Acts 23


“Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!” Those who were standing near Paul said, “You dare to insult God’s high priest?” Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’” Acts 23:1-5

In the previous chapter, we read how Paul pulled out his ‘get out of jail free card’ and tells the Roman authorities about his citizenship and they too panicked. The chief priests and all the council were commanded to come together, while Paul was standing before them.

As Paul stood before the Sanhedrin, Paul told them he had lived his life for God until that very time, 1 Corinthians 4:4 / 2 Timothy 1:3. But Paul’s announcement about his clear conscience didn’t go down very well with Ananias the high priest.

And so he commanded the man next to Paul to strike him, which was a violation of their law, Deuteronomy 25:1-2. They broke God’s law by striking Paul on the mouth.

And so Paul, with the voice of prophecy, told Ananias that God would strike him because he sat to judge the apostle by the law but violated it by having a man struck before he had been tried and found guilty.

And this is very interesting because according to Jewish history Ananias was murdered by his own people just a few years later at the beginning of the Jewish war.

But those standing by asked Paul if he was insulting the high priest, who, of course, was one with certain authority, Exodus 22:28. Why did Paul insult the high priest? Well, it is possible that Paul didn’t know who he was.

How did Paul not know that Ananias was the high priest? Well, since the Sanhedrin was not an informal assembly, Ananias may not have had on an official dress.

And Ananias may not have been the actual high priest at that time, because the title was also used for former high priests and those who were merely from the family out of which he was chosen.

But notice what Paul did as soon as he discovered Ananias was the high priest. Once Paul knew who he spoke against, he immediately apologized noting that it was against the law to speak against a ruler of God’s people. And what happens next is one of the finest examples we have of divide and conquer.

“Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.” Acts 23:6

Luke tells us that when Paul looked around at his audience he saw the council was comprised of both Pharisees and Sadducees. And so he begins his defence by saying he was a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee and brought up on charges because of his belief in the resurrection of the dead.

Why would Paul say he was brought before them because of his belief in the resurrection? Well, because if we think about the gospel, as we have already seen time and time again, when we preach the Gospel, we have to include the preaching of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

And so, Paul uses his belief in Jesus’ resurrection to divide and conquer.

“When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.) There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.” Acts 23:7-10

Luke tells us that Paul’s statement immediately created a division between the Pharisees, who believed in the resurrection and the Sadducees, who didn’t.

And it got to the stage where some of the scribes who were Pharisees actually stood up and said they could not find any fault in Paul. In fact, they almost defend Paul by wondering if the apostle had been spoken to by a spirit or an angel.

Remember the Pharisees believed in spirits and angels but the Sadducees didn’t And so because of these two different beliefs, the dissention between the two groups was so great that the chief captain had Paul withdrawn to the castle, afraid he would be torn apart by them.

And if we believe that Paul’s situation was terrifying, we would be right to think that but Paul being the faithful Christian that he was, kept his focus on the mission ahead of him that God gave him. God didn’t want to let Paul get too comfortable on this earth and He doesn’t want us to get too comfortable.

Why does God allow trials and sufferings in our lives? Because He doesn’t want us to get too comfortable in this world. He wants us out of our comfort zones and He wants us to grow and He wanted Paul to take the Gospel to Rome, and He wants us to take the Gospel somewhere too.

The Roman Empire believed that it was the light of the world, but Paul knew all too well that Rome was still in the dark and the Gospel was the real light, John 8:12.

If we, like torches of God’s light, Matthew 5:14-16, continue to shine every day of our lives, Satan will never have an opportunity to come in and tempt us to corrupt our lives with sin, Psalm 139:7-12.

And so because Paul was afraid, God intervened to give him courage.

“The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” Acts 23:11

God was saying to Paul, ‘take courage’ because I am with you always, to the very end of the age, Matthew 28:20. ‘Take courage’ because never will I leave you, never will I forsake you, Hebrews 13:5.

‘Take courage’ what can mortal man do to you? Psalm 56:4. ‘Take courage’ because I’m in control of your destiny as long as you follow my will, Romans 8:35.

The Lord has been protecting Paul up to this point and He is going to continue to protect him until God gets him where he wants him to be, which is Rome.

The Plot To Kill Paul

“The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.” Acts 23:12-15

These people are determined to kill Paul come hell or high water, and they will go to any lengths to achieve that goal. Luke tells us that the next morning, more than forty Jews took an oath to neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul.

And so, the forty-plus men reported their plan to the chief priests and elders and enlisted their help in a conspiracy by asking for time to get the captain to bring Paul before the council again to judge his case more thoroughly.

Make no mistake about it, they were hoping to kill Paul as he was being brought from the barracks to the council meeting place. And even with the Lord’s assurance, I’m sure that with all the hostility the Jews had shown Paul since his arrival in Jerusalem, Paul may have doubted if he would ever escape that city and fulfil his desire to preach in Rome.

Paul may have had his doubts about God’s promise to him whilst he was in Jerusalem, but he never gave up on the truth, that all things would work according to God’s purpose, Romans 8:28.

We might have our moments of doubt but we need to hang on to the words of Paul himself when he writes to the church in Corinth, 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.

When we handed our life over to Jesus Christ, we signed up to suffer for Jesus Christ. When we told Satan we don’t want anything more to do with him, he made us public enemy number one, and he is not going to let us leave him without a fight.

But notice what Paul told the church in Corinth, it’s not all about suffering, it’s also about comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. One of the ways that God sends that comfort to us is by sending His people to minister to us on His behalf and sometimes that can happen without us even being aware of it.

My point is that God is always one step ahead of us, and I think that’s one of the points that Luke is going to tell us about next.

“But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul. Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” So he took him to the commander. The centurion said, “Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.” The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?” He said: “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.” The commander dismissed the young man and cautioned him, “Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.” Acts 23:16-22

Luke clearly tells us that God is one step ahead of the game. God knows what was going to happen next in Paul’s life. That’s why God, in His providence, had Paul’s sister’s son in a position to hear the plot in the first place.

That’s why he entered the barracks where the apostle was being kept and informed him of the intention of the conspirators. That’s why Paul immediately called for a centurion and asked him to take his nephew to the chief captain.

That’s why the centurion brought this young man to the commander. That’s why the commander asked Paul’s nephew what he had to tell him. That’s why he revealed the entire plot against his uncle. And that’s why the chief captain then asked him to tell no one what he had reported to him in private and let the young man go.

Yes, there are times when we think our lives are out of control but God is one step ahead of us just like He was one step ahead of Paul and the Jews who were plotting to kill him.

Paul is in God’s hands and so because of God’s providence, Luke goes on to tell us about how God’s providence is going to save Paul’s life.

Paul Transferred To Caesarea

“Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.” Acts 23:23-24

Notice that God doesn’t do things by half, when He protects His people, He protects them. And so, acting on God’s providence, the chief captain, whose name was Claudius Lysias, immediately called two centurions to him.

He commanded them to get 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen ready to escort Paul to Caesarea at the third hour of the night as some translations have it which would be around 9:00 pm.

They were also instructed to provide mounts for Paul and take him to the governor, Felix, who occupied much the same position as Pilate had in Christ’s day. And so, Luke reports to Theophilus what Claudius Lysias wrote in a letter to Governor Felix.

“He wrote a letter as follows: Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings. This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.” Acts 23:25-30

Since we know that Festus took Felix’s place in 59 A.D. and Paul was with him for two years, we can conclude that Paul was sent to him in 57 A.D. Lysias, according to Luke, sent a letter to Felix which contained the gist of what was happening.

Remember that He had Paul taken prisoner and put him in chains which was breaking the Roman Law about Roman citizenship. And so, here in this letter Lysias slightly glorifies the story, by telling Felix that he learned Paul was a Roman and so saved him from the mob, he didn’t mention the fact that he had Paul placed in chains.

But Lysias tells us also that, in his opinion, Paul had done nothing worthy of either prison or death. And since he had learned of the conspiracy to murder Paul, he informed Felix that he sent the apostle to him and commanded the Jews to appear before the governor to present their case.

“So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, he said, “I will hear your case when your accusers get here.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.” Acts 23:31-35

And so with the letter in their hands, Luke tells the soldiers took Paul and the letter and marched between 12 and 16 miles to Antipatris. The next day, the soldiers, and spearmen returned to their barracks and the horsemen went with Paul to Caesarea, some 26 miles further north.

And when they arrived there, they presented Paul to the governor, along with the letter. And when Felix read the letter, he asked what province Paul was from, and after the apostle told him he was from Cilicia, he told him he would hear from him after his accusers came but until they came, Paul was kept in Herod’s Palace.

When we think of God’s providence we automatically think of Joseph. Remember that Joseph’s brothers thought that they had seen the last of him until there was a severe famine and they had to go to Egypt for food.

And so after a while, Joseph let himself be known to them and Joseph says that everything that happened was all a part of God’s plan to get God’s people where God wanted them to be, Genesis 45:4-7.

In the Book of Philemon, the story is told of a slave named Onesimus. He belonged to Philemon of Colossae. Onesimus ran away from his master and made his way to Rome, where he encountered the apostle Paul.

Paul led Onesimus to the truth and when he writes to Philemon about it, Paul says that everything which happened to Onesimus was all a part of God’s plan, Philemon 15-16.

Let me give you a quick summary of how Paul saw His life. We have seen after his third missionary campaign, Paul returned to Jerusalem where he was arrested for allegedly defiling the temple, Acts 21:28.

During the night, the Lord told him to be courageous. He would not die in Jerusalem, rather, he would bear witness in Rome, Acts 23:11. And so to save Paul’s life from a Jewish mob that had vowed to murder him, Roman officials sent Paul to Caesarea by night according to Acts 23:31ff.

And what we are going to see over the next few chapters, Paul was then imprisoned for two years, Acts 24:27. Finally, when Paul concluded that he would get no justice from the authorities, exercising his right as a Roman citizen, he appealed his case to Caesar, Acts 25:11.

In early autumn of A.D. 60, he was put on a ship bound for Rome, Acts 27:1. And whilst he was on that ship, the ship was wrecked and all hope of being saved was abandoned, Acts 27:30. But an angel appeared to Paul and promised him that, ‘he must stand before Caesar,’ Acts 27:24

The following spring, safe and sound, Paul arrived in Rome and his prayers and those of the Roman saints had been answered, but through the mysterious workings of divine providence! Acts 28:16.

Later, writing from Rome to the brethren in Philippi, the apostle could say that the things which had happened to him, ‘has really served to advance the gospel’’ Philippians 1:12.

The point this, that there is absolutely no doubt that Paul saw the helpful hand of God’s providence in this series of events in his life. And so for us, as His people, we should be rejoicing and living each day with a calm confidence that we are in God’s hands.

And we too just like Joseph, Onesimus, and Paul should know that the Lord is always near, we should always know that Heaven’s operations through providence are a long-lasting presence in our daily existence.

Go To Acts 24