hand, very few Christians find it easy to identify with Paul. He is a man who always seems to get it right. In this lesson, we come to a text where we find that even Paul has feet of clay. I find myself in a rather interesting position here. While others have accused Paul of wrongdoing earlier in the Book of Acts,3 I have consistently defended him. I cannot do so here, for even Paul admits he was wrong.4

Paul was determined to reach Jerusalem, to worship in the temple, and to deliver the offerings of the Gentile churches in Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 24:11, 17-18). Along the way, he met with believers. Consistently the Holy Spirit made it known to Paul, and to the churches, that imprisonment and persecutions awaited him there (Acts 20:22-23; 21:4, 8-14). Paul could not be persuaded to set aside his plans to visit Jerusalem, and thus he and his traveling companions finally arrived in Jerusalem, where they received a warm welcome from the church (Acts 21:17). Paul’s report of his ministry and of many new Gentile converts was also well received (Acts 21:18-20a). But there was concern expressed over the false reports that had reached Jerusalem before Paul arrived. Rumor had it that Paul was teaching the Jews who lived abroad (among the Gentiles) to abandon their Jewish culture and customs, such as circumcision and the observance of Jewish holidays (Acts 21:21).

To prove this rumor false, James and the elders urged Paul to publicly participate in temple worship, accompanied by four Jewish men (whose expenses Paul would pay). This would show that Paul himself was still worshipping as a Jew and that he did not discourage others from being Jewish Christians as well (Acts 21:22-24). This was not an abandonment of their decision several years earlier in the Jerusalem Council, because the intent of that decision was to nullify the false teaching of some Jews that Gentiles must embrace Judaism in order to be saved (Acts 21:25).

Paul promptly and happily complied with the counsel given him by James and the elders in Jerusalem. But just as they were completing their purification rites, some Hellenistic Jews from Asia accused Paul of a most serious offense. On the basis of half-truths and flawed logic, they accused Paul of taking Gentiles into a part of the temple restricted to Jews. They called on their other Jewish brethren to come to their aid. By doing this, they precipitated a riot. The Jews seized Paul and were starting to tear him limb-from-limb when the Roman commander came on the scene, just in time to spare Paul’s life (Acts 21:27-32).

When Paul spoke to the commander in Greek, it caught him off guard (pardon the pun), because he assumed that Paul was an Egyptian revolutionary. Finding that Paul was a citizen of a prominent city of Cilicia, the commander allowed Paul to address the crowd. Unfortunately for the commander (and the Hellenistic Jews present), Paul spoke to the crowd in Aramaic, so that only the native Hebrews of Jerusalem and Judea understood him. Paul told the story of his conversion, but when he got to the part where God ordered him to go to the Gentiles (because of Jewish unbelief), the crowd exploded, precipitating another riot. The Roman commander was more determined than ever to discover what Paul had done to cause such an uproar, and so he set out to have him tortured (whipped) until he confessed. But when Paul informed the Romans that he was a Roman citizen, this “interrogation” was immediately terminated (Acts 21:37—22:29).

The commander would have to discover the truth some other way, and so he handed him over to the Jewish Sanhedrin for trial. Now, he thought, he would get to the root of this problem. Our lesson takes up as Paul is brought before the Sanhedrin.

Chaos in the Courtroom
Acts 22:30 – 23:10

30 The next day, because the commanding officer wanted to know the true reason Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and the whole council to assemble. He then brought Paul down and had him stand before them.

1 Paul looked directly at the council and said, “Brothers, I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God to this day.” 2 At that the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit there judging me according to the law, and in violation of the law you order me to be struck?” 4 Those standing near him said, “Do you dare insult God’s high priest?” 5 Paul replied, “I did not realize, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You must not speak evil about a ruler of your people.’” 6 Then when Paul noticed that part of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, he shouted out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead!” 7 When he said this, an argument began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.) 9 There was a great commotion, and some experts in the law from the party of the Pharisees stood up and protested strongly, “We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 When the argument became so great the commanding officer feared that they would tear Paul to pieces, he ordered the detachment to go down, take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks (Acts 22:30—23:10).

This is not the first time Luke has taken us into the hallowed halls of the Jewish Council – the Sanhedrin. We were there in Acts 4 when the Council attempted to intimidate Peter and John, and thereby silence them from proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus and the gospel of salvation by faith, apart from law-keeping. Once again, we find Peter and John before the Sanhedrin in Acts 5. Again these two apostles refused to be silenced. On this occasion, Gamaliel, a highly respected Pharisee (and Paul’s teacher – Acts 22:3), came to their defense.

In these first two encounters with the Sanhedrin, Peter and John escaped with their lives, but then Stephen is hauled before the Council in Acts 6:

8 Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. 9 But some men from the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, as well as some from Cilicia and the province of Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. 10 Yet they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. 11 Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard this man speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 They incited the people, the elders, and the experts in the law; then they approached Stephen, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13 They brought forward false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop saying things against this holy place and the law. 14 For we have heard him saying that Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us” (Acts 6:8-14).

This time the Sanhedrin seemed to have its way, though it was obviously not legal, either by Jewish law or Roman law:

54 When they heard these things, they became furious and ground their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look!” he said. “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, shouting out with a loud voice, and rushed at him with one intent. 58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began to stone him, and the witnesses laid their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They continued to stone Stephen while he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” When he had said this, he died (Acts 7:54-60).

This time Paul (Saul) was there, in hearty agreement with what they were doing (Acts 8:1).

There is something unique about Paul’s “trial” before the Sanhedrin in our text, something I failed to notice until I looked more carefully at Acts 22:30:

30 The next day, because the commanding officer wanted to know the true reason Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and the whole council to assemble. He then brought Paul down and had him stand before them (Acts 22:30, emphasis mine).

On this occasion, no Jews and no member of the Sanhedrin initiated this “trial.” Luke makes it clear that the commander, Claudius Lysias, summoned the Council in order to learn what Paul had done to cause a riot. So far, he had been unsuccessful in learning why the crowds had reacted violently against Paul. No wonder the commander allowed Paul to address the mob. He expected to learn from Paul’s words what he had done to offend his Jewish brethren. He didn’t understand a word Paul said (in Aramaic), but he did see the crowd violently erupt a second time. He was about to “examine” (torture) Paul to find out the truth when he learned that Paul was a Roman citizen. And so the commander summoned Israel’s high court. Let them officially press charges and try Paul. Then he will finally know the charges against Paul.

I don’t think the Sanhedrin was very eager to meet. There was less unity than ever among its members, as we shall soon see. In addition, they had to know that the charges against Paul would not hold up. And, worst of all, the Roman commander would be looking on with great interest, eager to learn why the riots had begun. Perhaps this is why we do not get the impression that all of the same formalities took place which are implied in Acts 4. This was not the high priest’s doing; it was the commander’s doing. Perhaps there was some hesitation, because no one knew exactly what they were doing or how to proceed. Perhaps the proceedings began with a formal reading of the charges. Who wanted to take this task?

Was this why Paul spoke out, seemingly without a formal invitation to do so? Does this help to explain why the first recorded words are those of Paul, claiming his innocence? Paul looked the Council in the eye and said,

“Brothers, I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God to this day” (Acts 23:1).

If there was silence and hesitation, this may have invited Paul’s statement and added emphasis to it.

We cannot be certain as to all the factors which prompted Ananias, the high priest, to react, but there are several possibilities. Luke has not told us why Ananias reacted, but only that he did so, instructing those5 close to Paul to strike him on the mouth. To strike Paul on the mouth informs us that it was what Paul said that was so offensive. (Some may remember having their mouths washed out with soap because they said something they should not have said.) What was so offensive to the high priest? Perhaps it was a combination of factors like these.

(1) Paul seems to have spoken before he was prompted to defend himself. One would expect that charges against Paul would first be read. We know that the accused was entitled to offer a defense (John 7:50-51), and it would seem reasonable that the charges would be read first, so that the accused would know what to say in his defense. Paul seems to have spoken first. Perhaps the high priest (who surely wanted to be perceived as being “in charge”) was offended by Paul’s quick defense.

(2) Paul addressed the entire Council using the term “brethren” (Acts 23:1). It would be perceived that Paul looked upon these men as his peers. There is no title of honor used here. Paul was certainly not intimidated by them. It was a kind of “kangaroo court,” and Paul’s words might have touched a nerve in this regard.

(3) Paul appears to claim more than just “innocence” with regard to the current charges. Paul was not claiming to be innocent of some specific charge here; he was claiming to be innocent of any charge. While Paul may be claiming to have a clear conscience with regard to his conduct “as a citizen”,6 he seems to be saying more than this. Paul is standing before a religious body, not a Roman judge. The charges are (or would almost certainly should be) religious in nature as well.

(4) Paul is claiming something that no Jew could claim who sought to be righteous by law-keeping:

8 The Holy Spirit is making clear that the way into the holy place had not yet appeared as long as the old tabernacle was standing. 9 This was a symbol for the time then present, when gifts and sacrifices were offered that could not perfect the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They served only for matters of food and drink and various washings; they are external regulations imposed until the new order came. 11 But now Christ has come as the high priest of the good things to come. He passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, 12 and he entered once for all into the most holy place not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, and so he himself secured eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God (Hebrews 9:8-14, emphasis mine).

21 And since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. 23 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:21-25, emphasis mine).

I think this is the real reason Ananias reacted so strongly to Paul’s claim. Paul, as a Christian, could claim to possess a clean conscience before God. This is due to the saving work of Jesus, which is vastly superior to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament law. No good Jew could ever be good enough to claim a clean conscience before God, and Ananias was not a good Jew. This man was a scoundrel, and an embarrassment to the Jews. He used his office for material gain, and he did not hesitate to use violence to achieve his goals. He was so hated by the Jews that he was violently killed in the Jewish uprising in Jerusalem a number of years later.

Ananias sat in judgment on Paul for alleged offenses that could cost him his life. But rather than cower before this group (and especially Ananias himself), Paul boldly proclaimed his innocence in a way that no law-keeping Jew could ever hope to do. If Ananias had any conscience left at all,7 he would have been pricked by the words Paul spoke. And so the high priest ordered that Paul be slapped on the mouth.

Paul’s reaction is quick and sharp:

“God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit there judging me according to the law, and in violation of the law you order me to be struck?” (Acts 23:3)

I take Paul’s words in verse 5 at face value, and thus I believe that Paul did not know that Ananias was the high priest. There are a number of reasons why this could have been so, but Luke doesn’t bother to explain, and so neither will I attempt to do so.8 Had Paul known what we know about Ananias, he could have said a great deal more about the hypocrisy of this man. But he restricted his comments to the case at hand. Ananias, as a member of this Council, was sitting in judgment of Paul. He was supposedly seeing to it that the law was upheld. And yet, in contradiction to the law, he had just ordered Paul to be struck in the face. How ironic this is! We just read that the Roman soldiers would not “examine” Paul with lashes because he was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25-29). And now, Ananias would have Paul punished when he was still presumed innocent under Jewish law.9 Roman soldiers (“pagans”) are more meticulous about law-keeping than these Jews – and not mere Jews, but Jews who are sitting on the highest judicial council in the land. They are roughly the equivalent of our Supreme Court justices.

It is interesting to note that Ananias does not rebuke Paul for his harsh words; rather, some of those standing nearby (perhaps not even members of the Council) respond:

“Do you dare insult God’s high priest?” (Acts 23:4)

I wonder if the truth of Paul’s words had not stunned Ananias, at least momentarily. Not only was Paul right about this man’s hypocrisy; Paul’s indictment aptly rebuked Ananias for his conduct during his entire tenure as high priest.

The issue here is not the truth or accuracy of Paul’s response, but its inappropriateness due to the position of the high priest. For one reason or another (which Luke does not include in this account), Paul did not realize that Ananias was the high priest. Thus his words, spoken hastily and in hot anger (it would seem) were inappropriate. Actually, that’s an understatement; by Paul’s acknowledgement, they were contrary to the Old Testament law:

“You must not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people” (Exodus 22:28; cited in part by Paul in Acts 23:5).

While Paul rightly cites Exodus 22:28, we have a higher standard than this by which to judge Paul’s response to Ananias – the example of our Lord Jesus, in very similar circumstances:

19 While this was happening, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus replied, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I always taught in the synagogues and in the temple courts, where all the Jewish people assemble together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said. They know what I said.” 22 When Jesus had said this, one of the high priest’s officers who stood nearby struck him on the face and said, “Is that the way you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus replied, “If I have said something wrong, confirm what is wrong. But if I spoke correctly, why strike me?” (John 18:19-23, emphasis mine)

Paul immediately acknowledged his sin as a transgression of the law,10 so much for getting started on the right foot. Paul’s foot is now in his mouth. To cite an often-used phrase, “This does not bode well.” Paul has definitely gotten off to a very bad start. He has managed to insult and offend the presiding official over his own trial, resulting in a rebuke from some of those standing nearby (perhaps only observers). In light of this, how could Paul possibly get a fair trial before this group? Knowing full well that the Council had a mixture of Sadducees and Pharisees, Paul cried out, identifying himself as a Pharisee:

Then when Paul noticed that part of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, he shouted out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead!” (Acts 23:6)

I am reminded of David’s actions, when he realized that living among the Philistines might not have been such a great idea:

10 So on that day David arose and fled from Saul. He went to King Achish of Gath. 11 The servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one that they sing about when they dance, saying, ‘Saul struck down his thousands, But David his tens of thousands’?” 12 David thought about what they said and was very afraid of King Achish of Gath. 13 He altered his behavior in their presence. Since he was in their power, he pretended to be insane, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting his saliva run down his beard. 14 Achish said to his servants, “Look at this madman! Why did you bring him to me? 15 Do I have a shortage of fools, that you have brought me this man to display his insanity in front of me? Should this man enter my house?” (1 Samuel 21:10-15)

It seems clear that Paul has grasped the fact that there is no chance of a fair trial, and thus his outcry is intended to produce the results that Luke describes. That poor Roman Commander, whom we will learn shortly is named Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:26), keeps suppressing riots and seeking to learn what Paul has done that has caused such strong reaction from other Jews. I’m sure he expected that this trial would finally produce some charge against Paul and some indication of guilt or innocence. I can only imagine the amazement of the commander and his frustration at having to put down a riot, this time in the highest court of Israel.

But let’s not get ahead of the story.

First, let’s consider Paul’s claims. Although they seem to be intended as a disruption I believe they are truthful and accurate.

Paul was a Pharisee – not only was this his background (taught by Gamaliel, etc.), but they shared the same essential beliefs (the resurrection of the dead, and the existence of angels and spirits – verse 8).

The real issue was the gospel, and the resurrection (of Jesus, and of all the dead) was a central theme of the gospel – the apostles were witnesses of the resurrection. This is the real reason why the Jews opposed Paul. (Remember, the Sanhedrin instructed Peter and John not to preach in the name of Jesus, who had been raised from the dead.)

Second, let us consider the response of the Sadducees. They clearly disagreed with both Paul and the Pharisees. They believed Paul was guilty, and they wanted to execute him on the spot, just like Stephen.

Third, let us consider the response of the Pharisees. This, I believe, is most significant. Look at what they have to say about Paul:

There was a great commotion, and some experts in the law from the party of the Pharisees stood up and protested strongly, “We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” (Acts 23:9, emphasis mine)

The Pharisees agree with Paul, insisting that he is innocent. They have not said that Paul is innocent of a specific charge, but rather that no charges should be made. There is no reason for this “trial” in the first place (other than the fact that the commander ordered it).

In my opinion, the most significant statement made by the Pharisees is that Paul may well have received a vision from a spirit or an angel. This statement makes no sense unless it takes Paul’s statement in chapter 22 about his vision (the one that caused such an uproar) seriously. Remember what Paul said there, and the result:

17 When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw the Lord saying to me, ‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 I replied, ‘Lord, they themselves know that I imprisoned and beat those in the various synagogues who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of your witness Stephen was shed, I myself was standing nearby, approving, and guarding the cloaks of those who were killing him.’ 21 Then he said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” 22 The crowd was listening to him until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Away with this man from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live!” 23 While they were screaming and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust in the air (Acts 22:17-23, emphasis mine).

Paul’s account of his vision is what caused such an uproar. In that vision, God spoke to Paul. He instructed Paul to leave Jerusalem quickly because the Jews would not receive his message (the gospel), and thus he was to take the gospel to the Gentiles. To admit that this “message” may have been from God was an amazing concession. This implies that the message could well be true. If so, God was turning from the Jews and sending the gospel to the Gentiles. Can you imagine the impact of this concession? No wonder the Sadducees completely cast all reason and order aside, seeking to kill Paul on the spot.

Not only have the Pharisees been silenced by the resurrection of Jesus and the preaching of the apostles, they seem to have lost all desire to oppose the gospel. Gamaliel, a Pharisee, warned the Sanhedrin against violent opposition to the gospel, lest they might be opposing God (Acts 5:38-39). Now all the Pharisees are standing with Paul and against the Sadducees. How amazing this is!

The commander must now put down yet another riot, all on account of Paul (or so it seemed). He called in the troops and restored order, putting Paul in confinement in the barracks (away from the Sadducees). Paul’s life is spared once again by Roman soldiers. I suspect that Claudius Lysias (for that is the commander’s name – Acts 23:26) intended to give his next move much more thought. But we shall soon see that he will not be granted this luxury.

Paul Has a Visitor
Acts 23:11

The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Have courage, for just as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11).

Consider how Paul must have felt at this time. Against the counsel of his fellow-believers, Paul had pressed on to Rome, where he had met with the church leaders and had embraced their counsel. Doing so had resulted in false charges, a riot, and an attempt to take his life. His efforts to address the crowd by sharing his testimony had not ended well either – another riot, another attempt to kill him. He escaped an “examination” (beating) by claiming his rights as a Roman citizen, but then was taken before the Sanhedrin. While he was supported by the Pharisees, he was not officially declared innocent and released. And, once again, there was a riot and another attempt on his life.

When was this all going to end? Why was his innocence not obvious to all? Why was he not free to go about the ministry he had up to this point? Was he to blame for his circumstances? He had made all the decisions which brought him to this place. Paul must have been discouraged as he sat in confinement, pondering his life. It is at the low point – perhaps the lowest point since he had come to faith in Jesus – that our Lord appeared to him. Allow me to point out several observations regarding this visitation.

(1) This visit is much more intimate than the “vision” of which Paul spoke in chapter 22 of Acts. Look at Paul’s description of this earlier vision (or trance) once again:

17 When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw the Lord saying to me, ‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 I replied, ‘Lord, they themselves know that I imprisoned and beat those in the various synagogues who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of your witness Stephen was shed, I myself was standing nearby, approving, and guarding the cloaks of those who were killing him.’ 21 Then he said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles’” (Acts 22:17-21).

The best way for me to contrast Paul’s “vision,” mentioned in chapter 22, with the appearance of our Lord in chapter 23 may be by turning to this passage in Numbers 12:

1 Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married (for he had married an Ethiopian woman). 2 They said, “Has the Lord only spoken through Moses? Has he not also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard it. 3 (Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than any man on the face of the earth.) 4 The Lord spoke immediately to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam: “The three of you come to the tent of meeting.” So the three of them went. 5 And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent; he then called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. 6 The Lord said, “Hear now my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known to him in a vision; I will speak with him in a dream. 7 My servant Moses is not like this; he is faithful in all my house. 8 With him I will speak face to face, openly, and not in riddles; and he will see the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Numbers 12:1-8)

I conclude from this that Paul’s “vision” in chapter 22 was second class (inferior) when compared to the appearance of our Lord to Paul in chapter 23. The revelation Paul received from his trance was something like watching a video. But in Acts 23:11, we are not told that Paul saw a vision. We are told that our Lord stood at Paul’s side and spoke to him. That is what I would call a first-class encounter with Christ. It is in our times of deepest need that our Lord is most near:

4 Even when I must walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff reassure me (Psalm 23:4).

23 But I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me by your wise advice,
and then you will lead me to a position of honor (Psalm 73:23-24).

18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, emphasis mine).

1 Brotherly love must continue. 2 Do not neglect hospitality, because through it some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those in prison as though you were in prison with them, and those ill-treated as though you too felt their torment. 4 Marriage must be honored among all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge sexually immoral people and adulterers. 5 Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:1-6)

At this low point in Paul’s life (low, from his perspective), our Lord is near to him in a most intimate way.

(2) There is not one word of rebuke from our Lord at a time when we would have expected it. Think of what we might have said to Paul. “Paul, you made a bad decision in coming to Jerusalem, and now you’re suffering the consequences.” “Paul, you certainly lost your temper with Ananias, and look at the trouble you’ve gotten yourself into.” “Paul, you may need to take a class in anger management.” “Paul, you should have kept your mouth shut.”

Instead of a rebuke, Paul receives encouragement. The translators may be right when they render our Lord’s words, “Have courage. . .” Many of the Bible translations render it this way, or something similar to it. But the King James Version and the New King James Version both render it, “Be of good cheer. . . .” The sense of the message is this:

“Cheer up, Paul. Things are not nearly as bad as they appear to be at the moment. You’ve faithfully fulfilled your assignment of proclaiming the gospel in Jerusalem; now you are about to do the same thing in Rome.”

The only person who seems to have done it right (thus far) is the Roman commander, Claudius Lysias. The high priest failed, along with the Sanhedrin, and even Paul. How wonderful it is to know that God’s plans and purposes are certain and secure, based upon His sovereignty, and not upon our perfection.

I believe that our Lord’s visit with Paul and His words of comfort, cheer, and encouragement are the key to understanding the entire chapter. We have seen that our Lord assured Paul that he would bear witness to the gospel in Rome. The remaining verses describe how God worked to bring this to pass, while Paul sat “helplessly” in his confinement.

A Conspiracy Revealed
Acts 23:12-24

12 When morning came, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink anything until they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty of them who formed this conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have bound ourselves with a solemn oath not to partake of anything until we have killed Paul. 15 So now you and the council request the commanding officer to bring him down to you, as if you were going to determine his case by conducting a more thorough inquiry. We are ready to kill him before he comes near this place.” 16 But when the son of Paul’s sister heard about the ambush, he came and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commanding officer, for he has something to report to him.” 18 So the centurion took him and brought him to the commanding officer and said, “The prisoner Paul called me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.” 19 The commanding officer took him by the hand, withdrew privately, and asked, “What is it that you want to report to me?” 20 He replied, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as if they were going to inquire more thoroughly about him. 21 So do not let them persuade you to do this, because more than forty of them are lying in ambush for him. They have bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink anything until they have killed him, and now they are ready, waiting for you to agree to their request.” 22 Then the commanding officer sent the young man away, directing him, “Tell no one that you have reported these things to me.” 23 Then he summoned two of the centurions and said, “Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea along with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen by nine o’clock tonight, 24 and provide mounts for Paul to ride so that he may be brought safely to Felix the governor” (Acts 23:12-24).

Verse 12 begins with an indication of time: “When morning came. . . .” I take it that this was the morning after our Lord had stood with Paul, assuring him that he would continue to bear witness to the gospel, all the way to Rome. In other words, by indicating the time, Luke is informing the reader that what happens in verse 12 through the end of the chapter is the first step in the outworking of God’s promise.

This is not the way I would have expected God to get Paul and the gospel to Rome! More than 40 men formed a conspiracy and bound themselves by oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. How interesting. Paul joined himself with four men by the taking of a vow. Then there are the more than 40 men who bind themselves in an oath and fast until it is fulfilled. Paul’s kind of religion is vastly different than that of these assassins. If Paul cannot be killed in a way that has the appearance of legality, then they will kill him in a way that completely sets aside justice and the law.

It is important to recognize that this conspiracy could not succeed without the full cooperation of the members of the Sanhedrin (almost certainly including the high priest). And so you have something over 40 men who are willing to do the killing, but they can only kill Paul if the Sanhedrin summons him for another hearing. Then, while Paul is being brought to them, the execution squad can do its work. A number of the members of the Sanhedrin (I doubt that those who were Pharisees were a part of this conspiracy) agreed to inform the commander that they needed to question Paul further, so that he would bring him from the place of his confinement to the Sanhedrin. The assassins11 who planned to kill Paul assured these Sanhedrin members that they would kill Paul while he was still some distance away (Acts 23:15). I assume this was to give the impression that the Sanhedrin had nothing to do with this plot.

Here is where things begin to get interesting. Up until now, we have never heard anything about Paul’s family. Suddenly we learn that he had a sister, and that his sister had a son. And it “just so happened” (a secular euphemism for a clear case of divine intervention) that this nephew overheard the plot to kill Paul, his uncle. This nephew was allowed to visit “Uncle Paul” and tell him what he had heard. Paul called for a centurion and asked that he escort the lad to the commander. Once again the commander meets and exceeds what we would expect of him. Like a grandfather, he takes the lad by the hand and leads him aside to learn what he had to report. The lad told the commander what he had overheard. He listened and then sent the boy away, cautioning him not to tell anyone about what he had just done. He quickly summoned two centurions and instructed them to assemble a sizeable force to escort Paul to Caesarea, where he could stand before Felix the governor.

What are the chances of Paul’s nephew overhearing this top secret conspiracy? What are the chances that he could visit Paul and report what he heard? What are the chances that a Roman commander would listen to what this lad said? What are the chances Paul could survive such an elaborate plot? Clearly this was God’s doing, and He was doing it to fulfill His promises and purposes.

Paul Is Sent to Caesarea
Acts 23:25-35

25 He wrote a letter that went like this:

26 Claudius Lysias to His Excellency Governor Felix, greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, when I came up with the detachment and rescued him, because I had learned that he was a Roman citizen. 28 Since I wanted to know what charge they were accusing him of, I brought him down to their council. 29 I found he was accused with reference to controversial questions about their law, but no charge against him deserved death or imprisonment. 30 When I was informed there would be a plot against this man, I sent him to you at once, also ordering his accusers to state their charges against him before you.

31 So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him to Antipatris during the night. 32 The next day they let the horsemen go on with him, and they returned to the barracks. 33 When the horsemen came to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. 34 When the governor had read the letter, he asked what province he was from. When he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive too.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace (Acts 23:25-35).

We don’t know exactly how Luke obtained the information contained in this letter. Divine inspiration sometimes lets us in on information that would not normally be available to us (see, for example, Matthew 9:4-5). But here it is possible that the contents of this letter were read at Paul’s hearing. The letter itself is far from “inspired.” It was written by a Roman commander who, so far as we know, never came to faith in Jesus. Claudius Lysias is absolutely accurate in his assessment of the situation, so far as it concerns Paul’s guilt or innocence. The controversy surrounding Paul was not about Roman laws; it was about differences among the Jews regarding their religion, particularly concerning their law. Paul was not guilty of any crime, and certainly not guilty of anything deserving of death or imprisonment. Like the Pharisees who were members of the Sanhedrin, the commander found Paul “not guilty.” Do these words, written by Claudius Lysias, not sound a great deal like those spoken by Pilate in regard to the charges against Jesus?

13 Then Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. When I examined him before you, I did not find this man guilty of anything you accused him of doing. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, he has done nothing deserving death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him” (Luke 23:13-16, emphasis mine).

This letter is accurate in its assessment of Paul and the charges against him. It is not quite so accurate in regard to the role that Claudius Lysias has played in this drama. The commander has given himself just a bit too much credit. He makes it appear that he rescued Paul from the hands of the Jews because he knew that he was a Roman citizen. We know that, at the time, he assumed Paul might be an Egyptian revolutionary (Acts 21:38). He was not aware that Paul was a Roman citizen until Paul informed him, just before he was about to illegally “examine” him by scourging (Acts 22:24-29). The commander knows how to put himself in a good light, and this letter reveals that. Nevertheless, it is a fair assessment of Paul’s case, from a Roman point of view.

Claudius Lysias had seen how violent Paul’s Jewish adversaries could get, and he was not about to have an innocent man torn to pieces on his watch. And so he assembled an impressive force to serve as Paul’s escorts on his journey from Jerusalem to Caesarea, where he would stand before Felix, procurator of Judea.

The commander did not wish to give the conspirators the opportunity to adjust their plans, and so these 470 soldiers set out from Jerusalem at 9:00 p.m. and marched all through the night. When they reached Antipatris, some 35 miles or so from Jerusalem (and nearly 30 miles from Caesarea, their destination), the infantry of 400 men were released to return to Jerusalem. The 70 mounted soldiers remained with Paul until they reached Caesarea.

In Caesarea, the commander’s letter was delivered to Felix. Having discerned that Paul’s case was in his jurisdiction, Felix agreed to hear Paul’s case when his accusers arrived. Until then, Paul was kept under guard in Herod’s palace. It may not seem like such good news to us, but let us remember the dangers Paul has faced in this chapter (not to mention the earlier chapters of Acts). Paul stood before the Sanhedrin, led by a high priest that Paul had angered and then insulted. Paul’s words had divided the Sanhedrin and, had the Roman commander not called in his troops, Paul would have been torn to pieces by the Sadducees on the Council. Then, while he was in the custody of the Roman army, a plot is conceived to kill Paul. It was a conspiracy between more than 40 Jewish assassins and Paul’s enemies on the Council. It looked like Paul was doomed. And yet God delivered Paul, using Paul’s young nephew and a conscientious Roman commander (assisted by 470 armed soldiers, some of whom were on horseback). As Jesus had told Paul while standing by his side, he was on his way to Rome.

Conclusion

I would like to conclude this message by attempting to view the events of our text from two opposing perspectives. First, I would like to view the more recent events of Paul’s life from the Roman commander’s perspective. To begin with, this would mean that we are trying to make sense of the chaotic life of Paul through the eyes of an unbeliever. As men go, the commander is a good man. He is dedicated to his job, he is kind and attentive to Paul’s nephew, he is disciplined, and he follows the rules. He upholds the law. He is self-controlled, when he could easily vent his anger on Paul, or on his adversaries (or both). He is, in most regards, a better man than Paul’s Jewish adversaries. But, as a friend of mine would say, “He’s lost as a goose.”

To him, the events he has witnessed have been pure chaos. He can make no sense of it at all. He does not grasp the gospel, and thus he will never understand the intensity of the opposition to Paul. From his point of view, this whole thing is a mess, a Jewish mess. He cannot identify the central issue (the gospel), nor does any of this make sense. He cannot and does not see the big picture – what God is doing. He does not see the sovereign hand of God in all this. From his letter to Felix, I would say that Claudius Lysias congratulates himself for any good that has happened.

As Paul has written elsewhere,12 we live in a chaotic world. At the time this lesson is being written, there is a very serious war between Israel and Lebanon. It is but one of many armed conflicts in our world at this moment in time. To the unbelieving eye (that is, the eye of those who have not embraced Jesus as the only way of salvation), the world is a mess, and the best they can hope for is some human remedy. No wonder so many live in despair, without any hope.

Now let us consider the events Luke has recorded from a Christian’s point of view. That is to say, let us view these events as Luke expects us to understand them, assuming that we are believers in the Lord Jesus. The Christian life was never intended to be easy, safe, and comfortable – a continuation of things as they were before our conversion. As our Lord made clear to Paul, he was saved to be a witness to the good news of the gospel, and this involved suffering (Acts 9:15-16). This is not only true for Paul, it is true for all Christians (see Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12). When Paul determined to visit Jerusalem, all along the way, he was informed that trouble awaited him there. We should not be surprised that he was falsely accused; so was our Lord. We should not be surprised that the unbelieving Jews wanted to kill Paul. They did kill Jesus (with the help of the Gentiles), and they killed Stephen.

But what Luke expects us to see in our text is that in spite of great opposition, opposition by those who are powerful and dedicated to their mission, God’s will was done in Paul’s life. It is not enough to say that God’s will was accomplished and His promises were fulfilled in spite of great opposition and human failure. God’s will was accomplished as God used human failure to further His purposes. Our text is a beautiful example of the truth of Romans 8:28:

And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

As I think about this passage, one word in particular comes to mind – HOPE. This passage gives me great hope because it demonstrates God’s sovereignty in such a way that I am greatly encouraged. God’s promises and purposes will be accomplished, in the midst of chaos, confusion, conflict, and human blundering. God finishes the work that He began:

For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

My confidence does not rest on my perfection (thank the Lord), or even on my faithfulness. It is God’s faithfulness that gives me confidence, that assures me that God will accomplish everything He has purposed and promised. Why lose hope, why quit, when you know that God’s purposes cannot and will not fail?

Strangely, I find it encouraging to see that even Paul can fail. In our text, I learn that in the darkest moments of Paul’s life, the Lord is near and encouraging him by assuring him that his purposes and promises will not fail. Paul will testify of Jesus in Rome.

Two texts of Scripture came to my mind as I reflected on the hope that I found from our text. The first passage speaks of God’s grace and compassion toward His children, knowing that we are frail and fallible:

8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful;
he is patient and demonstrates great loyal love.
9 He does not always accuse,
and does not stay angry.
10 He does not deal with us as our sins deserve;
he does not repay us as our misdeeds deserve.
11 For as the skies are high above the earth,
so his loyal love towers over his faithful followers.
12 As far as the eastern horizon is from the west,
so he removes the guilt of our rebellious actions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on his faithful followers.
14 For he knows what we are made of;
he realizes we are made of clay (Psalm 103:8-14).

Do we not see this in our Lord’s gentle dealings with Paul in our text? Have we not experienced it in His tender mercies toward us? What comfort there is for fallible men to know that God deals graciously with His children.

The second text of Scripture that came to mind as I reflected on the hope this passage inspires is found in Romans 15:

For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope (Romans 15:4).

Paul is talking about the Old Testament Scriptures here. He tells us that the whole Old Testament was written to instruct us and to encourage us so that we would have hope. But how can this be? So far as man is concerned, the Old Testament gives us a clear and simple assessment that can be summed up in one word: FAILURE. Even the best of men failed badly. So far as what the Old Testament teaches us about God, we can sum that up in one word: FAITHFUL. Although men fail, God is faithful. That is what we see in our text as well. As I was reading in Nehemiah this week, I came to the ninth chapter. Here Nehemiah confesses his sins and the sins of his people by reviewing Israel’s history, citing case after case where God was faithful in spite of Israel’s failures.

How is the Old Testament an encouragement to the Christian, inspiring hope and endurance? By reminding us that God is faithful when we fail. That is what our text in Acts 23 teaches us as well.

I have a final word to those who have not trusted in Jesus as God’s only provision for the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of living forever in His presence. How foolish it was to resist and oppose the gospel. In the end, it didn’t work. The more men opposed Paul and the gospel, the more it spread. Some who opposed Him, like Paul, were stopped in their tracks and converted to faith in Jesus. Others, like Ananias (ten years later) and Herod (Acts 12) came to a violent end, and then spent eternity in hell. Resisting Christ and His offer of salvation is choosing eternal death (hell) over eternal life (heaven).

16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 18 The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God (John 3:16-18).

I have a final word to those who have not trusted in Jesus as God’s only provision for the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of living forever in His presence. How foolish it was to resist and oppose the gospel. In the end, it didn’t work. The more men opposed the gospel, the more it spread. Some who opposed the gospel were stopped in their tracks and converted to faith in Jesus. Paul is an example of this. Others, like Herod (Acts 12) came to a violent end, and then spent eternity in hell. Resisting Christ and His offer of salvation is choosing eternal death (hell) over eternal life (heaven).


1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

2 Copyright © 2006 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 30 in the Studies in the Book of Acts series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on August 6, 2006. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.

3 I am referring to those who find Paul to have erred when he pressed on to Jerusalem, in spite of warnings to the contrary (see, for example, Acts 21:4, 8-14), and when he acted on the counsel of James and the elders of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 21:18-26).

4 See Acts 23:5.

5 It may be that Ananias’ order was simply for someone standing near Paul to strike him (once) on the mouth. The language also makes it possible to understand that the high priest ordered several to strike Paul, not just one. This is certainly more than a slap on the face. Knowing what we do about Ananias, this would not be surprising.

6 A marginal note in the NASB informs us that Paul’s expression may specifically refer to his “conduct as a citizen.”

7 See 1 Timothy 4:2.

8 Although the commentators seem most interested in this.

9 Once again, I would refer the reader to the words of Nicodemus in Acts 7:50-51.

10 I believe we would all agree that Paul was wrong to say what he said to the high priest, because of his position of authority. As pointed out to me by some of my fellow-students of Scripture, there are other texts which must also be taken into account. We should recall that Jesus spoke very strongly against the Jewish authorities in Matthew 23. True, we are not Jesus, and thus He can do things that we cannot. But Jesus also submitted to the authorities. Then, too, we must consider how Stephen spoke to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7. But in our text, Paul knew in his heart that he had not responded appropriately, given the fact that Ananias was the high priest.

11 From what I have read of Ananias, he was quick to employ assassins to further his ambitions, so entering into a conspiracy with these 40+ assassins was nothing new for him.

12 See Romans 8:18-25.

Related Topics: Spiritual Life