The Apostle Paul’s Life is Spared by the Romans
[Acts chapter 23, verses 12-24]
by Minister Paul J Bern
Last week as we left off at verse 12 of Acts 23, Paul had continued to be in the custody of Roman troops, who doubled as the police force throughout the Middle East at that time. This had resulted in the riot in Jerusalem back in chapter 21, which Paul had found himself in the middle of, whether he objected or not. As soon as the Roman enforcement troops found out about the great disturbance in Jerusalem, they were were dispatched to the scene. Upon their arrival a great disturbance was under way that was religious in nature – a worst case scenario for the Romans. Since the well-established Jews who had started the whole thing bore false witness against Paul by convincing the Romans of Paul’s alleged culpability, this was why Paul was in custody. That, and to keep him from being murdered by rogue elements in the crowd.
This week as we continue on to part 2 of Acts 23, Paul’s accusers have hatched a plot to kill him. To get this into its proper context, I will be starting with the final verse from last week’s lesson. So let’s begin at verse 12. “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.’ 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.’” (Acts 23, verses 12-18)
So we observe a Biblical parallel, or a recurring theme throughout the Scriptures, right here in this passage, and that is the number 40. Jesus Christ walked the earth for 40 days and 40 nights after he was raised from the dead. Moses was 40 years old when he fled Egypt (see Exodus chapter 2), 80 years old when he returned to lead the ancient Israelite’s out of Egypt, and endured with them the entire 40 years in the desert. Moses finally died in forty more years at age 120, having seen the Promised Land from the mountain top, but he was forbidden from entering it because of his sin of doubt during his time in the desert with the whole Jewish nation (see Exodus 17). But that sin was nothing compared to what the Jews – these men were actually priests, believe it or not – were about to attempt to do.
So these ‘religious people’, these ‘hyper-devout’ Jews, approached the chief priests and others in positions of leadership in houses of worship. The Word tells us that this was done so Paul could be set up to take a nasty fall that would terminate his very life, as we see in verses 14-15. “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.” Clearly, some of the most corrupt people can be found positions of leadership. Whether it’s a house of worship, any business or any government, there you’ll find them, and the religious Jews were no different. These kinds of people can still be found in churches of today, now more prevalent than ever. Turn and get away from such individuals. Their evil desires are poison to the human spirit, and they are the polar opposite to the Spirit of the risen Lord.
“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.” So now we see it was Paul’s nephew who came and told him of the plot against his life. The Bible doesn’t say why Paul’s nephew was monitoring the goings-on of the Sanhedrin – the same people who had handed Christ over to the Romans – but I think I know. Paul had family who helped protect him, and what his nephew did is proof. Upon hearing of this scheme, Paul calls over a Roman soldier and gives careful instructions of what to do: “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.’” So now everyone involved is in front of the Roman commander, excluding Paul, who remains locked up, as we move on to part 2 of this week’s lesson.
“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.‘” (Acts 23, verses 19-22)
OK, let’s take in the big picture for a moment, like sitting up high in the cab of a tractor-trailer watching the traffic flowing around and in front of you. Paul was a former member of the Sanhedrin prior to his conversion to the Way of Christ. He was viewed as a traitor by his former peers, and as a criminal by the Roman authorities. But now we can also see that Paul’s Roman captors had begun to suspect there was a lot more to this man who called himself Paul than they had first thought. The Roman commander, after discussing things briefly, has a decision to make about how to proceed against Paul. He dared not allow him to post bail. It would have been like a death sentence had he done so. So for the short term, the apostle Paul would remain in the protective custody of the Roman Empire for the sake of his own safety. What will happen with Paul with respect to his being charged in the riot? For the moment, Paul is in jail without any bail. To find out what happens next, be sure and return next week for third and final part of Acts chapter 23.