Acts Lesson Fifty-five

Acts Lesson Fifty-five: Acts 27:39-28:10 – Shipwrecked on Malta

39 When daylight came, they did not recognize the land but sighted a bay with a beach. They planned to run the ship ashore if they could. 40 After casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and headed for the beach. 41 But they struck a sandbar and ran the ship aground. The bow jammed fast and remained immovable, while the stern began to break up by the pounding of the waves. 

42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners so that no one could swim away and escape. 43 But the centurion kept them from carrying out their plan because he wanted to save Paul, so he ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to follow, some on planks and some on debris from the ship. In this way, everyone safely reached the shore. 

28 Once ashore, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The local people  showed us extraordinary kindness, for they lit a fire and took us all in, since it was raining and cold. As Paul gathered a bundle of brushwood and put it on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself to his hand. When the local people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man is probably a murderer, and though he has escaped the sea, Justice does not allow him to live!” However, he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. They expected that he would swell up or suddenly drop dead. But after they waited a long time and saw nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. 

        Now in the area around that place was an estate belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us hospitably for three days. Publius’s father was in bed suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went to him, and praying and laying his hands on him, he healed him. After this, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 So they heaped many honors on us, and when we sailed, they gave us what we needed. (HCSB)

I’ll be splitting this lesson into two parts.

  • The shipwreck – verses 27:39-44.
  • Their time on Malta – verses 28:1-10.

The Shipwreck

As the sun comes up on the people aboard the ship, they come to the conclusion they didn’t know where they were. However, they did see a beach that offered the opportunity to sail the ship, so they hoped, onto land after their two-plus-week adventure of riding out a storm. Let’s take a look at this section.

  • The best way to get everyone to shore and assess the condition of the ship was to run it aground on the sand of the beach.
  • Since they now intended to sail the ship onto the beach, they no longer needed the anchors to hold them in place. The crew cut the rope securing the anchors to the ship.
    • A logical question would be, why didn’t they raise the anchors instead of cutting the rope?
    • It’s possible they knew the ship was beyond repair, and there was no need to keep them.
    • It could have been more dangerous to try and raise the anchors, either one at a time or all at once, under the current sea conditions.
  • The rudders of ancient ships were large paddles. During a storm, they would be raised and tied down on the deck of the ship. Now, it was necessary to lower the rudders and try and steer the ship onto the beach.
  • The foresail was in the front of the ship and was often a primary means of guiding ships as they sailed.
  • Their plan was going well.
    • They were moving again.
    • They were headed towards the beach, their intended destination.
  • Then, they hit a sandbar, and further forward progress became impossible.
  • Although Luke doesn’t specify, it would appear from the context of the passage, both this one and the preceding lesson, that the ship was now in an area where the waves were breaking as they neared the shored. 
    • The resulting waves crashing on the back of the ship were steadily breaking up the rear of the ship.
    • One gallon of water weighs 8.3 pounds.
    • It is easy to estimate that each wave would have hundreds of gallons of water crashing against the ship. This would translate to thousands of pounds of force repeatedly hitting the ship, which wasn’t moving.
  • It became apparent to those on the ship they wouldn’t be able to stay onboard, and if they didn’t get off quickly, they were in danger of being injured or killed as the ship continued to break apart.
  • The soldiers then decided to kill the prisoners before getting off the ship was necessary. 
    • Roman law held guards personally responsible for those placed in their charge.
    • Guards who allowed prisoners to escape could be executed in these cases.
  • However, Julius stopped the soldiers from killing the prisoners because he wanted to preserve Paul’s life. Let’s look at some components of this truth.
    • We see another example of a Roman official who intervened to save Paul’s life.
    • It is evident that Paul’s presence on the ship was responsible for the preservation of the others on the ship, specifically the prisoners.
  • With the skiff now gone, the only way to shore was either by swimming or holding onto pieces of the ship.
    • Those who could swim were ordered to go first.
    • The rest made it to shore by holding onto floating pieces of the ship.
  • Luke then reiterates that everyone on board made it safely to shore.
  • From Acts 27:23 on, it is clear Paul’s presence on the ship and God’s protection of Paul were responsible for the deliverance of all 276 people on the ship.
  • In an interesting reversal of fortunes where many ancient shipwrecks were attributed to one person on board the ship, here the opposite occurred. Paul had advised against sailing, and if they had listened to him, they would not have experienced the storm. It was Paul’s presence that was the key to the deliverance of all on board.

Their Time on Malta

I will split this section into two parts.

  • Recovering from the storm – verses 1-6.
  • Ministry in Malta – verses 7-10.

Remembering back to Acts 27:39, all the people aboard the ship had no idea where they were. Even the seasoned sailors were now in a new location. For us today, exploring and visiting new places can be quite exciting; however, in the ancient world, that was not always the case. Sometimes those new locations didn’t want visitors, and the situation could instantly turn violent. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, as those aboard the ship all make it to land.

  • They found out they were on Malta. Luke doesn’t tell us whether or not anyone on board previously knew of Malta, but that isn’t relevant for the events that followed.
  • Although Malta wasn’t on their original path, it did offer a relatively easy journey to Rome.
  • From the actions of the residents of Malta, they may have become accustomed to shipwrecks along their shore.
    • They treated passengers with kindness.
    • They lit a fire to warm them and help them to dry.
    • It’s possible they also provided some type of shelter to protect them from the rain.
  • Paul, never afraid of hard work, assisted in the gathering of firewood. However, in gathering the firewood, Paul brought along an unwanted visitor.
    • Because of the cold and damp conditions, the cold-blooded snake was in a semi-hibernating state.
    • Whether the snake was directly in the fire or close, the heat revived the reptile, and as Paul placed the firewood, the snake bites and locked onto Paul’s hand.
    • The Greek term Luke uses to denote the snake is normally used to identify a viper. 
    • However, this presents a problem. Modern-day Malta has no poisonous snakes. 
      • It’s entirely possible in the intervening 2,000 years that all poisonous snakes have been eradicated from Malta.
      • It’s also possible the snake wasn’t a viper but a harmless species of snake.
  • Although there is doubt from the text on whether or not the snake was a viper, the natives of Malta had no such reservation. They viewed the snake as venomous and expected Paul to perish.
    • The residents of Malta obviously knew their island better than we do.
    • Their reaction to the situation is the best clue as to how we should interpret the classification of the serpent.
  • From the perspective of the residents and the fact everyone had survived a shipwreck, they were convinced that Paul was receiving divine judgment.
    • Paul may have survived the shipwreck, but he wouldn’t survive the snake bite.
    • Their view reflected a common ancient concept.
      • The Romans told a story of a prisoner who escaped a shipwreck but died from a snake bite while recovering on the beach.
      • Jewish tradition had a story of a murderer who was killed by a viper.
    • But Paul was no criminal, and he shook the snake off of his hand and continued with what he was doing, showing no adverse effects from the snake bite.
  • As the residents of the island realized Paul was suffering no ill effects from the bite, they changed their view of Paul.
    • Paul was no longer a criminal receiving punishment for his actions.
    • Instead, in their minds, Paul was a god!
  • The reader might expect Luke to expound upon this incident and provide details on how the islanders reacted when they decided he was a god and how Paul handled their reaction.
  • But that wasn’t the point for Luke in writing this section. Luke was emphasizing the fact Paul was completely under the protection  of God.
    • Paul was delivered from a storm at sea.
    • Paul didn’t die after being bitten by a viper.
    • In both cases, Paul was the beneficiary of miracles.
    • Throughout Acts, miracles are associated with service to God. The miracles provide the opportunity for sharing the Gospel. 
    • Although Luke doesn’t give any evidence that Paul shared the Gospel while on Malta, it would seem to be entirely out of character if he didn’t seize the opportunity to talk about Jesus with the residents of the island. 

Luke now switches scenes from the initial landing on the beach to Paul’s healing ministry on Malta. What Luke doesn’t specify is how much time elapses between the initial landing on the beach and what transpires beginning in verse seven. We could make an educated guess based on the normal sailing window in the Mediterranean, and it was around late September to early October when they encountered the storm. Include the accepted norm of sailing beginning again in February and the likelihood they would have started their trip as soon as it was possible, then anywhere from one to three weeks could have transpired between their initial arrival on Malta and the healing ministry beginning. Let’s look at these four verses in detail.

  • Publius is identified as the leading man on the island. Researchers have discovered inscriptions on Malta with the same name and title.
  • Luke says that Publius welcomed “us” and showed hospitality for three days.
  • Who are the “us” Luke is referring to?
    • It’s possible it includes all 276 people aboard the ship. However, that is unlikely given the fact that this is a substantial number of people to stay in one place, even if it was the residence of the leading official of the island.
    • It makes more sense Luke is referring to the small Christian delegation.
  • Publius’s father was sick with fever and dysentery. 
    • It may have also included gastric fever caused by a microbe in goat’s milk.
    • At one time, it was so common it was referred to as Malta fever.
  • Paul went to the sick man and laid hands on him while praying.
    • This is the only time in Acts where praying and laying on of hands occurs together in a healing.
      • They occur together in commissioning narratives.
      • Paul was healed of his blindness when Ananias laid hands on him, but prayer wasn’t mentioned.
      • The closest parallel is when Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law in Luke 4:38f.
    • The news of the official’s father being healed spread like wildfire across the island.
    • Luke says the rest of those on the island who were sick came to Paul and were healed.
    • When it came time for everyone to continue the journey to Rome, the residents of Malta honored them and provided provisions for the remainder of their journey.
    • Luke’s emphasis on Maltese hospitality bears a closer look.
      • They welcomed the shipwrecked party with “extraordinary kindness.”
      • Publius welcomed them and showed hospitality.
      • The travelers were honored and given provisions as they readied to depart for Rome.
      • The hospital the Maltese extended reminds us of the hospitality the Sidonians showed in Acts 27:3.
      • Perhaps Luke was showing that simple pagan “barbarians” could extend hospitality to others and possessed the potential to become Christians.
      • Their hospitality would be a stark contrast to the reception Paul would receive from the Jews in Rome.

Applications

  • As we go through life, there will often be times when things don’t go according to plan. In this passage, it was the ship striking the sandbar and breaking apart. We shouldn’t be surprised when we hit “sandbars” in our lives. When that happens, we shouldn’t panic or lose sight of the end goal. Instead, make adjustments as necessary and continue forward with whatever God has for you to do.
  • Expect hospitality and friendship in unlikely places. It may not happen often, but God will present opportunities when we least expect it for us to be blessed and to bless others. Friendship and encounters with others should never be a one-way street unless it is us, blessing unbelievers. 
  • Use your talents and spiritual gifts whenever the opportunity arises. Too often, we try to live our “ministry” in a box instead of using it freely. For example, a former pastor of mine related a story about a very famous “healing” minister who was traveling through the area and charging fees to attend a healing conference in an auditorium. The former pastor said if this person really had a gift of healing, he should be visiting the hospitals free of charge instead of selling tickets and making a hefty “appearance” fee.  

Acts Lesson Fifty-four

Acts Lesson Fifty-four: Acts 27:1-38 – Sailing for Rome

When it was decided that we were to sail to Italy, they handed over Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion named Julius, of the Imperial Regiment. So when we had boarded a ship of Adramyttium, we put to sea, intending to sail to ports along the coast of Asia. Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, was with us.  The next day we put in at Sidon, and Julius treated Paul kindly and allowed him to go to his friends to receive their care. When we had put out to sea from there, we sailed along the northern coast of Cyprus because the winds were against us. After sailing through the open sea off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we reached Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. Sailing slowly for many days, we came with difficulty as far as Cnidus. Since the wind did not allow us to approach it, we sailed along the south side of Crete off Salmone. With yet more difficulty we sailed along the coast and came to a place called Fair Havens near the city of Lasea. 

By now much time had passed, and the voyage was already dangerous. Since the Fast was already over, Paul gave his advice 10 and told them, “Men, I can see that this voyage is headed toward damage and heavy loss, not only of the cargo and the ship but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid attention to the captain and the owner of the ship rather than to what Paul said. 12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided to set sail from there, hoping somehow to reach Phoenix, a harbor on Crete open to the southwest and northwest, and to winter there. 

13 When a gentle south wind sprang up, they thought they had achieved their purpose. They weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14 But not long afterward, a fierce wind called the “northeaster” rushed down from the island. 15 Since the ship was caught and was unable to head into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 After running under the shelter of a little island called Cauda, we were barely able to get control of the skiff. 17 After hoisting it up, they used ropes and tackle and girded the ship. Then, fearing they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the drift-anchor, and in this way they were driven along. 18 Because we were being severely battered by the storm, they began to jettison the cargo the next day. 19 On the third day, they threw the ship’s gear overboard with their own hands. 

20 For many days neither sun nor stars appeared, and the severe storm kept raging. Finally all hope that we would be saved was disappearing. 21 Since many were going without food, Paul stood up among them and said, “You men should have followed my advice not to sail from Crete and sustain this damage and loss. 22 Now I urge you to take courage, because there will be no loss of any of your lives, but only of the ship. 23 For this night an angel of the God I belong to and serve stood by me, 24 and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul. You must stand before Caesar. And, look! God has graciously given you all those who are sailing with you.’ 25 Therefore, take courage, men, because I believe God that it will be just the way it was told to me. 26 However, we must run aground on a certain island.” 

27 When the fourteenth night came, we were drifting in the Adriatic Sea, and in the middle of the night the sailors thought they were approaching land. 28 They took a sounding and found it to be 120 feet deep; when they had sailed a little farther and sounded again, they found it to be 90 feet deep. 29 Then, fearing we might run aground in some rocky place, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight to come. 

30 Some sailors tried to escape from the ship; they had let down the skiff into the sea, pretending that they were going to put out anchors from the bow. 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut the ropes holding the skiff and let it drop away. 

33 When it was about daylight, Paul urged them all to take food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been waiting and going without food, having eaten nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For this has to do with your survival, since none of you will lose a hair from your head.” 35 After he said these things and had taken some bread, he gave thanks to God in the presence of all of them, and when he broke it, he began to eat. 36 They all became encouraged and took food themselves. 37 In all there were 276 of us on the ship. 38 When they had eaten enough, they began to lighten the ship by throwing the grain overboard into the sea. (HCSB)

I will split this lesson into two parts.

  • Smooth sailing – verses 27:1-8.
  • Stormy seas – verses 27:9-38.

Smooth Sailing

As the journey begins, we should note that Luke is in the travel party since he used the term “we” were to sail to Italy. There were sections in Acts where Luke was separate from Paul, but that is not the case as the journey begins. Let’s take a closer look at this section.

  • Two people are identified in the party besides Paul.
    • Luke may have been allowed to accompany Paul as his personal physician.
    • Aristarchus was most likely Paul’s personal attendant.
  • In addition to Paul, there were other prisoners on the ship.
    • A closer look at the original Greek shows the meaning to be “others of a different kind.”
    • These other prisoners were going to Rome to be executed and not to stand trial.
  • The prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius.
    • Being a member of the imperial regiment meant Julius was part of the auxiliary forces comprised of the local population.
    • Julius could also have been a special officer representing the emperor and not attached to a specific military unit.
  • The group boarded a ship from Adramyttium.
    • Adramyttium was the seaport of Mysia, southeast of Troas.
    • The ship was most likely a coastal vessel. These would travel along the short and stop at various ports along the journey.
    • It would have been unusual to find a ship sailing directly to Rome from Caesarea.
    • Julius probably took the first available ship with the intention of transferring to another ship later in the journey.
    • The ports along the southern coast of Asia (modern-day Turkey) would offer many chances of finding a ship bound for Rome.
  • The first stop was at Sidon, approximately seventy miles north.
    • Most likely, the ship needed to load or unload cargo there.
    • Paul was also allowed to visit Christian brothers and sisters in the city.
    • The establishment of a church in the city may be linked to early mission work mentioned in Acts 11:19.
    • Receiving “their care” was a reference to Paul receiving food and supplies for the journey since passengers were expected to provide for themselves.
  • Julius extended kindness to Paul by allowing him to visit these Christians.
    • It is apparent Paul garnered a high level of trust and esteem from the centurion.
    • It also testifies to the generous spirit of Julius.
    • Once again, Luke portrays Roman military leaders in a positive light.
  • Once the ship left Sidon, it sailed along the northern coast of Cyprus, using the island to block unfavorable winds. 
  • The ship then headed north from Cyprus to sail along the southern coast of Asia, skirting the regions of Cilicia and Pamphylia before reaching the port Myra located in Lycia.
    • Lycia was the southernmost portion of Asia.
    • Myra was the main port for ships that carried supplies throughout the Roman empire.
      • Grain from Egypt passed through the port.
      • It was the main hub for ships sailing between Alexandria and Rome.
      • Grain ships were often quite large, often in excess of one thousand tons and over one hundred feet in length.
  • From the context later in the chapter, it is evident the group now boarded a grain ship headed to Rome.
  • It was customary for grain ships to sail to the north of Crete as they made their way to Rome.
  • The distance from Myra to Cnidus is approximately 130 miles and shouldn’t have taken “many days.” 
  • However, the winds were not cooperating, and as the ship approached Cnidus, located in modern-day southwest Turkey, they needed to divert course and sail south of Crete.
  • Instead of sailing north of Crete and off the southern coast of Greece, the ship is now pushed far off course.
  • The trip was getting more arduous, and with difficulty, the ship made its way to Fair Havens.
  • It was time for the group to take stock of the situation and decide how they should proceed.

Stormy Seas

Up to this point, Luke had given precise details regarding the route of travel. Now, he provides a fairly precise clue as to the time of year. Luke lets us know the “Fast” was already over. He is referring to the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur since these events took place in either a.d. 59 or 60, which would place it towards the end of September or the beginning of October. The time the lost from Myra to Fair Havens had resulted in a delay where navigation on the Mediterranean was problematic. It was well known that navigation in this part of the Mediterranean was dangerous after September 14th and impossible after November 11th, and didn’t resume until the beginning of February. Let’s consider some points as they discuss whether to continue or not.

  • Paul may not have been a ship’s captain, but he was familiar with the Mediterranean and would likely know they were now entering a time of the year where travel would be extremely dangerous.
  • They had already encountered bad winds, which had blown them off course and delayed them.
  • The port at Fair Havens was not considered a suitable place to spend the winter.
    • It was open on a 180-degree arc and faced to the east.
    • The dangerous winter winds were generally from the east and northeast.
  • The ship’s crew knew of another port, Phoenix, a short distance to the west, where the opening of the port faced northwest and southwest, creating a better shelter from the winds.
  • Whether or not Paul’s words about the dangers of continuing the journey were prophetic, we don’t know for certain.
  • Since this was likely an imperial grain ship, the centurion would make the final decision.
  • After what was most certainly a lively debate about the pros and cons, the centurion decided to listen to the captain’s advice and continue the journey.

They left the relative safety of the harbor and began what they thought would be a short journey along the southern coast of Crete to Phoenix. However, not long after leaving Fair Havens, the winds again became their enemy. Let’s now take a closer look as the storm begins to rage.

  • As the ship left Fair Havens, a gentle southerly wind began to blow, and the sailors felt this was a positive sign they could make it safely to Phoenix.
  • The total distance from Fair Havens to Phoenix was about 35 miles in total.
    • They would travel six miles west and round Cape Matala.
    • The route would proceed north and then due west again.
  • With a favorable wind, this should have only taken a few hours.
  • The topography of Crete now likely came into play.
    • Crete has numerous mountains, some rising 7,000 feet above the sea.
    • Anyone who has ever lived around mountains knows it is not unusual to get powerful downslope winds.
  • The Greek word Luke uses to describe the “fierce” wind is typhonikos
    • In both Greek and English, the word describes a whirling, cyclonic wind formed by opposing air masses.
    • Luke called it the “northeaster,” the deadly winter storm of the Mediterranean.
  • Ships of that day were not built to withstand such storms. Instead of trying to fight against the wind, they would have shortened the sails and attempted to make progress the best they could towards Phoenix.
  • However, the ship was pushed about 25 miles southwest past an island called Cauda.
  • As the ship passed along the southern coast, they were offered a brief respite from the wind and were able to secure the ship as best they could.
    • The first step was to pull in the lifeboat. This was completed with some difficulty and likely required the assistance of some of the passengers since Luke uses the term “we.”
    • Then they used rope or cables passed under the ship to help reinforce the hull.
    • Finally, they lowered the drift anchor to slow their progress.
  • They were fearful of running aground on Syrtis.
    • Syrtis was a series of sand bars and shoals located off the North African coast.
    • They were located about 400 miles south of Cauda.
    • They were a well-known menace to shipping, and the sailors were taking no chances about the ship running aground.
  • In a storm of this magnitude, there wasn’t much a 1st-century ship could do.
    • They likely had lowered the sails.
    • Those on board were spectators as the storm drove the ship along.
  • It’s reasonable to conclude the ship was developing leaks as they began to throw the cargo overboard.
    • They may have thrown some of the grain overboard, but we know from later in this passage they didn’t throw all of it overboard.
    • Non-essential gear would also have been some of the first to go.
    • The crew was playing a balancing act; how much to discard to keep the ship afloat without throwing too much away.
  • The crew had now lightened the load to the point that the ship could stay afloat. For days those on the ship didn’t see the sun or the stars, only an ominous gloom as the storm continued to rage.
  • With no compass, the crew could only guess their location, and they were on a downward spiral of losing hope of being saved.
  • Luke may have intended a hidden meaning by the use of the phrase “being saved.”
    • He could have meant their physical salvation.
    • He could have meant their spiritual salvation.
      • For the Christians on board, they were already saved in a spiritual sense.
      • The same couldn’t be said for the pagans.
      • Luke doesn’t say whether or not Paul had preached to those on board during the storm, but it would seem, given the circumstances, that Paul didn’t miss an opportunity to share the Gospel.
  • As we read the account of this storm, we are reminded of the storm during the voyage of Jonah.
    • In the case of Jonah, the crew also threw cargo and equipment overboard.
    • They feared for their life.
    • Ultimately, the ship and crew were delivered.
    • However, there is a significant difference between the two events.
      • Jonah’s presence is the reason for the storm, and when he was thrown overboard, the storm ceased, and deliverance was ensured.
      • In the events in Acts, it’s Paul’s presence that leads to the deliverance of the ship and all those on board.
  • In the depths of their despair, Paul comes and speaks a message of encouragement.
    • Paul begins with an “I told you so” moment. It would be easy to misunderstand and think Paul was chastising them. 
    • Paul’s previous message was prophetic. He warned of the danger, was ignored, and it had come to pass.
    • In the same way, Paul’s current message, that everyone on board would be saved, was prophetic. Paul had been correct with his first message. Now, they needed to trust that he was speaking the truth once again.
    • The message was given by an angel to Paul during the night. The angel’s message contained two promises.
      • Paul would appear before Caesar. This was God’s plan, and it wouldn’t fail.
      • All those on the ship would be delivered from the storm.
      • Once again, unmerited grace will deliver people when all seems lost.
    • The situation now changes from one of despair to one of hope.
  • The deliverance does come with one caveat; the ship would have to run aground on an island. The implication is the ship would be lost in the process of its deliverance.
  • It was now the fourteenth day since the ship had been driven by the storm across the Adriatic Sea. The location needs some clarification. 
    • In modern times we understand the Adriatic Sea to refer to the body of water between Yugoslavia and eastern Italy. However, ancient writers referred to it as the Gulf of Adria.
    • In ancient times the Adriatic Sea was understood to mean the north-central Mediterranean between Greece and Italy and extending south to Crete and Malta.
  • The ship had been blown across 475 miles from Cauda to Malta.
  • On the northeastern tip of Malta, there is a feature known as Point Koura. The breakers against Point Koura can be heard for miles. It may have been the sound of these breakers that alerted the crew to approaching land.
  • The crew then began to take soundings. With the depth decreasing on two successive soundings, the crew realized the ship was rapidly approaching shore, with the inherent danger of hitting the rocks and breaking apart.
  • To avoid that possibility, the crew dropped four anchors to slow the ship and keep the bow pointed towards the coast. This was a common practice among ancient seafarers.
  • In a scene reminiscent of the shipwreck of Odysseus, the pagan sailors now prayed to their “gods” for daylight and deliverance. 
  • Their prayers would be ultimately answered, not by their “gods” but by Paul’s God.
  • However, before their final deliverance occurred, there was still some drama to unfold.
  • Some of the sailors demonstrated a lack of faith in their future deliverance and decided to take matters into their own hands.
  • Under the pretense of putting anchors out from the bow of the ship, which would help to stabilize it and was not an unusual practice, some of the sailors attempted to use the lifeboat and escape to shore.
  • Paul, knowing their intentions, informed the centurion that unless everyone stayed aboard, they wouldn’t be saved.
  • Obviously, Paul’s advice now went unquestioned as the soldiers immediately cut the ropes holding the lifeboat before anyone could get in.
  • The sun now began to rise on their day of deliverance.
  • Paul, knowing they would soon be headed to land, urges everyone to eat. Whether those on board had not eaten during the fourteen days or they had eaten very little because of the storm. Eating to regain energy was now essential.
  • Paul also tells them eating is connected with their deliverance, and none of them will suffer loss as they make their way from the ship to shore.
  • Paul then conducts what some have mistakenly interpreted as a form of the Lord’s Supper.
    • The breaking of bread and giving thanks was a traditional Jewish form of blessing a meal.
    • Paul was practicing this custom in the presence of a predominately pagan group.
    • Luke often depicted Jesus in meal scenes.
    • The implication is that Paul and other Christians are reminded of how Jesus broke bread with his disciples and continues to do so, as well as continuing to be present in the lives of believers.
    • The meal would have a meaning to the Christians on the ship that the pagans didn’t share. The Lord was always present with His people. The meal was more than sustenance; it was a sign of Jesus’ presence in their deliverance.
  • Paul’s confidence rubbed off on his shipmates as they all ate.
  • One might wonder why Luke would include the exact number aboard the ship, 276. The most plausible reason is to show this was a significant event, a host of people were saved from certain death at sea, and no one suffered any harm.
  • After everyone had eaten enough, they made final preparations to beach the ship. This involved throwing the remaining cargo overboard to lighten the ship and allow it to get closer to the shore before running aground.

Applications

  • Acting in a trustworthy and courteous manner will often lead to better treatment and acceptance from others, even if the two parties are on opposite sides of a dispute. Paul’s conduct had been above reproach, and the Roman soldiers treated him with respect and some measure of freedom. As we face struggles and persecution, we would do well to remember this. Too often, our present world would say we need to fight and be aggressive as we confront opposition. Except in confronting the Sanhedrin’s lies, Paul’s conduct had always been the pinnacle of cordiality.
  • Even if our message isn’t accepted, we should still speak the truth in whatever situation we find ourselves in. If our message has been rejected in the past, it shouldn’t prevent us from speaking the truth in the future. It’s easy to become discouraged and withdraw if we are consistently ignored or rejected. However, we need to continue to speak the truth no matter how often we are rejected.
  • If we find ourselves in the middle of a storm, do we act in a calm and faithful manner, or do we panic and look for the nearest exit? Sometimes the exit will lead us into bigger trouble. Go to God in prayer and surrender your situation to Him.
  • Give thanks even during your storms. Sometimes the storms come to test our faith. Sometimes the storms are to shape us for future service. We never know when God is using trials to mold us into what He desires. We are created to worship and serve God, not ourselves. 

Acts Lesson Fifty-three

Acts Lesson Fifty-three: Acts 25:23-26:32 – Paul Before Agrippa

23 So the next day, Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the auditorium with the commanders and prominent men of the city. When Festus gave the command, Paul was brought in. 24 Then Festus said: “King Agrippa and all men present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish community has appealed to me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he should not live any longer. 25 Now I realized that he had not done anything deserving of death, but when he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. 26 I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore, I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after this examination is over, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems unreasonable to me to send a prisoner and not to indicate the charges against him.”

26 Agrippa said to Paul, “It is permitted for you to speak for yourself.” 

Then Paul stretched out his hand and began his defense: “I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that today I am going to make a defense before you about everything I am accused of by the Jews, especially since you are an expert in all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently. 

“All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem. They had previously known me for quite some time, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand on trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers, the promise our 12 tribes hope to attain as they earnestly serve Him night and day. King Agrippa, I am being accused by the Jews because of this hope. Why is it considered incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? In fact, I myself supposed it was necessary to do many things in opposition to the name of Jesus the Nazarene. 10 I actually did this in Jerusalem, and I locked up many of the saints in prison, since I had received authority for that from the chief priests. When they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 In all the synagogues I often tried to make them blaspheme by punishing them. I even pursued them to foreign cities since I was greatly enraged at them. 

12 “I was traveling to Damascus under these circumstances with authority and a commission from the chief priests. 13 King Agrippa, while on the road at midday, I saw a light from heaven brighter than the sun, shining around me and those traveling with me. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice speaking to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’  

15 “Then I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ 

“And the Lord replied: ‘I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet. For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness of what you have seen and of what I will reveal to you. 17 I will rescue you from the people and from the Gentiles. I now send you to them 18 to open their eyes so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that by faith in Me they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified.’  

19 “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. 20 Instead, I preached to those in Damascus first, and to those in Jerusalem and in all the region of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple complex and were trying to kill me. 22 To this very day, I have obtained help that comes from God, and I stand and testify to both small and great, saying nothing else than what the prophets and Moses said would take place — 23 that the Messiah must suffer, and that as the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light to our people and to the Gentiles.” 

24 As he was making his defense this way, Festus exclaimed in a loud voice, “You’re out of your mind, Paul! Too much study is driving you mad!” 

25 But Paul replied, “I’m not out of my mind, most excellent Festus. On the contrary, I’m speaking words of truth and good judgment. 26 For the king knows about these matters. It is to him I am actually speaking boldly. For I am convinced that none of these things escapes his notice, since this was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe.” 

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?” 

29 “I wish before God,” replied Paul, “that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am—except for these chains.” 

30 So the king, the governor, Bernice, and those sitting with them got up, 31 and when they had left they talked with each other and said, “This man is doing nothing that deserves death or chains.” 

32 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (HCSB)

I’ll split this lesson into three parts, with the last two being further divided.

  • Paul’s introduction to King Agrippa – 25:23-27.
  • Paul’s testimony – 26:1-23.
    • Introduction – 26:1-3.
    • Paul’s faithfulness to the Jewish hope – 26:4-8.
    • Paul’s persecution of Christ – 26:9-11.
    • Paul’s commission from Christ – 26:12-18.
    • Paul’s witness for Christ – 26:19-23.
  • The outcome – 26:24-32
    • Paul’s appeal for conversion – 26:24-29.
    • Paul headed to Rome – 26:30-32.

Paul’s Introduction to King Agrippa

Before diving into this passage, let’s take a moment to consider the first verse in this passage. One Jewish man who had been in confinement under false charges for over two years was drawing quite a bit of attention from the upper circles of society. Consider those who were gathered for this meeting.

  • King Agrippa and Bernice.
  • Festus.
  • Key military men.
  • Officers of the Roman government.
  • Likely some of the Jews.
  • Since Paul had been under house arrest for two years, it’s likely the vast majority of those present were aware of some of the details of the case.
  • Jesus had promised Paul he would witness before “Gentiles and kings” in Acts 9:15. It was now coming to pass.

Let’s look at Festus’ introduction of Paul to King Agrippa.

  • Festus was exaggerating when he said that the whole Jewish community appealed to him.
    • It made Festus appear important in the eyes of the Jews.
    • It also would make the Jews who were present feel better about the situation.
  • Festus declares that Paul is innocent of any wrongdoing, at least in regard to Roman law.
  • However, since Paul had appealed to Caesar, Festus was now obligated to send him.
  • Festus is implying that he is absolved of any consequences regarding Paul.
  • Paul is now responsible for the whole situation because he appealed to Caesar.
  • Festus now gives the agenda for the meeting. He needed something to put in the report that would go to the emperor regarding Paul.
  • But Festus had no specific charges against Paul. 
  • Festus needed Agrippa’s background and knowledge of Jewish religious matters to assist him in crafting a message to the emperor. It would make no sense to send Paul to Rome without any specific charge. 
    • These reports were not optional.
    • It could be fatal to Festus’ career if he failed to support his decision to send Paul to the emperor.
    • There’s a bit of irony in Festus’ statement in verse 27. The whole situation was unreasonable, and Paul should have been set free.

Paul’s Testimony

Introduction – 26:1-3

The first three verses are the formal introduction to Paul’s speech. The king now formally gives permission for Paul to address the assembly. Paul continues the solemn atmosphere set by the circumstances and audience who had gathered.

  • Paul begins his address by stretching out his arm to begin his defense.
    • This was not a gesture intended to quiet the assembly. Such a move would have been offensive to the king.
    • Instead, it was the typical outstretched arm of a Greek philosopher presenting his argument.
  • Of all the speeches recorded in Acts, this one is presented in the most elevated and cultured language.
  • This was not a defense in a formal sense. The hearing was designed to assist Festus in determining what to write in the report that would accompany Paul and be presented to the emperor.
  • Paul was not defending himself against any charge. Instead, he was giving his personal testimony as a Christian.
  • Paul then continues by saying he is fortunate to make his case before Agrippa. 
    • As the Jewish king, Agrippa would be familiar with Jewish customs and issues of dispute.
    • He was also a Hellenistic king living a Roman lifestyle.
    • This unique combination gave him perspective on the situation from both viewpoints.
    • It was also the reason Festus was eager to have Agrippa hear the case.
  • By this point, there is only one accusation left that was brought by the Jews.
    • Festus has already found Paul innocent of sedition and stirring up political unrest.
    • The charge that Paul defiled the temple had vanished due to a lack of witnesses.
    • The only charge left is that Paul was teaching against Jewish law.
  • Festus knew Agrippa was a better judge on those matters.

Paul’s Faithfulness to the Jewish Hope – 26:4-8

Paul begins his witness by outlining his early life and education in Judaism.

  • He grew up among his own people.
  • He lived and was educated in Jerusalem.
  • He was a member of the Pharisees and had lived according to the strictest requirements of Jewish religious law.
  • Just as Paul had done before the Sanhedrin, he states the real issue behind his arrest is his belief in the resurrection and that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah.
  • The hope of the promise made by God to Israel was the resurrection. 
  • The hope Paul spoke of aligned perfectly with Judaism but was missed by the religious leaders.
  • Let’s consider Paul’s “Jewishness.”
    • He was born a Jew.
    • He was raised a Jew.
    • He was trained in the strictest Pharisaic interpretation of Judaism.
    • He was still a Jew.
    • It was his faith in the resurrection that pointed to his loyalty to Judaism.
    • Israel’s hope in God’s promises was fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus.
  • The hope of the resurrection is something about which the Jews were passionate.
    • They prayed for it night and day.
    • It was shared by all of Israel, the twelve tribes.
    • Yet it was this very hope that caused the Jews to hate Paul, make false accusations against him, and attempt on several occasions to kill him.
  • Paul then turns from addressing primarily Agrippa to addressing the entire crowd. Was Paul aiming for the Jews or the Gentiles?
    • Gentiles couldn’t understand the idea of a resurrection.
    • Except for the Sadducees, the Jews believed in the resurrection.
    • It was Christ’s resurrection that Paul always pointed to.
    • However, all of them, Jew and Gentile, found it incredibly hard to believe.

Paul’s Persecution of Christ – 26:9-11.

  • Not only had Paul been a strict Pharisee, but he had also been a persecutor of Christians.
  • Paul had once felt it was God’s will for him to do everything possible to oppose Christ and His followers.
    • Paul had received official documents from the Sanhedrin to find and arrest Christians.
    • In this address, Paul changes the title for followers of Jesus. He now calls them saints. 
    • Paul also adds that he was actively involved in the execution of Christians, “I cast my vote against them.”
  • Paul’s retelling of his actions now gets darker.
    • Paul attempted to make the saints blaspheme the name of Christ, most likely under duress.
    • Paul would route out the Christians in the synagogues.
    • Paul then expanded his activity to cities other than Jerusalem. 
      • Either Paul doesn’t mention them, or Luke feels it unnecessary to record them.
      • We do know it was on the way to Damascus where Paul’s persecution ended with his personal encounter with Jesus.

Paul’s Commission From Christ – 26:12-18

This is the third time in the book of Acts where Paul’s conversion is recorded. However, this one has the fewest details.

  • Paul’s blindness is not mentioned.
  • The visit with Ananias is not mentioned.

Instead, Paul’s emphasis is on his commission from Christ. But it’s not only the commission; it’s the connection of the commission with the location on the Damascus road. On his way from Jerusalem and Jewish territory to Damascus and Gentile territory, Paul receives his commission to bring the Gospel to all people. Paul wanted to place the emphasis of the encounter on the commission and not the experience.

There are several significant differences in the Damascus road encounter in this passage.

  • Paul saw a “heavenly light.”
    • This occurred around noon and outshone the sun. In previous accounts, the light was associated with Paul’s blindness.
    • Here, the heavenly light is associated with Paul’s commission to witness the light of the Gospel.
    • In addressing Agrippa and the Gentile audience, Paul wasn’t concerned with relaying the miracle of recovering his sight. He was attempting to bring them the light of the Gospel he had received on the road to Damascus and the commission to carry it to all people.
  • This is the only account that says all those traveling with Paul fell to the ground.
    • The purpose of stating that is to emphasize the reality of what happened.
    • Although everyone fell to the ground, only Paul experienced the conversion and calling.
  • The message Paul heard was in Hebrew.
  • Although all three accounts list the question Jesus asks Saul, “Why are you prosecuting me,” this is the only one that adds, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
    • This statement was a common proverb at the time, especially among Greeks and Romans.
    • It would be understood to mean, “why are resisting your destiny or fighting the will of the gods.”
    • It fit the context of what Paul was doing.
    • Paul was fighting against God’s will of Paul being set apart from birth, Galatians 1:15, to accomplish His purposes.
    • It was futile and senseless to fight against God.
  • Christ’s commission to Paul is given in a format that reminds us of how Old Testament prophets were commissioned by God.
    • Paul was directed to rise and stand on his feet – Ezekiel 2:1.
    • Paul was being sent to proclaim the Gospel – Ezekiel 2:3.
    • Jesus would rescue Paul from his enemies – Jeremiah 1:8.
  • Paul’s task is contained in two words.
    • Servant.
      • This emphasizes Paul’s relationship with Jesus.
      • He would serve his Master.
      • He would be faithful to his Master.
    • Witness.
      • Paul would testify to what he had seen and heard.
      • Paul had seen the risen Lord.
      • Paul had heard His commission.
      • Paul’s entire story in Acts demonstrated his faithful witness before Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and Romans, the poor, the educated, and kings.
  • The role of witness is key for every disciple.
    • Everyone who has encountered the risen Christ is commissioned to be a witness. 
    • Christ was the servant of God who opened the eyes of the lost and bring light to the nations.
    • Those who proclaim Jesus brought the light of the Gospel.
  • The turning from darkness to light is to turn from Satan to God.
  • The idea of two extremes, light and darkness, is found throughout the New Testament and is a metaphor for divergent ways of living.
    • To live in darkness under the dominion of Satan and apart from God; to live a self-centered life.
    • To live in the light under the direction of the Holy Spirit following God’s will; a life marked by righteousness and not self.
  • Paul concludes his summary of the Gospel by describing two results of responding to Jesus.
    • The forgiveness of sins and the removal of the barrier that separates us from God.
    • A place among the saints in God’s eternal kingdom.
  • Paul had effectively used this hearing to preach the Gospel to Agrippa and the Gentiles who were gathered.

Paul’s Witness for Christ

Paul now continues with his personal history as a witness for Christ.

  • Paul had been obedient to the heavenly vision he received.
  • Paul had not “kicked against the goads.”
  • Paul had been faithful to preach the Gospel wherever the Holy Spirit led him.
    • Damascus.
    • Jerusalem.
    • All the regions of Judea.
      • There is scholarly disagreement on what this means as Acts doesn’t specify this in detail.
      • It could mean Paul preached in every region among both the Jews and Gentiles.
      • This understanding would fall in line with Paul’s pattern of preaching first in the synagogues before turning to the Gentiles.
      • Paul followed this pattern in Acts 13-19.
    • To the Gentiles.
  • Paul then states the reason for his missionary work.
    • People would repent.
    • People would turn to God.
    • These two actions go hand-in-hand. True repentance is evidenced by turning from sin and turning to God.
    • The proof of repentance is a life characterized by good works. The works don’t lead to salvation but are evidence of salvation.
  • Paul then gives details about the opposition he faced on his return to Jerusalem while carrying out the Lord’s commission.
    • A mob seized him and was intent on killing him because of his witness of Christ.
    • However, through this event and previous ones, Paul was kept safe by God.
    • There were no boundaries in Paul’s ministry.
      • He traveled far and reached many different people.
      • He witnessed to both the poor and the rich.
      • There were no social boundaries.
      • Paul preached the same message to the peasant farmers of Lystra and the Jewish king.
  • Now Paul gives his final reference to the Gospel in this speech; the key to salvation.
    • It was the death and resurrection of Christ.
    • This is a typical pattern throughout Acts.
      • Referring to the Old Testament and demonstrating from “Moses and the prophets” that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead.
      • Paul doesn’t reference the Old Testament texts in this passage.
    • Paul was the servant of the Servant. He was fulfilling his commission to be a witness to Christ.
    • As Paul was witnessing for Christ, it was allowing Christ to be the light to all nations and enabling anyone who responded in faith to share in the resurrection life.

The Outcome

Paul’s Appeal for Conversion – 26:24-29

When Paul spoke about the resurrection, it was too much for Festus. Previously, Festus had told Agrippa about his lack of understanding regarding Paul’s claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. In a way, Festus’ response of “Too much studying is driving you mad” was a compliment. Festus was showing genuine respect for Paul’s knowledge while at the same time showing a level of prejudice that is often directed at scholars. Paul politely tells Festus he is far from crazy; he is speaking the truth to the gathering.

Paul then directs his following remark to the king. We need to remember this meeting was held for the benefit of Agrippa, and Paul had consistently addressed the king with his speech.

  • The content of the speech would have resonated with the Jewish king.
  • Paul emphasized his complete Jewish background.
  • The roots of the Gospel as the hope of Israel.
  • Agrippa knew the Jewish hope in the resurrection.
  • Agrippa would have been familiar with Scripture.
  • Agrippa would understand what Paul was talking about when he referenced the prophets.
  • Agrippa would have at least some understanding of Christians and their belief in the resurrection “since this was not done in a corner.”
  • The phrase “not done in a corner” could have a couple of meanings.
    • It wasn’t hidden from public view.
    • It wasn’t a small or insignificant movement.
    • Most likely, Paul meant it as a combination of both.
    • Paul had been open in his evangelism wherever he went, and Christianity was not some small movement. It was expanding and reaching many in that region of the world.
  • Paul then becomes even bolder in his remarks.
    • He states he knows the king believes in the prophets.
    • If Agrippa believed the prophets, why didn’t the king believe Christ was the Messiah?
    • Paul’s direct message to the king put him in an awkward position.
      • Agrippa didn’t want to deny the prophets.
      • But he wasn’t prepared to become a Christian.
      • Agrippa followed the expedient political decision; he evaded Paul’s question.
  • Paul was not discouraged at all by the king’s response. 
    • He left the invitation open to accept Christ.
    • Paul didn’t care whether or not it was an easy or difficult decision to convert.
    • Paul didn’t care how long it would take for them to come to a decision.
    • Paul wished that everyone present would become a Christian.
  • It is reasonable to believe that Paul would have continued his message if the king had not stood up.
  • Agrippa had heard enough of the matter.
    • He knew Paul was innocent of any wrongdoing.
    • He knew he wasn’t ready to become a Christian.
    • In a way, he was the most civilized of the Jews Paul encountered in Acts.
      • There was no sense that Paul deserved to be stoned for his position.
      • He listened to Paul politely, even showing interest.
    • In the end, Agrippa was not persuaded to repent and convert to Christianity.
  • In a way, Agrippa’s lack of decision tragically summarizes the Jews in Acts.
    • They were God’s people.
    • The prophets were their prophets.
    • Christ was their Messiah.
    • His resurrection fulfilled their hope.
    • They were still not persuaded.

Paul Headed to Rome – 26:30-32

The delegation who heard the exchange between the men now got up and left the meeting. The phrase “those sitting with them” likely referred to Agrippa’s advisory council on the issue with Paul. If that is true, this only enhanced the position that Paul was innocent of all charges because Luke states they all declared they couldn’t find anything which deserved death or imprisonment. For the fifth time, Paul has been declared innocent.

  • By the Pharisees – Acts 23:9.
  • By the Roman commander Lysias – Acts 23:29.
  • Twice by Festus – Acts 25:18, 25.
  • By Agrippa and the council.

Agrippa then states that if Paul hadn’t appealed to Caesar, he could’ve been released. However, when Paul made his appeal, he started a process that couldn’t be undone.

  • Festus couldn’t stop the appeal as this would have been an insult to the emperor and an admission he was incompetent by letting the entire process occur.
  • However, Festus now had enough information to craft a letter that accompanied Paul.
  • Paul was innocent of all charges.
  • Consider the parallels with Jesus.
    • Both the governor and the king declared Jesus innocent, yet he went to the cross – Luke 23:14f.
    • Both the governor and the king declared Paul innocent, yet he went to Rome in chains.

Applications

  • No matter the circumstances, be respectful in your conduct and plead your case with truth and restraint. Paul displayed remarkable qualities as he spoke to the gathering. Granted, this wasn’t the unruly Jewish mob he was addressing. Still, his conduct was above reproach.
  • Always base the words you say on the truth. Paul didn’t need to embellish anything. He spoke a powerful and truthful message. The recipients of the message were not offended by Paul.
  • Never miss an opportunity to present the Gospel. It took great courage to speak so boldly to Agrippa, yet Paul never wavered. Each person, regardless of their position, wealth, education, or social status, will be judged before God. Each will either enter heaven to spend eternity in God’s presence or be banished to hell to spend eternity apart from God.     

Acts Lesson Fifty-two

Acts Lesson Fifty-two: Acts 25:1-22 – Paul Appeals to Caesar

Three days after Festus arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea.  Then the chief priests and the leaders of the Jews presented their case against Paul to him; and they appealed, asking him to do them a favor against Paul, that he might summon him to Jerusalem. They were preparing an ambush along the road to kill him. However, Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was about to go there shortly. “Therefore,” he said, “let the men of authority among you go down with me and accuse him, if there is any wrong in this man.” 

When he had spent not more than eight or 10 days among them, he went down to Caesarea. The next day, seated at the judge’s bench, he commanded Paul to be brought in.  When he arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him and brought many serious charges that they were not able to prove, while Paul made the defense that, “Neither against the Jewish law, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I sinned at all.” 

Then Festus, wanting to do a favor for the Jews, replied to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem, there to be tried before me on these charges?” 

10 But Paul said: “I am standing at Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as even you can see very well. 11 If then I am doing wrong, or have done anything deserving of death, I do not refuse to die, but if there is nothing to what these men accuse me of, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar!” 

12 After Festus conferred with his council, he replied, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go!” 

13 After some days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea and paid a courtesy call on Festus. 14 Since they stayed there many days, Festus presented Paul’s case to the king, saying, “There’s a man who was left as a prisoner by Felix. 15 When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews presented their case and asked for a judgment against him. 16 I answered them that it’s not the Romans’ custom to give any man up before the accused confronts the accusers face to face and has an opportunity to give a defense concerning the charges. 17 Therefore, when they had assembled here, I did not delay. The next day I sat at the judge’s bench and ordered the man to be brought in. 18 Concerning him, the accusers stood up and brought no charge of the sort I was expecting. 19 Instead they had some disagreements with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, a dead man Paul claimed to be alive. 20 Since I was at a loss in a dispute over such things, I asked him if he wished to go to Jerusalem and be tried there concerning these matters. 21 But when Paul appealed to be held for trial by the Emperor, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I could send him to Caesar.” 

22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” 

“Tomorrow you will hear him,” he replied. (HCSB)

I will split this lesson into two parts.

  • Paul before Festus – verses 1-12.
  • King Agrippa visits Festus – verses 13-22.

Paul Before Festus

As we get ready to dig into this section, we need to remember that about two years have passed since the events in chapter 24 occurred. Luke didn’t record what Paul did during that time. Although Paul was restricted in his activities, one can hardly imagine he was idle during the two years. 

Let’s look at some information regarding Festus before we proceed.

  • Admittedly, very little is known about the administration of Porcius Festus as the procurator of Judea.
  • We have the details recorded in Acts 25-26.
  • Josephus’ writings contain two brief references.
  • He took office in a.d. 58/59.
  • He died suddenly from an illness in a.d. 62.
  • Josephus gives him high marks. He was successful in suppressing the revolutionaries who plagued the countryside during Felix’s administration.
  • Luke also portrays him as fair-minded and concerned with preserving Roman justice.
  • However, Luke records that Festus was also swayed by the pressure exerted by the Jewish power structure and compromised his sense of justice regarding Paul’s situation.
  • In a way, Festus behaved much like Pilate during Jesus’ trial. There are parallels between Paul’s experience in Acts 25-26 and Jesus’ trial in Luke 23:1-25.

The opening of chapter 25 has Festus arriving in Judea and almost immediately making a trip to Jerusalem.

  • Since Jerusalem was the religious and cultural center of the people now under his jurisdiction, it was only natural for Festus to make a trip as quickly as possible.
  • One gets the impression the religious leaders were waiting for Festus to visit them.
    • The religious group included the high priest and the leaders of the Jews. The second group is almost certainly the ruling elders of the Sanhedrin.
    • They presented their case against Paul, which would have been biased in their favor.
    • Likely they wanted Festus to transfer jurisdiction from Rome to them.
    • We see one significant difference from Acts 23. Here, the leaders are the ones who were plotting to kill Paul and not a group of zealots. We see here the chief Jewish power structure was now determined to kill Paul.
  • Festus would have been unaware of the Jewish plot to kill Paul and was likely not aware of the plot two years prior.
  • Regardless, Festus was not going to hand Paul over to the Jews before he knew more about the situation.
    • Paul was under the jurisdiction of Festus as the Judean procurator.
    • Festus would be returning to Caesarea in a few days.
    • Any proceedings regarding Paul would take place in Caesarea before a Roman tribunal.
    • This was a sensible decision. It was more convenient to hear the case in Caesarea.
    • Once again, Paul receives divine protection from an unlikely source.

Just over a week later, Festus returns to Caesarea and convenes the tribunal to hear the charges against Paul.

  • Since their previous attempt, using a lawyer, was unsuccessful, they brought the charges against Paul themselves.
  • It also appears they attempted to intimidate Paul physically. The narrative says they “stood around him.”
  • They also brought up “many serious charges.” Luke doesn’t specify what they were, likely the same ones as before based upon Paul’s response in verse eight, although we can’t be certain.
  • However, just as in the tribunal over two years prior, the Jewish religious leaders had no proof to back up their words. 
  • Paul refutes each of their claims.
    • He didn’t violate Jewish law.
    • He didn’t violate the temple.
    • He didn’t violate any Roman law.
    • The third charge was the one that kept Paul in Roman custody.
  • Obviously, Festus isn’t impressed by the lack of evidence to support the claims against Paul.
  • It’s possible Festus believed there were be some proof brought forth if they continued the proceedings in Jerusalem.
  • Festus then asks Paul if he’s willing to continue in Jerusalem but still under the jurisdiction of Festus and Roman law.
    • Festus wasn’t willing to turn the trial over to the Jews, but he was willing to change the venue.
    • It’s not certain what Festus had in mind with this offer.
    • It may have been similar to Paul’s initial apprehension when Claudius Lysias oversaw the hearing in Jerusalem.
    • It may have been a formal trial with some of the Jewish religious leaders on the advisory council.
    • We can’t conclude that Festus’ motives were innocent, as he wanted to “do a favor for the Jews.”
      • At the beginning of the chapter, Festus resisted doing a favor for the Jews.
      • Now Festus was being swayed by the pressure.
      • Festus was now showing favoritism to the Jews, to the detriment of Paul.
  • Favoritism never goes together with fair justice, and Paul knew this.
    • Paul had previously escaped a plot against his life.
    • Paul knew that if Festus showed favoritism to the Jews in this matter, his life would be in danger.
  • Paul’s response was immediate and, to a certain degree, somewhat defiant.
    • Paul rebukes Festus with his response. Paul tells him, “even you can see very well.” 
    • He had done no wrong to the Jews.
    • Paul understood Festus wanted to grant the Jews a favor, and in verse eleven, he is basically saying, “You want to give the Jews a favor by giving me to them.”
    • Paul knew his only chance of a fair trial was under Roman law. 
    • If Paul was given over to the Jews and tried under their jurisdiction, he was as good as dead.
    • Paul then invoked the only thing that would prevent Festus from handing him over to the Jews, an appeal to Caesar.
    • In one sense, this was the fastest and surest way for Paul to go to Rome.
    • The appeal would also grant him the highest level of Roman protection during his journey.
    • Let’s look at what is known about the appeal process.
      • Paul makes use of an ancient right of Roman citizens that goes back to at least the fifth-century b.c.
      • It gave the right of a citizen to appeal a magistrate’s verdict to a jury of fellow citizens.
      • Under the Roman empire structure, the emperor became the court of appeals, replacing the jury of citizens.
      • In cases where precedent was already established, governors had the authority to pronounce sentences, even to the point of execution.
      • In cases where precedent wasn’t established, such as this case, the right of appeal was absolute.
      • Festus was in no position to deny the appeal.
      • Normally, the appeal was made after the sentence was announced. However, based on this situation, it appears that an appeal could be made before the verdict was announced.
      • It is not clear if the magistrate could revoke the appeal if the defendant was proven innocent.
      • In this case, it was probably a relief to Festus when Paul made his appeal. The Jews couldn’t blame Festus for following Roman law and sending Paul away to Rome.
    • The procurator had an advisory council who would be consulted when necessary. Although the final decision was with Festus, he sought advice from his council.
    • Festus then announces that Paul will go to Caesar.
    • The Caesar in question was Nero, who ruled from a.d. 54-68.
      • It would be easy to think that Paul was in trouble immediately.
      • However, this was towards the beginning of Nero’s reign, a period marked by stability.
      • Nero’s dark side had not yet manifested itself.
    • In any case, Paul was headed to Rome to witness to the emperor himself.

King Agrippa Visits Festus

It would be normal to expect the Jewish king to visit and establish cordial relations with the new procurator after his arrival. Let’s take a closer look at Agrippa II.

  • He was the son of Agrippa I, Acts 12, and the great-grandson of Herod the Great.
  • He was born in a.d. 27 and grew up in Rome.
  • In a.d. 48, after the death of an uncle, he was given rule over the small kingdom of Chalcis.
  • In a.d. 53, he left that role to rule over the territories formerly under the rule of Philip and Lysanias. These territories included Abilene, Batanea, Traconitis, and Gaulinitis.
  • In a.d. 56, his rule was further expanded when Nero placed him over several other villages in the vicinity of the Sea of Galilee, including Caesarea Philippi. 
  • The regions under his rule were mainly Gentile, and he never ruled over the main Jewish territory in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee.
  • The Romans gave him custody of the ceremonial clothes worn by the high priest on the Day of Atonement.
  • He held the authority to appoint the high priest.

Let’s take a closer look at Bernice.

  • She was the sister of Agrippa II and was one year younger.
  • She was known as a Jewish Cleopatra.
  • At the age of thirteen, she married her uncle, Herod of Chalcis.
  • When Herod of Chalcis died in a.d. 48 and her brother was granted rule over Chalcis, she moved in with him and remained his constant companion for many years.
  • There were widespread rumors they were involved in an incestuous relationship.
  • In a.d. 63, she married King Polemon of Cilicia, apparently in an attempt to turn aside those rumors. However, she didn’t remain with King Polemon very long.
  • She then accompanied Agrippa to Rome in the early 70s and became the mistress of Titus, emperor Vespasian’s son.
  • Their relationship created a major scandal in the Roman upper circles.
  • Titus wanted to marry her, but marrying a Jewish woman was not acceptable for someone of his stature. When Titus became emperor in a.d. 79, he abandoned his relationship with her.

Since Agrippa was king, Festus felt he was in a position to assist in the situation involving Paul. Festus was required to have a written report describing why Paul was being sent to Rome for his appeal. Because the matter was initiated by the Jews and involved Jewish religious customs, Festus felt unqualified to communicate the matter accurately. Let’s take a closer look at the conversation between the two men.

  • Festus doesn’t present any new information on the situation from the reader’s standpoint.
  • However, Festus gives his version of the events covered in Acts 25:1-12.
    • Festus tries to paint himself in a positive light while embellishing what occurred.
    • He says the Jews wanted a judgment against Paul, while in the actual conversation, the Jews only relayed the charges and asked for Paul to be transferred to their jurisdiction.
    • Festus was showing himself as Paul’s protector.
    • Festus then implies the Jews wanted Paul handed over without a fair trial, and he informed them that it wasn’t permitted under Roman customs.
    • The Jews would have to confront Paul face-to-face, and Paul would be given an opportunity to defend himself against the charges.
    • There is no question that was standard Roman legal protocol.
    • However, looking back at Acts 25:1-12, the main question was where the legal proceedings would occur and not the fairness of the trial.
    • It was the question of fairness that prompted Paul to make his appeal to Caesar.
    • Festus ensured a speedy trial occurred, which was true. The following day Paul had faced his accusers.
  • Apparently, Festus was expecting the Jews to charge Paul with treason or some crime covered by Roman law. 
  • Instead, the Jews were arguing about religious matters. The main point is Jesus and the resurrection.
  • It was this matter which convinced Festus he was in over his head. The pagan world couldn’t grasp the idea of resurrection.
  • The entire argument was over Jewish religious matters and not Roman law.
  • The question is, why would Festus want to continue the trial under Roman jurisdiction but in Jerusalem if Paul was innocent of breaking any Roman law?
  • Festus desired to curry favor with the Jewish power brokers.
  • When Paul made his appeal, the entire legal process in Judea came to a screeching halt.
  • Festus then placed Paul into custody until the transfer to Rome could be started.
  • Agrippa then asked to hear from Paul, and Festus granted that request on the following day.

Applications

  • When we are in a position of leadership, we must make sure our conduct is above reproach. In this passage, Festus allowed the influence of the Jewish religious leaders to sway his judgment. As followers of Christ, our allegiance should be towards Jesus and the instructions contained within Scripture. When we let the world influence our decisions, we are no longer walking in the light.
  • When we are in a situation where we are accused of wrongdoing, we must speak the truth. When we are threatened or intimidated, we must remain strong. Paul did both as he appeared before Festus and the Jewish accusers. He spoke the truth and was not intimidated by their physical proximity.
  • If we don’t have the knowledge or background to make a critical decision, we need to consult experts who can assist us. If at all possible, those experts should be faithful Christians who can guide us in the decision process.
  • We need to remember that each of us will need to make an account of our actions and words as we stand before the judgment seat of Christ. We may have been faithful Christians with our salvation assured, but our works and words may be burned in the fire, and we’ll lose our eternal rewards, crowns, because of our behavior.  

Acts Lesson Fifty

Acts Lesson Fifty: Acts 23:11-35 – The Plot Against Paul

11 The following night, the Lord stood by him and said, “Have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” 

12 When it was day, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under a curse: neither to eat nor to drink until they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than 40 who had formed this plot. 14 These men went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have bound ourselves under a solemn curse that we won’t eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15 So now you, along with the Sanhedrin, make a request to the commander that he bring him down to you as if you were going to investigate his case more thoroughly. However, before he gets near, we are ready to kill him.” 

16 But the son of Paul’s sister, hearing about their ambush, came and entered the barracks and reported it to Paul. 17 Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander, because he has something to report to him.” 

18 So he took him, brought him to the commander, 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 Then the commander took him by the hand, led him aside, and inquired privately, “What is it you have to report to me?” 

20 “The Jews,” he said, “have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the Sanhedrin tomorrow, as though they are going to hold a somewhat more careful inquiry about him. 21 Don’t let them persuade you, because there are more than 40 of them arranging to ambush him, men who have bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they kill him. Now they are ready, waiting for a commitment from you.” 

22 So the commander dismissed the young man and instructed him, “Don’t tell anyone that you have informed me about this.” 

23 He summoned two of his centurions and said, “Get 200 soldiers ready with 70 cavalry and 200 spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24 Also provide mounts so they can put Paul on them and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” 

25 He wrote a letter of this kind: 

    26 Claudius Lysias, 

To the most excellent governor Felix: 

Greetings. 

27 When this man had been seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them, I arrived with my troops and rescued him because I learned that he is a Roman citizen. 28 Wanting to know the charge they were accusing him of, I brought him down before their Sanhedrin. 29 I found out that the accusations were about disputed matters in their law,  and that there was no charge that merited death or chains.  30 When I was informed that there was a plot against the man, I sent him to you right away. I also ordered his accusers to state their case against him in your presence. 

31 Therefore, the soldiers took Paul during the night and brought him to Antipatris as they were ordered. 32 The next day, they returned to the barracks, allowing the cavalry to go on with him. 33 When these men entered Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. 34 After he read it, he asked what province he was from. So when he learned he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing whenever your accusers get here too.” And he ordered that he be kept under guard in Herod’s palace. (HCSB)

I’ll be dividing this lesson into two parts.

  • The plot against Paul – verses 11-22.
  • The escort to Caesarea – verses 23-35.

The Plot Against Paul

After the ruckus that occurred the previous day, Paul receives a reassuring visit from the Lord at night. Paul had several visitations from Jesus during his ministry.

  • Although technically, before his ministry began, Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus.
  • When Paul was discouraged by the events in Corinth and was thinking about moving to another location, Jesus appeared and told him to stay – Acts 18:9-10.
  • Jesus appears to Paul in this passage, reassuring Paul that he will testify about Jesus in Rome.
  • Paul would receive encouragement during the storm on their journey to Rome – Acts 27:22-25.
  • During Paul’s trial in Rome – 2 Timothy 4:16-17.

In this section, Jesus doesn’t condemn Paul for going to Jerusalem. Instead, Paul receives a commendation of sorts for the faithful witness he gave, even though the message was rejected. If we look at the results of Paul’s efforts from a human standpoint, it would appear to be an abject failure.

  • Paul’s attempts to convince the legalistic Jews resulted in a riot in the temple.
  • Paul’s witness before the Sanhedrin led to the two factions fighting.
  • However, Jesus was pleased with Paul’s efforts at evangelism.
  • We need to remember this point. There are often times we will not be successful in our evangelism efforts, but if we’ve been faithful, Jesus will be pleased.

It was also a message of confidence.

  • Paul would go to Rome. Traveling to Rome had been Paul’s desire for months – Acts 19:21.
  • The events that transpired in Jerusalem made it initially appear as if Paul would be unable to make the journey.
  • However, Jesus confirmed that Paul would make the journey despite the present challenges.
    • The Jewish religious leaders lied about him.
    • Religious fanatics plotted to kill him.
    • Government officials ignored him.

Despite the visit from Jesus, Paul’s situation was still challenging and fraught with danger. From the very beginning of Paul’s ministry, he faced recurring personal danger.

  • Then Paul witnessed for Christ in Damascus – Acts 9:22-25.
  • During Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion – Acts 9:29.
  • The Jews drove him out of Antioch Pisidia – Acts 13:50-51.
  • Paul was threatened with being stoned in Iconium – Acts 14:5.
  • Paul was stoned in Lystra – Acts 14:19-20.
  • The Jews attempted to have Paul arrested in Corinth – Acts 18:12-17.
  • In Ephesus, the Jews devised a plot to kill him – Acts 20:19.
  • The Jews had a plan to kill Paul at sea – Acts 20:3.

In spite of all the danger which Paul faced, his life was the embodiment of the phrase, “Will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 3:15)

Let’s take a closer look at the section from verses twelve to fifteen.

  • Although Luke doesn’t specify, it was probably the Asian Jews who hatched the conspiracy to kill Paul.
  • The Greek word used to denote their vow, anathematizo, is particularly strong. 
    • If they failed to keep their vow, they would be cursed or eternally damned.
    • However, there is a loophole in Jewish law that allowed a person to be released from a vow if it became unfulfillable due to unforeseen circumstances. Paul’s transport under heavy Roman protection would likely qualify as “unforeseen circumstances.”
  • The leaders of the conspiracy then went to the chief priest and elders to enlist their aid.
    • If we remember back to the previous lesson, the Pharisees would not have been included in this plot as they attempted to defend Paul.
    • In their misguided zeal to protect the Law, they were willing to break one of the Ten Commandments to achieve their religious goal.
    • The conspirators wanted them to contact Claudius to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin again.
    • It is safe to assume the chief priest would add a bribe to the request.
    • The high priest may have also told Claudius that he would protect him from his superiors. The Romans and Jews had cooperated in this manner before – Matthew 28:11-15.
  • The ambush would have occurred as Paul was transported from Antonia to the council chamber.

Luke now continues with reference to Paul’s sister and nephew.

  • Outside of this one verse, nothing else is known about these two people.
  • It is possible that Paul’s family initially abandoned him after his conversion to Christianity. Paul could be implying this in Philippians 3:8 when he said that he had suffered the loss of all things.
  • In the intervening years, some of those family members may have converted to Christianity.
  • Since Paul’s family had a lengthy connection with the Pharisees, his sister would have been privy to information in the inner circle. 
  • It is unlikely that either of these two were believers at this point, as that would have excluded them from the official Jewish religious circle in Jerusalem.
  • However, if they were devout Jews, they would see the conspiracy as nothing short of evil.
  • How the nephew found out about the conspiracy is anyone’s guess. Maybe in passing, he heard a conversation among the Sadducees. Regardless of how it happened, God was protecting Paul.
  • It was not unusual for prisoners of high standing, such as Paul, to have visits from family or friends. It’s even possible that Paul was given an extra measure of liberty because of the soldiers’ previous mistake of attempting to scourge him. 
  • The respect the Roman soldiers extended to Paul is evident in the actions of the centurion. Paul only had to request his nephew be taken to Claudius; he didn’t need to provide any further information beyond “he has something to report to him.”

The scene now shifts to the meeting between Paul’s nephew and Claudius.

  • The first striking fact about this discussion is that Claudius believed what Paul’s nephew told him.
    • It could be because Paul was a Roman citizen, and up to this point, he had been straightforward with Claudius.
    • It could be because the plot aligns with the actions the Jews had demonstrated so far.
  • In any case, Claudius believed Paul’s nephew and instructed him to be silent about their discussion.
  • At this point, we need to stop and consider how Luke paints the actions of the Roman military in Acts.
    • There is no record of official persecution by the Romans against the church.
    • The opposition was stirred up by unbelieving Jews.
    • While the Roman political officials often left quite a bit to be desired, it seemed that the military leaders were men who respected and followed Roman law.

The Escort to Caesarea

Now that the plot has been relayed to Claudius, he makes a decision on how to handle the situation.

  • Claudius realized that leaving Paul in Jerusalem, even though he was currently in protective custody in their barracks, was not the ideal long-term solution.
    • Paul would be in danger as long as he remained in Jerusalem.
    • In addition, there was the ever-present threat to the peace and order of the city while Paul remained there.
  • Claudius also realized he needed to determine under what charge Paul was being detained or he would be guilty of illegally holding a Roman citizen. 
  • Sending Paul to Caesarea and placing him under the authority of Felix would address both issues.
  • Claudius tells two of his centurions to gather 470 of their troops as an escort to move Paul from Jerusalem to Caesarea.
    • This force is almost half of the 1,000 men who were garrisoned in the city.
    • The urgency of the situation is evident in the fact they were told to leave at nine o’clock. 
    • The need to try and keep the transport out of the eyes and ears of the Jews is evident by traveling under cover of darkness.
  • Claudius writes a letter for the military contingent to take and deliver to Felix.
    • The letter begins with the customary three-part salutation of a Greek letter.
      • The first is the identity of the sender.
      • Second, the recipient of the letter.
      • The third is the customary word of greeting.
    • After the formal greeting section of the letter, Claudius provides the details regarding Paul’s detention.
      • While it is true that Paul had been seized and was being beaten by the Jews, Claudius stretches the truth by saying he rescued him because he learned Paul was a Roman citizen.
        • It’s true that Claudius saved Paul from being beaten to death.
        • However, it wasn’t until later that he learned Paul was a Roman citizen.
      • The letter then relates the proceedings before the Sanhedrin. 
      • Since the preceding was undoubtedly conducted in Aramaic, Claudius must have had a translator present to know what was being discussed.
      • The issue between Paul and the Jews was regarding matters of Jewish religious law.
      • Paul was not guilty of breaking any Roman law.
      • Claudius clearly stated that there was nothing Paul had done that merited death or imprisonment.
      • Claudius then relates the plot against Paul’s life, which is why Paul was sent to Felix.
      • Felix is also told that Paul’s accusers were to bring their charges against Paul before him.
    • Luke then gives some further details regarding the transport of Paul to Caesarea.
      • This is the third time Paul was sneaked out of the city during the hours of darkness.
      • The entire force of 470 soldiers left and traveled to Antipatris.
        • Antipatris was a military station fortified by Herod the Great and named after his father, Antimatter.
        • It was on the border between Judea and Samaria.
        • It was about thirty-five miles from Jerusalem, which was just over half of the sixty- mile journey between Jerusalem and Caesarea.
        • It was a perfect place for troops to stop during the normal two-day journey between the cities.
      • The foot soldiers returned to Jerusalem, while Paul and the cavalry continued on to Caesarea.
  • The Roman soldiers, escorting Paul, arrive in Caesarea and give Felix both the letter from Claudius and Paul.
  • Before we conclude, let’s take a closer look at Felix.
    • Claudius Felix was the procurator of Judea from a.d. 52-59 and played a major role in the next chapter of Acts.
    • Felix acquired this position because of his brother, Pallas, who at one point was the head of the imperial civil service and wielded considerable influence in the court of emperor Claudius.
      • Both were former slaves, freedmen of the imperial family.
      • Felix’s high position was extremely rare; given his background as a former slave, it is unlikely he would have occupied the position without the help of his brother.
      • Roman history said Felix “wielded royal power with the instincts of a slave.”
        • Royal power could refer to his administration or his family.
        • His time as procurator was marked by rising Jewish nationalism, displayed by both political and religious insurrections.
          • All were brutally suppressed.
          • He was severely lacking in understanding or sympathy for the Jews.
          • His actions only served to inflame Jewish anti-Roman sentiments and freedom movements.
    • Felix also had a checkered history regarding his marriages.
      • He had three wives.
      • All were princesses.
      • The first was the granddaughter of Antony and Cleopatra.
      • The third was Drusilla, the daughter of Agrippa I. 
    • His ineptitude finally caught up with him as he was removed from office for mismanaging a dispute between Jews and Gentiles in Caesarea.
  • Felix’s question about Paul’s native province was to determine whether or not he had jurisdiction over Paul as the Judean procurator.
    • During the reign of emperor Claudius, both Judea and Cilicia were under the provincial administration of the imperial legate in Syria.
    • Since Felix was over that area administratively, he determined he had the authority to hear the complaint against Paul.
  • Paul was then placed in the praetorium, a former palace constructed by Herod the Great, which was now the Roman headquarters.

Applications

  • The central theme to remember from this passage is trust. When Jesus appeared to Paul and told him that he must testify about Him in Rome, Paul had two choices. First, trust Jesus. Second, doubt and fall into dismay. 
    • When we face challenges which path do we choose? Do we trust, or do we fall into dismay? The answer to that question is a telling statement on the strength of your walk with Christ.
    • God can use unbelievers to aid us as we live our lives for Jesus. Although we shouldn’t blindly trust unbelievers, God’s power and promise to protect us can and will overcome to accomplish His will.
    • Through the entire section of Scripture that recounts Paul’s appearance in the temple until his transport to Rome, he is a picture of calmness and trust. As we look ahead, Paul spent at least a couple of years in this situation. Do our lives exhibit the same level of trust and calmness? It only happens when we place our lives in Jesus’ hands and let the Holy Spirit lead us.

Acts Lesson Forty-seven

Acts Lesson Forty-seven: Acts 21:37-22:21 – Paul’s Defense and Testimony

37 As he was about to be brought into the barracks, Paul said to the commander, “Am I allowed to say something to you?” 

He replied, “Do you know Greek? 38 Aren’t you the Egyptian who raised a rebellion some time ago and led 4,000 Assassins into the wilderness?” 

39 Paul said, “I am a Jewish man from Tarsus of Cilicia, a citizen of an important city.  Now I ask you, let me speak to the people.” 

40 After he had given permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned with his hand to the people. When there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language: 

22 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense before you.” When they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even quieter. He  continued, “I am a Jewish man, born in Tarsus of Cilicia but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel and educated according to the strict view of our patriarchal law. Being zealous for God, just as all of you are today, I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women in jail, as both the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. After I received letters from them to the brothers, I traveled to Damascus to bring those who were prisoners there to be punished in Jerusalem. 

“As I was traveling and near Damascus, about noon an intense light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ 

“I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ 

“He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, the One you are persecuting!’ Now those who were with me saw the light, but they did not hear the voice of the One who was speaking to me. 

10 “Then I said, ‘What should I do, Lord?’ 

“And the Lord told me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told about everything that is assigned for you to do.’ 

11 “Since I couldn’t see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. 12 Someone named Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good reputation with all the Jews residing there,  13 came and stood by me and said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight.’ And in that very hour I looked up and saw him. 14 Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of His voice. 15 For you will be a witness for Him to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins by calling on His name.’ 

17 “After I came back to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple complex, I went into a visionary state 18 and saw Him telling me, ‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me!’ 

19 “But I said, ‘Lord, they know that in synagogue after synagogue I had those who believed in You imprisoned and beaten. 20 And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I was standing by and approving, and I guarded the clothes of those who killed him.’ 

21 “Then He said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” (HCSB)

The passage for this lesson is rather long, but a significant portion is Paul telling the crowd about his encounter with Jesus on the way to Damascus. I’ll be splitting this lesson into two parts.

  • Paul’s discussion with the Roman commander and the introduction of his background to the mob – verses 21:37-22:5.
  • Paul’s testimony of his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and his conversion – verses 22:6-21.

Paul’s Discussion with the Roman Commander and the Introduction of His Background to the Mob

Before being brought into the barracks, Paul engages in conversation with the Roman commander. Let’s look at some elements regarding this conversation.

  • Claudius was surprised that this “dangerous” prisoner was able to speak Greek.
    • Paul spoke to the Roman commander in polite and refined Greek.
    • Since he thought Paul was a dangerous criminal, he was surprised by this discovery.
  • The Egyptian in question also appears in historical records written by Josephus.
    • He was a false prophet who recruited a large band of followers. Josephus numbered them at 30,000, but Luke records the number at 4,000. The difference is most likely due to Josephus’ tendency to inflate numbers.
    • The Egyptian led them into the wilderness and then to the Mount of Olives.
    • He promised his followers the walls of Jerusalem would fall at his command, and they would easily overthrow the Roman occupiers.
    • Instead of the walls falling, Felix arrived with heavy troops to engage the rebels.
      • About 400 were killed.
      • About 200 were taken captive.
      • The Egyptian and the rest of his followers fled into the wilderness.
  • Jewish freedom fighters mingled in large crowds during special occasions and assassinated pro-Roman political figures before disappearing into the crowd.
  • Claudius was under the impression that Paul fell into one of these groups of anti-Roman rebels.
  • Paul then identifies himself.
    • First, as a Jew.
    • Second, as being from Tarsus of Cilicia.
      • Tarsus was a proud Hellenistic city, or as Paul said, “an important city.”
      • It is interesting that Paul does not invoke his Roman citizenship at this point, waiting until later in the chapter to reveal that detail.
  • Since Paul identified himself as a Jew, his request to address the crowd was reasonable.
  • Claudius then gives Paul permission to address the crowd.

Now let’s move on to the introduction Paul gives of himself to the crowd.

  • Paul’s primary aim as he addressed the crowd was to establish his full commitment to Judaism. We shouldn’t view this as Paul allowing syncretism to seep into his commitment to the roots of Christianity. Instead, Paul intended to demonstrate that following the traditions of Judaism was permissible as long as a person also placed faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. This tension is at the core of the Jerusalem council’s decision not to levy the requirements of Judaism on Gentile believers.
    • A Jewish Christian could still follow the traditions of Judaism.
    • A Gentile Christian was not bound by the traditions of Judaism.
  • Since Paul was unable to prove his total commitment to Jewish traditions by participating in the Nazirite vow, he attempted to prove it through his speech to the crowd.
  • Paul’s speech was a first-person narrative of what Luke wrote in Acts 9.
    • Paul talks about his former zeal for Judaism.
      • Paul uses the same introduction Stephen used before the Sanhedrin, “Brothers and fathers.”
      • Both Stephen and Paul were making a defense and were attempting to prove their loyalty to Judaism.
      • Paul calls his speech a “defense.”
      • However, Paul doesn’t address the reason the riot started, that he had desecrated the temple.
      • Paul’s speech did address the more significant issue, Paul’s faithfulness to Judaism.
      • Paul’s defense continues in the speeches that follow in Acts.
        • Before Felix and the Jews in Acts 24.
        • Before Agrippa in Acts 26.
        • It is reasonable to conclude from this point on in Acts that Paul is making a running defense of his actions before Jews.
      • Paul addresses the crowd in Hebrew to underline his Jewish roots.
      • Paul then explained how his early life demonstrated he was a strict, practicing Jew.
        • He was born in Tarsus.
        • He grew up in Jerusalem.
          • Being “brought up” meant that his family moved to Jerusalem when he was very young.
          • Paul wanted to point out that he wasn’t a Diaspora maverick but was shaped from early childhood in Jerusalem.
        • He studied under Gamaliel.
          • This implied a crucial point Paul was trying to establish with the Jerusalem Jews.
          • Paul’s former life was marked by a zeal that matched or exceeded their own.
      • Paul then goes on to describe how he persecuted the early Christian movement.
        • Believers were put in jail.
        • Believers were executed.
        • Paul then received letters from the Sanhedrin to go to Damascus and bring Christian prisoners to Jerusalem for punishment.

Paul’s Testimony of His Encounter with Jesus on the Road to Damascus and His Conversion

Paul now switches from a defense of his roots in Judaism to his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and his subsequent conversion to Christianity. This is one of three detailed accounts of Paul’s conversion in Acts. The first is in Acts 9, and the third is in Acts 26. The three accounts align in the essentials but differ in the minor details. The biggest difference is seen in the two accounts given by Paul. They were tailored to the audience hearing them. In this speech, Paul detailed the role of Ananias and his devotion to Jewish tradition. When Paul spoke before Agrippa and the Roman officials, Ananias was not mentioned as his role would be insignificant to Gentiles. The fact that Luke includes Paul’s conversion three times speaks to the importance of the event.

Acts 22:6-11 align with Acts 9:3-8, with the only differences being in minor details and first-person narrative. 

  • One of the differences is in Acts 22:6, which gives the time of the encounter as “about noon.” This fact highlights the brightness of the vision, as it occurred when the sun was at its brightest.
  • Another is the inclusion of the words “of Nazareth” in the present narration. This inclusion would have significance to the Jewish hearers.
  • In the account in Acts 9, the companions heard but didn’t understand the voice speaking to Paul. Paul’s account focuses on their seeing but not hearing. Both are important to prove that Paul’s experience was not an experience of the mind but an actual physical occurrence of both sight and sound, even if the companions didn’t participate in the experience.
  • Paul was told to go to Damascus but needed assistance from his companions. The fact that Paul was blinded underscores the brightness of the light in the middle of the day.

The retelling of the visit to Ananias in Acts 22:12-16 aligns with Acts 9:10-17. The one major difference is the omission of the vision that came to Ananias since this was a first-person account from Paul’s perspective. Let’s look at a few other points from this section.

  • The phrase “God of our fathers” carried a strong Old Testament emphasis.
  • The phrase “Righteous One” is a Jewish messianic title found in the earlier speeches of Peter and Stephen. 
  • Paul was to be a witness to all people.
  • The scene with Ananias ends with Paul’s baptism.
    • The phrase “why delay” is a common Greek expression implying that it was time for Paul to act on the commission given by Jesus.
    • The phrase “calling on His name” is the profession of faith that is the basis for baptism.

The narration now moves to the temple complex in Jerusalem after Paul returns there. Let’s take a closer look at this event and its significance.

  • Jesus knew the Jews would not accept Paul’s testimony of the encounter on the road to Damascus.
  • However, Paul protests against the command to leave.
    • Such protests are common in biblical commissioning narratives.
    • Paul’s protest was that he had a convincing testimony to tell them.
      • Jerusalem was well aware of Paul’s former zeal in hunting down and persecuting Christians.
      • They would have understood that something extraordinary must have happened to Paul to change his allegiance completely.
    • In the end, the Lord’s command was obeyed. Jesus had another task for Paul; evangelism to the Gentiles.
      • The mission to the Gentiles is closely connected to the refusal of the Jews to accept Paul’s testimony of Jesus.
      • Jesus’ parable of the great banquet in Luke 14:16-24 makes the same point.
      • Paul also wrestled with this problem in Romans 9-11. 
  • Paul then tells the crowd that Jesus sent him to evangelize the Gentiles. 
    • There was that word again, Gentiles. 
    • The crowd had patiently and respectfully listed during Paul’s conversion narrative.
    • They hadn’t questioned either of Paul’s conversations with Jesus.
    • But with the mention of Gentiles, Paul had stepped outside the Jews’ boundary of tolerance.
  • We’ll see in the next lesson that the mention of the Gentiles whipped the Jewish crowd into a murderous frenzy once again.

Applications

  • Paul’s behavior as the mob tried to kill him and the Roman soldiers rescued him is an example to follow. Although it is reasonable to assume that Paul tried to protect himself, he didn’t try to fight back. That could be because he was overwhelmingly outnumbered. It’s reasonable to think that few of us will ever face the level of hostility that Paul faced. However, being calm and non-reactionary is often the best course of action.
  • When addressing those who are hostile or resistant to the Gospel, speak in a respectful, calm, and factual manner. Becoming emotional or arguing will likely only inflame the situation.
  • In Paul’s day, the word “Gentile” was a trigger point. Depending on where we live, there may be specific words or phrases which elicit a similar response. A few examples which are currently hot topics in American society are abortion, same-sex marriage, or sin in general, leading to eternal separation from God. Each of these examples could lead to a mob mentality by those who support abortion, same-sex marriage, or don’t believe in sin or hell. At times like those, we must rely on Scripture to talk for us. Never let it be our opinion. Let God’s Word speak for God; it’s more powerful than anything we could say. 

Acts Lesson Forty-six

Acts Lesson Forty-six: Acts 21:26-36 – The Riot in the Temple Complex

Then the next day, Paul took the men, having purified himself along with them, and entered the temple, announcing the completion of the purification days when the offering for each of them would be made. 27 As the seven days were about to end, the Jews from Asia saw him in the temple complex, stirred up the whole crowd, and seized him, 28 shouting, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place. What’s more, he also brought Greeks into the temple and has profaned this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple complex.

30 The whole city was stirred up, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul, dragged him out of the temple complex, and at once the gates were shut. 31 As they were trying to kill him, word went up to the commander of the regiment that all Jerusalem was in chaos. 32 Taking along soldiers and centurions, he immediately ran down to them. Seeing the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the commander came up, took him into custody, and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He asked who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the mob were shouting one thing and some another. Since he was not able to get reliable information because of the uproar, he ordered him to be taken into the barracks. 35 When Paul got to the steps, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the mob’s violence, 36 for the mass of people followed, yelling, “Take him away!” (HCSB)

Starting with this passage, the several following chapters of Acts are a running commentary. This week’s lesson won’t require separate sections.

As we look at this passage, verse twenty-six sets the stage for what will transpire over the following chapters. Let’s look at this verse in detail.

  • Paul had decided to take the advice of the Jerusalem elders in an attempt to prove his “Jewishness” to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
  • We know from Paul’s epistles that the collection from the Gentile churches had brought him back to Jerusalem.
  • One of the major, if not the major, reason was to express unity between the Gentile and Jewish Christians.
  • Paul knew the dangers involved in traveling to Jerusalem. Romans 15:31 Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, that the gift I am bringing to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.
  • Paul was willing to participate in the symbolic act of ritual cleansing if that would help justify his evangelism to the Gentiles in the eyes of the Jewish Christians.
  • He began his purification the next day and announced in the temple the date when the Nazirite ceremony would be complete.
  • In seven days, Paul and the men would reenter the temple complex and make the prescribed offering.

The stage has been set, and we are now ready to move on to the riot that takes place after Paul enters the temple to complete the ritual.

  • The purification process required a cleansing on two separate days.
    • On the third day.
    • On the seventh day (Numbers 19:11).
  • It was on the seventh day that Paul entered the temple complex with the four other men to complete the purification ritual.
  • Once Paul was inside the temple complex, Jews from Asia saw him.
    • It isn’t surprising that the Asian Jews were the instigators of the riot.
    • It is likely that there were some from Ephesus.
    • Paul had spent three years in Ephesus and was well known in the area, both for sound teaching and for agitating some of the Jewish Christians.
    • Paul, in his Miletus address, alluded to plots hatched by the Ephesian Jews against him.
    • It was common for Diaspora Jews to be zealous in their observance of Jewish rituals.
    • It could be some of these same Asian Jews who had spread false rumors about Paul in the capital.
  • The accusations themselves were quite serious.
    • Two were the same that were levied against Stephen.
      • He speaks against our law – the Torah.
      • He speaks against this place – the temple.
    • The third charge was less specific but potentially the most valid – Paul taught against our people. Paul taught that the Gospel made all equal in Christ.
      • There is no Greek or Jew.
      • This implied that the Jews were no longer God’s chosen people.
    • The fourth charge was for temple violation.
      • The temple complex was divided into various sections.
        • There was a section for Gentiles – the large outer courtyard was open to all.
        • There was a section for Jews – this was the sacred section, the temple proper, open only to Jews.
        • There was a stone barrier that separated the court of the Gentiles from the first courtyard in the temple proper, the area for Jewish women.
          • There were warning stones placed along the barrier in both Greek and Latin, which forbid non-Jews access beyond the barrier.
          • Any non-Jew who went beyond the barrier would be sentenced to death. The inscription read, “No Gentile to defile our temple on pain of death.”
          • It is possible this barrier is the “wall” between Jews and Greeks that Paul mentions in Ephesians 2:14.
  • Luke makes it clear that the fourth charge against Paul is false in verse twenty-nine.
    • The Asian Jews had seen Paul in the city with Trophimus, one of the representatives from Ephesus.
    • Grasping for straws against Paul, the Asian Jews made the claim that Paul had taken the Gentile into the inner area beyond the barrier.
    • While it is true that Paul would have needed to enter the inner temple as part of his purification ritual, there was evidence that he had taken Trophimus with him. 
    • Since Paul was attempting to prove his “Jewishness” to his opponents, it would make no sense for him to include a Gentile.
    • It’s ironic that Paul, participating in a Jewish purification ritual, was accused of defiling the temple.
    • This is the sixth riot incited by Paul’s behavior and preaching.
      • Lystra – Acts 14:19.
      • Philippi – Acts 16:22.
      • Thessalonica – Acts 17:5.
      • Berea – Acts 17:13.
      • Ephesus – Acts 19:29.
  • It would be easy to accuse Luke of exaggerating how the crowd reacted. However, when we understand the setting of this event, Luke’s statement of “the whole city was stirred up” is quite fitting.
    • The temple area was, in effect, the town square of Jerusalem.
    • The court of the Gentiles was a large area, allowing a significant number of people to gather.
    • Once the riot began over the accusations levied against Paul and he was dragged out of the inner court, a very large crowd would have gathered.
  • Once the crowd had removed Paul from the inner court to the court of the Gentiles, the gates to the holy or “Jewish only” section were slammed shut.
    • This could have been done to protect against any further defiling of the inner courts.
    • Or this could have been a symbolic act by God.
      • This is the last time the temple is visited in the book of Acts.
      • The gates were closed.
      • With this final act of refusal of God’s messenger, the temple was now forever closed to God’s purposes.
  • The commotion had done more than attract the attention of the people in the temple complex; it also reached the ears of the commander of the Roman garrison located in Jerusalem.
    • Along the northwest corner of the wall that encircled the entire temple complex was the Tower of Antonia. The tower was a fortress built by Herod the Great for the defense of the temple.
    • Roman troops were now stationed in the tower.
    • Antonia contained several high towers, one allegedly 100 feet high, which would allow anyone in the tower a full view of the entire temple complex.
    • It’s possible a sentry in the tower was the first in the garrison to hear and see the commotion below.
    • Word was then sent to the commander of the Roman regiment.
      • In Acts 23:26, we find out the commander’s name is Claudius Lysias.
      • He was in charge of the military outpost located in Jerusalem.
      • As the commander of the regiment, Claudius was a high-ranking military officer in charge of a cohort.
      • A cohort consisted of 1,000 soldiers.
        • 760 infantry.
        • 240 cavalry.
      • The procurator resided in Caesarea and only made periodic visits to Jerusalem, much as Pontius Pilate went to Jerusalem during the Passover feast.
      • Claudius had primary responsibility for the Roman administration and peace-keeping within the city on a daily basis.
    • The barracks for the regiment were located in the Antonia, next to the temple.
      • Stairs led directly from Antonia into the court of the Gentiles.
      • The Romans knew that if any riot would occur in the city, it was likely that the temple would be the place where it would start. 
  • In response to the riot that was starting, Claudius took a sizable force of soldiers with him.
    • The text mentions “centurions” in the plural. There were at least two who went.
    • A centurion was in charge of 100 soldiers. 
    • The force that Claudius took was at least 200 men.
  • Once the mob saw the Roman soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.
  • Considering the size of the crowd and their zealous behavior, it’s a miracle that Paul survived the beating.
  • Since Paul was the object of the crowds’ wrath, Claudius arrested him until he could figure out what was happening.
    • Paul was bound with two chains.
      • Luke doesn’t make clear why two chains were used.
      • Paul could have been handcuffed on both arms and chained to a soldier on each side.
      • Paul could have been bound hand and foot, just as Agabus had predicted would happen.
    • What is clear is that Paul was “in chains,” either literally or figuratively, until the very end of Acts.
  • Because of the behavior of the mob, Claudius was not able to determine what Paul had done to incite the riot.
    • As is typical with mob mentality, it is likely that most of the crowd didn’t know the specifics; they were just following along with everyone else.
    • Therefore, Claudius ordered his soldiers to take Paul into the barracks.
  • Once they reached the steps of Antonia, the soldiers had to carry Paul. There are a couple of logical reasons for this.
    • Paul may have been semi-conscious or otherwise injured after the beating.
    • If his feet were bound, it might have made walking up the stairs difficult.
  • As the soldiers carried Paul into the barracks, the crowd was shouting, “take him away.” These are the exact words the mob screamed against Jesus – Luke 23:18 and John 19:15.
  • Luke clearly highlights the hatred and ugliness of the crowd towards Paul in this passage.
    • Stirred up – verses 27 and 30.
    • Dragged – verse 30.
    • Kill – verse 31.
    • Beating – verse 32.
    • Uproar – verse 34.
    • Mob – verse 35.

Applications

  • As we immerse ourselves in Kingdom work, we will face trials along the way. Some will be minor, but some could be quite severe. We must prepare ourselves in advance, just as Paul did, to withstand those attacks. 
  • If we are involved in cross-cultural ministry work, we must be sensitive. Paul, a Jew, was heavily involved in work among the Gentiles. Having traveled back to Jerusalem, he was careful not to do anything to upset the Jews. In the same way, we need to be sensitive as we evangelize people from other cultures. At times, it can be a delicate balancing act to remain faithful to the Gospel while contextualizing it for others. We must never allow syncretism to invade our witness.
  • Although most of us will never be bound with physical chains, we may at times be bound figuratively. This could come from nonbelievers, or it could come from Christian brothers or sisters. There are times when jealousy among ministry workers or mission agencies creates friction or even competition. While we may have little or no control over the figurative chains of nonbelievers, we should never allow these to occur in the body of Christ. When we lose our unity in Christ, the enemy wins.

Acts Lesson Forty-five

Acts Lesson Forty-five: Acts 21:15-25 – Conflict Over the Gentile Mission

After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea also went with us and brought us to Mnason, a Cypriot and an early disciple, with whom we were to stay. 

17 When we reached Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us gladly. 18 The following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related in detail what God did among the Gentiles through his ministry. 

20 When they heard it, they glorified God and said, “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law. 21 But they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, by telling them not to circumcise their children or to walk in our customs.  22 So what is to be done? They will certainly hear that you’ve come. 23 Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have obligated themselves with a vow. 24 Take these men, purify yourself along with them, and pay for them to get their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that what they were told about you amounts to nothing, but that you yourself are also careful about observing the law. 25 With regard to the Gentiles who have believed, we have written a letter containing our decision that they should keep themselves from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality.” (HCSB)

I’ll divide this lesson into two parts.

  • Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem – verses 15-19.
  • Conflict over the Gentile Mission – verses 20-25.

Paul’s Arrival in Jerusalem

Paul now begins the final leg of his journey to Jerusalem. Let’s take a closer look at the trip.

  • The trip from Caesarea to Jerusalem was approximately sixty-four miles.
    • The journey would take three days on foot or two days if they used pack animals.
    • The second option seems more likely as we must remember that Paul was bringing the collection from the Gentile churches, and carrying the collection would have been burdensome. 
  • The group was also relatively large; it included Paul and Luke, a delegation from each church who contributed to the offering, and some of the Christians from Caesarea.
  • Once they arrived in Jerusalem, they were led to the house of Mnason, who was from Cyprus and had been an early convert to Christianity. 
    • Although we don’t know explicitly from the texture, it is a safe conclusion that Mnason was a Hellenist.
    • Paul would not have been welcome in the home of a Palestinian Jewish Christian. 
  • Paul’s third missionary journey was finished. 
  • In addition, his mission work with the Greeks was now complete; he would not be returning there. 
  • Paul would no longer be a missionary working in freedom. 
    • Paul would now become a missionary bound by chains. 
    • However, the chains may have bound him physically, but they didn’t bind his witness to the truth of the Gospel. 
    • If anything, Paul’s witness became bolder.

Beginning in Acts 21:17, there begins a long section in Acts that doesn’t finish until the end of chapter twenty-six. Although comprised of an endless string of legal scenes and numerous speeches, the reason Luke presents it in such detail is to underscore the divine promise given to Paul at his conversion that he would bear the Lord’s name to the Gentiles, to kings, and the people of Israel (Acts 9:15). These chapters comprise the climax of Acts.

The remainder of this lesson’s passage is, in effect, a mini-trial before Paul faces the Jewish Christians and the Roman legal authorities. Let’s take a closer look at this section.

  • For the most part, Paul was warmly welcomed by the Christians in Jerusalem. 
  • The next day Paul, and part of his entourage, went to visit James and the elders of the Jerusalem church. 
    • During the Jerusalem Council, Paul’s report of the successful Gentile mission was met with silence (Acts 15:12). 
    • Here, Paul’s report was met with great enthusiasm, and they praised God for the fruit of Paul’s work among the Gentiles. 
  • The collection taken among the Gentile churches for the Jerusalem church is not mentioned here. 
    • It’s possible it wasn’t warmly received. 
    • It could be that Luke wanted to remain focused on the next major theme in Acts, Paul’s ultimate destination of Rome. 
  • Another thing to note is the absence of any of the Apostles at this point. 
  • The leadership of the Jerusalem church was comprised of James and a group of unnamed elders. 
  • The discussion now moves to the danger facing Paul; the Jewish Christian converts were “all zealous for the law.”

Conflict Over the Gentile Mission

From the earliest days of Jewish converts to Christianity, the issue of the Torah and adhering to the requirements of Jewish Law was a point of contention. If we remember back to earlier in Acts, the Jerusalem Conference was supposed to clear up the issue of the Law for Gentile converts. The Jewish Christians would remain faithful to the requirements of the Law, but Gentile converts would be exempt from following except for the provisions outlined in the Apostolic decree given in verse twenty-five. However, there was an added dynamic to the present situation, which made things dangerous for Paul and others who evangelized the Gentiles. The dynamic in question is found in verse twenty; the Jewish Christians were “zealous” for the Law. 

Let’s look at some information regarding Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem.

  • Paul’s arrival was in the spring of either 56 or 57 A.D.
  • Felix was the procurator at the time.
  • While Paul had been absent from Jerusalem, the Gospel had spread.
  • There were somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 Jewish Christians in Judea at this time.
  • At this time, Jewish nationalism and anti-Gentile attitudes were rapidly rising.
  • It was a time of political unrest.
    • There had been a number of Jewish insurrections which challenged the Roman authority.
    • Felix brutally suppressed each one.
    • Each event increased the Jewish hatred for Rome and boosted anti-Gentile sentiments.
    • The pro-Jewish sentiment was at its height, and friendliness with Gentiles was viewed in a negative light.
  • When considering the current situation, it’s easy to see that Paul’s mission to the Gentiles would not be viewed with a positive attitude. 
  • The situation also put the Jerusalem elders in a predicament.
    • They had previously supported Paul’s mission work among the Gentiles at the Jerusalem Conference.
    • Paul was a persona non grata among the Jewish population, which the elders were trying to reach with the Gospel.
    • Paul was also viewed unfavorably by the more recent Jewish Christian converts.
    • The elders didn’t want to reject Paul. On the contrary, they rejoiced over the success of Paul’s mission trips.
    • At the same time, they had to consider their evangelism efforts among the Jews, and Paul was a serious liability in those efforts.
  • The opponents of Paul, likely Jews from the Diaspora, were quite effective in creating an environment hostile to him.
    • They accused Paul of several offenses, each of which would be viewed as turning from their ancestral customs.
      • Turning from the Law of Moses.
      • Circumcision was no longer required.
      • Jewish customs no longer need to be obeyed.
      • Each of these charges was serious as they struck at the heart of Jewish self-identity as the people of God.
        • The ceremonial aspects of the Torah made them distinct from other people.
        • Circumcision was a mark given to each Jewish male on the eighth day to signify his membership in God’s covenant people.
      • Paul never argued that any of this was a means of salvation. Only faith in Christ leads to salvation, which is why Paul argued against circumcision for Gentiles.
      • At the same time, there is no evidence that Paul ever encouraged Jewish Christians to abandon Jewish customs.
      • We also see Paul remaining faithful to the requirements in the Torah as he dealt with the Jews.
    • Paul viewed one’s status in Christ as going beyond the distinction between Jew and Gentile (Galatians 3:28).
      • The Gentile wasn’t required to become a Jew.
      • The Jew didn’t stop being a Jew.
    • While accurate in a sense regarding Gentiles, Paul’s opponents were distorting the facts. Paul had only argued that the requirements for Gentile Christians shouldn’t include the requirements of the Law.
  • The offering from the Gentiles to the Jerusalem church presented another challenge.
    • Paul had carefully gathered and protected the offering over hundreds of miles of travel.
    • The offering was a demonstration of love and unity from the Gentile Christians to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
    • However, the offering presented a huge challenge for the elders of the Jerusalem church.
      • Accepting the offering from the Gentiles would be a slap in the face against the Jewish Christians, especially with nationalism and ethnic pride on the rise.
      • Declining it would be a slap in the face against the Gentiles who sacrificially gave to their brothers and sisters, as well as an affront to Paul, who gathered and transported the gift.
    • Paul had always argued for tolerance and the right of each group to their own views.
      • Timothy had been circumcised (Acts 16:3).
      • Paul had argued for the veiling of women at worship (1 Corinthians 11:2-16).
      • However, Paul’s opponents distorted his teaching and his positions of tolerance.

Now, the leaders in the Jerusalem church needed to decide how to handle the situation. Their solution was a way where Paul could, by example, show that he was still faithful to the Jewish Law. Let’s take a detailed look at their solution.

  • Four Jewish men had taken a Nazirite vow.
    • They had abstained from anything using grapes or alcohol.
    • They had not cut their hair.
    • They had avoided dead people, even if it was a family member.
  • These men were nearing the end of their vow. This would require certain steps.
    • They would have to cut their hair and burn it as an offering.
    • They would have to make a series of costly sacrifices.
      • A male lamb.
      • A female lamb.
      • A ram.
      • Cereal offerings.
      • Drink offerings.
  • The elders were asking Paul to join the four and pay the cost of the required sacrifices and hair cutting.
  • Except for paying the costs of the four men, it is unlikely that Paul had any role beyond that.
    • The minimum period for a Nazirite vow was thirty days, and Paul was only there for seven (Acts 21:27).
    • It wasn’t part of a Nazirite purification ceremony as this was only conducted if someone under the vow had come in contact with a dead body.
    • It’s possible Paul underwent a personal purification ceremony as often a Jew returning to Israel after traveling through Gentile territory would undergo ritual purification. The period for ritual purification was seven days, which fits the situation here.
    • Paul likely underwent the ritual purification to participate in the completion ceremony for the four men, which would take place in the sacred parts of the temple.
    • This would be a display of Paul’s full loyalty to the Torah.
      • Bearing the heavy financial cost of the vow.
      • Undergoing the necessary purification.
  • The Jerusalem elders were counting on this public demonstration of Paul’s commitment to the Torah as evidence against the public sentiment against him.

The concluding verse is an assurance to Paul that the decision of the Jerusalem Conference had not changed.

  • Gentiles would not be asked to live according to the requirements in the Torah.
  • The Gentiles would only have to observe table fellowship and social interaction rituals, which, if not observed, would cause friction between Jewish and Gentile Christians.
  • The Jerusalem elders were trying to create a compromise.
    • Acknowledge the legitimacy of Paul’s law-free approach to the Gentiles.
    • Maintain an effective witness to the Jews, where faithfulness to the Law was absolutely essential.

Applications

  • Do you display hospitality to missionaries or traveling ministers? In this lesson, we saw the example of Mnason. Although he is only mentioned once in the Bible, it’s his hospitality in opening his home to Paul and his companions that is noted.
  • Whatever ministry work you may be involved in, give the details to others. This is especially true if you receive support from other believers. 
  • Rejoice in the ministry work of others. We should never have jealousy of the success that others experience in sharing the Gospel. Regardless of our denomination, ethnic background, or education (or lack of), we are all one in Christ. We should share in the victories and the sorrows of each other.
  • Be flexible but never compromise. We see that example in Paul’s conduct in Jerusalem. He followed Jewish customs while not compromising the Gospel. Sometimes it can be a delicate balancing act, but we may find ourselves in a situation where it is needed.

Acts Lesson Forty-four

Acts Lesson Forty-four: Acts 21:1-14 – Paul Journeys to Jerusalem

After we tore ourselves away from them and set sail, we came by a direct route to Cos, the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. Finding a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we boarded and set sail. After we sighted Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we sailed on to Syria and arrived at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there. So we found some disciples and stayed there seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. When our days there were over, we left to continue our journey, while all of them, with their wives and children, escorted us out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach to pray, we said good-bye to one another. Then we boarded the ship, and they returned home. 

When we completed our voyage from Tyre, we reached Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them one day. The next day we left and came to Caesarea, where we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him. This man had four virgin daughters who prophesied. 

10 While we were staying there many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into Gentile hands.’ ” 12 When we heard this, both we and the local people begged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 

13 Then Paul replied, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 

14 Since he would not be persuaded, we stopped talking and simply said, “The Lord’s will be done!” (HCSB)

Paul continues his journey back to Jerusalem, making numerous stops along the way. By the end of this passage, he’s made his way back to Israel. I’ll be dividing this lesson into two parts.

  • Sailing back to Jerusalem – verses 1-7.
  • Paul’s arrival back in Israel – verses 8-14.

Sailing Back to Jerusalem

There were two main routes for ships to take at the time. One was to take a local coastal ship, which would stop at every port along the route, greatly increasing the time required to sail back to Israel. The second was to take a ship that was sailing directly to Phoenicia, which would make fewer stops and arrive quicker. Paul actually combined both types of vessels for the journey.

  • The journey from Miletus to Cos, Rhodes, and finally Patara was conducted on a coastal vessel. Each leg of the journey would take one day.
  • At Patara, they changed to a larger vessel that would take them on a direct route to Phoenicia. The leg from Patara to Tyre was about 400 miles in a straight line and would typically take five days if they encountered favorable winds. 
  • Tyre was the main port for cargo vessels between Asia and Palestine, which would make it a logical place for the ship to stop to unload its cargo.

Since there was now a delay in their journey as the cargo was unloaded, Paul and the team connected with fellow believers in the port city. Let’s take a closer look at Paul’s time in Tyre.

  • The Greek term used to denote “we found” was used to indicate people that Paul had not previously known, requiring Paul to search for other believers.
  • This Christian community was probably established by the Hellenist mission to Phoenicia mentioned in Acts 11:19.
  • The direct route taken by the ship allowed Paul to spend a week in Tyre with other Christians and still get to Jerusalem before Pentecost.
  • The Holy Spirit, through the believers in Tyre, was warning Paul about the journey to Jerusalem. Once again, we have this seeming conflict between the warnings not to go and a clear command, in Paul’s mind, that he had to go to Jerusalem. How is this tension deconflicted?
    • Paul was convinced that God was directing him to Jerusalem.
    • At the same time, the warnings were a means for Paul to prepare himself for what was waiting for him.
      • Imprisonment.
      • Hardship.
    • This duality also convinced Paul that God was the orchestrator behind it all.
      • Going in the face of danger was not difficult for Paul to accept. At the same time, Paul never deliberately sought out difficulty, and he didn’t have a martyr complex.
      • Paul accepted suffering as part of his witness and often implied it in his letters.
    • The Holy Spirit’s role was to prepare Paul for what was coming.

Paul’s departure from Tyre is reminiscent of his parting with the elders from the Ephesian elders. 

  • The scene is filled with emotion.
  • All the disciples escorted Paul and his companions to the boat.
  • This scene is one of the few in Acts where entire families are referenced, both the wives and children.
  • They all kneeled on the beach to pray.
    • We shouldn’t overlook this as merely believers praying together.
    • The entire Christian community was aware of the difficulties that Paul would face in Jerusalem.
    • They also understood that prayer was the best defense in times of suffering and trial.
  • It’s likely that the “goodbye” was a lengthy one. 
    • The Christians in Tyre didn’t want Paul to leave them.
    • However, they accepted Paul’s conviction that he must continue his journey
  • Once Paul and his companions boarded the ship, the Tyrian Christians returned to their homes.

The next stop on the journey was at Ptolemais, about twenty-five miles south of Tyre and the most southern of the Phoenician ports.

  • It was an ancient city, referred to as Acco in Judges 1:31, a name it is known by today.
  • It was later a famous crusader site known as Acre.
  • It was named after Ptolemy II Philadelphus.
  • Paul spent one day with the believers there, likely bound by the ship’s schedule.

Paul’s Arrival Back in Israel

Paul was already very familiar with the church at Caesarea (Acts 9:30 and 18:22). He may have previously met Philip, the evangelist, who had settled in the city. On this occasion, Philip plays host to Paul and the rest of the entourage. We are then given the interesting and rather abstract comment about Philip’s daughters. Nothing further is mentioned about them, but there is some information in church oral tradition.

  • At some point in the future, they moved or served in Asia Minor.
  • They were viewed as important witnesses and preservers of traditions from the apostolic period.
  • Eusebius claimed these women provided Luke with information about the early days of the Jerusalem church.
  • The most significant point to note from this passage is that there were women in the early church who were recognized as having the gift of prophecy.

The scene then shifts to the arrival of Agabus, who had traveled from Judea. Agabus had previously prophesied the coming famine to Judea, which had prompted the collection initiated by the Antioch church in Acts 11:27-30. Now, Agabus makes another prediction.

  • In a symbolic act that reminds us of Old Testament prophecies, Agabus predicts Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem.
  • Much like the prophet Ezekiel, he took Paul’s belt, a long cloth that would be wrapped several times around his waist, and bound Paul’s hands and feet with it.
    • Agabus then, just like an Old Testament prophet, gives an interpretation of what he had just done.
    • Agabus uses the phrase, “This is what the Holy Spirit says,” which is equivalent to “Thus says the Lord.”
    • Paul would be bound by the Jews and then delivered over to the Gentiles.
  • The parallel to Jesus is clear (Matthew 20:18-19, Luke 18:32).
  • The proclamation from Agabus shouldn’t be viewed as a warning but rather a prediction.
  • In contrast to the Christians in Tyre, Agabus didn’t tell Paul not to go.
  • Instead, his prophetic utterance was to let Paul know what would happen to him in Jerusalem.
  • The prophetic statement established the reality of the event and the certainty that it would occur.
  • It also prepared Paul for the event and assured him that God would be with him during the trial.

Just like the believers in Tyre, Paul’s companions and the Christians in Caesarea were of the opinion that Paul shouldn’t travel to Jerusalem. Luke includes himself in this opinion by the use of “we” in verse fourteen. The continued pleas from Paul’s fellow believers only added to the conflict Paul was experiencing. Paul firmly believed that God was leading him to Jerusalem, yet he understood the anguish his companions felt as they heard about what would happen to Paul once he got there. Regardless of how his friends felt or the arguments presented, they tried to dissuade him from going; Paul was prepared to die for the cause of the Gospel if necessary. 

Paul was finally able to convince those with him that he would continue on to Jerusalem. In effect, this stopped their protests. Although they didn’t want to lose Paul, they also respected his resolve and conviction that continuing to Jerusalem was God’s will. They then joined in corporate prayer for Paul.

Many refer to the group prayer at the end of verse fourteen, “The Lord’s will be done,” as Paul’s Gethsemane. 

Applications

  • When we move or are traveling, do we make a conscious effort to connect with other believers?
    • If you are moving to another location, do research before you move to see which churches might be a good fit. With the internet and technology today, there is no good reason for a delay in connecting with a church in your new location.
    • When you take a trip or vacation, do you check ahead of time about churches in the location(s) you’ll be visiting? Often you can make new connections and connect with other believers. 
  • If given the opportunity, do you host other believers or missionaries if they are in your location? One of the characteristics of the church in Acts was a strong sense of hospitality towards other believers. Hospitality is a timeless principle all believers should practice.
  • Do we engage in earnest prayer with other believers, especially as they face trials? The early church was known for prayer. Our present church should also be known for prayer.
  • Do you help other believers as they wrestle with a decision?
    • Pray with them.
    • Help them discern God’s will.
    • Support them once it is clear what God wants them to do.

Acts Lesson Forty

Acts Lesson Forty: Paul in Ephesus and the Sons of Sceva

God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul’s hands, 12 so that even facecloths or work aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, and the diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them. 

13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists attempted to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I command you by the Jesus that Paul preaches!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 The evil spirit answered them, “I know Jesus, and I recognize Paul—but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them all, and prevailed against them, so that they ran out of that house naked and wounded. 17 This became known to everyone who lived in Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. Then fear fell on all of them, and the name of the Lord Jesus  was magnified. 18 And many who had become believers came confessing and disclosing their practices, 19 while many of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them in front of everyone. So they calculated their value and found it to be 50,000 pieces of silver. 20 In this way the Lord’s message flourished and prevailed. (HCSB)

As Paul continues his work in Ephesus, we see God displaying His power. I’ll divide this lesson into two parts.

  • Miracles by God through Paul – verses 11-12.
  • The sons of Sceva – verses 13-20.

Miracles by God Through Paul

As we begin this section, let’s take a look at the history and characteristics of biblical miracles.

  • There are there special periods of miracles in biblical history.
    • The time of Moses.
    • The time of Elijah and Elisha.
    • The time of Jesus and the Apostles.
    • Each was less than 100 years.
    • The total number of miracles recorded for the three periods is around 100.
  • When Jesus performed miracles, there were usually at least three purposes for the miracle.
    • To show compassion and meet human needs.
    • To teach a spiritual truth.
    • To demonstrate that He was the Messiah.
  • The Apostles followed this same pattern, and the ability to perform miracles was proof of apostolic authority.
  • Miracles by themself do not save anyone. They must be connected to the message of the Word of God.
  • God empowered Paul to perform “special miracles” because Ephesus was a center for occult practices, and Paul displayed God’s power in Satan’s territory.
  • However, wherever God’s people minister in truth, Satan will send a counterfeit to oppose that work.
    • Jesus taught this in the parable of the Tares – Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
    • Peter in Samaria – Acts 8:9ff.
    • Paul in Paphos – Acts 13:4-12.

Now let’s look at the details surrounding the miracles Paul was performing.

  • The miracles were extraordinary.
    • The people would take clothing articles that had touched Paul’s skin and take them to sick people, who were then healed.
    • The “facecloths” could have been either handkerchiefs or sweatbands tied around the head.
    • The work aprons were normally tied around the waist and used for wiping the sweat from the wearer’s hands or face.
    • It didn’t matter which one was used; the result is the sick and possessed were healed.
  • The idea of an object, in the present narrative items of clothing, is a delicate issue.
    • Jesus’ garment healed a woman – Mark 5:27-34.
    • Peter’s shadow healing people – Acts 5:15.
    • However, the medieval church was plagued by an unhealthy fixation on relic worship.
    • Even today, believers journey to Israel and “worship” the various locations as if the location possessed power. When my wife and I visited Israel, one of the places we visited was Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I witnessed first-hand people rubbing cloths of various types on the hole in the rock floor where some believe Jesus’ cross was planted. 
    • It is never the item of location that possesses the power. The only true source of power is God.
  • Today we have various “Christian” ministries that will tell people to “donate” a certain amount for a healing cloth or some other item.
    • These are almost certainly not wholesome or Christian ministries.
    • If God has blessed someone with the gift of healing, they should be doing that without charge. Maybe at most, the cost they incur if they travel. 
    • Most of these “healers” are living quite luxurious lives, in stark contrast to biblical standards.
    • The very fact that people will succumb to these false prophets is an indication of how dark and superstitious our culture has become.

The Sons of Sceva

This section of the narrative should cause us to remember back to Simon Magus and his infatuation with Philip’s miracles. The local Jewish exorcists likely were either first or secondhand witnesses to the work of Paul. Unlike Paul, they were motivated by greed and saw a threat to their livelihood. Therefore, they attempted to operate in the same manner as Paul by using the name of Jesus. Luke then goes on and gives a specific account, of the sons of Sceva, as well as how the population of Ephesus reacted to the events. Let’s look at this section in detail.

  • Jewish exorcists occupied a respected place in Greco-Roman society.
    • Judaism was a long-respected religion.
    • The incantations which the Jewish exorcists used were considered strange and exotic.
    • In Greco-Roman society, the more exotic the incantation, the more effective it was thought to be.
  • Jewish exorcists observed how Paul drove out evil spirits by using Jesus’ name.
    • The incantations used by Jewish exorcists were usually long and elaborate, invoking the various Old Testament names of God.
    • When they observed Paul using a name new to them and being successful in driving out evil spirits, they decided to copy Paul’s method.
  • We don’t know much about Sceva, but let’s look at what we do know.
    • Sceva doesn’t appear in any list of priests by the Jewish historian Josephus.
    • We should conclude that Luke wasn’t placing him in an official position by using the term “chief priest.”
    • It’s possible he came from a priestly family.
    • It makes more sense to conclude that Sceva occupied a prominent position among the charlatans and magicians who duped the people.
  • The sons of Sceva decided to invoke the name of Jesus during an exorcism, which went horribly wrong for them.
    • The response of the evil spirit to the sons is both interesting and humorous when the original Greek is read.
      • The evil spirit knew Jesus. We read the same thing in the gospels. The enemy clearly knows who the Son of God is.
      • The evil spirit respected Paul, realizing the power of God worked through him. 
      • The evil spirit didn’t recognize them or respect them. They had no authority or power over the evil spirit.
    • The evil spirit then attacked the seven sons.
      • This narrative demonstrates the power of evil spirits and the truth that battling evil spirits is not something to be done lightly. At the same time, if we are children of God, and have the Holy Spirit living within us, we have nothing to fear.
      • Not only did the evil spirit attack and overpower the sons, but during the battle, they were stripped naked.
        • We need to remember that extreme modesty was a characteristic of Judaism.
        • For the sons to run naked from the house symbolizes their complete failure and humiliation in the failed attempt to exorcise the evil spirit.
    • We learn two lessons from the failed attempt by Sceva’s sons.
      • Christianity has nothing to do with magic. Jesus’ name is not some magical formula by itself. It is the power of Jesus working through the Holy Spirit residing in a believer that drives out the evil spirit. It only works through those who are committed believers.
      • The evil spirit understood the power of Jesus over him. We read in James 2:19 that demons believe and shudder. 
  • The result of this one incident had a profound and far-reaching impact on the residents of Ephesus.
    • It was evident that Jesus’ name  was not some toy but was power.
    • They were seized by a reverent fear.
    • They magnified the name of Jesus.
    • The most significant impact is many became believers.
      • Not only did they become believers, they openly confessed they were previously involved in occult practices.
      • In addition to confessing their previous involvement with occult practices, many brought their magic books and publicly burned them.
      • The monetary loss was enormous.
        • The silver coin was most likely a drachma, the most common Greek silver coin.
        • The drachma was equal to an average day’s wage.
        • The bonfire that consumed the books was worth 50,000 days of wages.
        • The burning of the books was a decision made by individuals; the church didn’t suggest or enforce the action. The lesson for believers is that separation from sin should be normal practice.
    • The end result is the Gospel advanced and overcame the widespread practices of the occult in Ephesus. The advancement occurred through two avenues.
      • Paul’s preaching.
      • The witness of the Ephesian Christians.

Applications

  • Although this passage includes examples of “items” being used to heal and drive out demons, I believe it is descriptive and prescriptive behavior for the church and Christians. This was a power projection to show that God was mightier than occult practices. Although it could occur today in specific settings, it should not be expected as standard practice.
  • Our power comes from Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Apart from that power, we should never expect to overcome the darkness in the world. The sons of Sceva learned this lesson in a most dramatic fashion. We need to immerse ourselves in the Word, prayer, and fellowship with God. As we remain attached to the vine, we can accomplish great works for God’s glory.
  • As believers, we need to separate ourselves from any type of occult practice. Those who became believers in Ephesus were heavily involved in the occult, as evidenced by the hefty value of the books which were burned. However, how many Christians read their horoscope or are engaged in some other type of “innocent” occult activity?