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Scripture reading – Acts 23
Claudius Lysias (23:26), the “chief captain” and commander of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem, had saved Paul from a riotous mob that would have killed him (21:30-35). When the chief captain learned Paul was a citizen of Rome, he was afraid, knowing “he had bound him,” and violated his civil rights (22:25-29). The next morning, the captain determined he would investigate the cause for the tumult against Paul (22:30). Summoning the members of the Sanhedrin (“the chief priests and all their council to appear,” 22:30), the captain “brought Paul down, and set him before them” (22:30).
Paul’s Courage and Defense (23:1-5)
With the Roman garrison as his backdrop, and the captain of the Roman guard his judge, Paul was given opportunity to address his accusers (the chief priests and the Sanhedrin). Paul began to speak to the council (of whom there were at least 70 members), and said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (23:1). Paul’s speech was suddenly interrupted when “the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him [Paul] to smite him on the mouth” (23:2). Then, Paul rebuked his antagonist, and declared, “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?” (23:3) Some who stood near, challenged Paul, saying, “Revilest thou God’s high priest?” (23:4)
The apostle’s response to that question has been a subject of debate, for he answered, “I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest” (23:5a). Perhaps Ananias was not adorned in the robe of the high priest, and therefore Paul did not recognize him. (An interesting fact of history recorded by Josephus, the Jewish historian, is that there was a vacancy in the office of the high priest at the time Paul was tried. Ananias had served as high priest, but was succeeded by another priest named Jonathan. Soon after he became high priest, Felix, the Roman procurator of Judaea, became a bitter enemy of Jonathan. Felix plotted Jonathan’s assassination, and the office of the high priest was vacant at the time Paul was tried.)
Sadducees vs. Pharisees (23:6-10)
Knowing two factions of the Sanhedrin were bitterly divided over the doctrine of the resurrection (23:6), Paul provoked the Sadducees (who rejected the resurrection), and pitted them against the Pharisees. Identifying himself as a Pharisee, Paul said, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question” (23:6). Suddenly, there arose a bitter clash between the two Jewish factions, until the scribes of the Pharisees declared Paul was innocent, saying, “We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God” (23:9). The conflict became so threatening, the chief captain ordered Paul be taken to the castle (23:10).
A Comforting Assurance from the Lord (23:11)
Lest Paul wonder what would become of his life, the Lord came to him in the night, and “stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome” (23:11). With the assurance the Lord was with him, Paul was commanded to not be afraid, and be a ready witness in both Jerusalem, and eventually in the city of Rome.
A Conspiracy to Kill Paul (23:12-22)
The next day, more than forty Jewish men plotted to kill Paul, and with a solemn curse, invoked God’s judgment on themselves should they fail (23:12-13). Those same men came to “the chief priests and elders,” and revealed their plot to kill Paul (23:14). They intreated the help of their religious leaders, and requested a meeting with Paul that they might lie in wait and kill him (23:15).
Somehow, a young man identified as Paul’s nephew (his “sister’s son), learned of the plot and told Paul (23:16). Paul then sent for “one of the centurions,” and requested his nephew be taken to the chief captain, and the plot to kill him be divulged (23:17-22). When he learned of the plot, the chief captain called for two centurions (each a commander of 100 men), and ordered, “Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night” (23:23). The chief captain, identifying himself as Claudius Lysias, penned a letter to Felix the Roman governor, and explained the cause for Paul’s transport to Caesarea.
A Military Escort of Nearly 500 Soldiers (23:23-35)
With nearly 500 soldiers escorting him, Paul and his company were conveyed to Antipatris (23:31), a town thirty-five miles from Jerusalem. The next morning, Paul was escorted to Caesarea, and delivered to Felix along with the letter of explanation from the chief captain (23:33). Far from the volatility of Jerusalem, Felix, governor of that province, promised Paul a speedy trial, and determined to hear the matter when his accusers were come to Caesarea (23:35).
Closing thoughts – So much more might be written concerning the events recorded in today’s Scripture reading. Let us acknowledge that purveyors of truth are not exempt from trials and persecution. Paul had done no wrong, but his testimony and bold preaching of the Gospel and grace of God, provoked bitter hatred. If not for the intervention of Roman soldiers, Paul would have been killed by the ones he identified as his brethren. Praise God for His sovereign, providential care of His servants.
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