(There will be a lot of narrative in these chapters, much of which will be read without comment.)
A quick recap: It is now about AD 57, 24 years after Paul’s conversion. During these years he has been on three missionary Journeys, spending more and more time with Gentiles and writing many of his Epistles.
Having just returned from his third missionary journey, he entered the totally Jewish environment of Jerusalem and Temple worship, and he was in the Temple at Jerusalem when a riot was started by the Jewish leaders who wanted him dead.
But the Roman soldiers intervened and from that point on, there seems to be a subtle change in the tone of the book of Acts. As Luke wrote these closing chapters, he was well aware that Paul’s movements were now under the control of Rome.
The soldiers took Paul to the Antonia Fortress where, standing at the top of the steps he asked if he could address the crowd.
Read Acts 22:1-22 It may be best to share this reading among those happy to read)
1 ‘Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defence.’
2 When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.
Then Paul said: 3 ‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.
6 ‘About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, “Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?”
8 ‘“Who are you, Lord?” I asked.
‘“I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.
10 ‘“What shall I do, Lord?” I asked.
‘“Get up,” the Lord said, “and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.” 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.
12 ‘A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, “Brother Saul, receive your sight!” And at that very moment I was able to see him.
14 ‘Then he said: “The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name.”
17 ‘When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw the Lord speaking to me. “Quick!” he said. “Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.”
19 ‘“Lord,” I replied, “these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20 And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.”
21 ‘Then the Lord said to me, “Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”’
22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, ‘Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!’
The suggestion that God himself would sent a Jewish rabbi to offer salvation to the Gentiles was total anathema to the crowd
Now read to the end of the chapter.
23 As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this.
To a Roman soldier charged with upholding law and order, it was quite mystifying why the people were so upset. What on earth had he done? Well they could soon get an answer from him.
25 As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, ‘Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?’
It would have been extremely undiplomatic to use this defence in front of the Jewish mob, but here amongst fellow Romans, he could.
26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. ‘What are you going to do?’ he asked. ‘This man is a Roman citizen.’
27 The commander went to Paul and asked, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’
‘Yes, I am,’ he answered.
28 Then the commander said, ‘I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.’
‘But I was born a citizen,’ Paul replied.
There were various ways to become a Roman citizen, and some had far fewer rights and privileges than those who were born citizens – like Paul.
29 Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realised that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.
The Roman citizen’s right to liberty was fundamental; only after the correct judicial process could one be punished, and for a citizen, the sentence of death was reserved for those who had committed treason or patricide. The commander was alarmed – It appeared that Paul had committed no crime at all under Roman law.
30 The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and set him before them.
Now read Chapter 23:1-11
1 Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, ‘My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.’ 2 At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. 3 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!’
4 Those who were standing near Paul said, ‘How dare you insult God’s high priest!’
5 Paul replied, ‘Brothers, I did not realise that he was the high priest; for it is written: “Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.”’
The Jewish legal system, based on fluid rules, was nothing like the well-ordered Roman system. Those who administered the law could use and misuse it as they chose (think about the crucifixion of Jesus, and 23:12-15 and 25:1-3)
6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, ‘My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.’ 7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)
9 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?’ 10 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.
11 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.’
The commander had a problem. Obviously Paul was the centre of the controversy that had caused the Jews such upset, but there was no charge he could be accused of. He had him brought to the barracks for his own safety, but not as a prisoner.
Now read Chapter 23:12-22
12 The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 More than forty men were involved in this plot. 14 They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, ‘We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15 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.’
What was the response of the chief priests and elders to this highly illegal conspiracy? We don’t know, but they certainly seemed happy to agree.
16 But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.
17 Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, ‘Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.’ 18 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.’
19 The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, ‘What is it you want to tell me?’
20 He said: ‘Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. 21 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.’
22 The commander dismissed the young man with this warning: ‘Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.’
It may be that, as verse 21 suggests, the request for another meeting had already been made. The commander would immediately have seen the truth in what the young boy had said and was happy to take the side of a fellow citizen.
Now read Chapter 23:23-35
23 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. 24 Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.’
25 He wrote a letter as follows:
26 Claudius Lysias,
To His Excellency, Governor Felix:
27 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. 28 I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. 29 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. 30 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.
The commander had acted faultlessly. What had he done?
31 So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. 32 The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks.
Caesarea was 70 miles to the north so it was unnecessary for the foot-soldiers to have accompanied Paul the whole way, just far enough to guarantee that he was safely on his way. Antipatris was 45 miles from Jerusalem.
33 When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. 34 The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, 35 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.
Again, having checked that Paul would be tried by the correct governor, he was kept under ‘house arrest’ but actually in Herod’s palace, not a normal prison cell!