The first 18 verses of today’s reading detail Paul’s journey from Miletus to Jerusalem, the close of his third missionary journey. Luke is traveling with Paul, note the use of “we”. Once again we get a geography lesson of the ports on the Aegean Sea, including Rhodes where the huge statue of the Colossus stood. The statue was 100 feet tall and had at one time stood at the entrance to the city but in Paul’s time it lay where it had fallen in a severe earthquake some 200 years earlier. Tyre was an important port in Phoenicia with a maritime empire of far flung commercial interests. The local believers at Tyre gave Paul a touching farewell that reveals deep Christian fellowship. While Paul was in Tyre the believers prophesied through the Holy Spirit that Paul should not go to Jerusalem. They saw the danger that going to Jerusalem posed for Paul and tried to prevent him from going. But Paul willingly accepted the risks to fulfill his apostolic mandate. His next stop was Ptolemais where he visited with believers. Ptolemais was half way between Tyre and Caesarea. When he arrived at Caesarea Paul stayed with Philip the evangelist and we learn that Philip was one of the seven men chosen early on to help distribute food to the poor in Jerusalem. We also learn that he had four daughters who had the gift of prophecy. This demonstrated the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy of the Spirit being poured down on both sons and daughters. While Paul was in Caesarea a prophet named Agabus came from Jerusalem. Like the Old Testament prophets Agabus used symbolic actions to proclaim his message. Luke once again here juxtaposed female prophets with a male prophet. Agabus’ actions warned Paul that he would be bound and arrested by Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. The believers pleaded with Paul to not go to Jerusalem. But Paul was resolutely ready even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here Luke stressed Paul’s courage, determination, and heroism as a Christian missionary who would let nothing interfere with his mission. Eventually the believers gave up trying to persuade Paul.
It was important for James and all the elders of the Jerusalem church to hear of Paul’s successful mission among the Gentiles and for the mother church to continue to endorse this effort. Paul’s report showed that God had accomplished His purpose among the Gentiles through Paul’s ministry. James and the elders were the leaders of the house churches meeting in Jerusalem, but no apostles were mentioned here. Seven years had passed since the Jerusalem council meeting in chapter 15. At that time the apostles and leaders of the church had gathered to settle the question of whether Gentiles had to become Jews before they could become Christians. That question was settled in the negative. The scriptures and the Holy Spirit both taught that the gospel was for all people. It seems that the apostles left Jerusalem after that conference to carry out Jesus’ command to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. The strongest indicators of what the Gentile believers had accomplished was their presence with Paul on this trip. Paul also gave the brothers in Jerusalem the money from the collection he had brought from the Gentile Christians. There were reports that Paul had been urging Jews to abandon Mosaic traditions but Paul never derided his Jewish heritage or demanded that Jewish Christians renounce the law of Moses. He only made it clear that the law could not function as a means of salvation. Paul did resist any attempt to force Gentiles to become Christians only after they had become Jews. Paul preached that salvation proceeds from faith in Jesus Christ alone. The Jerusalem leaders told Paul what he needed to do to avoid more trouble. Four believers had completed their Nazarite vows but were too poor to pay for the needed sacrifice in the temple. By paying for this it would show that Paul had not renounced his heritage. But there is most likely another reason here. When Herod Agrippa began his reign over Judea in 41 AD he paid for a considerable number of Nazarite vows to show his respect for the Mosaic law. For the sake of showing his Jewish brethren that he had not forsaken the law of Moses, Paul did what they asked. The thing is, the Christian leaders were not asking Gentiles to live like Jews, not were they asking the Jews to live like Gentiles. The spiritual unity of the body is realized in its diversity, not its conformity. We are no different today.
The concerns of the Christian leaders were evidently well founded because when their vows were nearly completed some Jews from the province of Asia raised a mob against Paul with false charges. They were intent on killing Paul but the Roman commander rescued him. It was a crime punishable by death to bring a non Jew into the temple precincts beyond the court of the Gentiles. The temple in New Testament times was surrounded by three courts. The innermost court was the court of Israel where Jewish men could offer their sacrifices. Only consecrated priests could enter the temple building itself and only the high priest could enter into the most holy place. The second court was the court of the women where Jewish families could gather for prayer and worship. The outer court was the court of the Gentiles, open to all who would worship God. But if any Gentile went beyond the barrier into the second court they would be liable to the death penalty. The Roman authorities, out of respect for the Jewish religion authorized the death sentence for this trespass even for their own Roman citizens. The Jews assumed that Paul had violated this sacred law by bringing Trophimus, a Gentile from Ephesus into the forbidden area. This supposed act of desecration riled up the whole city and the temple gates were closed because they believed that the temple had been defiled by a Gentile. All of this led to a city wide riot. A mob grabbed Paul, much like they did Stephen, and were trying to kill him. However word reached the Roman commander, one who commanded 1,000 soldiers. When the mob saw the Roman soldiers coming they stopped trying to kill Paul. For his own protection Paul was arrested, put in chains and led away to the Roman barracks in the fortress of Antonia. This was a large military garrison built by Herod the great on the northwest corner of the Temple Mount. When the commander asked what Paul had done the crowd could not agree an a charge.
As Paul was being taken inside the fortress he asked to speak to the commander. The commander was surprised that Paul spoke Greek, thinking he was an Egyptian false messiah who had planned to seize power from the Romans. Paul corrected the commander, gained permission to speak and addressed the crowd in Aramaic. This was the common language of Judea. What followed was Paul’s strong testimony regarding his faith in Jesus Christ. Paul’s premier defense of his life and faith before his own people in Jerusalem demonstrates his flexibility as a missionary, just as his speech to the Greek philosophers In Athens had done. Paul began by recognizing his kinship with his people, explaining his Jewish background and training under the noted rabbi Gamaliel. Paul described his zealous desire to honor God in everything, which they shared. Paul then described his persecution of Christians, the revelation of Jesus to him on the way to Damascus, and his conversion. He ended his speech by describing his conversation with the Lord in the temple. The Lord had predicted the Jews rejection of the message and had sent Paul to the Gentiles. The crowd listened until Paul had said the words about the Gentiles. The Jews didn’t hate all the Gentiles. In fact they permitted them to worship in the court of the Gentiles. A Gentile could even become a proselyte, recognized as a Jew, by being circumcised and obeying the laws of Moses. So the Jews here were not upset about allowing Gentiles to worship God. They were furious about the is idea that the Gentiles could be on an equal footing with the Jews. The fact that the Gentiles could come to God directly by faith in Jesus Christ was offensive to them. The crowds response was curious at best. When Paul spoke words they didn’t like they yelled, tossed their coats around and tossed handfuls of dust up in the air. From here it’s looks like a temper tantrum. It might also be a ritual response to perceived blasphemy. They tried to thwart Paul’s words that suggested the inclusion of Gentiles.
It seems the Roman commander was more than frustrated as well. He was preparing too scourge Paul, the same scourging Jesus received at the hands of the Romans. Paul had been beaten before by whips and rods but this was scourging and it was far worse. The other left bruises and welts but the scourging ripped into flesh and was often intended to cripple or kill. As they prepared to scourge Paul, he asked the commander if it was legal for a Roman citizen to be treated in this manner without a fair trial. Roman citizenship was a valuable asset and claiming it falsely was a capital offense. It’s principle benefits were the prohibition of scourging and the right to appeal to the emperor. The commander was horrified at having almost violated a Roman law. Roman citizenship could be purchased for a great sum of money but Paul was a citizen by birth. Ultimately God used Paul’s Roman citizenship to spread the gospel to Rome.
The following day the commander ordered the leading priests into session with the Sanhedrin. He wanted to find out what all the trouble was about. If this was just a Jewish disagreement that was one thing but if Paul was a threat to Rome that required immediate action. In addressing the high council, Paul insisted on his personal integrity before God. He had not violated God’s law or done the things they had accused him of. The high priest, Ananias commanded those closest to Paul to slap him in the mouth. He must have assumed that Paul was lying to him and tried to intimidate him. Paul returned the favor, calling Ananias a hypocrite and a whitewashed wall. Whitewash is a thin paint used to make something dirty look clean. Ananias deserved this rebuke. The fact that he had someone else do his dirty work did not absolve him from the ordering of the act. But Paul didn’t know Ananias the high priest, though why he didn’t is unclear. He quoted exodus 22:28 which acknowledges the respect to which the high priest was entitled by virtue of his office. Paul didn’t defend his behavior but instead repented of it.
As Paul looked around he realized that some of those present were Sadducees and others Pharisees. He focused on the key issue of his trial, the hope of resurrection from the dead. His preaching was simply the out working of that hope and the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, but the message was unacceptable to both groups of Jews because of its implications. Pharisees could not abide the inclusion of the Gentiles apart from circumcision and keeping the law of Moses, but that was what the resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit had provided. Sadducees could not stand the proclamation of the resurrection at all. Sadducees also didn’t believe in miracles, life after death, or the existence of angels. And the high priest was not wearing his normal robes or sitting in his usual place. Paul’s statement divided the council, with the Pharisees taking Paul’s side against the Sadducees. The resulting uproar was so great that the commander rescued Paul and took him back to the Antonia Fortress.
At this critical juncture Jesus appeared to Paul to encourage him to continue as a faithful witness by assuring him that he would go to Rome. The next day a group of Jews met to create a plant to kill Paul. There were at least 40 Jews involved. They took an oath to not eat or drink until he was dead. The willingness of the high council to go along with this plan shows just how conscious they were that their case against him was very weak. The plan involved another meeting with the high council and an ambush along the way. But Paul’s nephew heard the plan and went to the Roman commander. The Roman commander made a plan of his own that involved escorting Paul out of the city under the cover of darkness. A mounted escort took Paul safely to the Roman governor Felix who lived in Caesarea. The commander took the threat to kill Paul seriously enough that he committed nearly half of the troops stationed at the Antonia Fortress to escorting Paul. Paul would have greater protection in Caesarea. Felix was governor of Judea from 52-59 AD and he was responsible for both military and civil affairs. But he had a bad reputation and was eventually recalled to Rome by Nero.
The Roman commander, Claudius Lysias, wrote an introductory letter to Felix. It was a typical letter, naming the writer and the person addressed. He offered a greeting and stated the business at hand. This letter summarized the events that preceded it and explained the action taken. It also suggests the commander has followed proper protocol and Roman judicial procedure. The first night Paul was taken as far as Antipatris, a city build by Herod the great in the plain of Sharon. It was a convenient military control point between Jerusalem and Caesarea. The soldiers returned to Jerusalem and the mounted troops took Paul the rest of the way to Caesarea. The governor also followed proper protocol and waited for Paul’s accusers to arrive before granting an official hearing. Herod’s headquarters here became the residence of the Roman governors of Judea. They were close to Jerusalem buy not right there.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W