The Apostle Paul Is Transferred to Caesarea
[Acts chapter 23, verses 23-35]
by Minister Paul J. Bern
Last week as we left off at verse 22 of chapter 23, the Roman commander of the squadron in charge of making sure Paul remained in their custody has just received some new intelligence. Paul’s nephew had overheard a conversation between some members of the Sanhedrin. These men were going to kill Paul themselves with no middlemen involved. The plot to kill Paul was an inside job right from the start. This is precisely what Paul’s nephew (see verse 16 from last week’s study) had came to him and told him.
As you recall, Paul then sent his nephew directly to his Roman captors, to alert the commander of the murder plot against him, and that the commander was about to get played by the religious elect of Jerusalem. To this day, I am convinced that Paul’s nephew being in the right place at the right time to gather that critical piece of intelligence about the plot against his uncle was not coincidental. The Lord God Almighty can sometimes work in very mysterious ways. And so as we begin this week’s lesson, the Roman commander wastes no time in making his decision as to what to do with Paul next, beginning in verse 23.
“ 23) Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, ‘Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spear-men 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: Greetings. 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.’” (Acts 23, verses 23-30)
There can be no doubt that the Roman commander at Jerusalem was very serious about making sure his orders were carried out with finesse, as you saw in verse 23. He was also a man who believed in taking care of details. So he amassed a formidable force to escort the apostle Paul to Caesarea on the assumption that the Sanhedrin would hire mercenaries to kill Paul by attacking those escorting him, and put Paul on a horse for his own safety as well. While the troops are being assembled, the commander pens, or dictates, a letter of explanation to Felix, the Roman governor of Caesaria and the surrounding territory. Verses 26-30 comprise the letter sent there by the Roman commander. So now let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s lesson, beginning at verse 31.
“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. 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.” (Acts 23, verses 31-35)
So we see in verses 31-32 that Paul was escorted to Antipatris, a little town about halfway to their destination. He was held there until daylight for his own safety, until he could be escorted the rest of the way to Caesarea by the armed Roman contingent (Caesarea was about 100Km, or about 63 miles, north of Jerusalem). They presumably needed more soldiers during the night for security reasons. Even the Judea-based contingent of guards sent by their commander waited until the following morning before returning to their barracks in Jerusalem (see verse 32). Life back then was very dangerous indeed, so it’s no wonder that the human lifespan was so much shorter than now.
In verses 33-34, governor Felix receives the 2 centurions and their complements of troops from Jerusalem along with the apostle Paul. Reading the letter from the Roman commander, he asks Paul what province he is 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.” So evidently governor Felix had previous experience with the clique within the Temple at Jerusalem’s hierarchy, based on his response to Paul. Claudius had taken a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude about the whole affair, knowing full well that Paul’s accusers were a bunch of hypocrites (see Matthew 23). Paul is placed under guard at Herod’s palace in verse 35. It was likely a much better place than the soldier’s barracks at Jerusalem.
So the apostle Paul remains in Roman custody pending his hearing with Felix and his former compatriots from Jerusalem. What will be said and how will the hearing proceed? While the Jewish Temple delegation is presenting their case, what new evidence for any new charges does the Sanhedrin-affiliated consortium have against Paul? If they have no new evidence, Paul walks away a free man. If the Sanhedrin affiliates have new evidence against Paul, what is its nature? To find out Paul’s fate, be sure and return next week for part 1 of Acts chapter 24, as my ongoing series on the writings of the apostle Luke continue.