OMG, Luke left us hanging off a cliff! At the end of Chapter 21, Paul was given permission to defend himself against the charges leveled by the Jews who want Paul dead. Paul stepped up to the lectern and said:
Paul stands up among the crowd to deliver a speech stating why he should not be put to death. The speech starts off well, as Paul relates his history, his devotion to the Jewish faith and ancestral law. Paul then tells the tale of Jesus’s appearance and command that Paul should stop persecuting those that believed in Jesus. Paul relates being struck blind, Ananias giving Paul his sight back. Of course, this is all stuff that we read earlier in this chapter. But it’s all new information for the people gathered demanding Paul’s death.
As I said, Paul’s speech was being generally well-received. Until Paul said that Jesus came to him in a vision, and commanded that Paul leave and join the Gentiles far away from Jerusalem.
The gathered folk took a moment to digest this, then realized that they had just been majorly slighted. Paul was saying, in effect, that the Gentiles were preferred! No one was going to stand for that. The mob rebelled, yelling “KILL HIM! HE’S TOO STUPID TO LIVE!!!”
The Roman tribune once again steps in to restore order. He has soldiers bind Paul and lead him into prison. The tribune orders that Paul be beaten until Paul admitted why the church elders were causing such a stir. Before he was beaten, however, Paul asked if this were legal, since he is a natural-born Roman citizen. Of course it wasn’t legal, so the Tribune ordered Paul’s release, and then ordered a meeting with the high priests, the city Council, and Paul.
In the next chapter, of course. All of a sudden, Luke is really fond of cliff-hangers.
Can i just take a second to say that i had no idea Acts was this intriguing? Over the last couple of chapters, Acts has turned into an awesome suspense novel. And it is about to become even better, as we run into espionage and thrilling rescue, all in this one little chapter.
First, there is the meeting between the Roman Tribune, the high priests and city Council, and Paul. Paul tries to defend himself, but is struck down (literally) by the Pharisee members of the council. Even after Paul points out that he himself is a Pharisee from a long line of Pharisees. (Which again emphasizes just how odd it was that Jesus picked Paul.)
There are Sadducees on the council too, though. The two groups have a few fundamental differences between them. To put it in context, think of the dogmatic differences between Catholics and Protestants. As a Pharisee, Paul well knows what these differences are, and how deeply they run. And how passionate each group would be defending those differences.
Using all of this in his favor, Paul stands up and declares “I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead!” Which is the equivalent of a Protestant standing up in a Catholic church and yelling, “I don’t believe in praying to the Saints!” In a word, chaos! The Sadducees rise up to attack Paul, but the Pharisees rise up to defend the concept of resurrection. The discussion turns into a debate, then into a shouting contest.
The Pharisees actually escalate this to a boiling point by deciding to stand up for Paul. They say “We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” This infuriates the Sadducees, who don’t believe in spirits nor angels, and can’t believe that the Pharisees have changed their minds about killing Paul.
At this point, people just start smacking others. Realizing that he has lost all control – and fearing that Paul is going torn to pieces by the two warring factions, the Tribune once again takes control of matters by force. He has soldiers force their way into the melee, grab Paul and pull him away from the madness to a place of safety.
Wow! Talk about exciting. And there’s even better stuff to come!
The next morning, after everyone had calmed down, a group of 40 Jews (I am assuming that it is a mix of Sadducees and Pharisees, who by this time have realized that Paul played them for fools) formed a conspiracy. They wanted Paul dead, and swore that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. Their plan was fairly straight-forward: They would ask the Tribune to bring Paul back out to the court for more questioning. Once Paul was out in the open, the 40 would come out of hiding, attack Paul and kill him once and for all.
All in all, that is a pretty good plan. Simple enough that nothing should really go wrong, but also very effective. Odds are that the Roman guards wouldn’t be able to stop/arrest/kill all 40 before at least one of the conspirators were able to plunge a knife into Paul’s heart. It seemed a fool-proof plan.
Of course, the conspirators probably shouldn’t have been discussing it out in public. Paul’s nephew happens to be in the right place at the right time and overhears the entire plot. He tells the story to the Tribune. The Tribune realizes that he can’t sit back and let a Roman citizen be killed sets up a platoon consisting of 200 footmen, 70 mounted soldiers and 200 spear soldiers. This party escorts Paul out of the city and to the friendlier confines of Antipatris, and from there to Caesarea. Paul was finally put into custody in Herod’s palace.
The Tribune sends a letter to Governor Felix with Paul, explaining the situation:
From Claudius Lysias to Your Excellency, Governor Felix. Greetings.
This man had been seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I went with the guard and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. I wanted to know the exact charge they were making against him, so I had him brought before their Council.
I found that, although he was charged with questions about their law, there was no charge against him deserving death or imprisonment.
Since a plot against the man has been reported to me, I am at once sending him to you and have also ordered his accusers to present their charges against him before you.
Queue the Law & Order “bump-bump” sound, because we are now in the middle of courtroom drama! Ananias has arrived, and has brought a number of other elders and his own personal attorney, Tertullius. Their goal is to convince Governor Felix that Paul should be executed.
Tertullius is very loquacious, and offers a well-reasoned argument before the court:
So as not to detain you any further, I beg you to hear us briefly with your customary graciousness. For we have found this man a perfect pest and an agitator among all Jews throughout the world. He is a ringleader in the sect of the Nazarenes and even tried to profane the temple, but we arrested him.
By examining him for yourself, you will be able to find out from him everything of which we accuse him.
Felix then allows Paul his turn:
You can verify for yourself that I went up to worship in Jerusalem no more than twelve days ago. They never found me debating with anyone in the temple or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or throughout the city, and they cannot prove to you the charges they are now bringing against me.
They found me in the temple doing these things just as I had completed the purification ceremony. No crowd or noisy mob was present.
These men themselves should tell what wrong they found when I stood before the Council – unless it is for the one thing I shouted as I stood among them: ‘It is for the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’
Felix was a very wise man, and examined all of the evidence and facts himself, and then adjourned the case until Tribune Lysias arrived. In the meantime, Paul still had to stay under house guard, but he was no longer a prisoner.
Of course, if you can’t leave the place where you live in, there’s no real difference between being a prisoner or not. And that was the situation Paul was in. Felix would not release Paul, especially since Felix’s wife Drusilla was Jewish. Felix met frequently with Paul and learned a lot about Christianity, but Felix still would not let Paul go.
After two years had passed, it was announced that Porcius Festus would be the new Governor. One would imagine that Felix would release Paul before Felix left office. One would be wrong: Felix left Paul in prison as Felix’s governorship ended.
Up next: Is Paul cursed? Death imminent?
New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Monday and Thursday. The new posts will always be on my blog, http://biffster.org. The entire series is accessible via http://biffster.org/ntir. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you can get an advance preview on my Facebook page. You can also follow me (@biffster) on Twitter to be alerted to new posts.