Acts 22:30–23:35 . . .
“God’s Providential Protection”
Because today's passage is a long one, it will be helpful to break it into two segments: witnessing, which has its ups and downs (23:1–11) and God's powerful provisions during times of need (vv. 12–35).
The text of Paul’s story this morning begins by hopefully encouraging every Christian in the ups and downs of witnessing. Even though Paul probably could have handled things better than he did, the Lord graciously appeared to him when he was discouraged and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (v. 11). The lesson is: If we will speak out for Christ — even if we blow it — he'll graciously encourage us and give us further opportunities to speak out for him. After all, God isn't distant, passive, or unconcerned with the daily events in our lives. Rather, as our loving and caring Holy Spirit, he actively governs the daily events of our lives, usually behind the scenes, without robbing us of the duty of making responsible choices.
The story before us illustrates the doctrine taught and shown, here and elsewhere, of God’s providence of protection. The governing verse for not only this but all of the events before Paul reached Rome is v. 11, where the Lord ordered Paul to witness at Rome. God declared his sovereign purpose; may we see it unfold today so we'll learn that when we face trials and opposition in our service for the Lord, we should trust him to protect us by his providence and to work out his sovereign plan for our lives.
Remembering what we reviewed in our last two Hearty Boys summaries about Paul's arrest and speech to the crowd in Jerusalem, when Paul 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 (flogged) until he'd confess. But when Paul informed the Romans that he was a Roman citizen, this so-called “interrogation” was immediately terminated. The commander would have to discover the truth some other way, so he handed Paul over to the Jewish Sanhedrin for trial. That way, he thought, he'd get to the root of this problem. Our lesson takes up as Paul is brought before the Sanhedrin.
Paul, Brought to Trial Before the Sanhedrin (22:30–23:5)
Luke makes it clear that the commander, Claudius Lysias, summoned the Jewish Council — the Sanhedrin — in order to learn what Paul had done to cause a riot. So far, he'd been unsuccessful in learning why the crowds had reacted violently against Paul. No wonder the commander allowed Paul to address the mob. Having summoned Israel’s high court, Claudius probably felt, Let them officially press charges against this guy and try him. Then I'll finally know the truth.
High Priest Ananias reacted strongly to Paul’s claim (v. 2). Paul, as a Christian, could claim to possess a clean conscience before God, due to the saving work of Jesus, which is vastly superior to the sacrificial system of Old Testament law. No good Jew could ever be good enough to claim a clean conscience before God — and Ananias wasn't a good Jew. He sat in judgment on Paul for alleged offenses that could cost him his life. But rather than cower before this group, especially Ananias, 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, he'd have lost himself by Paul's words. So High Priest Ananias ordered that Paul be slapped on the mouth. Paul’s reaction was quick and sharp when he countered, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the Law, yet you yourself violate the Law by commanding that I be struck!"
It's interesting to note that Ananias didn't rebuke Paul for his harsh words; rather, some who stood nearby responded saying, "How dare you insult God’s high priest!” Paul immediately confessed to that charge of insolence (v. 5), but he'd definitely gotten off to a very bad start. He'd managed to insult and offend the presiding official over his own trial, resulting in additional rebuke from some of those standing nearby. In light of this, how could Paul possibly get a fair trial before this group? If he'd had any hope of receiving just treatment, he'd have to be quite shrewd in what he'd say next.
A Dispute Among the Plaintiffs (vv. 6–11)
And shrewd he was! Knowing full well that the Council had been composed of a mixture of Sadducees and Pharisees, Paul cried out, identifying himself as a Pharisee. Likely, Paul had grasped the fact that there was no chance of a fair trial; his outcry was intended to produce the results that Luke detailed. That poor Roman Commander, Claudius Lysias, kept suppressing riots, hoping to learn what Paul had done to have caused such strong reaction from more and more Jews.
We learn in v. 9 that the Pharisees agreed with Paul, insisting that he was innocent. They didn't say that Paul was innocent of a specific charge, but rather that no charges should have been made; there was no reason for a “trial” in the first place. Perhaps the most significant statement made by the Pharisees was that Paul may well have received a vision from a spirit or an angel (v. 9). Indeed! Not only have the Pharisees been silenced, they seem to have lost all desire to oppose the gospel. There they were, standing with Paul, against the Sadducees. How amazing! The commander had to put down yet another riot (v. 10), all on account of Paul (or so it seemed). He called in the troops and restored order, confining him to the barracks, away from the Sadducees. Paul’s life was spared once again by Roman soldiers.
Consider how Paul must have felt at this time. Against the counsel of fellow-believers, Paul had pressed on to Rome, where he'd met with church leaders and embraced their counsel. Doing so had resulted in false charges, a riot, and an attempt to take his life. His efforts to witness to the crowd by sharing his testimony hadn't 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 wasn't officially declared innocent or released.
A Plot to Take Paul’s Life (vv. 12–22)
Justice was certainly too slow for the group of Jews who hated Paul’s guts so much that they falsely accused him of a capital crime. They'd hoped that the Romans would see Paul as the instigator of the riot, flog him severely, then execute him, but it wasn’t turning out as they wanted. While the Jews waited to see what the Romans were going to do, they felt that Paul was slipping through their fingers. So, two mornings after Paul’s hearing by the Sanhedrin, a group of forty Jews conspired and came up with a plan to kill Paul on their own (vv. 12–15).
Since these forty Jews were risking their lives to kill Paul, you can bet that they went to great lengths to keep their conspiracy confidential (vv. 16–22). Only someone outside their secret society could have found out about their plan and told Paul. What's interesting is that the one person who caught wind of their evil plot just happened to be Paul’s nephew. How ironic is that? Up until this point in this story, Luke never told us that Paul had a sister, let alone a nephew. The two play such a significant role in this story, yet Luke doesn’t name them. Once his nephew clued him into the conspiracy, Paul called for one of the centurions, ordering him to take his nephew to the Roman commander (vv. 16–17). Here's another interesting spin to this account: A prisoner couldn’t give orders to an officer, yet Paul did; and without argument or complaint, the centurion immediately obeyed and took the boy to his commanding officer.
For more drama, just wait until you see how the commander responded to the boy. Note: It was no small thing for a Jewish boy to have an opportunity to speak to a Roman military commander. We'd expect him to have been gruff, crude, and annoyed at listening to someone of such low status; yet the text states that he “took the young man by the hand, drew him aside," and asked him, “What is it you want to tell me?” Well, they may as well have rolled out the red carpet, given the "royal treatment" the commander gave the boy.
But wait, things gets even more interesting and unexpected! After Paul’s nephew told the commander about the Jews’ conspiracy to take Paul’s life, we'd expect the boy to quietly slip away and try to stay out of trouble, but he didn't (v. 21). The boy "ordered" the commander: “Don’t give in to them.” Now realize this: It would have been impossible for a young Jewish boy with absolutely no authority to tell the most powerful person in Jerusalem what to do. A private doesn’t give orders to a general. However, as Luke reveals, the hearty boy had in fact commanded the commander!
The commander could have severely punished the boy for what he'd said and the way he said it, but surprisingly the commander virtually thanked the boy, treating him with respect and concern (v. 22) when he dismissed the young man; he even cautioned him by giving him this protective, caring warning: “Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.”
Paul’s Transfer to Caesarea (vv. 23–35)
During the first night of travel, the convoy took Paul all the way to Antipatris along the coast, about thirty-five miles from Jerusalem and twenty-five miles south of their destination: Caesarea. Imagine the discipline and conditioning of troops able to march so far in about nine hours. They were keeping a hearty pace of one mile every fifteen minutes. The remainder of the journey was through Gentile settlements in open country. Since little danger of ambush remained, the foot soldiers returned to Jerusalem, leaving the small force of cavalry to protect Paul. Immediately upon arrival in Caesarea, Paul's escort delivered him to the governor.
As Paul stood before Governor Felix, eager to witness to him, the governor inquired first as to the prisoner's native province to find out whether he had jurisdiction in Paul's case. Paul said he came from Cilicia, the province in southeast Asia Minor where his home city, Tarsus, was located. The empire then was organized in such a way that a citizen of Cilicia could stand in Felix's court. Therefore, Felix set a time for a hearing. He said he'd consider the case as soon as Paul's accusers came down from Jerusalem. Until then, Paul was to be kept in "Herod's judgment hall." The actual word is "praetorium," a Latin word originally signifying the residence of a military commander. In later times, the same word was used for the residence of a regional governor. In Caesarea, the governor's residence, or praetorium, was a palace that Herod the Great had built originally for his own comfort when he visited the city.
Paul likely longed for the opportunity to witness to Felix and others. As we sense well that witnessing to others can be intimidating, let us remember this: If you're prayerful and prepared, you can trust the Holy Spirit to be with you when you witness to others; and he'll help you handle the outcome.
- Q. 1 Might God have had something to do with coordinating all of the unexpected elements involved in this passage's unbelievable drama?
- Q. 2 Given v. 11, how would you feel if you were Paul and you heard this news from your nephew (vv. 12–15)?
New International Version (NIV) [View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapters 22–23.]
† Watch this "Visual Bible" video clip: Acts 22:18–24:12, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.
Paul Before the Sanhedrin
30The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.
23 1Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” 2At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. 3Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”
4Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!”
5Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.'”
6Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” 7When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8(The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)
9There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.
11The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
The Plot to Kill Paul
12The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13More than forty men were involved in this plot. 14They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.”
16But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.
17Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” 18So he took him to the commander.
The centurion said, “Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.”
19The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?”
20He said: “Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. 21Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.”
22The commander dismissed the young man with this warning: “Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.”
Paul Transferred to Caesarea
23Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”
25He wrote a letter as follows:
To His Excellency, Governor Felix:
27This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. 28I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. 29 I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. 30When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.
31So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. 32The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. 33When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. 34The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, 35he said, “I will hear your case when your accusers get here.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.