Acts Lesson Fifty-six

Acts Lesson Fifty-six: Acts 28:11-31 – Paul in Rome

11 After three months we set sail in an Alexandrian ship that had wintered at the island, with the Twin Brothers as its figurehead. 12 Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed three days. 13 From there, after making a circuit along the coast, we reached Rhegium. After one day a south wind sprang up, and the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found believers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. 

And so we came to Rome. 15 Now the believers from there had heard the news about us and had come to meet us as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage. 16 When we entered Rome, Paul was permitted to stay by himself with the soldier who guarded him. 

17 After three days he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had gathered he said to them: “Brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 After they examined me, they wanted to release me, since I had not committed a capital offense.  19 Because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar; it was not as though I had any accusation against my nation. 20 For this reason I’ve asked to see you and speak to you. In fact, it is for the hope of Israel that I’m wearing this chain.” 

21 Then they said to him, “We haven’t received any letters about you from Judea. None of the brothers has come and reported or spoken anything evil about you. 22 But we would like to hear from you what you think. For concerning this sect, we are aware that it is spoken against everywhere.” 

23 After arranging a day with him, many came to him at his lodging. From dawn to dusk he expounded and witnessed about the kingdom of God. He tried to persuade them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets. 24 Some were persuaded by what he said, but others did not believe. 

25 Disagreeing among themselves, they began to leave after Paul made one statement: “The Holy Spirit correctly spoke through the prophet Isaiah to your  ancestors 26 when He said, 

Go to these people and say: 

You will listen and listen, 

yet never understand; 

and you will look and look, 

yet never perceive. 

27 For the hearts of these people 

have grown callous, 

their ears are hard of hearing, 

and they have shut their eyes; 

otherwise they might see with their eyes 

and hear with their ears, 

understand with their heart, 

and be converted, 

and I would heal them. 

28 Therefore, let it be known to you that this saving work of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen!” [29 After he said these things, the Jews departed, while engaging in a prolonged debate among themselves.] 

30 Then he stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with full boldness and without hindrance. (HCSB)

I’m going to split this lesson into three parts.

  • Sailing to Rome – verses 11-16.
  • Paul’s first meeting with the Roman Jews – verses 17-22.
  • The Jew’s reaction to the Gospel – verses 23-31.

Sailing to Rome

The group spent three months in Malta before continuing their journey to Rome. Based on standard sailing times in the Mediterranean, they likely left around the beginning of February. Let’s look at some details from this section.

  • The twin brothers were tied to Greek mythology. Their names were Castor and Pollux, the sons of Zeus.
    • They were considered protectors of sailors.
    • They were a common feature of Roman ships as a plea for safety on the seas.
    • When their constellation was visible in the sky, it was considered a favorable omen for a smooth voyage.
  • Luke doesn’t specify if all 276 people continued on this ship or not. In the end, it doesn’t matter since the narrative is about Paul going to Rome.
  • The first stop on the voyage was at Syracuse, about 80 miles away.
    • Syracuse is located in the eastern section of southern Sicily.
    • There were two harbors there.
    • During the Roman period, it was the capital of the island.
    • Luke doesn’t give details for the three-day delay. It is possible the ship was doing business, or the winds were not favorable during that time.
  • The second stop was at Rhenium, 70 miles from Syracuse.
    • Rhenium is located at the southern tip of the boot of Italy, opposite Sicily and at the entrance to the straits of Messina.
    • It’s possible this leg didn’t go as planned as Luke says they “sailed around,” which may indicate the ship needed to tack against the wind.
  • The next stop was at Puteoli, about 210 miles from Rhenium through the straits of Messina. 
    • They encountered a favorable wind as the ship made very good time between the stops.
    • In Paul’s day, Puteoli was likely the main port in Italy for the grain fleet.
    • It is now known as Pozzuoli.
    • It was located about eight miles northwest of Naples and 130 miles by foot to Rome.
  • In their final stop before Rome, the party met a group of Christians who invited them to stay for seven days.
    • We shouldn’t be surprised that a Christian community was already established in Puteoli when Paul arrived.
      • The edict of Claudius, which Luke referred to in Acts 18:2, dealt with a dispute in the Jewish community in Rome.
      • The dispute appears to have involved Christ and is evidence the Gospel had reached Italy by a.d. 49.
      • Paul’s letter to the Romans is possibly the best evidence for a Christian church being established well before Paul’s arrival.
    • We might also marvel at the amount of freedom Paul enjoyed while being in custody. The freedom he enjoyed speaks to the level of trust Paul had established with his Roman guards.
  • The group now completed the journey to Rome on foot. The journey was about 130 miles and would have taken five days by foot.
    • On the Appian Way, about forty-three miles south of Rome, was the stopping place known as the Forum of Appius. It was here that Paul first encountered Christians living in Rome.
    • The group continued on, and about ten miles later, they were met by more believers at a way station known as Three Taverns.
    • It’s possible the two groups of Christians were from different house churches within the capital. Only here are Roman Christians mentioned in Acts. They would serve as a constant source of encouragement to Paul during his time in Rome.
  • Verse sixteen acts as a bridge between the travel narrative and Paul’s witness in Rome. Although Paul was given quite a bit of freedom, he was still under the supervision of a guard. Paul was a witness in chains.

Paul’s First Meeting With the Roman Jews

It’s interesting to note that as Luke begins to wind down the events in Acts, Paul’s witness is focused primarily on the Jews living in Rome. The reason for Paul’s journey to Rome was his appeal to Caesar. However, Luke doesn’t include anything regarding that meeting. Maybe the reader shouldn’t be surprised after all. A familiar pattern is repeated here; Paul’s initial preaching to the Jews, which is initially received in a favorable manner, followed by resistance, and finally, Paul turning to the Gentiles. Luke has emphasized this theme, Jewish rejection and Gentile acceptance of the Gospel, throughout Acts. Now, let’s take a closer look at Paul’s meeting with the Roman Jews.

  • Paul initiated the first conversation with the Jews.
  • Looking back at verse seventeen, it was a meeting with the Jewish leaders in Rome.
  • Rome had a large Jewish community, but it wasn’t a homogenous and seamless community. From the context of the passage, it appears there were several synagogues since “many” leaders came to him.
  • Paul then gives an abridged version of the circumstances that brought him to Rome. 
    • He hadn’t done anything against his fellow Jews or their customs.
    • He had been arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans.
    • The Romans found no substance to the charges against Paul and wanted to release him.
    • However, at every step the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem objected to Paul’s release.
    • Paul had no accusation against Israel.
      • He was a loyal Jew.
      • He was not guilty of any crime against the Jews.
      • He was innocent of any ill intent toward them.
      • He only wanted their commitment to Christ.
    • As stated in previous lessons, the real point of contention between Paul and the Jews was Paul’s belief in the resurrection of Jesus, that Jesus is both Messiah and Lord.
  • The Jewish leaders in Rome told Paul they hadn’t heard anything about him, either in official correspondence or by word-of-mouth. Although this may surprise us, we must also remember that Paul had left for Rome as late fall was setting in and, as evidenced by the storm they encountered, winter wasn’t far behind. 
    • The most likely reason for the Roman Jews not to have about Paul is because of winter and the delay in correspondence.
    • The other possible, albeit less likely reason, is that the Roman Jews were making a conscious effort to dissociate themselves from Paul and escape any fallout from the result of Paul’s trial.
  • Their second response, to hear about the Christian “sect,” indicates a lack of knowledge about the movement. This may seem puzzling since there was a well-established Christian community in Rome. It’s possible this lack of knowledge was due to the edict of Claudius.
    • The edict was issued about ten years prior to Paul’s arrival in Rome.
    • It involved a dispute within the Jewish synagogue over Christ.
    • If the Jewish leaders really didn’t know much about the Christians, it would seem the edict caused the synagogues to isolate themselves from the Christians completely.
    • It’s also possible the Roman Jews were being diplomatic and were keeping as much space as possible from the situation involving Paul.
  • From the Roman Jew’s actions, we deduce they found nothing wrong with Paul and had no accusation against him.
  • The first encounter with the Roman Jews focused on Paul’s innocence.
    • Paul didn’t have a martyr’s complex.
    • He didn’t come to Rome to die.
    • From the context of the last few chapters in Acts, it’s clear Paul expected to be released.
    • After his release, he likely felt he would evangelize Rome and then move west towards Spain.

The Jew’s Reaction to the Gospel 

In contrast to verse seventeen, it appears that a significantly larger contingent of Jews visited Paul in this section. Let’s take a deeper look at the final section of Acts.

  • Luke mentions that “many” came to see Paul. In Paul’s first meeting with the Roman Jews, he only met with the leaders. Now, it would appear that others joined in the meeting with Paul.
  • Since Paul was under guard, the Jews were required to visit him in his quarters. 
  • Paul spent the entire day presenting the Gospel to them.
  • Paul’s presentation focused on two terms.
    • The kingdom of God.
      • The Jews always looked to the coming of the Messiah.
      • When the Messiah came, God’s kingdom would be restored in a renewed Israel.
    • Jesus.
      • Jesus is at the center of God’s sovereign rule.
      • God’s people are gathered around Jesus.
  • The message throughout Acts had been this had already occurred with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
  • Paul presented the same message to the Roman Jews.
    • The Law of Moses.
    • The words of the Prophets.
    • Luke doesn’t specify which texts were used, but it’s safe to conclude they would have spoken about the Messiah’s suffering and resurrection.
    • Jesus also used the Law of Moses and the Prophets to speak about himself in Luke 24:27, 44-47.
    • Peter did the same in Acts 2:17-36 and 3:12-26.
    • Paul had previously spoken the same message in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13:32-39.
  • The result was a sharp division between the Roman Jews.
    • Some were persuaded by Paul’s message.
    • Others refused to believe Paul.
    • However, the synagogue as a whole didn’t believe Paul’s message.
  • As the Jews were arguing or discussing Paul’s message, Paul put in one final shot by quoting Old Testament Scripture. Paul’s use of this passage prompted the Jews to leave en masse.
    • Paul uses a passage talking about future unbelief among the Jews and not a passage about the Messiah.
    • The term “correctly” in the original Greek means “the truth.”
    • The Holy Spirit spoke the truth through the prophet Isaiah about the unbelief in Israel.
    • Paul also begins to create “space” between himself and the unbelieving Jews.
      • In verse seventeen, he addressed them as brothers.
      • Now he addresses them with the term “your ancestors.”
      • Paul hadn’t stopped being a Jew, but his faith in Jesus separated him from the Roman Jews who refused to believe.
      • Paul wasn’t one of the hardhearted Jewish ancestors who rejected the Gospel.
  • The section from Isaiah that Paul quotes is from the Septuagint.
    • The Greek version of the prophecy focuses on the people’s stubbornness in refusing to accept the message.
    • Three types of perception are highlighted in the text.
      • Their eyes are closed to seeing the truth.
      • Their ears are closed to hearing the truth.
      • Their hearts are closed to accepting the truth.
    • An understanding of the message would have resulted in repentance and receiving God’s forgiveness and healing.
    • The Roman Jews matched the prophecy in Isaiah.
      • They heard Paul preach the Gospel, yet the hardness of their heart caused them to reject it.
      • In Paul’s message to the Jews, the Greek verb “to hear” occurs five times at key points.
      • The quote from Isaiah refers to hearing three times.
      • The point is hearing isn’t really hearing if there is no response to the message.
      • The final time Paul uses the Greek verb “to hear” is when he is talking about the Gentiles.
      • The Gentiles would hear with receptive hearts and repent.
  • As the Roman Jews left Paul, he declared the Gentiles would be the recipients of the Gospel.
    • However, we shouldn’t interpret this as meaning Paul had finally given up on the Jews.
    • Paul was always able to reach at least some Jews in his missionary journeys, including here in Rome. 
    • As Acts concludes, Luke writes that Paul welcomed all who visited him. This likely included some Jews.
    • The statement about the Gentiles responding to the message is not a declaration about Jewish exclusion from God’s Kingdom; it’s about the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s Kingdom.
  • Paul spent two years in Rome preaching the Gospel to all who visited him.
    • Although Paul was, in essence, under house arrest, he was still given the freedom to entertain visitors. 
    • Paul preached with boldness.
    • Paul preached without hindrance. This likely means the Romans allowed him to speak freely, seeing nothing dangerous or subversive in his message.
    • During this time, Paul was also busy writing epistles.
      • Ephesians.
      • Philippians.
      • Colossians.
      • Philemon.
    • Most believe Paul was released after this two-ear period, around a.d. 63.
      • Paul likely continued his evangelism in the eastern portion of the empire.
      • It’s also possible Paul fulfilled his desire to reach Spain with the Gospel.
      • In 2 Timothy 4:16-18, we read of a second trial containing a tone of resignation over Paul’s future.
      • Paul was beheaded in Rome by order of Emperor Nero around a.d. 67.
  • At the end of Acts, we see a Gospel that is without chains, victorious over every barrier of superstition and human prejudice.
  • Although Luke ends Acts rather abruptly, it wasn’t meant as a biography of Peter or Paul. Acts is a narrative about the early church’s expansion and influence on the world.
  • However, Acts is not a finished book. Chapter 29 is still being written. It is the longest chapter containing the largest amount of people involved in evangelism. Chapter 29 is being written by us, by every believer from the time of Paul until Christ’s return. The question posed to every follower of Christ is, “what will your contribution be?”

Applications

  • We need to have patience as we encounter storms and see things through to the end. Paul’s life was an endless series of storms, some more severe than others. Yet, Paul never lost sight of the commission he was given, taking the message of the Gospel wherever Christ sent him. Do our lives exhibit the same traits? Or do we put into the nearest port and call off our journey as soon as things get rough? 
  • Don’t be afraid to preach the Gospel. Fear was never an issue with Paul; it shouldn’t be with us, either. However, some people feel they aren’t qualified or are just uneasy talking about the Gospel. If your church has any classes on evangelism, join the class. If you aren’t in a small group, join one and bring up the topic of evangelism. You could even ask who is actively involved in evangelism and your desire to participate with them and learn. There are numerous good books about sharing your faith. A couple that I have read are Share Jesus Without Fear and Evangelism Is…How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence.
  • Don’t limit yourself to evangelizing only a specific group of people. Paul always had a heart for his fellow Jews, yet he only had marginal success with that group. Instead, the Holy Spirit led him to evangelize the Gentiles, and the results were amazing. There’s a lesson for us here. Don’t be dogmatic in your evangelism. You may have a preference but go where the Spirit leads you and watch an amazing harvest unfold. 

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-one

Acts Lesson Fifty-one: Acts 24:1-27 – Paul Before Felix

After five days Ananias  the high priest came down with some elders and a lawyer named Tertullus. These men presented their case against Paul to the governor. When he was called in, Tertullus began to accuse him and said: “Since we enjoy great peace because of you, and reforms are taking place for the benefit of this nation by your foresight, we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with utmost gratitude. However, so that I will not burden you any further, I beg you in your graciousness to give us a brief hearing. For we have found this man to be a plague, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the Roman world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes! He even tried to desecrate the temple, so we apprehended him [and wanted to judge him according to our law. But Lysias the commander came and took him from our hands with great force, commanding his accusers to come to you.] By examining him yourself you will be able to discern all these things we are accusing him of.” The Jews also joined in the attack, alleging that these things were so. 

10 When the governor motioned to him to speak, Paul replied: “Because I know you have been a judge of this nation for many years, I am glad to offer my defense in what concerns me. 11 You are able to determine that it is no more than 12 days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem. 12 They didn’t find me disputing with anyone or causing a disturbance among the crowd, either in the temple complex or in the synagogues or anywhere in the city. 13 Neither can they provide evidence to you of what they now bring against me. 14 But I confess this to you: I worship my fathers’ God according to the Way,  which they call a sect, believing all the things that are written in the Law and in the Prophets. 15 And I have a hope in God, which these men themselves also accept, that there is going to be a resurrection, both of the righteous and the unrighteous. 16 I always do my best to have a clear conscience toward God and men. 17 After many years, I came to bring charitable gifts and offerings to my nation, 18 and while I was doing this, some Jews from Asia found me ritually purified in the temple, without a crowd and without any uproar.  19 It is they who ought to be here before you to bring charges, if they have anything against me. 20 Either let these men here state what wrongdoing they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin, 21 or about this one statement I cried out while standing among them, ‘Today I am being judged before you concerning the resurrection of the dead.’ ” 

22 Since Felix was accurately informed about the Way, he adjourned the hearing, saying, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 He ordered that the centurion keep Paul under guard, though he could have some freedom, and that he should not prevent any of his friends from serving him. 

24 After some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and listened to him on the subject of faith in Christ Jesus. 25 Now as he spoke about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix became afraid and replied, “Leave for now, but when I find time I’ll call for you.” 26 At the same time he was also hoping that money would be given to him by Paul. For this reason he sent for him quite often and conversed with him. 27 After two years had passed, Felix received a successor, Porcius Festus, and because he wished to do a favor for the Jews, Felix left Paul in prison. (HCSB)

I’ll divide this lesson into three parts.

  • The Sanhedrin’s accusation against Paul.
  • Paul’s defense before Felix.
  • Felix delays his decision.

The Sanhedrin’s Accusation Against Paul

As we begin this section, let’s break down three areas; the religious “team” that arrived from Jerusalem, a detailed look at Tertullus, and a look at the timeline involving Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem to this meeting before Felix.

  • The religious team.
    • The high priest, Ananias.
    • Some elders who were likely members of the Sanhedrin.
    • A lawyer named Tertullus.
  • Tertullus.
    • We can’t be certain whether he was a Jew or a Gentile hired by the Jews.
      • In verses three, four, and six, he identifies himself with the Jews by the use of the word “we.”
      • In verse nine, he seems to separate from “the Jews.”
      • It was not uncommon for Jews to hire pagan lawyers who were skilled in Roman law.
    • Tertullus showed himself to be skilled in Roman legal procedures.
      • He began the case against Paul with lengthy and bloated praise for the Roman governor, which considerably stretched the truth.
      • There was less peace in Judea during Felix’s rule than any Roman governor until the final years before the outbreak of war with Rome.
      • The Romans prided themselves on preserving the peace, and the comment would surely resonate with Felix.
      • Foresight and reforms were hardly a highlight during Felix’s reign. 
        • Felix had made life miserable for the Jews.
        • There was an increase in rebellions during his rule.
        • Felix had a complete lack of sympathy for the Jews and made no attempt to understand their positions.
      • There were few Jews who would feel a sense of gratitude towards him.
  • Timeline of Paul’s visit to Jerusalem.
    • Day 1 – arrived in Jerusalem.
    • Day 2 – visited James.
    • Day 3 – visited the temple.
    • Days 4-6 – in the temple with the vow upon him.
    • Day 7 – arrested in the temple.
    • Day 8 – before the Sanhedrin.
    • Day 9 – the Jew’s plot and Paul’s escort to Caesarea.
    • Day 10 – presented to Felix.
    • Days 11-12 – waiting in Caesarea.
    • Day 13 – the hearing before Felix.

Tertullus presented three charges against Paul.

  • A personal and political accusation – he is a plague and an agitator.
    • Paul stirred up riots throughout the civilized world.
    • This aligned with the Asian Jews’ charge in Acts 21:28.
    • Tertullus was attempting to connect this to the idea of insurrection in the Roman empire.
      • It was a charge of sedition.
      • Romans wouldn’t concern themselves with Jewish religious matters, but they would take a threat to Roman “peace” seriously.
    • Given Felix’s behavior in dealing with Jewish insurrections, this would have struck a nerve with him.
  • A religious accusation – he is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.
    • This charge was true…in a sense. Paul was a Christian leader.
    • By linking this statement with the charge of insurrection, Tertullus was implying that Christians as a group were dangerous to the peace Rome sought, and Paul was one of the main instigators.
    • By linking the two, Tertullus was implying the charge against the entire Christian community, implying they were a danger and should be viewed as an insurrectionist movement.
    • Fortunately, Tertullus was unable to make this point stick, and Felix was already informed about Christians and wouldn’t have accepted this point anyway.
  • He desecrated the temple.
    • The Romans delegated religious legal matters to the Sanhedrin and granted the Jews the right to ban Gentiles from sacred areas.
    • Paul was charged by the Asian Jews for violating the ban on Gentiles in sacred areas.
    • If Tertullus were able to prove this point, Felix would have been obligated to turn Paul over to the Sanhedrin and almost certain death by stoning.
    • The charge was based on a false claim by the Asian Jews, which is likely the reason they were not present at this hearing.
  • All three charges were false.
    • Paul was never a plague or an agitator. He only spoke the truth, which offended many. Also, Paul never sought to change anyone’s politics. However, he did preach the lordship of Christ, which would be in conflict with Caesar’s demand that he be worshipped as a god.
    • Since many Jewish Christians still participated in some aspects of temple worship, They were viewed as a subset of Judaism and not a new religion.
    • Paul never violated the temple. The charge by the Asian Jews was entirely baseless.

Tertullus also lied about Claudius Lysias.

  • He described the mob action in the temple as an attempt to arrest Paul.
  • He embellished the actions of Claudius by saying Paul was snatched from the Jews with great force.
  • God used Claudius to rescue Paul, and the Jews hated him for that.

Paul’s Defense Before Felix

As this section begins, we get a sense of Felix’s attitude of superiority. He doesn’t ask Paul to speak; he merely gave a nod of his head or a wave of his hand. Paul begins his defense with the customary greeting, but it is markedly different from the one given by Tertullus.

  • Paul didn’t appeal to Felix’s ego.
  • He didn’t stretch the truth about Felix’s rule or accomplishments.
  • Paul only acknowledged that Felix had been a governor for “many years.” 

Paul then begins his defense by making a response to each of the charges brought against him.

  • The charge of stirring up an insurrection.
    • There was no history of Paul inciting the Jews in Jerusalem.
      • He had only been in the city for twelve days, and his sole reason for coming was to worship at the temple.
      • Twelve days is not enough time to organize a rebellion.
    • Pilgrims were generally not the ones who caused trouble.
  • Paul stated that he had not stirred up any crowds.
    • He didn’t do it in the temple.
    • He didn’t do it in any synagogue.
    • He didn’t do it anywhere within the city.
  • Paul concluded his response to the charges by stating the Jews had no proof to support their claims that would stand up in court.

Paul then moves on to address the issue of being a leader of the Nazarene sect.

  • Paul uses the opportunity to give a mini-sermon, changing from a defensive posture to a positive witness for the Gospel.
  • Tertullus tried to present Christians in a negative light as a subset within Judaism.
  • Paul doesn’t deny his connection with the group but chooses another term instead of Nazarene.
    • Paul tells Felix he is a member of “the Way.”
    • He wasn’t part of a subset within Judaism.
    • Christ is the only way to the Father.
  • Paul believed in Scripture, the prophets, and the Law, just as the Pharisees did.
  • Paul also shared the Pharisees’ hope in the resurrection, both the wicked and the righteous.
    • The mention of the resurrection of the wicked implied judgment.
    • Even the Gentiles, who may not understand or believe in the resurrection, would have some understanding of judgment.
  • Paul’s reference to the resurrection is the pinnacle of his witness contained in his speeches of Acts 23-26.
    • This was not an accident.
    • Paul’s absolute conviction in the truth of the resurrection was the real point of contention with the Jews.
    • Paul was trying to highlight this point with the Jews.
      • Paul believed in the same Scriptures.
      • Paul worshiped the same God.
      • Paul shared the same hope.
    • The Way diverged with the rest of the Jews on this very point.
      • Christians believed it had already begun with Christ.
      • The Jews were still waiting for it.
      • Christians also had a different definition for it.
        • Resurrection of the just.
        • Resurrection of the unjust.
        • Since both groups would be resurrected, judgment was implied.
      • Paul’s belief in Christ would make him blameless for the judgment he would face.
      • The resurrection of Christ was the dividing point between Paul and the Jews.
      • For Paul, the church, and contemporary Christians, this remains the division between Christian and Jew and the starting point for dialogue between the two groups.

Paul now moves on to answer Tertullus’s third charge, the desecration of the temple.

  • Paul briefly summarized the events in Acts 21.
    • His presence in the temple for purification connected with the four Nazarites.
    • The Asian Jews created the disturbance under false pretenses.
    • The absence of the Asian Jews at this hearing underscores the fact their charges were baseless.
    • Paul was still upset over the fact they refused to confront him face-to-face in a formal hearing.
    • Paul was exercising proper Roman legal procedure. The failure to appear by those who brought the initial charges highlighted the falseness of their claims.
      • For Tertullus to make an allegation against Paul and then fail to produce the witnesses to the event was a serious breach of Roman court procedure.
      • There was no evidence to support the claim of Paul defiling the temple.
      • If anything, the opposite was the case. Paul was ceremonially clean and had traveled to Jerusalem to bring an offering.

Having successfully demonstrated that all of Tertullus’s charges lacked any supporting evidence, Paul moves on to confront the one charge which could be brought against him, Paul’s belief in the resurrection.

  • The prosecution had witnesses present to support this charge.
    • The high priest.
    • The elders.
    • They could testify about the veracity of this charge since Paul had successfully refuted their other charges.
  • Paul now was essentially in control of the trial.
    • He had broken no law.
      • Roman.
      • Jewish.
    • The resurrection was the only point of contention between Paul and the Jewish religious leaders.
      • Paul and the Christian church believed the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus.
      • The Jewish religious leaders were mistakenly still waiting for the Messiah to come.
      • Paul was on trial for his Christian faith.
  • It was essential the Roman courts understood this was an issue of Jewish religious matters and not something to be decided under Roman law.

After Paul had finished giving his defense, Felix adjourned the day’s proceedings.

  • Felix would pass his final judgment after he had gathered further evidence.
  • In effect, he was waiting for Claudius Lysias to arrive and give his report of the events under dispute.
    • Lysias had already sent his report and stated he believed the entire matter was one of Jewish religious law.
    • He also believed that Paul had done nothing that deserved death or imprisonment.
    • However, there is no evidence that Lysias ever made the trip to Caesarea or gave a face-to-face account of the events in question.
  • Felix was avoiding making a decision in the case.
    • Felix was already aware of the “Way.”
    • The Christian movement was not a group of revolutionaries.
    • The charges brought by the religious leaders weren’t supported by factual evidence.
    • The evidence from the trial only pointed to Paul’s acquittal.
    • Paul wasn’t guilty of breaking any Roman law.
    • However, Felix ruled over the Jews and had to live with them.
    • There were powerful Jews in the group who were calling for Paul’s condemnation.
    • Felix didn’t want to incur their anger, especially with the unrest that had already occurred under his watch.
    • It was easier to avoid making a decision, even if it meant Paul would continue to be jailed.
  • Felix may have had a guilty conscience, or he may have considered Paul’s Roman citizenship.
    • Paul would be kept “under guard,” which should be interpreted as a liberal type of detainment.
    • It would allow Paul a certain level of freedom of movement.
    • It would allow friends and family to visit him.

Luke now gives a break of “some days” between the adjournment and Felix’s next meeting with Paul. This meeting introduces Felix’s wife, Drusilla, to the narrative. Let’s look at her background.

  • She was the youngest daughter of Agrippa I, the “Herod” from Acts 12.
  • At the age of fourteen, through an agreement by her brother Agrippa II, she was married to Azizus, the king of Emesa
  • A short time after this, Felix saw her and was struck by her beauty, and was determined to make her his wife.
  • Felix used a magician as an intermediary to convince Drusilla to leave Azizus for Felix.
  • Drusilla was already unhappy in her marriage and readily agreed to the offer.
  • Drusilla was sixteen when she married Felix.
  • She may have been the source where Felix became knowledgeable regarding the “Way.”

Paul, never one to miss the opportunity for evangelism, spoke frankly with the couple.

  • He spoke about faith in Christ.
  • He focused on the coming judgment.
  • Paul’s emphasis on righteousness was another way of saying each person would be held to God’s standard.
  • The issue of self-control, whether intentional or not, would have struck a nerve considering Felix’s marital history and the circumstances surrounding his marriage to Drusilla.
  • Felix was shaken by Paul’s message and quickly ended the conversation.
  • Felix would call for Paul periodically in the hopes of receiving a bribe.
    • The practice of bribes was frowned upon and forbidden by law.
    • However, it was rampant in Roman administration.
    • Other Roman governors were known for taking bribes, and it appears Felix followed suit.
  • Felix never did come to a decision in Paul’s case.
    • He kept Paul in prison for two years.
      • Felix may have desired to receive a bribe.
      • He may have desired to grant a favor to the Jews.
      • It could have been a combination of both.
    • Felix knew Paul hadn’t broken any Roman laws, and releasing him would almost certainly have resulted in Paul being handed over to the Jewish religious leaders.
    • Felix followed the safest, for him, course of action.

In the end, Felix’s role as governor was terminated.

  • The corruption and brutality of his rule were finally his undoing.
  • A civil incident in Caesarea between the Jewish and Gentile communities was handled with a heavy anti-Jewish bias.
  • The incident provoked the Jews to send a delegation to Rome, protesting his action, which resulted in his removal.
  • When the reader reflects on verses 24-26, we have to wonder how close Felix was to becoming a Christian.
    • Both Felix and Drusilla showed at least some level of interest in hearing about Christ.
    • It appears these conversations happened with some frequency, even if part of the reason was Felix’s hope of receiving a bribe.
    • The fact that Felix felt fear about a coming judgment indicated an understanding of his sinful behavior.
    • Tragically, this conviction never moved acknowledgment to a profession of faith in Jesus.

With Festus now in charge, there might be new hope for Paul. Often new procurators would quickly conclude any lingering cases left by their predecessors. However, that was not to be the case with Paul.

Applications

  • When we face persecution or false charges, remain calm and pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit. In this narrative, we see Paul calmly waiting until called upon to testify. Once he was asked to speak, he calmly and effectively addressed each charge and refuted them with the facts.
  • Never miss a chance, even under duress, to be an effective witness to the truth of the Gospel. After Paul gave his defense, he switched over to the offensive and attempted to evangelize the gathering.
  • Never compromise your ethical or moral grounds. Paul could have given Felix a bribe and most likely been released. However, he trusted that God would take care of him, and he didn’t do anything to compromise his moral or ethical standing.
  • Have patience as you go through any trial. The situation Paul endured lasted for years. Although it is likely we won’t go through a situation that long, we still need to exhibit self-control and patience as we face challenges. 

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-nine

Acts Lesson Forty-nine: Acts 22:30-23:10 – Paul Before the Sanhedrin

The next day, since he wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and instructed the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to convene. Then he brought Paul down and placed him before them. 23Paul looked intently at the Sanhedrin and said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience until this day.” But the high priest Ananias ordered those who were standing next to him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! You are sitting there judging me according to the law, and in violation of the law are you ordering me to be struck?” 

And those standing nearby said, “Do you dare revile God’s high priest?” 

“I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest,” replied Paul. “For it is written, You must not speak evil of a ruler of your people.” When Paul realized that one part of them were Sadducees and the other part were Pharisees, he cried out in the Sanhedrin, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees! I am being judged because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead!” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, and no angel or spirit, but the Pharisees affirm them all. 

The shouting grew loud, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party got up and argued vehemently: “We find nothing evil in this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 When the dispute became violent, the commander feared that Paul might be torn apart by them and ordered the troops to go down, rescue him from them, and bring him into the barracks. (HCSB)

I’ll present this lesson in only one part. 

As we remember back to the last lesson, as the Roman soldiers were preparing to scourge Paul, they discovered that he was a Roman citizen. This certainly changed the dynamics of the situation and caused the Roman soldiers to worry about the consequences of arresting a Roman citizen without a formal charge being brought against him. 

  • The Roman commander had two serious problems to solve.
    • It was Paul’s right as a Roman citizen to know what the charges against him were.
    • He needed to have an official charge for his records and to pass along to his superiors.
  • Claudius was certain that Paul had done something quite serious to cause the Jews in the temple to react with such vehemence.
  • However, nobody could pinpoint Paul’s crime. The uncertainty surrounding Paul created a tense situation for Claudius.
  • Claudius came to the conclusion the best solution was to allow the Jews to try him.
  • Claudius arranged a special meeting of the Sanhedrin.
    • Roman officials were charged with keeping the peace, and the situation with Paul needed to be resolved to maintain the peace in Jerusalem.
    • There are differing opinions on whether or not the Roman officials had the authority to convene a formal meeting of the Sanhedrin.
    • Some believe this was an informal meeting.
    • Some believe it was held in the Tower of Antonia instead of the council chamber of the Sanhedrin.
    • There were several groups that comprised the Sanhedrin.
      • The high priest.
      • Seventy of the leading Jewish teachers.
        • Sadducees.
        • Pharisees.
        • Scribes.
      • They were responsible for interpreting and applying the sacred Jewish Law to the nation.
      • They were responsible for trying those who violated the Law.
      • The Roman authorities gave the Sanhedrin permission to impose capital punishment if the offense deserved it.
    • The phrase “he released him” only meant Paul was allowed to appear before the council. It didn’t mean that Paul was released from protective custody.

Now that we’ve looked at the details of the setting let’s take a closer look at the meeting itself.

  • The Sanhedrin already had quite a bit of experience dealing with “Christian situations.”
    • They had tried Christ.
    • They had tried Peter and John – Acts 4:5ff.
    • They had tried the twelve apostles – Acts 5:21ff.
    • They had tried and executed Stephen – Acts 6:12ff.
    • Now, Paul appeared before the council.
  • Paul begins his address before the Sanhedrin in a bi-polar manner, mixing both respect and confrontation.
    • By beginning with the term “brothers,” Paul is identifying himself as a fellow Jew.
    • However, when he continues with, “I have lived my life before God in all good conscience,” Paul is implying that he has been completely faithful to God in every manner.
      • Conscience is one of Paul’s favorite words; he used it twice in Acts and twenty-one times in his epistles. 
        • It is the inner judge that approves our actions when we’re right and disapproves when we are wrong. 
        • It doesn’t make the it standard, but it applies it to a situation.
      • If Paul’s life as a Christian made him innocent before God, then the Sanhedrin members who were not followers of Christ were the ones who were guilty.
  • Because Paul implied that the members of the Sanhedrin were the guilty ones, Ananias’ response to order those next to Paul to hit Paul in the mouth is not surprising.
    • The high priest’s action was completely in line with his character.
    • Josephus has described him as one of the very worst of the high priests.
      • He became high priest in a.d. 48.
      • He was pro-Roman.
      • He was extremely cruel.
      • He was very greedy.
      • He was well known for accepting bribes.
      • He would often take money from the temple offerings.
      • He was assassinated by Jewish guerrillas in a.d. 66.
    • His order to strike Paul was illegal since a person appearing before the Sanhedrin was considered innocent until proven guilty.
  • Paul’s response could be viewed in two different ways.
    • Some might expect Paul to react like Jesus; “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He was suffering, He did not threaten but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)
    • Some might view Paul’s angry response as completely understandable.
  • The content of Paul’s response, “you whitewashed wall,” is strong and confrontational.
    • The image of a whitewashed wall, sheer hypocrisy, is entirely appropriate given the situation.
      • The high priest would have been dressed in his high-priestly garments, symbolic of his role as an intercessor between the people and God.
      • However, his character and actions were in stark contrast to his outward appearance.
      • Jesus used the same imagery of whitewashed tombs to depict hypocrisy; the outside appeared clean but dead bones were inside the tomb.
    • We can interpret Paul’s outburst in one of four ways.
      • Paul was justified because of Ananias’ character and behavior.
      • Paul was justified in expressing righteous anger.
      • Paul spoke calmly and delivered a prophecy of God’s judgment on Ananias.
      • Paul lost his cool. Pushed beyond the breaking point by the previous day’s circumstances, he said something he should not have said.
    • Each one is possible, with scholars and commentators divided on which one is correct.
    • In a way, Paul’s words were prophetic as Ananias was killed by Jewish freedom fighters ten years later.
  • At this point, those standing around them accuse Paul of disrespect towards the high priest.
  • Paul’s response to the charge, quoting Exodus 22:28, has also been interpreted in various ways.
    • Paul’s “thorn in the side” may be poor eyesight, resulting in him not being able to see that Ananias was the high priest.
    • It had been years since Paul was last in Jerusalem, and he may not have recognized who Ananias was. This would also imply that Ananias was not dressed in his high-priestly garments.
    • Paul may have been using “holy sarcasm.” If that is true, Paul is asking if such a descpicable person could be the high priest.
  • Regardless of which one is correct, Paul is doing two things with his response.
    • Paul is showing respect for the office of the high priest.
    • Paul is not showing respect for the person serving in that office.
    • There is a subtle but significant difference.
  • Paul then realizes the group gathered to judge him was made up of both Sadducees and Pharisees. Paul uses this to his advantage.
  • There are two likely reasons for Paul to take employ this tactic.
    • After the incident with the high priest, Paul realized he would never receive a fair trial before Sanhedrin. 
      • If the Asian Jews were allowed to speak, they would have made condemning remarks regarding Paul’s behavior in Gentile territory.
      • If the trial continued, Paul faced the prospect of being convicted and stoned as a blasphemer.
      • Paul’s best chance was to end the trial as soon as possible.
    • Paul may have been playing “religious politics” with the two main sects comprising the Sanhedrin, the doctrinal issue of resurrection.
      • Jesus’ resurrection was the issue that separated Paul from the rest of the Jews.
      • Both Paul’s affiliation with the Pharisees and his belief in the resurrection is critically relevant to the situation.
  • Regardless of the reason behind Paul’s use of the doctrinal issue of the resurrection, the result is that a heated dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees.
    • Sadducees.
      • They comprised the majority in the Sanhedrin.
      • The high priest was a Sadducee.
      • The ruling elders were primarily Sadducees.
      • They only accepted the five books of the Law.
        • There is no evidence of resurrection in the Law.
        • However, there are references to angels and spirits.
      • They didn’t believe in the resurrection.
      • But what did Luke mean when he said the Sadducees didn’t believe in angels or spirits since they are found in the Law?
        • Luke may mean that the Sadducees rejected the eschatology of the Pharisees, which contained a complicated hierarchy of good and evil angels.
        • They may have rejected the idea that an angel or spirit could speak through a human as an agent of revelation.
        • It could be a form of rejecting the resurrection; they rejected an afterlife that involved an angelic or spiritual state.
    • Pharisees.
      • They comprised the minority in the Sanhedrin.
      • They are represented primarily by the scribes.
      • They believed in the resurrection.
      • They believed in angels and spirits.
    • Some Pharisees had become Christians (Acts 15:5), but the New Testament contains no evidence of a Sadducee becoming a Christian.
  • The result is that the Pharisees now became Paul’s defenders against the Sadducees.
    • They agreed with Paul on the general doctrinal idea of a resurrection.
    • They also agreed that it was possible that God may have spoken to Paul through an angel or spirit; they might have had Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus in mind.
  • At this point, the dispute between the two parties spins out of control, and Claudius, fearing that mob mentality may once again place Paul’s life in danger calls for the Roman troops to take Paul back into the barracks.
  • While Paul’s initial seizure by the Roman troops after the temple mob incident could be interpreted as an arrest, there is little doubt now that Claudius is acting in a spirit of protective custody.

Applications

  • If we live our lives in accordance with God’s will and are obedient to His Word, we can speak with boldness regardless of the situation. Paul did just that before the Sanhedrin. Although all of us will sin during our lives, we need to be obedient to His Word by surrendering our lives to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
  • We must always show respect to leadership positions. We may not agree with or like the person occupying it, but Scripture is clear we are to respect and pray for our leaders. We never know how God will use a person according to His purpose. If Christians spent less time gossiping and complaining and more time praying, we would be better witnesses to the love of Christ and more effective in shaping our world.
  • Use circumstances to benefit your witness as long as it doesn’t compromise it. Paul did that when he brought up the issue of the resurrection, knowing there would be disagreement between the Sadducees and Pharisees. He didn’t twist or compromise the truth. 

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-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.