January 20, 2015.
Reading: Acts 23-26.
Background: Acts 21-22.
Concepts and Connections.
Paul’s defense and the people’s reaction: As Paul stands before the counsel, he goes to make his defense. However, he is almost immediately cut short when he tells his fellow Jews that he had lived in good conscience to that day. When Paul was persecuting Christians, he thought he was doing the will of God. Yet, when he was stopped on the road to Damascus, Jesus directly informs him of his error (see Acts 9), which subsequently lead to his conversion and further spreading of the gospel of Christ. Perhaps there was an indication here that Paul was implicitly telling the counsel that they didn’t know what they were doing and they were sinning without realizing it, because Ananias the high priest slaps Paul as soon as he makes this statement. Paul rebukes Ananias for doing so, quickly citing the Law to show how he was violating it (see Deuteronomy 25:1-2). When he learns that Ananias is the high priest, he somewhat rebukes even himself from the law (see Exodus 22:28). It is clear that Paul knows the law thoroughly, and perhaps is even making a point to show the counsel that he upholds and respects the law, which they thought he was violating.
Paul then makes an insightful move when he observes that there were people from both the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection (or just about anything spiritual for that matter), and the Pharisees who believe in them all. Seeing an opportunity, he cries out that he is a Pharisee who is on trial because of the resurrection of the dead. Paul’s plan works, as a division amongst his enemies is created, the Pharisees taking his side because they believed in resurrection and angels, and the Sadducees contending against them. There was a great commotion and Paul was taken into custody by the soldiers for fear that he was going to be torn limb from limb. He was taken into the barracks, where he was given an encouraging message from the Lord that he would not die in Jerusalem, for he had to go to Rome and testify of the Christ there. The Lord had a plan for Paul, and He would protect him.
Though Paul was not going to die, this did not stop people from trying to kill him. 40 Jews bound themselves to an oath that they would not eat or drink until Paul had been killed. They set up a plan to ambush and kill him as the tribune brought him down to try him. We see the providence of God here, as Paul’s nephew overhears the plan and tells Paul and then the tribune of the plan of the Jews, effectively thwarting their conspiracy. The tribune does what is necessary to protect Paul, bringing him to governor Felix by night, accompanied by 200 horsemen. He sends a letter to Felix explaining the situation, how Paul had been tried according to questions about the Jewish Law but had not been found worthy of death. He also tells Felix that Paul is a Roman citizen, and that is why he rescued him from the crowd and sent him to Felix so that his accusers might come before him. As Paul stands before Felix, the governor decides to give him a hearing when he finds out that Paul is from Cilicia. Paul was then guarded in Herod’s praetorium until his accusers came to Caesarea to accuse him before the governor.
Paul before Felix: As Paul stands before Felix in this chapter, we see somewhat of a battle of words as the Jews come down to accuse him, bringing a spokesman to speak on their behalf to Felix, and then Paul is likewise given time to defend himself before Felix. In each case, there is a level of flattery involved, which may somewhat be an indication of Felix’s character, thinking highly of himself, or rather the platitudes that were needed to suade him. Regardless, we are given both the accusation and the defense. Notice how the Jews paint Paul as a troublemaker, one who stirs up the crowds. They call him a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes, which is a reference to Christ. It is apparent that they are aware that Felix is at least knowledgable about the Law, as we will learn later that his wife is Jewish and that he actually had an accurate knowledge of the Way, or early Christianity. Paul uses this to make his defense, knowing that Felix can personally verify that he had been there no longer than 12 days, and in that time had not caused any stirring in the temple or the city until the Jews came against him and themselves created the commotion. He tells Felix that they have no proof of the alleged behavior. However, he does not deny the fact that he is a follower of the Way. This, though, did not mean he rejected his father’s teaching or the old law. He goes on to explain how he worships the God of their fathers and believes fully in the prophets. He was worshipping according to the law in Jerusalem, and it was the Jews who came up against him. He does admit to Felix that he had caused a division in the crowd and a sharp contention broke out when he brought up the resurrection in a group of Pharisees and Sadducees (see previous chapter).
Felix defers judgment until Lysias the tribune comes down, and though he keeps Paul in custody, he gives him some liberty, allowing his friends to visit him. While he was in custody, Felix and his wife Drusilla sent for him and allowed him to speak about Jesus, faith, righteousness, self-control and the coming judgment. Something seems to have gotten through to him, though he was unwilling to accept it at the present time, as he said he would call for Paul at a convenient time. But that time never seemed to come, as he would often converse with Paul, but never accept the truth as far as we can tell. Two full years went by, and Felix left Paul in prison until he was succeeded by Porcius Festus. Let us remember that the “convenient season” to change our lives and/or truly surrender to Christ likely never comes. We must take action in the present, and not put it off until later, lest we never answer the call of Christ.
Paul’s appeal and further testimony: Even after two years, the Jews were still persistent in wanting Paul to die, as they come to Festus when he arrives in Jerusalem and goes to Caesarea to lay out their case against Paul. There are two things that we should learn from the implications of this passage. First, we see that God’s timeline and our timeline don’t always match up, as it had been two full years since He had told Paul that he was to go to Rome to testify there. Paul indeed would go to Rome as the Lord said, but it wasn’t on the timeline, nor by the mechanism that Paul likely would have imagined. Secondly, we can infer from the text that Paul was still doing a lot of work for the Lord while he was in custody. It had been two years since the Jews had accused him before Felix, yet they were still going out of their way to try to get him killed. They even set up the ambush as they did before, trying to call Paul to Jerusalem that they might kill him on the way. Their attitude strongly implies that Paul was still causing trouble in their eyes by spreading and encouraging the spread of the gospel. If he wasnt, then a sentence to custody would have been almost just as good as a sentence to death, as it would have resulted in what they wanted. But it didn’t. We must remember that we can work for the Lord even in very difficult situations.
Festus tells the Jews that Paul is being kept in Caesarea, he was going there shortly and that they could plead their case against Paul when he got there. The trial ensues, and the Jews again bring the same arguments against Paul that they could not prove, and Paul makes the same defense, that he had not violated the law, desecrated the temple or gone against Caesar. Festus asks Paul if he wants to go to Jerusalem (because he wants to do the Jews a favor), but Paul is wiser than that. He knows what they were planning. Instead, he appeals to Caesar. Not having anything against him, Festus grants his appeal and puts him on the track of having his case laid out before the emperor.
Before Paul is sent to the emperor, however, King Agrippa and Bernice come to Caesarea and Festus tells them about his situation with Paul. He tells them about the trial and how Paul’s accusers had not brought the accusations against Paul as he had thought they would because of how angry they were at him. Festus says that he was at a loss at how to investigate these things, so he asked Paul if he wanted to go to Jerusalem. Paul appealed to Caesar, however. Agrippa seems interested in Paul and wants to hear him himself. On the next day, Agrippa and Bernice paraded in with great pomp (we can see how highly they thought of themselves) and Festus brings Paul before Agrippa on the context of finding a reason behind sending him to the emperor, as it would be strange to send a prisoner to be tried before Caesar without a cause. Thus Paul is brought before Agrippa, and his case is presented in the next chapter.
Paul’s testimony: King Agrippa gives Paul permission to speak for himself before him. To make his defence, Paul simply gives his testimony (see Acts 9). Never underestimate the power of your testimony. Paul explains that what the Jews were seeking, he was seeking. He believed the prophets, he knew the law. He assures Agrippa that he is simply following their words, as their words all point to Jesus as the Messiah. He had not started a new religion; he had simply seen the fulfillment of what the Jews were waiting on. Paul points back to his life, reminding Agrippa that he was raised in the strictest sect of Judaism, the Pharisees, and he himself was once convinced that he should do everything in his power to oppose Jesus and His followers. He persecuted them and brought them in chains to Jerusalem. Paul was doing what he thought he should be doing and had a raging fury against the Christians.
But then Paul had a direct experience with Jesus. He tells Agrippa his testimony, how he had been blinded on the road to Damascus and given a heavenly vision from Jesus, telling him that he had been appointed as a servant and witness of Christ to the Gentiles. He had been appointed to carry the gospel to the world. Paul was not disobedient to that heavenly vision, and he did just that. Perhaps this was the most convincing part of his testimony, for everyone knew who he was before. He was known to have violently persecuted Christians. He was publically known to have studied at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the leading Rabbis of his time. All of this was public knowledge, or as Paul puts it, it was not done in a corner. Yet, now his life had turned completely around, and he was leading the way in spreading a message that he had once violently opposed. THis was his testimony; Paul had no reason to change his life. He was on track to be one of the top Rabbis. He was very trained in the law, was well educated and he was very well respected amongst the Jews. But the fact remained that he did change, and this change demanded a reason. His reason? He had found the Messiah. The one that the Jews had been waiting on for thousands of years. He had met the Christ. He had found truth. And from that point on, that was the only thing that mattered. Paul knew that his testimony was powerful, especially before Agrippa who was well acquainted with the law, the customs and the controversies of the Jews. Festus told Paul that his learning had made him crazy, but Paul knew that Agrippa believed the prophets. We get the indication that Paul’s testimony really did have a profound effect on Agrippa, but unfortunately, like Felix, he was still not willing to let go of his pride and accept the truth. However, he does declare that Paul has done nothing worthy of death, and that he could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar. However, Paul was going to Rome to testify there as he had done in Jerusalem. Never underestimate the power of testimony.
Next Reading: Revelation 6-12.
Proclaim the good news to the world.