Our citizenship matters. Where we were born and how we were raised comes with certain rights and privileges. Sometimes these rights are violated, even when we have done nothing wrong, as it was here with Paul. Paul has acted uprightly, with sincerity, giving an honest account of how God has worked through his life, and the crowd in Jerusalem is ready to kill him because he said God sent him to the Gentiles. God is moving Paul into position and he has an encounter with the Lord who tells him to “Have courage, for as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” And Paul’s testimony will be to many leaders and also to many in the Roman army who are charged with his protection.
But I Indeed Was Born A Citizen
Paul is recounting his experiences with Jesus and explains that he had another encounter with Jesus when he was in Jerusalem where he was told in Acts 22:18 “Hurry and depart quickly from Jerusalem, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ And in Acts 22:22 “they were listening to him until this word”, the word they wouldn’t hear was that God would offer salvation to the Gentiles. For them, for this audience of the descendants of Abraham, these Jews who had been entrusted with the oracles of God could not accept that the Romans could be saved, the pagans could be saved, the barbarians could be saved, all men could be saved. … so they began yelling, in Acts 22:22 “Away with such a man from the earth! For it is not fitting for him to live!”
Because of the uproar, in Acts 22:24-29 the tribune “had stretched him out for the lash” and he would have been beaten except for two things he said. First Paul said “Is it permitted for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen”, and it is possible that even a citizen can do wrong and deserve punishment so Paul also said “and uncondemned”. Paul had not had a trial, which was his right as a citizen before any punishment could be administered. The civil law protected Paul, and it can protect us as well. The civil law is there to protect the innocent and to punish the guilty. (There is a deeper message here for another time because there are sometimes abusive leaders and corrupt governments.) However, the message is clear, we should use our civil citizenship where we can, and where we need to (There is also another message here for another time about our citizenship in heaven. We are son’s and daughters in God’s Kingdom and have rights and privileges as a part of our citizenship.)
In Acts 22:30 the tribune released Paul and called together the chief priests and Sanhedrin as a lawful body with rules of order so Paul could stand before his accusers.
In All Good Conscience Before God
In Acts 23:1 Paul makes a statement that is sincere and seems reasonable, “Men and brothers, I have lived my life in all good conscience before God to this day.” and the response in Acts 23:2 is that “the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near him to strike his mouth”.
Some commentaries suggest it was wrong of Paul “To refer to the Sanhedrin as brothers (because this) was to put himself on an equal footing with the court; for the normal beginning when addressing the Sanhedrin was: ‘Rulers of the people and elders of Israel’”1
But I think Paul was raised among them, taught in the school of Gamaliel (see Acts 22:3) and known by many of them so this was not disrespectful, but intended as a conciliatory statement. However, “When the high priest ordered Paul to be struck, he himself was breaking the law, which said: ‘Whoever strikes the cheek of an Israelite strikes, as it were, the glory of God”.1
And now there is real anger as Paul shouts back in Acts 23:3. This is not a good start. Emotions are high, tempers are hot. Then Paul knows what to do, and I believe this was a moment of inspiration by the Holy Spirit, in Acts 23:6-10 Paul sides with the Pharisees and says these accusations are all, in vs. 6 “concerning the hope and the resurrection of the dead!” That statement divides the whole assembly and in vs.9 “there was loud shouting”. So in Acts 23:10 “the military tribune, fearing lest Paul be torn apart … take him away”.
Now Paul has another encounter with the Lord in
Acts 23:11 (LEB) And the next night the Lord stood by him and said, “Have courage, for as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
I believe Paul had this idea of preaching in Rome soon after meeting Aquila and Priscilla in Acts 18:2 (see 7 February 2018), but now he has a command from the Lord. But this isn’t going to be an easy commission, Paul has just been through mayhem with the crowds in Jerusalem and Jesus tells him, “Have courage, for as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
We Have Bound Ourselves Under A Curse
In Acts 23:12-15 “the Jews made a conspiracy and bound themselves under a curse … until they had killed Paul”. There were forty of them who colluded with the chief priests and the elders, and the Sanhedrin that they should “explain to the military tribune that he should bring him down to you, as if you were going to determine more accurately the things concerning him. And we are ready to do away with him before he comes near.”
“But even the most careful and cunning of human plans cannot succeed if God opposes them. No weapon forged against him will prevail”.2
Which is a quote from
Isaiah 54:17 (LEB) Every weapon formed against you shall not succeed, and you shall declare guilty every tongue that rises against you for judgment. This is the inheritance of the servants of Yahweh, and their legal right from me,” declares Yahweh.
This plot was overheard by “the son of Paul’s sister” in Acts 23:16 and the information gets to the military tribune in Acts 23:17-22 who says “tell no one”. As a military man, he knows what to do.
Having No Charge Deserving Death or Imprisonment
The tribune sets a guard around Paul and prepares to send Paul away to Caesarea for his own safety. All the tribune knows is that the Jews want to kill Paul. So the tribune does what any good soldier or police officer would do, he writes a report of his actions to show that he acted responsibly and that report is in Acts 23:25-33.
Paul is delivered to the Governor Felix who asks Paul where he is from. And as it is in our justice system, there were different jurisdictions. When Felix learns Paul is from Cilicia, he agrees to give him a hearing before his accusers.
There is though, one thread of activity that might go unnoticed. God is moving not only among the Jews in Jerusalem and the Gentiles in the regions across the Roman empire, but Paul is thrown into the middle of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem, and now in Caesarea where he will spend several years, and then finally to Rome under guard. Note how God has been working in
Luke 23:47 Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began to praise God, saying, “Certainly this man was righteous!”
And with Peter as he witnessed to Cornelius in
Acts 10:24 And on the next day he entered into Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends.
Just as God was moving through the the Jewish community and through the Gentile cultures, He was also moving through what was its own closed culture, the Roman army.
We Have Found This Man to be a Public Menace
The high priest is not in any hurry to get to Caesarea, after five days he shows up with with other elders and an attorney all bringing charges against Paul.
They begin with flattery in Acts 24:2-4, thanking Felix for the peace they have enjoyed. This is a plea to the governor for protections of religious their practice. Then they accuse Paul of being a menace in vs. 5 causing riots, a ringleader, in vs. 6 attempting to desecrate the temple. These things are what we today might call hate crimes against the Jews.
- Acts 22:22–30 But I Indeed Was Born A Citizen
- Acts 23:1–11 In All Good Conscience Before God
- Acts 23:23–35 Having No Charge Deserving Death or Imprisonment
- Acts 22:22-30
- Acts 23:1-35
- Acts 24:1-9
- 1. Barclay, W. (2003). The Acts of the Apostles (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., p. 193). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.
- 2. Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Acts: the Spirit, the church & the world (p. 355). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.