Sin, Righteousness and Judgment

22 But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs.

24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. 27 When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison. Acts 24:22-27 ESV

Having listened to the impassioned pleas of Tertullus, describing Paul as a radical and dangerous heretic; and the reasoned defense of Paul, expressing his innocence of any and all charges against him, Felix forestalled judgment. He sent the Jews away and left Paul in protective custody, providing him with certain freedoms, including visitations from his friends. It appears that Felix was reluctant to pass judgment, not wanting to infuriate the Jews by siding with Paul. But at the same time, Luke leaves the impression that Felix was anticipating some kind of a bribe or payoff from Paul. This appears to be the motivation behind the frequent discussions he had with Paul over the next two-year period. “He also hoped that Paul would bribe him, so he sent for him quite often and talked with him” (Acts 24:26 NLT).

So, for the next two years, Paul was held in Rome, permitted certain freedoms, but provided no judgment as to his guilt of innocence. It is important to note that Paul was nowhere near Rome yet. He was being held in the city of Caesarea and would remain there for two long years. And during that time, he was given repeated opportunities to meet with Felix and his wife, Drusilla. One of the things this royal couple asked Paul about was faith in Christ. Luke doesn’t tell us the reason behind their curiosity. He provides no insights into what may have motivated their desire to discuss these matters with Paul. He does insinuate that Felix was hoping that some form of cash payment might be a byproduct of their conversations, but it would seem that the curiosity of these two individuals became increasingly greater. They were intrigued by what Paul was telling them. And Luke is very specific about the content of Paul’s discussions with them.

…he reasoned with them about righteousness and self-control and the coming day of judgment… – Acts 24:25 NLT

There is a very strong similarity between these three topics and what Jesus had said the Holy Spirit’s role would be when He came. Just prior to His betrayal, arrest, trials and crucifixion, Jesus had given His disciples the following explanation regarding what the Holy Spirit would do when He came:

And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. 10 Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. 11 Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged. – John 16:8-11 NLT

Notice that he lists three things: Convicting the world of its sin, convicting the world of God’s righteousness, and convicting the world of the coming judgment. The NET Bible translates verse 8 in this way: “he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” It seems that Jesus was saying that the Holy Spirit was going to expose and demand a change in mind regarding three things: Sin, righteousness, and judgment. Every individual who has ever lived has had a viewpoint on these three things. Each of us has a personal perspective on what is right and what is wrong. We may not call it sin, but we inherently know that there are some things that are off limits and unacceptable in terms of behavior. And we know that there are certain things that are deemed by us and the society around us, as acceptable or righteous. For the most part, all men live with a mindset that if you sin (do what is wrong), there will be consequences. If you do what is righteous (or good and acceptable), you will be rewarded. Thus, the judgment. Wired into mankind is the God-created sense of right and wrong, with the accompanying ideas of merit and punishment. But Jesus was teaching that the Holy Spirit was going to prove the world wrong in terms of their view on these important topics. One of the Holy Spirit’s primary roles is that of conviction, showing men and women that they are sinners in need of a Savior. He also exposes the futile nature of mankind’s attempt to achieve a righteousness on its own. The Bible makes it painfully clear that “No one is righteous–not even one” (Romans 3:10 NLT), and that the penalty or judgment against unrighteousness is severe: “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NLT).

These were the very same concepts that Paul discussed with Felix and his young wife. Pretty heavy topics, and they were making an impact on this royal couple. And it’s interesting to note that Paul used the term egkrateia, when discussing the topic of sin. It is a Greek word that refers to self-control, but particularly in regards to one’s sexual appetites or sensual passions. This was very specific topic that Felix and Drusilla needed to here. It is believed that Drusilla was no more than 16 when Felix married her, and this would have been his third marriage. She was was the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I who had been king over Palestine from A.D. 37-44. So, she was from royal blood. Felix had married each of his wives in an attempt to further his career. He was a man driven by his lusts – for physical pleasure, political power, and financial success. They were a power couple, who struggled with self-control, and who operated under the own definition of what righteousness looked like. As long as something met their own selfish desires, they would have deemed it as right and good.

But as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit convicts and Luke records that the discussions Paul had with Felix left the governor alarmed and a bit shaken. He reached the point where he told Paul, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you” (Acts 24:25 ESV). And these impromptu conversations went on for two solid years, and all the while Paul remained in a permanent state of house arrest in the city of Caesarea. We are not provided with much in the way of details concerning Paul’s stay in Caesarea. We know he was able to have visitors and was likely communication with and through Luke all during his time there. While there are a few scholars who believe that Paul may have penned some of his letters during this time, the majority insist that he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon at a later date, while a prisoner in Rome.

This lengthy period of relative silence and forced inactivity must have difficult for Paul. He was a mover and shaker. He was used to teaching, preaching, debating and discussing spiritual matters. He was a missionary, but was forced to take a two-year hiatus from the road. But he remained zealous to share what he knew with anyone who would listen. In this case, it happened to be one of the most powerful men in the entire Roman empire. And this ongoing dialogue with Felix provided Paul with a warmup for even more significant encounters that were coming his way in the not-so-distant future. God was at work, even in the seeming setback of a 24-month-long delay. And, in spite of the lengthy delay, the Jews never stopped plotting and planning for ways to get rid of Paul. He may have been out of sight, but he was never out of their minds. So, when Felix was replaced by Festus as governor, the Jews would see it as an opportunity to reinvigorate their vendetta against Paul. But God was still in control.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When “The Way” Seems Wrong.

And when he had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying:

“Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. But, to detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.”

The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so.

10 And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied:

“Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. 11 You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, 12 and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. 14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. 17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. 18 While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia— 19 they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me. 20 Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, 21 other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.’” Acts 24:2-21 ESV

pauls-journey-to-rome

 

The day for Paul’s trial before Governor Felix had arrived. A contingent of Jews, including the high priest, Ananias, as well as a hired attorney named Tertullus, had finally made their way to Caesarea and the governor called them all to appear before him. The primary spokesman for the Jewish leadership was Tertullus, who is described by Luke as an attorney, but the Greek word he used is rhētōr, from which we get the English word, rhetoric. A rhētōr was an orator or forensic advocate. To put it in more modern terms, he was a prosecuting attorney, skilled in public debate and the intricacies of legal disputation and argumentation. In other words, the Jews had brought a professional. They saw this as their chance to not only get rid of Paul, but to do heavy damage to the cause of Christ, as we will see in Tertullus’ line of prosecution.

Tertullus started out his speech by showing proper respect for the governor, addressing him “most excellent Felix.” Then he proceeded to flatter the governor by expressing their collective gratitude for his many years of wise and proactive leadership.

2 “You have provided a long period of peace for us Jews and with foresight have enacted reforms for us. For all of this, Your Excellency, we are very grateful to you.” – Acts 24:3-4 NLT

The facts were that Felix was anything but a good governor. The historian Tacitus describes him as cruel, licentious, and base. He was a former slave who had moved up the ranks and had been appointed governor by the emperor Claudius himself. He enjoyed his position and all the power and wealth it afforded him, and would do anything to protect and preserve it. Any “reforms” he had brought about would have been for purely selfish motives and accomplished through less-than-legal means. So, the words of Tertullus were nothing more than flattering lies designed to win the governor over and make him receptive to their charges against Paul.

The charges Tertullus leveled against Paul had been well-chosen and carefully worded. First, he accused Paul of stirring up riots among the Jews all throughout the Roman empire. He wanted the governor to know that had taken place in Jerusalem had not been an isolated incident. Paul was creating this kind of chaos and confusion everywhere he went. This charge was designed to strike fear into the heart of Felix. He reported directly to the emperor, and should news get back to Claudius that a renegade Jew from one of the provinces under Felix’s control was disrupting the peace of the empire, Felix would have to answer for it. The second charge brought against Paul was that of being a ringleader in what Tertullus called “the sect of the Nazarenes’ (Acts 24:5 ESV). The words Tertullus used were very carefully chosen and meant to strike fear into the heart of Felix. He refers to Paul as being a leader in a “sect” – using the Greek word, hairesis, from which we get the word “heresy.” Now, this word could be used in a positive manner, referring to groups such as the Pharisees and Saducees, who happened to have opposing views. But Tertullus was going out of his way to paint Paul as a leader in a dangerous and insidious group of radicals from the region around Nazareth. In essence, Tertullus was attempting to link Paul to Jesus of Nazareth, without using the name of Jesus. One of the things the Roman government feared were Messianic-like movements among the Jews. It was not uncommon for splinter groups to form based on a belief that they were being led by the long-awaited Messiah. The Romans were well aware of the long-held belief of the Jews in a future savior or Messiah who would restore them to power by setting them free from the oppression of Rome. By labeling Paul as a member and leader of one of these insurrectionist groups, Tertullus was attempting to paint Paul as a dangerous threat to Rome and to Felix’s power. Finally, Tertullus brought the charge against Paul that was more directly an affront to the Jews. He accused Paul of attempting to desecrate the temple. He provided no details and presented no evidence. While this final charge would have meant little to Felix, it was an attempt on the part of Tertullus to eventually make an appeal for Paul’s death. According to Roman law, the Jews could request the right to execute anyone who desecrated the temple. With that, Tertullus rested his case and invited the governor to examine Paul himself in order to corroborate their charges.

But Felix simply provided Paul with an opportunity to defend himself against the charges. It’s interesting to note that Paul, while addressing the governor in respectful terms, said nothing could be construed as flattery. He made no attempt to heap false praise on Felix. He simply referred to the fact that Felix had been governor over the Jews for a long time, and that he was happy to have the opportunity to present his case before such a long-standing judge over Israel.

In Paul’s response, we get an insightful look into his keen intelligence and thorough grasp of the circumstances surrounding his situation. As a former Pharisee, he was well acquainted with the inner workings of the Sanhedrin or high Jewish council. He knew exactly what Tertullus was trying to do. So, Paul started with the last accusation first. He addressed the charge that he had desecrated the temple by claiming that he had done nothing wrong. In spite of all Tertullus’ lofty rhetoric, Paul flatly stated:

12 My accusers never found me arguing with anyone in the Temple, nor stirring up a riot in any synagogue or on the streets of the city. 13 These men cannot prove the things they accuse me of doing. – Acts 24:12-13 NLT

He demanded proof. And his clear inference was that no proof existed or they would have presented it. Next, Paul addresses the second charge accusing him of being a ringleader in the sect of the Nazarenes.

14 “But I admit that I follow the Way, which they call a cult. I worship the God of our ancestors, and I firmly believe the Jewish law and everything written in the prophets. – Acts 24:14 NLT

But Paul made it clear that he was not part of some new and radical anti-Semitic group. He was a Jew himself and a worshiper of Yahweh, the God of the Jews. He was a faithful adherent to the Mosaic law and believed all that was written in the Hebrew Scriptures by the prophets. Now, this is where Paul made his move. He placed himself on the same level as his accusers, claiming to worship the same God, keep the same law and believe in the same Scriptures. And those Scriptures clearly taught that there would be a resurrection of the dead. Why is Paul bringing up resurrection at this point in his speech? What is he attempting to do? If you recall, when he was first arrested by the Roman tribune and forced to appear before the Sanhedrin, he had also brought up the issue of resurrection. That’s because he knew that the Sanhedrin was divided between Sadducees, who rejected the idea of the resurrection of the body, and Pharisee, who embraced it. When Paul had broached the subject in that context it had resulted in a virtual brawl between the members of the Sanhedrin. So, here we have Paul raising this touchy subject yet again. Paul described himself as “having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15 ESV). Ananias, the high priest, was a Sadducee, and he most certainly had no hope that there would be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. He didn’t believe in resurrection at all. Paul was goading his accusers. You can imagine the frustration the high priest and the other members of the council felt as they listened to Paul speak. They most likely wanted to disagree with him, but there knew they couldn’t without revealing that his was all nothing more than a theological disagreement between themselves and Paul. If they spoke up, they ran the risk of getting their case thrown out by Felix.

Next, Paul gave his recollection of the events that had taken place in the temple and had led to his appearance before Felix. He described his presence in the temple to offer sacrifices and make purification. And he firmly denies any wrongdoing, even questioning why the Asian Jews, the very ones who had accused him, were not present at the trial. He even demanded that the members of the Sanhedrin present clear and compelling evidence as to why he had appeared before them in the first place. The truth is, at the point of Paul’s arrest, no one had been able to agree on what it was he had done wrong. There was not evidence presented or clear and compelling charge brought against him. And it was at this point that Paul brought back up the resurrection of the dead. He recalled that the only thing he had said at the time of his arrest that seemed to have caused a stir was, “It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day” (Acts 24:21 ESV).

Paul’s whole point in bringing up the matter of the resurrection was that, when he had done so at his trial before the Sanhedrin, there were those on the council who had declared, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” (Acts 23:9 ESV). Even the council had been divided over his guilt of innocence. Paul knew if he could expose the fact that all of this was nothing more than a theological debate, Felix would be prone to dismiss the trial as unnecessary and irrelevant to Roman concerns. The whole reason Paul was standing in front of the Roman governor was because the Jewish religious leadership refused to accept that Jesus, the one they had crucified, had actually been the Messiah and had risen from the dead. Even the Pharisees, who believed in resurrection, refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah. None of this was about desecration of the temple, insurrection, or crimes against the state. It was all about the Way, the gospel of Jesus Christ and His offer of justification before God through faith in His sacrificial death on the cross. Paul was preaching hope. But the enemies of the gospel will always see it as a threat to be exterminated, not a life-changing gift to be embrace.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

My Chosen Instrument.

25 And he wrote a letter to this effect:

26 “Claudius Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. 28 And desiring to know the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their council. 29 I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. 30 And when it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.”

31 So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32 And on the next day they returned to the barracks, letting the horsemen go on with him. 33 When they had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. 34 On reading the letter, he asked what province he was from. And when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium.

1 And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertullus. Acts 23:25-24:1 ESV

pauls-journey-to-rome

Paul’s dream of going to Rome is finally taking place, but not the way he had most likely envisioned it. He is being accompanied by nearly 500 Roman soldiers, whose sole responsibility is to protect Paul from a plot on his life and ensure that he arrives safely in Caesarea. The Roman tribune was sending Paul to Caesarea in order for him to be tried before Felix, the Roman governor of the Roman province of Syria, which included Judea. In the letter he sent to Felix, the Roman tribune, who had been anonymous up to this point in the story, reveals his name: Claudius Lysius. We know, by his own confession, that this man had bought his Roman citizenship, so Lysius was likely his Greek name, and he had added the name of the emperor, Claudius, in recognition of his newly acquired and costly citizenship.

Claudius Lysius’ letter bears the marks of a man who is addressing his more powerful superior. He seems to know that his sending of Paul to Felix could easily be seen as shirking his duty, as if he is passing the buck to the governor. In a sense, he is handing the governor more work and what could be a potential time bomb. He knew how incensed the Jews were over this man name Paul, and he had failed to arrive at a solution. So, in his letter, Claudius Lysius paints himself in the most positive of lights. He falsely claims to have rescued Paul from his beating at the hands of the Jews because he knew him to be a Roman citizen. But the truth was that he had been prepared to have Paul severely flogged, until Paul informed him of his Roman citizenship. That would have been a political disaster and an oversight that could have ended in his own death. So, he conveniently leaves that part out of his letter.

The only real facts he could provide the governor were in regards to the so-called charges against Paul. He really didn’t have any. There had been a lot of accusations hurled against Paul by the Jews, but they had contradicted themselves, and there had been some in the Jewish council, the Pharisees, who had claimed that Paul was innocent. The tribune’s conclusion had been that Paul was guilty of nothing that concerned the Roman government. This was a simply another internal dispute among the Jews. But because Paul was a Roman citizen, Claudius Lysius had determined to send him to Felix for fair hearing.

I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. – Acts 23:29 ESV

This was not the first time Paul had been accused by the Jews and found himself standing before Roman authorities. Back in chapter 18, Luke records an incident that had occurred in Corinth. Paul had been drug before the Roman governor of the province of Achaia. The accused Paul of “persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to our law” (Acts 18:13 NLT). But before Paul had even had a chance to speak a word in his own defense, the governor, Gallio, stopped him, and delivered the following bombshell to the Jews.

14 “Listen, you Jews, if this were a case involving some wrongdoing or a serious crime, I would have a reason to accept your case. 15 But since it is merely a question of words and names and your Jewish law, take care of it yourselves. I refuse to judge such matters.” 16 And he threw them out of the courtroom. – Acts 18:14-16 NLT

It would appear that Claudius Lysius had reached the same conclusion, but he did not have the same level of authority as a Roman governor, so he had chosen to let Felix decide the matter. In his letter, he also informed the governor that the Jews would be sending a contingent to Caesarea in order to state their case against Paul. In essence, the tribune had effectively passed this hot potato of an issue off to Felix. He could get back to managing affairs in Jerusalem, free from the distraction of Paul’s incendiary presence.

Paul made it all the way to Antipatris, without incident, so a portion of the Roman soldiers returned to Jerusalem and Paul was escorted the rest of the way to Caesarea by a smaller, yet heavily armed force. When he finally arrived in Caesarea, Paul was presented to the governor, along with the letter from Claudius Lysius. Here was Paul, standing before one of the most powerful men in the Roman empire. Once again, we can’t afford to overlook the words Jesus spoke to Ananias, commanding him to meet the newly converted Saul in Damascus: “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings…” (Acts 9:15 NLT). The Greek word for king is basileus, and it refers to “the leader of the people, prince, commander, lord of the land, king.” Felix most certainly fit that description. The words of Jesus concerning Paul were being fulfilled in an amazing and unexpected way. Paul’s presence before Felix was not the result of chance or bad luck. It had been meant to be. It was all part of God’s divine plan for Paul’s life and, more importantly, for the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Paul was about to go further than any of the apostles had been before. His trial before Felix was just the beginning of an incredible journey that would end up in the capital city of Rome, the political and social epicenter of the Gentile world at that time.

After having established Paul’s citizenship and provincial birthplace, Felix informed Paul that he would hear his case as soon as his accusers arrived. In the meantime, Paul was placed in Herod’s praetorium for safe keeping. He would remain there for five days, waiting for the representatives of the Jewish council to show up. During that time, Paul would have been under house arrest. As a Roman citizen, he probably enjoyed relative freedom during his stay, and the Romans were prohibited from placing him in chains or treating him poorly. Later on, in chapter 24, Luke confirms that Paul was treated with respect and afforded the right to have visitors while he remained in custody.

23 Then he [Felix] gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs. – Acts 24:23 ESV

The Jews that arrived from Jerusalem had come fully prepared to do Paul in. They were loaded for bear. They saw this as their opportunity to rid themselves of yet another menace to their way of life and threat to their authority. To them, Paul was another thorn in their side, much as Jesus had been. They had successfully convinced the Romans to kill Jesus, and they saw no reason why they could not accomplish the same objective with Paul. As they saw it, they had been able to convince Pilate, the governor at the time, to put Jesus to death, so why shouldn’t they be able to do the same with Felix? It is likely that they believed they had God on their side. But their efforts, while done in the name of God and, from their perspective, with the full blessing of God, would fail to accomplish their goal.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Dead Man Walking.

12 When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. 15 Now therefore you, along with the council, give notice to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”

16 Now the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him and brought him to the tribune and said, “Paul the prisoner called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, as he has something to say to you.” 19 The tribune took him by the hand, and going aside asked him privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” 20 And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more closely about him. 21 But do not be persuaded by them, for more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him, who have bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they have killed him. And now they are ready, waiting for your consent.” 22 So the tribune dismissed the young man, charging him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of these things.”

23 Then he called two of the centurions and said, “Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night. 24 Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” Acts 23:12-24 ESV

The_Antonia_Fortress

Paul was in protective custody. The Roman tribune in charge of his care was at a loss as to what to do with Paul. He was still searching for a reason to keep Paul in custody because there appeared to be no valid charge against him or cause to keep him. But the Jews were still in an uproar and the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, had ended up in a violent debate over Paul and his guilt or innocence. Paul was most likely being kept somewhere within the Fortress of Antonio, just outside the walls of the temple compound.

Back in chapter 21, Luke recorded the arrival of Paul in the city of Caesarea, where he stayed in the home of Philip the Evangelist. While there, Paul received a visit from a man from Judea named Agabus, who had the gift of prophecy. This man had received a message from the Holy Spirit and delivered it to Paul.

11 He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, “The Holy Spirit declares, ‘So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. – Acts 21:11-12 NLT

This man’s prophecy had come true. Paul had been bound by the Jewish leaders and now he was being kept under lock and key by the Roman authorities. Yet, all of this was part of God’s divine plan for Paul’s life, and he knew it. In fact, when those in Philip’s house had tried to convince Paul not to go to Jerusalem, he had replied: “Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13 NLT). And Paul, while sincere in his statement, had no idea just how prophetic his words had been.

While Paul was in the custody of the Romans, the Jewish leadership had been approached by a group of forty Jewish zealots who had developed a plan to take Paul’s life. They were so serious that they had made a pact with one another, sealed by an oath and a mutual commitment to fast from food or drink until Paul was dead. But their plot would require the assistance of the high priest and the Sanhedrin. With Paul safely sequestered within the walls of the Fortress of Antonio, where he was surrounded by Roman guards, the only hope these men had was to somehow force the Romans to bring him out in the open. So, they appealed to the Sanhedrin, saying, “ask the commander to bring Paul back to the council again. Pretend you want to examine his case more fully. We will kill him on the way” (Acts 23:15 NLT). 

Now, the text does not say whether the Jewish religious leaders agreed to this request. But Luke seems to take it quite seriously, because he records the fact that Paul’s nephew somehow got wind of what these men were planning and delivered the news to Paul. And Paul immediately sent his nephew to inform the Roman tribune. Which raises an interesting side note. Notice how Paul reacted to the information his nephew delivered to him. He didn’t smile and say, “Thanks for the warning, but I’m going to trust God.” He didn’t send his nephew away with a pat on the head and an assurance that God had this all under control. No, Paul seems to have viewed this news as having come from God and he took it seriously. Paul was not afraid to die, but he was in no rush to have his life taken by men who were driven by nothing more than hatred and motivated by Satan himself. Paul knew that there was a spiritual battle going on. He lived with a constant awareness that dark forces were gathered against the Kingdom of God and stood opposed to all that he was doing. Which is why he wrote to the believers in Ephesus:

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Paul felt a strong compulsion to go to Rome. Earlier, as Paul was making his way to Jerusalem, Luke records: “Paul felt compelled by the Spirit to go over to Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. ‘And after that,’ he said, ‘I must go on to Rome!’” (Acts 19:21 NLT). He somehow knew that a visit to Rome was in his future. He had even written to the believers in Rome, expressing his strong desire to be with them.

13 I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles. 14 For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world, to the educated and uneducated alike. 15 So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News. – Romans 1:13-15 NLT

So, it would appear that Paul knew the plot against his life was not part of God’s will for his life. He was not to die in Jerusalem at the hands of religious zealots. God had other plans for Paul and he knew it. As a result, Paul sent his nephew to inform the Roman tribune about the plot on his life. As we have seen all throughout the Book of Acts, this whole scene has God’s sovereign hands all over it. Nothing escapes the divine will of God. He knew all about the plot and the names of every one of the forty men who had conspired to carry it out. And God had arranged for Paul’s nephew to discover their plans so he could inform Paul. This whole sequence of events was actually God working behind the scenes to bring about His will that Paul arrive in Rome. In the eyes of the Jewish leadership, Paul was a dead man. It was only a matter of time before his life would be snuffed out, just like Jesus’ had been. But Paul was going to walk out of that Roman barracks, under armed Roman guards, and with his entire trip to Rome paid for by the Roman government. And, as we will see in tomorrow’s blog, Paul was going to be given opportunities to appear before powerful men and share the good news of the gospel, just as Jesus had told Ananias.

“Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings…” – Acts 9:15 NLT

It is always amazing to see how God accomplishes His will. The sad thing is that we don’t always recognize or appreciate it when it is happening. We tend to look at the circumstances of life and see nothing but the apparent negatives that stare us in the face. Take this story as an example. Paul had been mobbed by a crowd, falsely accused and nearly beaten to death. He had been arrested by the Romans and barely escaped a violent flogging. Then, when he had appeared before the Sanhedrin, instead of getting an opportunity to defend himself, he had gotten his face slapped, and ended back in Roman custody. Now, he was facing a conspiracy to take his life. Oh, and Luke describes Paul having to depart Jerusalem in the middle of the night, surrounded by 200 Roman soldiers, 200 spearmen and 70 mounted troops. Could it get any worse? 

But if we look at this same scene from a God-focused perspective, we see this seemingly insignificant Jewish evangelist, getting an all-expenses paid trip to Rome, complete with an armed escort made up of nearly 500 Roman soldiers. Paul was on his way to Caesarea where he would get a one-on-one, divinely ordained appointment with the Roman governor, Felix. In his wildest dreams, Paul could have never imagined something like this happening to him. And he would view it all as positive, not negative. He knew that God was in control and he was willing to rest in the knowledge that God was all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. He was living out the very words he wrote to the believers in Philippi.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

All According to Plan.

1 And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”

Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks.

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” Acts 23:1-11 ESV

Paul had caused a riot in the temple. Actually, it would more accurate to say that it was his presence had led to a riot in the temple. The riot was the result of a contingent of Jews from Asia who, upon seeing Paul in the temple, had wrongly assumed that he had been accompanied by one of his Gentile companions, a violation of the Mosaic law. Their accusation has caused the Jews in the temple grounds to react vehemently and violently to Paul, nearly beating him to death before the Roman guards stepped in. Paul was given a chance to address the crowd, but when it went south, he was taken to the Roman barracks in chains, where the Romans made plans to flog the truth out of him. When Paul announced to them that he was a Roman citizen, he was immediately released and apologized profusely. But the Roman tribune still had a problem: He needed to know the nature of the crime for which Paul was guilty. When he had rescued Paul from the mob in the temple courtyard, he had been unable to discern what it was that Paul had done to make the Jews so angry. Luke recorded: “He inquired who he [Paul] was and what he had done. Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar” (Acts 21:33-34 ESV).

So, the Roman tribune had determined to bring in the big guns: the Jewish high council or Sanhedrin. He assumed that these religious rulers could help him get to the truth of what was going on. The following day, Paul was brought before the high priest and the council and given an opportunity to speak. But this would prove to be a less-than-receptive audience. No sooner had Paul begun his address, he was slapped in the face by order of the high priest. All Paul had said was, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day” (Acts 23:1 ESV). This simple opening statement had incensed the high priest so much that he had commanded Paul to be publicly humiliated. Luke does not provide us with any details as to why Paul’s words were so upsetting to the high priest. It could have been a number of things. Perhaps he was offended that Paul addressed them as his brothers. Paul had at one time been a Pharisee and, according to his own testimony, had been given letters of authority by the high priest to pursue and arrest Christians in Damascus (Acts 9:2). So, at one time, he had enjoyed a close relationship with the high priest. But it is likely that the high priest was well aware of the radical change that had come over Paul and how he had switched sides and become a follower of the Way. He would no longer have considered Paul a brother.

There is also the likelihood that Paul’s claim of having a clear conscience before God also raised the ire of the high priest. Paul was claiming moral and ethical innocence as it pertained to his actions. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing he had done that was outside of the will of God or in violation of the Hebrew Scriptures. He had done nothing to deserve being beaten or arrested. The high priest most likely sensed that Paul was trying to seize the moral high ground and was not going to allow him to proceed.

Finally, there is a strong chance that the high priest was well aware that Paul was getting ready to launch into the story of his conversion and of his ministry among the Gentiles. He would have remembered what had happened when Stephen was on trial before them and how he had lectured them on their own history and accused them of killing Jesus. The slap might have been an attempt to put Paul in his place and to prevent him from using this forum as an opportunity to spout his heresy. Whatever the case, the indignity of the high priest’s reaction angered Paul and he responded accordingly.

“God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” – Acts 23:3 ESV

Paul’s words seem uncharacteristically angry. It almost appears that he lost his cool and allowed the tension of the last 24 hours to get to him. His words are harsh and vindictive, accusing the high priest of being a whitewashed wall. This statement is very similar to that of Jesus when He had referred to the scribes and Pharisees as whitewashed tombs.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs–beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.” – Matthew 23:27 NLT

Paul was accusing the high priest of hypocrisy. He was supposed to be the keeper of the law, but in ordering Paul to be struck, he was in direct violation of the law. Now, this is where it gets a bit interesting. Immediately after his verbal tongue lashing, Paul was informed that he had been addressing the high priest. This appears to have come as a shock to Paul, because he immediately claims ignorance, stating, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest” (Acts 23:5 ESV). And Paul makes it clear that, had he known, he would not have said what he said, because to do so would have been in violation of God’s law as well. He even quotes from Exodus 22:8: “You must not dishonor God or curse any of your rulers.” So, it would appear that Paul had been unaware that his words, spoken in anger, had been addressed to the high priest. But that begs the question: But would it have mattered? According to Exodus 22:8, Paul would have been guilty no matter which one of the men had ordered him to be slapped. As members of the high council, they were all considered leaders over the people of Israel. So, there is a likelihood that Paul was being a bit sarcastic. In saying that he didn’t know it was the high priest, he may have really been inferring that the high priest had not been acting like a high priest when he had ordered Paul to be slapped. So, how was Paul to know he was addressing a leader of the people of Israel. He hadn’t acted like one, so Paul had addressed him appropriately.

We’ll never know exactly what went on at that moment. But we do know that the tensions were high, and Paul sensed an opportunity to take advantage of what he knew to be the divisive nature of the council’s makeup. The members of the high council were made up of Pharisees and Sadducees. Paul, as a former Pharisee, knew well the differences between the two groups. The Sadducees denied the very idea of the resurrection. This was a major point of division between themselves and the Pharisees and, as a former Pharisee, Paul would have been well aware of this fact. So he exploits it by saying, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial” (Acts 23:6 ESV). Once again, he addressed them as brothers, but this time he directs his attention to the Pharisees in the room. He was dividing his audience and setting up a confrontation. And, for the benefit of the Roman tribune, Paul cuts to the chase and established the true reason for his so-called trial: The resurrection of the dead. Specifically, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But he purposefully doesn’t mention Jesus. He simply raises the controversial issue of bodily resurrection and the room explodes. Luke records that, “when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided” (Acts 23:7 ESV). Paul just sat back and watched the fireworks. And the Roman tribune got a first-hand glimpse of Jewish religious politics in action. Paul’s little ploy worked to perfection. Luke states that “a great clamor arose” and at one point, some of the scribes who were Pharisees, shouted that they saw no reason for Paul to be on trial – he was innocent. Then things began to get violent – so much so, that the Roman tribune had to rescue Paul once again and return him to the barracks, so he wouldn’t be torn to pieces by the religious leaders.

Paul was not out of the woods. He was still under arrest and had no idea what was going to happen to him. But the following night he was given words of assurance from Jesus Himself.

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” – Acts 23:11 ESV

Paul was on his way to Rome. He had longed to go to Rome for some time. He had even written to the believers in Rome, telling them, “I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News” (Romans 1:15 NLT). And now, after a lengthy delay, he was going to get his opportunity. But while Paul had long harbored a desire to go to Rome, he had not let that sway him from doing his job. He told the believers in Rome:

20 My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. 21 I have been following the plan spoken of in the Scriptures, where it says,

“Those who have never been told about him will see,
    and those who have never heard of him will understand.”

22 In fact, my visit to you has been delayed so long because I have been preaching in these places. – Romans 15:20-22 NLT

But there would be no more delay. God was sending Paul to Rome. It would not be quite the way Paul had probably envisioned it, but it was the will of God. The timing was perfect, because it was God’s timing. The means by which Paul would make his way to Rome might appear less-than-ideal, but it was the sovereign plan of God. Paul’s very presence in Jerusalem had been the will of God. His presence in the temple had been part of God’s divine plan. His beating and arrest were as well. And all that had taken place in his trial before the Sanhedrin was just another example of God’s providential plan for his life. Paul was going to enjoy the opportunity of a lifetime: To testify about Jesus in the capital of the Roman empire.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Between Two Worlds.

22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. 25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.

30 But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them. Acts 22:22-301 ESV

Paul, having been saved by Roman soldiers from being beaten to death by the Jewish mob, had been given an opportunity to address his accusers. And as Paul had shared his conversion story with them, they had given him their undivided attention, until he relayed the words spoken to Him by Jesus: “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:21 ESV). It was at that very moment that the crowd lost their composure yet again. As soon as they heard speak those words, they responded, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live” (Acts 22:22 ESV). But was it that caused this extreme reaction? Why had they listened so quietly and intently up until this particular moment? There were probably a number of factors involved. First of all, Paul was claiming to have heard directly from Jesus Himself, the very one the Jews had plotted to have put to death by the Romans. Paul referred to him as “Lord”, a designation most often reserved for God Himself. On top of that, Paul infers that Jesus told him to take the message of salvation to the Gentiles. This would have angered the believing Jews in the audience, who were already upset with Paul because he had been converting Gentiles without requiring them to submit to the rite of circumcision and obey the Mosaic law. It is important to remember that part of what had gotten Paul in trouble in the first place was the accusation that he had brought Gentiles into the Court of Israel. This would have been a crime punishable by death. When Paul had showed up at the Temple to complete his ceremonial cleansing, some Jews from Asia had seen him and riled up the crowds against him.

“This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” – Acts 21:28 ESV

So, when Paul mentioned that Jesus had spoken to him and had commanded him to take the gospel concerning the Messiah to the Gentiles, the Jews became enraged. Those were unbelieving Jews were upset that Paul spoke of Jesus as the Messiah and Lord. Those in the crowd who were believing Jews were angry because they believed that Gentiles must first become law-abiding Jews before they could receive salvation in Christ. Both groups were angry with Paul. So much so, that Luke describes them as “shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air” (Acts 22:23 ESV). What a scene. Complete confusion and chaos, mixed with uncontrollable rage. And the Roman tribune ordered Paul to be taken to the barracks inside the Fortress of Antonio, which was immediately outside the temple grounds. His plan was to flog Paul until he got to the truth of what was really going on.

It’s interesting to note that Paul allowed the soldiers to go so far as to have him stretched out, ready to be flogged, before he spoke up and revealed his status as a Roman citizen. It is as if Paul was going to let them get right up to the point of no return before he stopped them from committing a crime. This would certainly get their attention. And Luke proves that this little, last-minute revelation by Paul had its desired impact.

The soldiers who were about to interrogate Paul quickly withdrew when they heard he was a Roman citizen, and the commander was frightened because he had ordered him bound and whipped. – Acts 29 NLT

They had been stopped in the nick of time. As a Roman citizen, Paul was legally protected from scourging. It was against the law for any Roman to undergo this kind of punishment without access to due process. Paul had been accused, but nothing had been proven. He had been arrested, but there had been no trial. And the very fact that the Roman tribune had commanded Paul to be bond by chains, was a violation of Paul’s rights as a Roman citizen.

The Roman commander was surprised that Paul had Roman citizenship, because he had seen in him in the temple and had heard his testimony. “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers” (Acts 22:3 ESV). And because Paul was a Jews, the Roman tribune had just assumed that he was not a Roman citizen. He even hinted that Paul must have purchased his citizenship somewhere along the way. But Paul assured him that he had been born a Roman citizen, with all the rights and privileges that designation brings.

While the Roman tribune had learned of Paul’s Roman citizenship, he was still in the dark as to why Paul was being accused by the Jews and what had prompted them to try and kill him in the first place. So, the next day, he arranged a meeting with the religious leadership.

30 But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them. – Acts 22:30 ESV

This was going to set up a unique situation, in which Paul, a Jew and Christ-follower, would find himself standing before the Jewish chief priests and religious leaders, as well as a representative of the Roman government. He would have his feet firmly planted in two different worlds, both of which would prove integral to his entire life and ministry. Paul was a devout Jew and proud of his Hebrew heritage. He was a Pharisee and a former student of one of the leading rabbis of the day. He was knowledgeable of the Hebrew Scriptures and highly intelligent. And yet, Paul was comfortable in the pagan world as well, easily able to mix and mingle with people from all walks of life and from every imaginable ethnic background. Paul was comfortable within the context of Jerusalem, but he would one day find himself living in Rome, under house arrest, and sharing the gospel with all those he had a chance to meet, including his Roman guards.

In this scene, we get a glimpse of God’s sovereign hand as He orchestrated all the details of Paul’s life, from his birth into a Jewish home to his inheritance of a Roman citizenship. What if that had not been the case? What if Paul had not been a Roman citizen? He would have been flogged severely, a punishment that left its victim disfigured for life and, at time, dead. God had preordained Paul’s entire life story, from beginning to end. His training in the school of Gamaliel had equipped him with a tremendous understanding of Judaism and the Hebrew Scriptures. His status as a Pharisee gave him an unparalleled understanding of the Mosaic law. His childhood spent in Tarsus, the capital city of the Roman province of Cilicia, would have provided Paul first-hand experience with the Roman way of life. He was a man adept at living in two different worlds. And yet, Paul would live his life with the attitude that his real citizenship was elsewhere. He reminded the believers in Philippi, “we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT). Paul was comfortable living in two worlds, while keeping his mind set on the Kingdom to come. He had been specially prepared by God for his life and ministry, having been born and raised a Jew, inherited his Roman citizenship, and having received a theological education that was second to none. He was God’s man for this moment in time.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Appointed by God.

“As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not 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 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ Acts 22:6-21 ESV

Paul had been on his way to Damascus, on a self-appointed mission to seek and destroy Christians.

3 I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished. – Acts 22:3-5 NLT

 He clearly believed he had been doing God a favor by eliminating this radical religious sect called The Way from the face of the planet. He saw his efforts as God-honoring, but the problem was that they were not God-appointed. God had not asked him to do what he was doing. He had not been commissioned by God to persecute, arrest and murder Christians. That had all been Paul’s idea. Yes, God had been sovereignly orchestrating the events surrounding Paul’s life and, according to Paul’s own testimony, God had chosen him for salvation and for his role as an apostle, long before Paul was even born.

 

13 You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. 14 I was far ahead of my fellow Jews in my zeal for the traditions of my ancestors.

15 But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him 16 to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. – Galatians 1:13-15 NLT

But God had not made Paul, then known as Saul, persecute the church. He had not forced Saul to do the things he did. God does not entice anyone to commit acts of evil. James, the half-brother of Jesus reminds of this very important fact: “And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, ‘God is tempting me.’ God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else” (James 1:13 NLT). And John echoes those same sentiments: “Remember that those who do good prove that they are God’s children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God” (3 John 1:11 NLT). What Paul had been doing had been his idea, not God’s. But unbeknownst to Paul, God had been using his ungodly actions to accomplish the divine plan of redemption. Paul’s efforts to destroy the church had actually resulted in the scattering and dispersion of the believers and to the spread of the gospel message.

But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.

But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. – Acts 8:3-4 NLT

And Paul had been heading to Damascus to carry out his self-appointed mission as a bounty-hunter for God, when his will ran head-on into God’s. He testified, “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me” (Acts 22:6 ESV). Paul had his eyes set on Damascus, but he had an unexpected and unplanned encounter with the risen Lord. This had not been on his agenda for the day. He had not scheduled this meeting in his appointment book that morning. When he had set out that day on his seek-and-destroy mission, he had not planned on meeting the crucified and resurrected Jesus. In fact, he didn’t believe such a person existed. Oh, he believed there had been a Jesus, but He had been put to death. And yet, Paul was in for the shock of his life. Jesus was alive and well, and knew him by name. He saw a blinding light and heard a voice calling out to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Whoever this was knew him. but Paul wasn’t able to put two and two together. He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” and Jesus responded, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” Can you imagine what went through Paul’s mind as he heard those words? He was hearing the voice of a dead man. The martyred leader of The Way was speaking to him from the grave. The recognized leader of the sect Paul had been trying to destroy was somehow communicating with him, and accusing Paul of persecuting Him.

Now, what happens next is fascinating. Just think of all the questions that must have been swirling through Paul’s mind at that moment. Imagine how his thoughts would have been reeling as he stood there, unable to see, but clearly hearing the voice of a man he had never met before and who was supposed to be dead. And yet, the only thing Paul could say was, “What shall I do, Lord?” Paul was a religious man. He was a devout Jew and a well-educated Pharisee, so he knew this was a divine encounter of some kind. It is doubtful that he fully understood what was going on or that he realized that the voice he heard truly was that of the resurrected Jesus. But he knew he had been physically accosted by a power greater than his own, that had left him blind and totally incapacitated. So, he asked for directions. He wanted to know what he was supposed to do next. And Jesus accommodated Paul’s desire for next steps by providing him with specific instructions: “Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.”

That word, “appointed” is important. The Greek word Luke used is tassō, and it means “to ordain, order or appoint; to assign to a certain position or lot.” Paul was about to find out what he was really supposed to be doing. He had been on a mission, but it had not been the one God had in store for him. And while Paul had been zealous to honor God in all that he did, he was not doing any of it according to God’s will. He had been well-intended, but well off the mark when it came to his true life’s calling.

Paul was led by the hand into Damascus, and later received a visitor, sent to him by God. Ananias was a believing Jew who had received a vision from God, commanding him to go to Paul, restore his sight and deliver to him a message. But Ananias had been somewhat reluctant to follow God’s orders. He had felt compelled to remind God just who this man Saul was and why it was probably not a good idea for him to go and meet with him.

13  “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.” – Acts 9:13-14 NLT

Paul’s reputation had preceded him. And Ananias was justifiably reluctant to have a one-on-one encounter with a known and renowned persecutor of the church. But God calmed Ananias’ spirit by providing him with insight into what was going on. God had a plan for Paul’s life. “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16 ESV). God had hand-picked Paul for a special assignment and had preordained the purpose for and outcome of his life.

And when Ananias had arrived on the scene and restored Paul’s sight, he delivered a personal message from the Lord. “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:14-15 ESV). There’s that word again: Appointed. But this time, Ananias uses the Greek word, procheirizō, which carries the meaning, “to appoint for one’s use” or “to choose.” In this case, Ananias was letting Paul know that God had made a decision to reveal His divine will to him, by allowing him to have a personal encounter with Jesus, the Righteous one, and to receive a message directly from the lips of the resurrected, living Messiah. And now, Paul was going to have a new life assignment: Telling anyone and everyone what he had seen and heard. 

And Paul indicates that the very next thing that happened to him was his own baptism. He received water baptism as a result of his faith in Christ. Nowhere in the text does Paul indicate exactly when he came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, but it was long before he was baptized, because the water baptism does not wash away sins. It is a post-conversion act of obedience, signifying that one has believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and received the gift of salvation, including forgiveness and cleansing from sin. Ananias had rather abruptly asked Paul, “What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16 NLT). The text makes it sound like Ananias was associating water baptism with the washing away of sins, but in the original text, the phrase, “calling on” is actually an aorist participle meaning “having called on.” Paul’s baptism was following his conversion. It was symbolic of the spiritual cleansing that had already taken place in Paul’s life.

Paul ultimately returned to Jerusalem, where he received a vision from Jesus, warning him to flee the city because they were not going to accept his testimony. Jesus had other plans for Paul. Because of his prior mission as a persecutor of the church, Paul thought his chances at having a successful ministry were shot out of the water. He was damaged goods. But Jesus let him know that his ministry was going to be to the Gentiles, telling him, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!” And that is exactly what Paul had been doing, up until the point that he had been nearly beaten to death in the temple courtyard. He had been faithfully carrying out the ministry appointed to him by Jesus, and just as Jesus has told Ananias, Paul had discovered what it meant to suffer for the name of Jesus.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Misdirected Zeal.

37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” 40 And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:

1 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”

And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said:

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.” Acts 21:37-22:5 ESV

At the close of chapter seven and the beginning of chapter eight, Luke introduced us to Saul for the very first time. Luke indicated that Saul “was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison” (Acts 8:3 NLT). He was a man on a mission. He was obsessed. And he honestly thought he was doing God a huge favor by ridding the world of any and all Christians he could get his hands on. In fact, in today’s chapter, he explains the mindset behind his passionate persecution of the church.

3 I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. – Acts 22:3-4 NLT
He was highly motivated and demonstrated extreme eagerness to please and honor God through his actions. We know that when he stood by and watched the stoning of Stephen, he not only held the coats of those who threw the stones, he “agreed completely with the killing of Stephen” (Acts 8:1 NLT). He was convinced that the killing of Christians was a good thing. He saw them as dangerous heretics and criminals who opposed the Mosaic law and the Jewish religion. But something had happened to Saul. He had a personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus and his life had been dramatically transformed and the trajectory of his life had been radically altered. He was no longer the same man.
And as he stood in the Court of the Gentiles, having been rescued by the Roman cohort, from a beating at the hands of the Jews, he recounted to the crowd just what had happened to change his life. He asked the captain of the Roman soldiers if he could be given a chance to address the crowd, the very ones who had been attempting to end his life. Paul saw this as a unique and unavoidable opportunity to share his story. And when the captain, having learned that Paul was not the radical Egyptian revolutionary he supposed him to be, allowed him to speak. And Paul addressed the crowd of Jews in their own language.
Not only did Paul address the crowd in their own language of Aramaic, he let them know that he was one of them, a Jew born in Tarsus of Cilicia. He was a Hellenistic Jew, born in the Roman-controlled region of Cilicia. Tarsus was a major city, located in what is today southern Turkey. Paul wanted the Jews in his audience to know that he was a Jew, not some upstart Greek-speaking troublemaker. And he proceeded to give them his curriculum vitae, explaining that he had a significant Hebrew heritage and a formal education that was more than a little bit impressive. Paul wasn’t bragging, but he was attempting to get his audience’s attention by highlighting his religious and educational resumes.
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel.” – Acts 22:3 NLT
He wasn’t a newcomer to Jerusalem or some kind of country bumpkin from the sticks. He had been raised in the capital city and trained under one of the most revered of all the Jewish rabbis and teachers of the day. He was well-educated and more than familiar with the religion of his forefathers. Paul had been a Pharisee. and he would later describe himself as having been one of the best of all the Pharisees.
I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault. – Philippians 3:5-6 NLT
Paul had been a law-keeping, card-carrying Pharisee who had an impeccable record of human-based righteousness. He had Hebrew blood coursing through his veins and a no-holds-barred obsession for the Hebrew faith. If you looked up the word, “zealous” in the dictionary, you would have found Paul’s picture out beside it. In fact, Paul referred to himself as “being zealous for God.” The Greek word he used is zēlōtēs, and it refers to someone who burns with zeal for something, but also someone who defends and upholds something, vehemently contending for it with all his power. Paul had seen his pre-conversion mission as somehow God-ordained. But he had really appointed himself, having determined that he was doing the will of God, without having ever received his assignment from God. Paul was a self-appointed vigilante for God. He was kicking tail and taking names. His mission in life was to eliminate any and all Christians from the face of the earth – one at a time, if necessary. And Paul openly confessed, “I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison” (Acts 22:4 NLT). He had taken his job very seriously. And he had not been content to restrict his efforts to the city of Jerusalem. He had gone to the high priest and solicited formal documents that would allow him to take his little show on the road, seeking out Christians wherever he could find them.
Back in chapter eight, Luke recorded that “A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison” (Acts 8:1-4 NLT). And he had received official papers giving him permission and power to search and destroy all Christians found in the city of Damascus.
I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished. – Acts 22:5 NLT
And he challenged his listeners to fact-check his claim by talking to the high priest himself. He would corroborate the authenticity of his story.
But this is where his story will take a dramatic turn. He had set them up. They were on pins and needles, having heard him share some insights to his life story that none of them would have never guessed in a million years. Here was a former Pharisee and student of the famous Gamaliel, and he had been accused of teaching against the law of Moses and of desecrating the temple by bringing uncircumcised Gentiles into the area reserved only for Jews. How could he have done such a thing? What had forced this Pharisee to abandon his Jewish faith and turn his back on his own people? At this point, the crowd is far less interested in beating Paul, as they are in hearing what he has to say. They were mesmerized and intrigued. And Paul was going to take advantage of their rapt attention to share the most dramatic and unexpected part of his story. He had been one of them. He had grown up in the same culture and under the same conditions as they had. He had been circumcised, taught in the synagogue, attended the various feasts and festivals, trained as a Pharisee, and emersed in the rights, rituals and religious rules of Judaism. So, what had happened? And that’s where Paul will pick up his story:
“As I was on the road, approaching Damascus…” – Acts 22:6 NLT
Remember. He had been on a mission. He thought he was acting on behalf of God. He had truly believed he was doing God a favor. He was zealous and energetic in his efforts. He had been determined and disciplined in carrying out his actions. And, like the people standing in the crowd, listening to his words, Paul had been convinced that he was right. He had fully believed that his agenda had been God’s agenda. But he was in for a big surprise and so were they.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Disorder in the Court.

27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36 for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!” Acts 21:27-36 ESV

Herod's TempleRumors had spread among the predominantly Jewish believers in Jerusalem that Paul, while on his missionary journeys, had been attempting to get Jews to walk away from Judaism. They had heard that he was teaching against the Mosaic law, demanding that parents no longer circumcise their children or keep the customs associated with Judaism. Of course, none of it was true, but rumors have a way of becoming fact, not fiction, when told often and eagerly enough. So, Paul had agreed with the suggestion of James, to join four other men who were completing their vows to God. Paul would underwrite the costs of their ceremonial cleansing and join them in their rites of purification, signaling to the Jewish Christians that he was still very much a faithful adherent to Judaism. And it was while Paul and the four other men were in the middle of completing their seven days of purification that a riot ensued. It seems that the Jews had never forgiven Paul for deserting the faith and becoming a follower of the Way. At one time, he had been an up-and-coming Pharisee and fervent opponent of the sect of the rabbi from Nazareth. He had done everything in his power to eradicate the movement and its followers. Then suddenly, without warning, he had switched sides, becoming one of movements most powerful proponents and propagators of the teachings of Jesus. As Paul was completing his purification rites in the Temple courtyard, some Jews from Asia saw him and became upset that he was on their sacred grounds. These men were Jews who had traveled all the way to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. They were devout and completely dedicated to the Hebrew faith. Having come from Asia, they were very familiar with the work of Paul and his efforts among the Gentiles. It may be that these men were from Ephesus, because “they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city” (Acts 21:29 ESV). They obviously recognized Trophimus, and knew him to be a non-Jew. Upon seeing Paul in the temple courtyard, they immediately assumed that he had brought his Gentile friends with him. Now, if Paul had brought them into the Court of the Gentiles, that would have been acceptable, but as part of his purification rite, Paul would have been in the Israelite’s Courtyard. These men viewed Paul as an enemy of Judaism. He had spent two years in Ephesus, preaching the gospel and spreading the good news regarding Jesus, “so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10 ESV).

Now, here were these Jews from Asia, seeing Paul in the courtyard of their sacred temple, and they lost it. They immediately sounded the alarm, calling attention to Paul’s presence and accusing him of desecrating the temple by bringing Gentiles into the restricted areas. Perhaps they thought that the four men who were undergoing purification with Paul were Gentiles. Whatever the case, they shouted, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who preaches against our people everywhere and tells everybody to disobey the Jewish laws. He speaks against the Temple—and even defiles this holy place by bringing in Gentiles.” (Acts 21:28 NLT). Luke makes it clear that they had wrongly assumed that Paul had brought Trophimus into the sacred area of the temple. According to the Mosaic Law, that would have been a capital offense. According to the 1st-Century Jewish historian, Josephus, there were notices placed in the court of the Gentiles, written in both Greek and Latin, warning that any Gentiles who ventured into the inner courts would be responsible for their own deaths. Paul, while a Jew by birth, was little more than a Gentile to these men because they were convinced that he had abandoned his Jewish faith for Christianity. In their minds, Paul was a lover of Gentiles, and he deserved to die. The Jews from Asia whipped the crowd into a frenzy, and “Paul was grabbed and dragged out of the Temple, and immediately the gates were closed behind him” (Acts 21:30 NLT). It seems likely that Paul was removed by force from the Israelite Courtyard and dragged into the Court of the Gentiles. The gates between the two were closed and locked, in an effort to prevent any other potential desecration of the holy grounds. 

Things escalated quickly, because Luke indicates that they were trying kill Paul. News spread of the riot taking place on the temple grounds, and the commander of the Roman forces stationed at the Fortress of Antonio, gathered his troops and entered into the crowd in an attempt to restore order. It didn’t take the Roman Tribune long to get there, because the Fortress of Antonio was directly outside the northern portico of the temple. It was only when the crowd saw the Roman troops, that they stopped beating Paul. But the chaos continued, with the irate Jews shouting accusations and spewing hate-filled demands calling for Paul’s death. The commander, placing Paul in chains and having his troops carry him above their heads in an effort to protect him from the mob, ordered that he be taken to the fortress. And as they made their way through the throng crowded into the Court of the Gentiles, Paul could hear the shouts of “Kill him, kill him!”

This scene conjures up images of another, very similar occasion, when Jesus had been dragged before Pilate, the Roman governor, having been arrested by the Jewish council and accused of blasphemy. Pilate had examined Jesus and found Him guilty of nothing worthy of death. And Pilate, confused as to what he should do with Jesus, turned to the Jewish crowd and asked them for their opinion in the matter.

12 Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?”

13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

14 “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”

But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”

15 So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified. – Mark 15:12-15 NLT

Their answer had been perfectly and painfully clear. And, in the case of Paul, the Jews were equally adamant in their demand that he be put to death. Paul was a perceived threat to their way of life. He was disrupting the status quo and, apparently, guilty of causing many of their fellow Jews to abandon their Jewish faith. He was a troublemaker and a heretic who needed to be exterminated. But, in reality, all Paul was guilty of, was teaching men and women how they might be made right with God. He had been teaching justification by faith, not by the law. He had not been discounting Judaism or diminishing the importance of the Mosaic law, but had simply been clarifying the true intentions of the law. If Paul had taught anything, it was that the law “was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). It had been the apostle John who wrote in his gospel, “For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 NLT). Later on, in the same gospel, John records the words of Jesus, spoken to the Jews: “Moses gave you the law, but none of you obeys it! In fact, you are trying to kill me” (John 7:19 NLT).

Jesus had come to fulfill the requirements of the law. He made that fact known when He addressed the crowds during His sermon on the mount.

17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. – Matthew 5:17-18 NLT

Jesus had been the consummate law-keeper, not law-breaker. He was obedient to His heavenly Father in every way, having kept every single commandment perfectly. And Paul had been spreading the truth regarding Jesus and His association with the law of Moses.

21 But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. 22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. – Romans 3:21-22 NLT

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4 NLT

Paul was not against the law of Moses. He was against the idea of anyone being able to keep the law and make themselves righteous in the eyes of God. He had been a law-abiding Pharisee, but knew that all his efforts to keep the law had failed. In spite his best intentions, he had been a law-breaker, not a law-keeper. And Paul provides us with a vivid description of his view of life lived in an attempt to keep the holy and righteous law of God in the flesh.

14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! – Romans 7:14-24 NLT

Paul was in chains. He had been beaten and falsely accused. But he knew that he was guilty of nothing more than preaching and teaching the truth about Jesus. He firmly believed what he wrote to the church in Rome, answering his own question, “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” with the powerful and life-altering words,  “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25 NLT

 

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

A Delicate Balancing Act.

17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. 18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them. Acts 21:17-26 ESV

In this next section of Luke’s account, he is going to provide a precise record of Paul’s return to Jerusalem and the interactions that took place between Paul and the leadership of the church there. Upon arrival back in Jerusalem, Paul appeared before James and the rest of the leadership of the church, including the other apostles. He reported the details of his latest mission trip among the Gentiles, explaining all that God was doing to bring those outside of Judaism to faith in Christ. His third missionary journey had been similar to the previous two, further confirming that the gospel message was bearing much fruit, in spite of increasing opposition from Jews who were dispersed abroad and from the Gentiles who found Christianity to be a threat to their own pagan religions.

One of the striking features of Paul’s report was the way he gave all the credit to God. Luke reports that Paul “related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry” (Acts 21:19 ESV). Yes, Paul had played a vital and indispensable role, but he knew that nothing worthy would have taken place without the sovereign hand of God. No one would have come to faith in Christ if God had not called them and the Holy Spirit had not regenerated their hearts. Paul knew his place. He was no more than a messenger, a herald of the truth, communicating the good news concerning Jesus Christ to those who had never heard it. Any converts produced were the result of God’s handiwork, not Paul’s. In fact, he admitted as much in his first letter to the believers in Corinth.

I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:3-5 NLT

And in that same letter, Paul made it clear that his role had been simple and somewhat one-dimensional.

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. – 1 Corinthians 1:17 ESV

Because Paul had been quick to give all the credit to God, the apostles were able to direct their praise to God and not to Paul. At no point did Paul attempt to rob God of glory by allowing himself to receive unwarranted praise. He was more than content in the knowledge that his efforts on behalf of God, done in the power of God, had accomplished the will of God.

But James and the other apostles, while grateful for all that God had done, were forced to bring up a potential conflict that loomed as a result of Paul’s report. While Paul had been away, the Spirit of God had been at work in Jerusalem as well, resulting in the conversions of thousands of faithful, law-abiding Jews. These individuals, while having put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Messiah and Savior, still held tenaciously to their Hebrew heritage and the ways of their ancestors. They maintained their allegiance to the Mosaic law and the religious rites and rituals of Judaism. Obedience to the law of Moses was still a non-negotiable, non-optional requirement for them. Earlier in his book, Luke had recorded the findings of the Jerusalem council, when they had been forced to deal with the demands of certain Jewish believers that all Gentile converts be required to live according to the law of Moses just as they did. James and the apostles had determined that this was unnecessary because it was not a requirement that God had placed on the Gentile believers. That dispute had been settled. But now, James was bringing up a different issue altogether. It seems that the latest rumor circulating among the Jewish believers in Jerusalem was that Paul had been trying to convince Jews living among the Gentiles where he ministered, to abandon their allegiance to the Mosaic law. They were falsely reporting that Paul was teaching Jews not to circumcise their children or follow other Jewish customs and laws.

Part of what was going here was a misunderstanding of Paul’s outlook on the law. He outlines his perspective regarding the Mosaic law in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. 21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 NLT

When living among his fellow Jews, Paul chose to keep the law, just as they did. But when he found himself living among Gentiles, he chose not to follow the Jewish law, because he did not want it to be a stumbling block for them. It was important to him that they not see him living in obedience to the law and wrongly assume that this represented an added requirement for coming to faith in Christ. In no way did Paul ever diminish or demean the law of Moses. But he made it clear that he saw himself and all other Jews, as no longer subject to the law. The law had served its God-appointed purpose. In his letter to the Galatian believers, Paul had clearly stated that the law had been given by God “to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). The child had come. Jesus had been born, had lived a sinless life, having kept the law perfectly, and had died on behalf of sinners as the sinless sacrifice. “God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins” (Romans 8:3 NLT).

In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul explained that the Jewish nation had failed to understand that the law could not make anyone righteous. Attempting to live up to God’s holy standard in their own strength, striving to seek a righteousness of their own making, had left them weary and defeated. But when had appeared and offered Himself as the only means of being made right with God, the Jews had rejected Him.

For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. – Romans 10:3-4 ESV

And while Paul was proud of his Jewish heritage and understood the value of the law, he also understood that the law had never been intended to make anyone right with God. It could only reveal man’s sinfulness, not produce righteousness. And nowhere does Paul make that point more clear than in his letter to the Galatian believers.

15 “You and I are Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles. 16 Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.”

17 But suppose we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then we are found guilty because we have abandoned the law. Would that mean Christ has led us into sin? Absolutely not! 18 Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down. 19 For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. – Galatians 2:15-19 NLT

And yet, Paul had been misunderstood by the Jews. They saw him as anti-law. But Paul himself said, “the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good” (Romans 7:12 NLT). The problem was not with the law, but with man’s failure to understand that adherence to the law could never save anyone, because man’s sin nature made it impossible.

But the problem was real. James knew that when those Jews who were “zealous for the law” got wind that Paul was in town, they were going to be upset. And the rumors would fly. So, James suggested a plan to alleviate any potential and unnecessary tension. He recommended that Paul join four other men who had recently made vows to God and were preparing to conclude the completion of their vows by having themselves ceremonially cleansed at the temple. Paul was encouraged to join them and to underwrite any costs associated with the sacrifices they would need to make. In doing so, Paul would show that he had not abandoned the rites and rituals of Judaism. His actions would go a long way in convincing others that he was still a faithful Jew and not anti-law.

James made it clear that nothing had changed regarding their previous decision to place no undue or unnecessary burden on the Gentiles. The Jerusalem council had already determined that Gentile converts were not required to be circumcised or to keep the Mosaic law. It was enough that they “abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality”, out of deference for their Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ.

The early church was equal parts melting pot and powder keg. The unique and unlikely blending of so many ethnic, social and religious perspectives had created a potentially toxic cocktail. Part of the responsibility of the leadership was to manage this sensitive and volatile environment with wisdom and diplomacy. The church was growing rapidly and each day brought with it new issues and potential conflicts that required careful and prayerful administration. The diverse constituency of the church demanded that the elders, apostles and other leaders manage all the competing expectations and conflicting perspectives with godly grace and brotherly love. It is no wonder that one of Jesus’ primary requests in His high priestly prayer on the night He was betrayed, was for unity among those who could be His followers. Paul could have easily rejected the suggestion of James, demanding that it was well within his rights to do so. But he cared more about the gospel than he did about his rights. He was always willing to sacrifice his rights for the cause of Christ. He was ready, willing and able to die to self in order that others might discover what it means to live for Christ. He summed up his outlook quite succinctly in his first letter to the Corinthian church.

31 So if you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything to honor God. 32 Do nothing that would make trouble for a Greek or for a Jew or for the church of God. 33 I want to please everyone in all that I do. I am not thinking of myself. I want to do what is best for them so they may be saved from the punishment of sin. – 1 Corinthians 10:31-33 NT

 

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson