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-eight

Acts Lesson Forty-eight: Acts 22:22-29 – Paul Under Roman Protection

They listened to him up to this word. Then they raised their voices, shouting, “Wipe this person off the earth—it’s a disgrace for him to live!” 23 As they were yelling and flinging aside their robes and throwing dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, directing that he be examined with the scourge, so he could discover the reason they were shouting against him like this. 25 As they stretched him out for the lash, Paul said to the centurion standing by, “Is it legal for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen and is uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went and reported to the commander, saying, “What are you going to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 The commander came and said to him, “Tell me—are you a Roman citizen?” “Yes,” he said. 28 The commander replied, “I bought this citizenship for a large amount of money.” “But I was born a citizen,” Paul said. 29 Therefore, those who were about to examine him withdrew from him at once. The commander too was alarmed when he realized Paul was a Roman citizen and he had bound him. (HCSB)

I’ll divide this lesson into two sections.

  • The reaction of the mob and Paul being brought into the barracks – verses 22-24.
  • Paul declares he is a Roman citizen – verses 25-29

The Reaction of the Mob and Paul being brought into the barracks

If we remember back to the last lesson, Paul’s final statement was relaying to the Jewish mob that Jesus intended to send Paul to the Gentiles. The very mention of the term “Gentile” set the crowd off once again and made the situation spiral out of control.

Let’s take a detailed look at these first few verses.

  • At the mention of the term Gentile, the crowd increased their vehemence against Paul.
    • In addition to their previous call to “take him away,” they now added, “it’s a disgrace for him to live.”
    • There are several possible interpretations of the phrase “flinging aside their robes.”
      • They may have torn them as a gesture of horror, in the Jews’ minds, of Paul’s blasphemy.
      • They cast aside their robes in preparation for stoning Paul.
      • They shook their robes as a symbolic means of removing the contamination of Paul’s statement.
      • They waved them in collective outrage.
    • The meaning behind throwing dust in the air could also have multiple meanings.
      • It may have been another gesture of horror at the perceived blasphemy.
      • They may have thrown the dust at Paul because they didn’t have anything else available in the temple courtyard.
  • Because of the crowds’ reaction, Claudius was confident Paul was some type of criminal.
  • Claudius ordered his troops to move Paul into the barracks and use the standard Roman method to find out the truth from a slave or a common person, the scourge.
    • This form of torture was done with the flagellum.
    • Using a flagellum was an exceedingly cruel manner of scourging that was done by beating the bare flesh with leather thongs that had rough pieces of bone or metal inserted into the ends. The leather thongs were connected to a wooden handle.
    • This form of beating was more severe than the beating by rods that Paul and Silas experienced in Philippi.
    • It was the same beating that Jesus experienced before being crucified.
    • It was not uncommon for those being scourged with a flagellum to die during the beating.

Paul Declares He is a Roman Citizen

Knowing exactly what type of beating they were getting ready to inflict upon him, Paul plays his trump card, announcing that he is a Roman citizen. Let’s take a detailed look at this section.

  • As they prepared Paul to receive his scourging, he asked a rhetorical question.
    • “Is it legal…to scourge…a Roman citizen?”
    • The answer is an unequivocal “no.”
    • In fact, when they chained Paul earlier in the chapter, that violated his Roman citizenship.
    • Falsely claiming to be a Roman citizen would result in punishment far worse than the scourging Paul was about to receive.
    • Roman laws clearly forbid treating a Roman citizen in this manner.
    • An officer who did torture a Roman citizen would be guilty of a serious breach of Roman law.
  • Once Paul told the centurion he was a Roman citizen, that information was hastily relayed to Claudius.
  • Once Claudius found out that Paul was a Roman citizen, he went to verify the claim himself.
  • One can only imagine the confusing thoughts going through Claudius’s mind when thinking about the series of events that brought Paul into the Roman barracks.
    • At first, he thought Paul was an Egyptian revolutionary.
    • He then found out he was a Jew.
    • Paul was a citizen of the important city of Tarsus.
    • Paul was a cultured person.
    • He spoke polished Greek.
    • Now he learns that Paul is also a Roman citizen.
    • Not only was Paul a Roman citizen, but he was also born a Roman citizen.
  • A person could become a Roman citizen through several means.
    • It could be given for a specific service to the state.
    • It could be given for military duty.
    • Slaves of a citizen who were freed on the basis of service to their owners were granted citizenship. 
    • When a town or village was given colony status, all those residing there were given citizenship.
    • They could be born a citizen.
    • They could purchase citizenship.
  • The idea of purchasing citizenship was an issue that was increasingly abused during the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius Caesar.
    • Since the Roman commander Lysias took the name Claudius, it is highly likely he purchased it during the reign of Tiberius.
    • It was also common to take the name of the patron through whom the citizenship was obtained, hence the commander’s name of Claudius Lysias.
  • There has been much speculation about how Paul’s family received their citizenship.
    • One theory is the family was part of a large resettling of Jewish freedmen by Pompey in Cilicia in 63 b.c.
    • Another is that the family tentmaking trade benefited the Roman military, and they were rewarded with citizenship.
    • One of Paul’s ancestors may have received citizenship for valuable service rendered to a Roman administrator or general in either the Gischala region of northern Palestine or at Tarsus.
    • While we don’t know how Paul became a citizen, it was clear to Claudius that Paul was a Roman citizen of considerable status.
  • Now that Paul’s citizenship was established, they stopped the intended scourging and most likely removed the chains from Paul.
  • At this point, Paul’s location within the Roman barracks could be viewed as protective custody rather than an arrest.
  • Paul’s next defense would be before the Sanhedrin.

Applications

  • The first is a carry-over from verse 21. Never be afraid to follow the path that God has laid before you. Jesus had clearly instructed Paul to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. His obedience to those instructions was what led him into the Roman barracks. Sometimes God will lead us down a path that may be difficult or dangerous. At those times, we need to step out in faith and trust that God will provide and protect us.
  • Don’t abuse the law but use it to protect you and advance the Gospel. Paul knew the horror of the flagellum. It far surpassed the beatings he had previously received. Therefore, at the opportune moment, he informed the Roman soldiers of his citizenship. We should also use laws to protect us and advance the Gospel when necessary. 

Acts Lesson Forty-seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applications

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

Acts Lesson Forty-six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applications

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

Acts Lesson Forty-four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sailing Back to Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul’s Arrival Back in Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applications

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

Acts Lesson Forty-two

Acts Lesson Forty-two: Acts 20:1-16 – Paul Departs to Macedonia

After the uproar was over, Paul sent for the disciples, encouraged them, and after saying good-bye, departed to go to Macedonia. And when he had passed through those areas and exhorted them at length, he came to Greece and stayed three months. When he was about to set sail for Syria, a plot was devised against him by the Jews, so a decision was made to go back through Macedonia. He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy, and Tychicus  and Trophimus from Asia. These men went on ahead and waited for us in Troas, but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread. In five days we reached them at Troas, where we spent seven days. 

On the first day of the week, we assembled to break bread. Paul spoke to them, and since he was about to depart the next day, he extended his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were assembled, and a young man named Eutychus was sitting on a window sill and sank into a deep sleep as Paul kept on speaking. When he was overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down, fell on him, embraced him, and said, “Don’t be alarmed, for his life is in him!” 11 After going upstairs, breaking the bread, and eating, Paul conversed a considerable time until dawn. Then he left. 12 They brought the boy home alive and were greatly comforted. 

13 Then we went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, intending to take Paul on board there. For these were his instructions, since he himself was going by land. 14 When he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. 15 Sailing from there, the next day we arrived off Chios. The following day we crossed over to Samos, and the day after, we came to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so he would not have to spend time in Asia, because he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, for the day of Pentecost. (HCSB)

Starting in Acts 20, Paul begins to wrap up his final missionary journey and head back to Jerusalem. I’ll break this lesson into three parts.

  • Paul concludes his visit to Macedonia – verses 1-6.
  • Paul revives Eutychus – verses 7-12.
  • Paul journeys from Troas to Miletus – verses 13-16.

Paul Concludes His Visit to Macedonia

The events starting in chapter twenty take place sometime between late 56 A.D. and early 57 A.D. In Acts 19:21-22, Paul had already indicated his intention to leave with four objectives in mind.

  • To leave the trouble at Ephesus.
  • To encourage believers in the province of Asia and throughout Greece.
  • To meet Titus in Troas – 2 Corinthians 2:12-13.
  • To collect offerings for Judea – 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, 2 Corinthians 8:1-15, Romans 15:25-28.

Paul left Ephesus and traveled to Macedonia. Paul had expected to meet Titus in Troas and hear about the situation regarding the church in Corinth. However, when Titus didn’t arrive in Troas, Paul continued his journey to Macedonia, visiting the churches and finally meeting Titus. Let’s look at some information regarding Paul’s journey contained both here and in corresponding epistles.

  • The events in Acts 20:1-2 overlap with the events in 2 Corinthians 1-7, where Paul talks about the events during the same period.
    • Paul had evidently written a letter, now lost, to the Corinthian church that confronted their behavior.
    • Paul described the letter as painful and written with many tears.
    • Strong opposition within the church had arisen because of Paul’s letter.
    • From the context, it would appear that Paul confronted the opposition directly and severely.
  • As Paul was traveling to Corinth, he met Titus in Macedonia – 2 Corinthians 7:5-16.
    • The ministry in Macedonia may have lasted just over a year.
    • During this time, the Gospel spread across the Balkan peninsula and possibly as far as Illyricum – Romans 15:19.
  • After leaving Macedonia, Paul traveled to Achaia and then spent three months in Corinth. 
    • Paul wrote Romans during the winter of 57-58 A.D.
    • During this time, the collection for the Judean Christians was ever-present in Paul’s mind.
    • It is quite likely that if Paul was not focused on the offering for the Judean Christians, he would have traveled from Greece to Rome and then continued on to Spain.
  • Because of the plot by the Jews against Paul, he decided not to sail from Corinth and instead headed north through Macedonia, taking with him a team of men from various locations in the region.
    • Sopater from Berea. He is likely the Sosipater referenced in Romans 16:21.
    • Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica.
    • Gaius from Derbe.
    • Timothy from Lystra.
    • Tychicus and Trophies from Asia.
    • Luke from Philippi – included because of the reference “we” in verse six.
    • Although Corinth isn’t explicitly referenced, it is possible that Paul was speaking for the Corinthian church.
    • The team represented a large group of companions to provide safety for the funds Paul was carrying to Jerusalem, as well as an impressive cross-section of young Gentile church leadership who would appear before the Jerusalem church.
  • The group sailed from Philippi and, in five days, reached Troas.
  • Since the main purpose of the trip and the large contingent who traveled with Paul was to bring an offering to the church in Jerusalem, it is interesting that Luke avoids a direct discussion of the purpose of the trip. Here are several theories as to why Luke didn’t discuss it.
    • Was there some type of problem with the collection?
    • Was it possible that Luke deliberately omitted it because it could cause embarrassment for the Jewish Christians in their relations with the Jewish community?
    • Could it have caused problems with the relations between the Christians and Roman authorities?
    • Is it possible the offering was not well-received by the Jerusalem Christians, which Paul alludes to in Romans 15:31?
    • Honestly, the reason is unclear. 
    • Or it could be that Luke wanted the focus on Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, which would ultimately result in him being in Roman chains and sent to the capital of the empire, Rome.

Paul Revives Eutychus

Paul and the rest of his team arrived in Troas and spent seven days there, likely waiting for their next ship to continue the journey. We also see one of the earliest references to Christians meeting on Sunday for their worship service, in contrast to the Jewish Sabbath worship time. Let’s look at some points regarding this.

  • It’s possible the early Christians continued to observe the Jewish Sabbath.
  • Over time Jesus’ resurrection day became the primary day of worship for Christians.
  • It appears the service was an evening service, which would accommodate both Jews and Gentiles who would be working on Sunday.
  • The breaking of bread should be interpreted as celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
  • The assembly followed the pattern of the early church by meeting in someone’s home.
  • The members of the church enjoyed fellowship with each other, regardless of their social status.

Since Paul was leaving the next day, he took the opportunity with the gathered church to share a message. Luke includes various bits of information that, when taken together, give us a glimpse into why Eutychus likely took his tumble out of the window.

  • Paul’s message was a long one, going until midnight.
    • Since Paul was leaving the next day, he likely wanted to deliver as complete a message as possible.
    • We need to remember that Sunday was a normal workday. Many of those in attendance may have started work early in the morning and were very tired by this point.
  • Even the phrase, “there were many lamps in the room,” sheds light on the incident. It takes oxygen for the fire to burn, and the “many lamps” may have actually led to a lower level of oxygen in the room.
  • The group had shared a meal before Paul’s message.
  • It could very well have been a warm spring evening.
  • All of these factors contributed to Eutychus sitting on the window sill, possibly getting a bit of fresh air in an attempt to stay awake.
  • In the end, Eutychus falls asleep, falls out of the third-story window to the ground, and is killed by the impact. 
    • Others reached Eutychus before Paul, and they picked up his body before Paul reached them.
    • The miracle that Paul performs reminds us of Elijah and Elisha in 1 Kings 17:21 and 2 Kings 4:34-35, as well as Jesus’ ministry.
    • Paul revives the dead man.
  • The service continued as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. 
    • It seems that by this point, the worshippers were hungry.
    • After they returned to the third floor, they shared a meal, likely a snack, considering the time.
    • With everyone rejuvenated by the meal and likely still talking about Eutychus being revived, Paul continues with his message until dawn.
  • The boy’s family brings him home, being greatly comforted that Paul had revived him. 
  • Let’s consider some final points regarding the incident with Eutychus.
    • Paul follows the same pattern used by Elijah and Elisha by placing himself over the young man.
    • In the New Testament, the miracles of raising the dead present an implied symbolism of resurrection.
    • This event occurred during Easter.
    • The Passover had just concluded.
    • It was the first day of the week, the day Jesus was resurrected.
    • Paul may have been speaking on that very subject when Eutychus fell out of the window.
    • The restoration of Eutychus would be a vivid reminder to the Christians gathered there that the Jesus who Paul was preaching about was the resurrection and the life.

Paul Journeys from Troas to Miletus

The team now continues their journey to Jerusalem. Let’s note some information regarding this leg of the journey.

  • Paul traveled on foot to Assos while the rest of the team went by boat.
    • The journey on foot was a relatively easy one of twenty miles. 
    • The journey by boat was longer, about forty miles, as it required going around Cape Lectum, now known as Cape Baba.
    • There are several suggested reasons for Paul traveling separately from his other companions.
      • He may not have wanted to make the difficult passage around Cape Lectum.
      • He may have wanted to spend as much time as possible in Troas before departing.
      • He may have been delayed by the incident with Eutychus.
      • He may have just desired a period of solitude at this point in the journey.
  • Once Paul and the ship meet in Assos, Paul rejoins the team.
  • The journey from Assos to Mitylene would take about five days.
  • As they journeyed from Mitylene to Chios, Samos, and Miletus, each leg took one day. By the time they arrived in Miletus, they had been together on the ship for eight days. Each of the stops along they have historical significance.
    • Chios was the birthplace of the poet Homer.
    • Samos was the birthplace of Pythagoras.
    • Miletus was a major Asian city in Paul’s time.
  • Paul then makes the decision to sail past Ephesus instead of stopping to visit. There are several possibilities for this decision.
    • It may not have been safe for Paul to visit Ephesus at the time.
    • The ship’s schedule may not have permitted may have prevented Paul from visiting Ephesus.
    • Paul may have been fatigued and didn’t want to make the overland journey to Ephesus.
    • Paul may have felt that if he had visited Ephesus, he would not have been able to leave quickly to make it back to Jerusalem.
  • Although we don’t know the underlying reason for Paul’s decision, his message was received, and the elders of the church at Ephesus made the journey to Miletus.

Applications

  • As we go about our daily lives, we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to share the Gospel to the lost and disciple those already in the family of God.
  • We should engage in fellowship with other believers. This includes Bible study, prayer, sharing meals, and participating in the Lord’s Supper.
  • There may be seasons where we need a time of refreshment and a break from ministry. It happens to even the best and strongest of ministry workers. It does no good to run ourselves into the ground.