April 26, Sunday
The next day Paul was released; and the commander, determined to get to the bottom of Paul’s accusation by the Jews, ordered the chief priests and Sanhedrin to convene. Then he took Paul down and set him in front of them.
Paul looked intently at the Sanhedrin and said, “Men and brothers, I have lived my life with a perfectly clear conscience before God to this day.” That’s as far as he got before Ananias the High Priest ordered those who were standing near to slap him in the mouth.
Paul reacted and said to him, “God will strike you, you white-washed wall! There you sit pretending to judge me by the Law when you violate it by telling them to hit me!”
Tension mounted as a bystander challenged Paul, saying, “How dare you insult God’s High Priest like that?”
But Paul quickly apologized and said, “My brothers, I didn’t realize that he was the High Priest; as Scripture says: ‘You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people.’”
Then, as Paul realized that part of the council were Sadducees and the rest were Pharisees, he spoke loudly for all to hear, “I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees, and it is because I believe in the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial!” Paul made this statement, knowing that it would distract the Council.
There was, in fact, a great uproar as the scribes of the Pharisees rose to Paul’s defense against the Sadducees who don’t believe in resurrection, angelic beings, or a non-physical spirit realm. “We find nothing wrong with this man!” they protested. “Suppose some angel or spirit has really spoken to him?”
By this point the Roman tribune feared that Paul might be torn to pieces. So he ordered the soldiers to come down and rescue him and bring him back to the barracks.
That night the Lord appeared at Paul’s side and said to him, “Courage! You have witnessed boldly for Me here in Jerusalem, and you must give your witness for Me in Rome.”
Early in the morning a group of about forty Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves by a solemn oath to neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. They approached the chief priests and elders and said, “We have bound ourselves by a solemn oath to let nothing pass our lips until we have killed Paul. Now you and the Council must ask the commander to bring Paul down to you, explaining that you want to examine his case more closely. While they are making their way here, we will kill him.
However, Paul’s nephew got wind of this plot and hurried to the barracks to tell Paul about it. Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander. He has something to report to him.”
So the centurion took him to the commander and said, “The prisoner Paul asked me to bring this young man to speak to you.”
The commander took him by the hand, led him away from the others, and asked him privately, “What did you want to tell me?”
The boy replied, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the Sanhedrin tomorrow as though they were going to enquire more carefully into his case. But you mustn’t let them persuade you because more than forty of them are waiting for him. They have sworn a solemn oath that they won’t eat or drink until they have killed him. They have everything set in place and are waiting for you to give the order.”
At this the man dismissed the boy, warning him, “Don’t let anyone know that you have given me this information.” Then he summoned two of his centurions and said, “Get two hundred men ready to proceed to Caesarea with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen by nine o’clock tonight.” A horse was also to be provided for Paul so he could make it safely to Felix the governor.
The commander then wrote this letter of explanation to Felix: “Claudius Lysias sends greetings to his Excellency Governor Felix. This man had been seized by the Jews and was on the point of being murdered by them. When I arrived with my troops and discovered that he was a Roman citizen, I rescued him. In my investigation of the charges against him, I had him appear before their Sanhedrin. That was where I discovered he was being accused regarding some of their laws and certainly nothing which deserved either death or imprisonment. Now, however, it has come to my attention that there is a plot against his life, so I have sent him to you without delay. At the same time, I have notified his accusers that they must make their charges against him in your presence.”
So it was that the soldiers took Paul and, riding through that night, brought him down to Antipatris. The next day they returned to Jerusalem, leaving the horsemen to accompany him the rest of the way. The contingent proceeded to Caesarea; and after delivering the letter to the governor, they handed Paul over to him. Once Felix had read the letter, he asked Paul what province he came from. On learning that he came from Cilicia, the governor said, “I will hear your case as soon as your accusers arrive.” Then he ordered him to be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.
Five days later Ananias the High Priest arrived with some of the elders and an attorney by the name of Tertullus. They presented their case against Paul before the governor. When Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began his prosecution with these words:
“Most Excellent Felix, it is because of your outstanding leadership and reforms that our nation enjoys peace and a greatly improved standard of living. At all times, and indeed everywhere, we acknowledge these things with the deepest gratitude.
“However, getting quickly to the point so as not to impose on you, we request this brief hearing. Quite simply, the issue is that we have found this man to be a pest, stirring up trouble among Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the sect known as the Nazarenes, and he was about to desecrate the Temple when we apprehended him. I’m certain you will recognize the danger just as soon as you hear this man’s own testimony.”
While Tertullus was speaking, the Jews kept butting in, confirming each detail. The governor looked toward Paul and called for his statement.
“Because you have been governor of this nation for many years, your Honor,” Paul began, “I am pleased to present my defense before you. The facts show that it was just twelve days ago that I went up to worship at Jerusalem. Not once did I argue with anyone in the Temple or start a riot, either in the synagogues or in public. What these men are claiming cannot be substantiated in the least.
“I will admit to you, however, that I do worship the God of our fathers according to the Way, which they call a heresy. My beliefs are based solidly on the authority of both the Law and the Prophets; and I have the same hope in God which they themselves hold, that there is to be a resurrection of both good men and bad. It is because of this belief that I do strive to live my whole life with a clear conscience before God and man.
“It is worth noting that I have been away from Jerusalem for several years and returned at this time to bring financial assistance to my own nation and to make my offerings. Indeed, I had completed purification rituals and was about to present my offering when I was accosted. There was neither mob nor disturbance until the Jews from Asia came, who, by the way, ought to be here bringing their accusations against me. Otherwise, let these men themselves speak out now and say what crime they found me guilty of when I stood before their Council — unless it was that one sentence that I shouted as I stood among them. All I said was this, ‘It is about the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.’”
Then Felix, who was well-acquainted with the Way, adjourned the matter and said, “As soon as Commander Lysias arrives, I will decide this case.” Then he gave orders to the centurion to keep Paul in custody but to grant him reasonable liberty and to allow any of his personal friends to look after his needs.