Acts 23

Acts 23  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 9
AS WE OPEN this chapter, we find Paul standing before this august body, and we might have expected him to give the most striking and convincing address of his life. In result however there was a minimum of testimony and a maximum of confusion. Paul’s opening remark was bitterly resented, though we can see that it was true. A “good” conscience is acquired and maintained as we sincerely and rigidly carry out all that conscience directs. The zealot with unenlightened or perverted conscience does the most outrageous things in order to preserve his “good” conscience. Thus had Paul acted in his unconverted days, and since his conversion he had with sincerity observed the warnings of his conscience, now enlightened and rectified. How clearly this shows us that conscience is of itself no safe guide: it must be enlightened by the Word of God. Its value depends entirely upon the measure in which it is controlled by the Word.
Angry at this opening statement, the high priest ordered that Paul should be smitten on the mouth, thus breaking the law which stipulated that an offender should only be beaten after a proper trial, and then only in a proper way (Deut. 25:1-31If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked. 2And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number. 3Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee. (Deuteronomy 25:1‑3)). This manifest injustice moved Paul to a sharp retort; most appropriate, yet not admissible as addressed to the high priest. The council having been summoned in this hurried and informal way, probably there was nothing in his attire to distinguish him; yet, when the error was pointed out, Paul at once acknowledged his fault and quoted the passage which forbade what he had done. He was unable to ask with all assurance, “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” (John 8:4646Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? (John 8:46)). as his Lord had done.
There immediately followed an exceedingly astute move on Paul’s part. He presented himself as a Pharisee, and as being called in question concerning the hope of resurrection. Without a doubt he was a Pharisee by birth and early training, and without a doubt resurrection lies at the very foundation of the Gospel. His cry had the effect he anticipated. It rallied the Pharisees to his aid, while violently antagonizing the Sadducees. They were all true party men, viewing everything from a party standpoint. Assuming him to be of their party, the Pharisees swung round in his favor. Truth and righteousness did not count with them, but party did. The same kind of thing is very common today, and Christians are not immune from it; so let us accept the warning which is conveyed to us here.
All through the Acts the Sadducean party appear as the chief opponents of the Gospel. Their materialistic outlook, denying the resurrection, accounted for this. Here we have our last glimpse of them as they furiously protest against the sudden change of front with the Pharisees, and use such physical vigor that Paul might have been pulled in pieces. Their violence defeated their purpose, for it forced the chief captain to intervene, and Paul was for the second time rescued from the hands of his own people.
How very beautiful verse 11 is! We are not told anything as to Paul’s feelings, but the Lord’s message to him of good cheer certainly infers that he was depressed. We cannot help thinking that the whole of this Jerusalem episode had fallen below the high standard that had characterized all his earlier service; yet he certainly had testified of his Lord. His gracious Master fixed upon that fact, acknowledged it, and told him he was yet to bear witness in Rome—Jerusalem the religious center, Rome the imperial and governmental center of the earth of those days. What a refreshment for Paul’s spirit!
The next day there was hatched the conspiracy on the part of more than forty men to kill Paul. The nature of the curse under which they bound themselves testifies to the ferocity of their hatred, so it looks as if they were of the Sadducean party who had been baulked of their prey the day before. The chief priests also were of that party, and so were nothing loth to implicate themselves in the business. They were to pretend that they wished to examine him further, and the forty men were ready to kill him.
Again we find the hand of God frustrating their devices. The story—as ever in Scripture—is told with brevity and restraint. We discover that Paul had a sister and a nephew in Jerusalem, but how the young man got information of the plot we are not told. God saw however that it reached his ears, though only concocted a few hours before, and also gave him the courage to reveal it. That he had such easy access to his uncle, and that Paul’s request for his nephew to have access to the chief captain should have met with so courteous a response, we trace to God’s overruling; though very probably the outrageous behavior of the Jews had provoked a reaction in the mind of the chief captain in favor of Paul. In result he not only listened to the young man but took him at his word without any hesitation, and immediately took steps to frustrate the plot.
The remainder of the chapter gives us a glimpse of the efficiency that marked the Roman military system. The chief captain acted with the utmost promptness in his decision to remit Paul to the civil governor at Cæsarea. He took care also to run no risks. He knew the vindictive fury of the Jews when matters of a religious sort were at stake; so he did not make the common mistake of underestimating the danger. The force that took charge of Paul must have numbered practically five hundred men, a ratio of twelve to one against would-be assassins. Every consideration was given to the prisoner, even to the extent of providing beasts for him to ride.
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