The Book of Acts (Chapter 23) (Part 35)
Paul was a master tactician when it came to setting one group against another group. He had made his defence and had given a good testimony to his life changing experience with the risen Lord Jesus. Of course as usual the religious leadership refused to see what Paul was saying because they were spiritually blind as the Lord Jesus Himself had said of them they were “the blind leading the blind and that both would fall into a pit!” In metaphor the ‘pit’ was hades itself. When someone cannot win an argument or refute what someone is saying they attack the person for saying it and these religious hypocrites were no exception in this. They could not stand with Paul’s direct gaze at them. And so we read…
(Vs. 1) “Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.”
As a genuine Pharisee, Paul had always striven to have a good conscience before God and men. He was not a hypocrite but one who was spiritually blind and acting in ignorance. He said so himself when he wrote; “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man; yet because I had acted in ignorance and unbelief, I was shown mercy.” (1Timothy 1:13) He had been a genuine Pharisee before he was saved. Now as a believer in the Lord Jesus he would continue to keep a good conscience with God and man. This honest confession was a rebuke to the hypocrisy and wilful spiritual blindness of the Sanhedrin. He freely confessed that God had shown him mercy because he had acted in ignorance unlike those whom he was now speaking to. All it got for Paul was a ‘knee jerk’ reaction and a slap in the face.
(Vs.2-5) “The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”
Paul respected the Law of Moses and his reaction was a human one as he was under extreme provocation. He was human. Sometimes this can happen to a believer when they are under severe and unjust persecution from unsaved religious leaders who profess to know God. However, Paul quickly humbled himself being subject to the Spirit of Christ that lived in him. While he humbled himself before them he pulled a trick on them. He understood the theological arguments and belief system of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He delivered a master stroke! And so we read…
(Vs.6-8) “But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.”
Today the modern Sadducees in the professing Christian Church would be the liberals who deny the supernatural accounts in scripture and this includes the physical resurrection of the dead. Some even deny the physical resurrection of our Lord Jesus. One leading Bishop said at one time that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus was “a story of old men’s bones!” Undoubtedly he is of a different opinion in Hades. The liberals would in most cases deny the existence of angels or demons. To the Liberal the Bible is not factual for the most part but stories passed on to bolster faith. As to the basic fundamental Bible doctrines they have no revelation knowledge whatsoever of these doctrines but denigrate those who hold to the absolute and final authority of scripture before anything else.
As Spurgeon used to say; “The Word of God is the anvil upon which the hammers of men’s opinions are smashed!” Well the Pharisees at least believed in the resurrection, in angels and in the Spirit of God. They also accepted the supernatural aspect of scripture but like the Sadducees they had a wilful spiritual blindness. As someone said of the Sadducees; “They were so sad you see.” They were not very ‘happy chappies’ at all. If there is no resurrection then of all men they would be most miserable that is for sure. Well Paul deliberately set them against each other by proclaiming the resurrection from the dead. Well the tactic Paul used was successful. Indeed it is the principle that the Lord Jesus enunciated when He said that “a house divided against itself cannot stand!” Or as they say; “divide and conquer!” Paul had won the day!
(Vs.9-10) “And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.”
Another riot was almost ready to break out so the commander had Paul physically removed into the barracks for his own protection as well as to keep the situation creating civil unrest which would attract more attention. Sometimes in front line evangelism and apostolic ministry the Lord Jesus will use secular rulers to protect His servants as in Paul’s case. Also it was to Paul’s advantage that he knew Roman law and could use this legally and lawfully to defend himself. This kind of spiritual conflict often takes its toll on God’s servants especially when they have been hotly confronting and contending for the faith against false doctrines. All false doctrines, religions and traditions of men are demonically inspired and will be a conspicuous mark within the Church at the end of this age, an age in which we are now living.(1 Timothy 4:1-3) (2 Thessalonians 2:3,9) In Paul’s case the devil was so enraged that he wanted to tear Paul apart. Undoubtedly Paul did not go unscathed but was spiritually exhausted and so we read…
(Vs.11) “But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.”
Paul was in the barracks and as the day faded and he contemplated the day’s events the Spirit of the Lord Jesus stood by his side and encouraged him. What he had experienced at Jerusalem, as hard as it was, would prepare him to go to Rome where he would appear before Caesar himself. God’s plan was fixed for Paul, a plan and path in life that God had already chosen for him even before he was conceived in his mother’s womb. (Galatians 1:15) He had to respond and was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. (Acts 26:19) One thing we can be sure about is that if we are walking in the will of God then nothing can terminate our life until we have done what God has for us to do. Paul must have been encouraged to know that even though there were plans to kill him in Jerusalem he had to go to Rome according to the set will and providence of God. And so we read…
(Vs.12-15) “When it was day, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who formed this plot. They came to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have bound ourselves under a solemn oath to taste nothing until we have killed Paul. Now therefore, you and the Council notify the commander to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case by a more thorough investigation; and we for our part are ready to slay him before he comes near the place.”
These men were religious zealots or assassins who were meticulous and scrupulous where observing Torah was concerned and were fanatical in killing anyone who transgressed Torah Law. These men took an oath and bound themselves to starve to death if it was not carried out. Whether any of the 40 reneged on their vow or not they had passed a death sentence on themselves. They undoubtedly thought they would succeed in eliminating Paul but they had not counted on the divine providence and protection of God where His servant Paul was concerned. These religious assassins wanted the Sanhedrin to lure Paul down on a pretext of a further investigation so that they could kill him.
(Vs.16-22) “But the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, and he came and entered the barracks and told Paul. Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, “Lead this young man to the commander, for he has something to report to him.” So he took him and led him to the commander and *said, “Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to lead this young man to you since he has something to tell you.” The commander took him by the hand and stepping aside, began to inquire of him privately, “What is it that you have to report to me?” And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down tomorrow to the Council, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more thoroughly about him. So do not listen to them, for more than forty of them are lying in wait for him who have bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they slay him; and now they are ready and waiting for the promise from you.” So the commander let the young man go, instructing him, “Tell no one that you have notified me of these things.”
We are not told how young this man was but he was Paul’s Nephew who happened to be in Jerusalem at this time even though the family most probably had lived in Tarsus all of their lives. How he had got to Jerusalem we are not told but somehow in the providence of God he found out about the assassination plot against his uncle. He came to Paul in the barracks and told him what these men had planned to do to him. Once again, Paul availed himself of Roman law. He was a Roman citizen whose life had been threatened. The garrison commander had to respond.
Now Paul could have gone himself but instead sent his nephew. His Nephew was a brave young man and had a centurion lead him to the garrison commander where he told him about the plot against Paul and the deception being perpetrated by the Sanhedrin. The commander was no stranger to plots, insurrections or militant zealots of one sort or another in Jerusalem and was swift and decisive in his response. Jerusalem had always been a hot bed of rebellion and a province that Roman Governors did not like to govern. Rather than face these militant assassins the garrison commander decided to get Paul out of the city. He told Saul’s Nephew not to say anything to anyone to avoid word getting out about the assassination plot and to avoid having to face an armed insurrection in the city itself.
(Vs.23-24) “And he called to him two of the centurions and said, “Get two hundred soldiers ready by the third hour of the night to proceed to Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen.” They were also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor.”
The garrison commander knew the cunning malice of the religious Jews and Zealots and around 9pm that same night smuggled Paul out of the barracks under an armed escort sending him to Felix the Governor at Caesarea with a covering letter. The garrison commander did this because Paul was a Roman citizen and secondly because the LORD had put it in his heart to protect Paul.
(Vs.25-30) “And he wrote a letter having this form: “Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix, greetings. “When this man was arrested by the Jews and was about to be slain by them, I came up to them with the troops and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. “And wanting to ascertain the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their Council; and I found him to be accused over questions about their Law, but under no accusation deserving death or imprisonment. “When I was informed that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, also instructing his accusers to bring charges against him before you.”
The commander could find no reason to have Paul imprisoned or charged with any offence just like it was with the Lord Jesus when He stood on trial before Pontius Pilate. In Paul’s case the commander rescued him and sent him off to the governor. This commander ‘passed the buck’ as it were to his superior realising that the case needed a higher jurisdiction. Once again we see the religious leaders giving a believer over to the secular authorities to be punished. The Lord Jesus said that this would be the pattern for His faithful followers.
He Himself said; “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:12-19)
If you look at church history you will see that believers were betrayed and brought before secular authorities and courts by those professing to be their brethren. When the Roman Catholic Church came into being centuries ago those who would not accept the authority of the Pope, the Church and the doctrine of the mass were given over to secular powers to be imprisoned, tortured and killed. This went on for hundreds of years especially during the Inquisition.
The day is coming when those who seek to follow the Lord Jesus and obey His Word will be betrayed and delivered over to secular authorities for sentencing merely because they are Bible believers before anything else. This is already happening in countries like Russia and North Korea. Men will have good works, morality, religious observances, ceremonies of the Church, sacraments vestments, scapulars, candles, rosary beads and auricular confessions to priests and deeds of penance but they will not have the Lord Jesus Christ or His Word. And so Paul had been betrayed by his so called ‘brethren’ and delivered over to the secular authorities who in his case protected him because he was a citizen of Rome and had not broken any Roman law.
(Vs 31-35) “So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. But the next day, leaving the horsemen to go on with him, they returned to the barracks. When these had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. When he had read it, he asked from what province he was, and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, he said, “I will give you a hearing after your accusers arrive also,” giving orders for him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.”
The threat to Paul’s life was over so the horsemen returned to their barracks in Jerusalem. The governor wanted to hear the case and called for Paul’s accusers to also come to Caesarea. So the governor issued orders to hold Paul over for a hearing until his accusers turned up. One thing we have the assurance of is that if we are brought before governors and kings the Lord Jesus will give us the words to say at that time in accordance with what He has promised to do. The blessed Holy Spirit will be with us and stand alongside us and empower us to stand fast for the name and the sake of the Lord Jesus.
As Matthew records what the Lord Jesus said; “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” (Matthew 10:16-20). The apostle Peter also wrote; “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:14)
What we see happening to Paul has been the pattern for believers down through the long history of the Church. The freedom we have to worship God today in the western democracies was purchased for us by the blood of martyrs and by those great anointed preachers like Wesley, Moody, Finney, Whitfield and Booth who in their generation all faithfully preached the gospel according to the Word of God and not according to the traditions and commandments of men. Most of them were rejected to a greater and lesser degree by the religious establishment of their day. This was the pattern in the first century, it has been the pattern down through church history and it will be the pattern for the faithful Body of Messiah (the faithful Church) in the last days. Already in the last century there have been more martyrs for the Lord Jesus than there has been at any other time in history including the first century martyrs.
When the Beast Empire of Antichrist comes to power within his domain Bible believers will be persecuted and betrayed by their brethren who have compromised the Word of God and in many cases faithful believers will be betrayed by their own family members. Already this has been going on for centuries only in the last days it will be a very conspicuous feature of the professing Christian Church. Apostasy and betrayal will become common place just before our Lord Jesus comes back. In those days that are rapidly approaching those believers who stand fast to the Lord Jesus, stick to His Word without compromise will know the anointing of the Holy Spirit in a very powerful and tangible way as they stand fast in their faith and testify to the Lord Jesus Christ. When we are reading the book of Acts we are not only reading past history but future history!