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Acts 22:30-24:21 by Robert Dean
When your life is caught up in a whirlwind of trouble, do you call on God to take away all the bad things? Or do you embrace God's plan for your life including the tests and suffering to help you mature spiritually? Listen to this hair-raising account of the Apostle Paul's arrest in Jerusalem where a rioting crowd spews out threats of dire consequences. See how the Jewish Sanhedrin Council accuses Paul and the high priest, Ananias, signals someone to slap him in the mouth. Hear Paul's heated defense as he gets to the heart of the matter by mentioning resurrection. Notice that God does not use a miracle to rescue Paul, but instead is behind the scenes directing the normal events. Realize that God is at work in our lives and is for us so nothing can be against us.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 1 mins 40 secs

If God is for Us, Who Can be Against Us?
Acts 22:30-24:21

Acts chapters 23, 24 and some of 25 has a certain amount of repetition in it, which indicates that God the Holy Spirit wants us to pay attention to these things because He has included these things to make sure we get it. The doctrinal principle that we see throughout this is that if God is for us who can be against us? We see a situation that we might face at some time where we are basically surrounded by our enemies. Many times as I have read through this over the last few days I have thought about some of the psalms where David talks about how he was surrounded by his enemies. And yet God is the one who protects him; God is the one who is his shield, his fortress; God is the one who sustains him and protects him. And this is a tremendous illustration of how God does that. It is not overt here in the sense of God performing miracles to protect Paul or to pull him out of a difficult situation in the sense of making it go away. So often when we face testing, when we face adversity in life we think that if we just pray to God He will remove it. God wants us to stay under the pressure and in that adversity situation so that we can learn to relax and trust Him.

It is hard to do that some times, but if you are surrounded and there are plots against you to try to take your life, you are surrounded by people who hate you and everything that you stand for, and these are people that you care about and have turned against you—which is the situation with Paul; you will notice that when he addresses the addresses the Sanhedrin in chapter 23 he says that he identifies himself as a Pharisee. He doesn't say, "I am a Christian". He doesn't say that he was something else, a Nazarene; he still sees that his core beliefs are the fundamental beliefs of the Pharisees—not in the legalistic, superficial hypocrisy form, but in the sense that the Pharisees in a strict doctrinal sense believed in the reality of a personal God, in the reality of a physical, bodily resurrection, in angels and demons, and that the Torah was the Word of God. What they did with that was wrong, but those core beliefs were still those that the apostle Paul had.

Acts 23:6 NASB "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!'"

So here are these Pharisees, many of whom he knew very well and were very close to prior to his conversion to Christianity. And we also see in this episode that the Jewish leadership is still looking at Christianity as a sub-sect of Judaism. They don't see it as a totally separate movement yet. That doesn't occur for about 75 more years.

Paul is in this context of opposition where he is being put under arrest by the Gentiles and they are restricting his movements. And in the middle of this episode the Lord is going to appear to him.

Acts 23:11 NASB "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.'"

Why would the Lord appear to Paul to give him this reassurance if Paul wasn't feeling the pressure and the adversity of the hostile situation? One of the reasons for these kinds of direct appearances of the Lord at times, even in Acts, is because they didn't have a completed canon of Scripture yet. We have a completed canon and we can go to promises and places in the Word and derive that strength and comfort from the Scripture. Paul was in need of that.

So in this section over the next couple of chapters there is one thing that we need to keep as a sort of framework for understanding this when we ask the question, why does God the Holy Spirit give us so much of this information? If we think about this, that the initial temple riot occurs half way through chapter 21 and then the narrative goes though all of 22, 23, 24 and 25, and it is not until chapter 27 that he finally leaves Caesarea. This covers a period of two years. If we compare the amount of verses given to this period of Paul's life and then compare it to, for example, the first missionary journey and even the second and third missionary journey—the second and third lasted an equal amount of time—where we only get a chapter or a chapter and a half to describe them, it is obvious that the Holy Spirit wants us to slow down and pay attention to what is happening from the arrest in Jerusalem until Paul leaves to go to Rome. We are reminded in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Acts 22:30 NASB "But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them."

We can date this because Luke is very precise as he goes through this description. He has been giving a day-by-day description of what Paul has been doing since he arrived to observe Pentecost, and so this can be tracked down according to Dr. Harold Honer's in-depth chronology to June 3rd AD 57. That means we are nine years away from the Jewish revolt, which began in 66 and ended with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70. So those political and religious undercurrents that are going to erupt in another nine years are already on the scene. This is why there is so much intensity and hostility taking place here.        

Acts 22:30 NASB "But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them."

This is the day after he is arrested and rescued by the Romans. "He" is the commander didn't know for certain why Paul was accused by the Jews. The word "Council" there is Sanhedrin. He calls for the Sanhedrin to come and appear at the Mark Anthony fortress. Ordinarily the Sanhedrin would meet in a room off of the court of the Gentiles in the temple. Now they are meeting instead at the Mark Anthony barracks. That is important because not meeting in their normal Council meeting room means they are not in their normal attire and not in their normal seating arrangement. This may be why Paul is uncertain who the high priest is. 

There is going to be an exchange of ideas and the commander is out of his depth here because he is having to deal with what he perceives to be a theological controversy among the Jewish leadership. He is trying to get to the heart of the matter because wants to know if this is really a matter of Roman law. Has Paul broken the law or is this just some internal theological squabble among the Jews? 

Acts 23:1 NASB "Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, 'Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.'"

This tells us something about Paul's attitude. He is not cowering; he is not intimidated; he doesn't feel like he is out of place. He stands with courage in front of the Council and addresses them, and makes his opening statement. Is Paul saying that he lived his whole life in good conscience? We could say that even when he was not a believer as far as he understood truth he was living in light of his conscience even when he was arresting and killing Christians. There are some who take that view. Others would put this in the context he said this before in chapter 19 when he was talking to the Ephesian elders. The implication would be that since he became a believer he has lived his life before the Lord in as strict obedience to the Lord as he possibly could, and therefore there is no guilt in him whatsoever. The term "brethren" here does not refer to them as fellow believers in Christ but as fellow Jews.

Then something completely unexpected happens. Acts 23:2 NASB "The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth." This is an intense situation.

Ananias served as a high priest from 47-59 AD, so he has another two years to serve. Interestingly, when we get into the next section where Paul goes to Caesarea under the procurator Felix, Felix has been procurator for about 6 or 7 years and he has only about another year and a half to go before he is replaced by Festus. So there is a shift in administration, both in terms of the high priest and in terms of the Roman procuratorship in the year 59 and just before. Ananias had a horrible character. He was tyrant. He had been appointed by the brother of Herod Agrippa to be the high priest in 47. He was notoriously unscrupulous and rapacious. He was known for stealing the sacrifices that were supposed to go to the support of the priests. He was known for his greed and for his lust. The Babylonian Talmud accused him of being "very stomach-oriented", an idiom for the fact that he let his lust patterns drive his life. He worshipped his drives and his desires. He was deposed in AD 59 and then in 66 at the beginning of the Jewish rebellion the zealots trapped him—they were chasing him because of his pro-Roman policy—in an aqueduct, hiding with his half-brother Hezekiah. According to Josephus he was slain by the zealot leader Manachim because of his pro-Roman policy.   

According to Jewish tradition a Jew could only strike another Jew in order to defend the honor of God—only if blasphemy had occurred. In self-righteousness—and self-righteousness always goes along with arrogance—Annias had Paul slapped.

Acts 23:3 NASB "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?'"

Paul just goes right to the heart of the issue: You are breaking the Law by having me struck, and yet you accuse me of having broken the Law. The idea of a whitewashed wall was a wall that had problems and breaking down, and in order to hide the fact that it was already becoming weakened a nice new paint job was applied to hide the weaknesses and flaws in the wall. This is similar to the accusation that Jesus had of the Pharisees when He called them whitewashed sepulchers. It is an expression for hypocrisy. Paul is pointing out that Ananias is violating both Jewish and Roman law.

Acts 23:4 But the bystanders said, 'Do you revile God's high priest?' [5] 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 is saying that if he is the high priest then he should not be treated with disrespect.

It is possible that Paul did not recognize Ananias as the high priest. We know from some passages that Paul had eye problems and his eyesight could be failing. They may have all been sitting together and Ananias may not have been sitting separately.

I don't think that is the right answer because from the time that Paul was 13 until the time he became a believer—probably in his mid-twenties, so at least ten years—he was living among all of the Pharisees in Jerusalem and would have known all of them.

Others have suggested that since he had not been in Jerusalem for a number of years and the high priesthood had changed several times that he might not have been aware that Ananias was the high priest or who this was.

Another possibility is that since they weren't in their normal chambers there wasn't anything to signify the high priest. Probably the best possibility is that Paul was using a little sanctified sarcasm is basically saying, "I didn't know he was the high priest because the high priest shouldn't act like that. He is not qualified to be the high priest so I am not treating him as one." Then he steps back from that and says that since he is the high priest he should not have spoken evil of him.

Then in the next verse it shows the presence of mind that Paul had and his understanding of his audience. This is important for us whenever we are communicating with unbelievers. It is too easy for us to get rattled. The more emotional we get the less we think. Paul is going to use a ploy here to get these accusers fighting each other and to avoid the whole issue and to remove himself from the equation. In doing so he also focuses on a point that is at the heart of the whole disagreement. The issue at the heart of the disagreement is their rejection of Jesus Christ. And the ultimate evidence, the ultimate sign, of Jesus as the Messiah was the resurrection. So Paul uses the resurrection and the belief in the resurrection as being a core issue in, first of all, identifying Jesus as Messiah, as the Son of God and His conquest over death; but secondly, it is a matter of theological disagreement between the Pharisees and the Sadducees.    

Acts 23:6 NASB "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!'"

Notice the present tense there: "I am a Pharisee". He doesn't say, "I was a Pharisee". He is identifying himself with half of his audience and one of their foundational theological beliefs, and that is that they believe in the resurrection of the dead. He doesn't bring Jesus into it but that is the issue in identifying Jesus. Immediately an argument breaks out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees because the Sadducees don't believe in a future life; they don't believe in a resurrection. They don't believe in angels or in any kind of direct revelation from God via the angel of the Lord or some angel being. 

Acts 23:7, 8 NASB "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."

This goes back to Paul's testimony that the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus. The Sadducees would dismiss all of that out of hand and so Paul just kind of throws this out there in the middle. It distracts both sides and they start fighting against each other instead of fighting against Paul. He wins in that sense because it creates this huge dissention between the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  

Acts 23:9 NASB "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?'"

A huge fight has developed and is getting out of control.

Acts 23:10 NASB "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."

Now we get another temporal marker: the following night. According to the Jewish calendar the date would shift when the sun went down, so the following night would be the night coming up that evening. 

Acts 23:11 NASB "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.'"

So here Paul has personal confirmation and encouragement from the Lord who appeared to him.

Acts 23:12 NASB "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.

This isn't the first conspiracy. This is about the fourth or fifth time that the Jews had banded together to plot to take Paul's life. There is an indication in 2 Corinthians that there may have been even more of these plots against his life but we don't have the specific details. So the next day the Jews who don't want to wait for justice want to remove this man, and I think this is part of the angelic conflict. The text doesn't say it, and too many people jump to demon possession; but I think there is clearly demonic opposition to the gospel and to Christian truth. Religion is one of Satan's favorite tools and so this is being used within the context of the angelic conflict to stir up Jews against Paul to try to destroy Paul.  

Acts 23:13 NASB "There were more than forty who formed this plot. [14] 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.'"

They got the Council's approval because they needed to get Paul out of the fortress in order to kill him.

Acts 23:15 NASB "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.}"

Acts 23:16 NASB "But the son of Paul's sister heard of their ambush, and he came and entered the barracks and told Paul. [17] 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.' [18] 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. [19] 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?' [20] 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. [21] 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.' [22] So the commander let the young man go, instructing him, 'Tell no one that you have notified me of these things.'"

What is remarkable is the extent to which the commander goes to protect Paul. He is going to surround Paul with 470 soldiers to make sure that the Jews are unable to pull off this conspiracy. They are going to leave at 9 o'clock. They are going to go early before the Jewish side has any opportunity to respond to them. 

Acts 23:23 NASB "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.' [24] {They were} also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor."

Felix, the procurator, is going to play a significant role here and through chapter 24. There are two procurators mentioned here, Felix and Festus who will replace him. We know quite a bit about Felix from secular sources. His mother's name was Antonio. He was originally a slave. He grew up with the emperor Claudius when they were children. His brother had a significant role to play within Roman history as well. But at some point Felix did something that brought him to the attention and favor of Claudius and he was given a free status. He served the Roman government in the province of Syria prior to his procuratorship and then he became the 11th procurator of Judea. Judea was under the legate of Syria. Tarsus, where Paul came from, was under a different procurator but they were both under the legate of Syria. So later on when Felix asks Paul where he is from he is really trying to find out if he has jurisdiction over Paul or if he has to send Paul to someone else.

In terms of his character the Roman historian Tacitus said that he exercised the power of a king—of being a tyrant—but he had the mind of a slave. He gave vent to all of his lust patterns. He had three wives. His third wife was the daughter of Agrippa 1st, who was the one the crowds proclaimed to be God and God struck him dead. She was also the sister of Herod Agrippa 2nd. Felix was a tyrant. He was also guilty of assassinating Jonathan the high priest during the same period of time. The Jews hated him because he was so corrupt and so filled with lust. So he was not a man that inspired a lot of confidence in terms of noble leadership.    

Acts 23:25 NASB "And he wrote a letter having this form: [26]  'Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix, greetings. [27] 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. [28] And wanting to ascertain the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their Council; [29] and I found him to be accused over questions about their Law, but under no accusation deserving death or imprisonment. [30] 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."

Acts 23:31 NASB "So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. [32] But the next day, leaving the horsemen to go on with him, they returned to the barracks. [33] When these had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. [34] When he had read it, he asked from what province he was, and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, [35] he said, 'I will give you a hearing after your accusers arrive also,' giving orders for him to be kept in Herod's Praetorium."

Five days later the Jews show up. They have put their case together and hired a Roman lawyer—not necessarily Roman but he has a Latin name, so the indication is that they hired a good, click Gentile lawyer to argue their case before Festus.    

Acts 24:1 NASB "After five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders, with an attorney {named} Tertullus, and they brought charges to the governor against Paul.

Acts 24:2 NASB "After {Paul} had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying {to the governor,}   'Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation, [3] we acknowledge {this} in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. [4] But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing.'"

Notice how Tertullus is just fawning before Festus. When Paul responds later on he just says, "Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense." He doesn't give Festus a lot of praise, doesn't try to stroke him, he doesn't try to make him feel good. Paul just gets right to the heart of the issue.

Acts 24:5 NASB "For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes."

Tertullus says first, that this man is a plague, a pestilence, a real problem. He is stirring everybody up. The term he uses there for pestilence means to incite. Nazarenes was another way they referred to the Christians because they followed Jesus; Jesus was from Nazareth. 

Acts 24:6 NASB "And he even tried to desecrate the temple; and then we arrested him. [We wanted to judge him according to our own Law…"

All they are doing is making accusations. They are not producing any evidence. Notice who is missing. Two groups are missing. 1.  Those Ephesian Jews who originally created the problem by saying that Paul had come into the temple and brought a Gentile into the temple. 2. The forty conspirators aren't present.

Acts 24:7 NASB "But Lysias the commander came along, and with much violence took him out of our hands …" They are putting all the blame on the Romans. [8] "ordering his accusers to come before you.] By examining him yourself concerning all these matters you will be able to ascertain the things of which we accuse him." [9] The Jews also joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so.

Then Felix gives Paul the opportunity to respond. Paul just begins by telling his story.

Acts 24:10 NASB "When the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded:   'Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense, [11] since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. [12] Neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city {itself} did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot. [13] Nor can they prove to you {the charges} of which they now accuse me.'"

But he does confess that he is a follower of Jesus. He doesn't use the term Nazarene. He says, "the Way which they call a sect". See, it is not something segregated, just a sub-category of Judaism. 

Acts 24:14 NASB "But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets …" He affirms their foundational religious books. [15] "having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked."

Notice that Paul brings it right back to the key issue. The resurrection of the dead is what distinguishes Jesus and His claims to be the Messiah and everybody else—He rose from the dead. Paul makes the issue God, he makes the issue Christ, he makes the issue that He is the one who rose from the dead and is the hope for the just and the unjust.

Acts 24:16 NASB "In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience {both} before God and before men."

Notice that this is about the third time that he appeals to that: I am following strict guidelines in obedience to God. 

Acts 24:17 NASB "Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings; [18] in which they found me {occupied} in the temple, having been purified, without {any} crowd or uproar. But {there were} some Jews from Asia—[19] who ought to have been present before you and to make accusation, if they should have anything against me." They had made charges against Paul but they didn't bring any witnesses. So Paul is appealing to legal principle for his case.  [20] "Or else let these men themselves tell what misdeed they found when I stood before the Council, [21] other than for this one statement which I shouted out while standing among them, 'For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today.'"

He says he is guilty of two things. He believes in the resurrection and he is a follower of Jesus, a follower of the Way.

What we learn from this is that Felix has a better understanding of Christianity than the Roman soldiers and the Jews did. Therefore he is able to make a little more informed decision. He is understanding what the dynamics are.

We have seen Paul moved from Jerusalem, protected by God along the way, and how did he do it? By using the Roman soldiers. By using the systems that were in place. Clearly God could have protected Paul through miracles but the way God works to preserve and protect us most of the time in the church age is not through miracles, but through the normal events of history. And yet God is the one who controls all of the issues. So no matter what opposition we face, no matter what the hostility may be, we know that of God is for us no one can be against us, and He is going to preserve and protect us.