Paul - the Prisoner of Jesus Christ

Acts 23‑28  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Well had the Holy Ghost prophesied (chap. 20:23), that "bonds and afflictions awaited Paul." Ordained as the apostle of the Gentiles, with the promise of deliverance from them (chap. 26:17), he was now, through his own self-will, "the prisoner of Jesus Christ for them" (Eph. 3:11For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, (Ephesians 3:1)). It was the mention of their name (chap. 22:21), that brought on him the bonds that now, and henceforward probably until his death, hindered him from active service. How blessed to notice, as we shall do, that God did not forsake His faithful servant, but sustained him through his various trials and difficulties, and enabled him at the close of his life to say, " Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord the righteous Judge shall give me at that day" (2 Tim. 4:88Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)).
We find in Acts 23 his defense before the Sanhedrim, or Council of Seventy. We shall, if God permit, presently consider his replies before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa, with his journey to Rome, as the prisoner of Jesus Christ.
A prisoner of the Gentiles (the Roman power) we find him brought by them before the council, that the Roman chief captain might know the cause of their hostility towards him. He takes the ground of a righteous man under law before them, and asserts his innocence. The high priest, without waiting for the decision of the council pre judges the case, and commands him to be smitten on the mouth, contrary to law (Deut. 25:1,21If 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. (Deuteronomy 25:1‑2)). Paul was but human, and he broke down under the provocation. And here we do well to consider him, " Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not, but committed himself unto him that judgeth righteously" (1 Peter 2:2323Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: (1 Peter 2:23); Matt. 26:6767Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, (Matthew 26:67); John 18:22, 2322And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so? 23Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me? (John 18:22‑23)). When He answered it was in the gentle firm consciousness that neither Satan nor man could bring aught against Him. Paul pronounces judgment from God on the high priest. He did not know him as such, for probably he was not robed; but when rebuked, he instantly reverts to the word of God, to which he desired to be obedient (Ex. 22:2626If thou at all take thy neighbor's raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down: (Exodus 22:26)).
And here we find a precious principle. Whenever we make a false step let us instantly revert to the word of God. It braces up our loins again, and strengthens us for service. And now we find him taking advantage of his position by natural birth, and dividing the council in his favor by this means. It was a clever expedient, but hardly justifiable from one who was confessedly dead as to the flesh. Compare Phil. 3:3, 73For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:3)
7But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. (Philippians 3:7)
. The Roman captain rescues him from the violence of the people.
And now, in beautiful contrast to the failure of His faithful and beloved servant-faithful though having failed-we see the grace of God shine forth towards him At the weakest moment perhaps of his whole history God comes in in power with "Be of good cheer, Paul, for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome." We can well imagine how this must have cheered His aged servant's heart, and we find the effect of it in the faithfulness of his testimony afterward.
What became of the forty men of whom we now read and their oath Scripture does not record, but it does record that God had His instrument (of whom we read only here) ready to defeat their ends and protect His servant. Paul's "sister's son" betrays the plot, and Paul is safely carried to Caesarea, where Felix the governor of the province lived, and there we find him kept in Herod's Judgment Hall.
Truly, "if God be for us, who can be against us?" He was watching over His servant, and though He did not deliver him by means of an angel as He did Peter (chap. 12.) under somewhat similar circumstances, yet the result is attained, and a step towards Rome taken (v. 34). Paul had already announced himself as from "Cilicia."
Claudius Lysias had given commandment (v. 30) to his accusers to follow him, and we find them accusing Paul, employing a counselor (and throughout this history we cannot but be struck with the graphic way in which the Holy Ghost brings the whole scene before us) against him. His address is a model of flattery as regards the governor, and untruthfulness as regards Paul, for the assertion that he had profaned the temple was utterly unfounded (chap. 21:28, 29). The name "Nazarene" is taken from Matt. 2:2323And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:23). Paul's defense is manly and upright to a degree, and shows manifestly that God was with him. He is calm and dignified in the presence of the governor, as one who knew that he was in the right. The sixteenth verse is worthy of remark as bearing much upon our walk in this world. Conscience is spoken of in a double way in the Scriptures; first, as a purged conscience, next as a conscience void of offense.
Adam was created without a conscience; when he fell he got one, viz., the knowledge of good and evil. Sin defiles our conscience, and no efforts of ours will avail to cleanse it, but the moment we have faith in the blood of Christ, we have as our present possession a purged conscience, for in Heb. 9:22For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread; which is called the sanctuary. (Hebrews 9:2) we find that the worshipper once purged should have "no more conscience of sins." What the legal sacrifices failed to give, the blood of Christ has given to all believers; for the Holy Ghost witnesses, "their sins and iniquities I will remember no more" (v. 17). This, then, is the Christian's normal position, and nothing can change it; no fresh recurrence to the blood is necessary.
But then, in order to enjoy it, and walk in communion with God I must "exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offense toward God and toward men," and for this the continual practice of self-judgment is necessary. Walking in the light, as He is in the light, we detect the faintest approach of Satan, and meet him with the Word. We apply the knife of circumcision to our ways (Col. 3:55Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: (Colossians 3:5), Josh. 5:22At that time the Lord said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time. (Joshua 5:2)), and abstain from grieving either God or man, and our perfect example for this is the Lord Jesus. This "conscience void of offense" answers to the "breastplate of righteousness" of Eph. 6:1414Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; (Ephesians 6:14), which is not a thing that pertains to every believer as does "the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:2121For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)), but is a thing to be put on (v. 11) by faith. It is the breastplate of practical righteousness, "the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:1111Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:11)); and just as a breastplate must be kept free from rust in order to serve its purpose, so must the conscience be kept void of offense if we would serve God acceptably. We find the two consciences in 1 Tim. 1:5, 195Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: (1 Timothy 1:5)
19Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: (1 Timothy 1:19)
. Hymenaeus and Alexander failed to keep a conscience void of offense, and therefore made shipwreck concerning faith.
Paul concludes his defense, having spoken boldly concerning the resurrection from among the dead.
This was no strange news to Felix, who had been "many years a judge unto this nation." He inwardly favors Paul, giving him liberty to receive his friends, and is not without curiosity, his wife probably sharing it with him, concerning the faith of Christ. And such is the power of Paul's testimony by the Holy Ghost (comp. John 16:88And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: (John 16:8)) that his conscience is aroused, and the haughty governor trembles before the Lord's ambassador. The love of the world, however, and the love of money (for it was no uncommon thing at that time for the highest in office to receive bribes) prevails, and Paul remains a prisoner, and Felix remains (so far as we know) dead in trespasses and sins.
How solemn to have been in the presence even of God's messenger and not to have received His message! Two years Paul remained a prisoner at Caesarea, but he cared not, for God was with him.
I think we can readily discern the effect of God's encouragement to His beloved servant in chap. 23:11, in the boldness with which Paul henceforward confronts his adversaries. He was weak before the Jews-taking low ground before the Sanhedrim; but before Felix, as the previous chapter showed us, he spoke with such power that the conscience of the haughty Roman was awakened. It reminded one of the Lord's words in Luke 21:12-1612But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake. 13And it shall turn to you for a testimony. 14Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: 15For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist. 16And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. (Luke 21:12‑16).
(To be continued.)