Read: Acts 23:23-24:27
Part 4 of Paul in Jerusalem left us with the Roman commander completely in charge of the situation. There is no doubt that the authorities were handling the events here. Paul’s life was likely spared as a result of the commander’s rather audacious and timely reaction. The ensuing events through the end of Acts will result in Paul being in prison, i.e., a captive under Roman control, for the next four years. This helps explain why so many letters were written and perhaps why scholars were able to gather these and turn these into books in the New Testament.
Cavalry Led Escape to Caesarea
The Roman commander gathered two centurions, loads of horses and armed men to escort Paul to Caesarea. In my mind, this was a bit over-the-top.
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. Acts 23:23
All this for one Roman citizen. I think the commander was trying to make a statement about his authority. He may have had other motives, but we are not given insight into his position or political desires. What we know for certain is that Paul was successfully removed from a violent situation and allowed to defend himself another day.
Our modern court system follows this example today. The legal process is called a “change of venue” to give the defendant a better shot at a fair trial. In this case, Paul is removed and Ananias has to make the 65-mile journey to state his case.
Felix the Governor with Ananias and Tertullus
The first characters in this scene include the plaintiff and his attorney. In the last episode, Ananias proved to be hot-headed, calling for Paul to be smacked before any judgment could be made. Paul’s reaction could have landed him in trouble, but he was quick to control his tongue. Biblical scholars give us some interesting insight into Ananias here:
Paul’s comment about Ananias proves to be prophetic, for within ten years the high priest had to flee to Herod’s palace, his house was burned, and he was eventually killed.13 He was known as a greedy, corrupt, and violent man.14NIVAC Note
We should not be quick to stereotype Jewish leadership and certainly should exercise restraint when confronting those in authority, but sometimes people are placed in positions they don’t deserve. We should have faith that God will judge appropriately. The historians above indicate Ananias’ rule was terminated relatively soon after this event.
Tertullus was a capable orator who used his skill to point the accusation at Paul after placating the honorable governor with typical flowery words. The attorney was good, but Paul was much better!
Each charge against Paul was quickly deflected.
My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. Acts 24:12-14
Felix appears rather bored with the proceedings and defers his decision until the commander corroborates Paul’s arguments. There’s no hurry in this system. The fact that Paul remains in custody is irrelevant to those in charge.
Paul used his captivity as a platform. I’m not suggesting he was completely happy about the arrangement, but he made the best of a bad situation by arguing with competence and eloquence.
Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. Acts 24:24
By remaining calm and patient, Paul got the opportunity to present the gospel to Felix, his wife, and who knows how many other officials in between.
Paul was competent, studied well, and made his case compelling by understanding who he was addressing each time. I’m convinced this earned him many favors even though his release from captivity could not be granted. He made the best of a bad situation. My prayer is that we would do the same when life deals us a bad hand.
Wilkins, Michael J.; Garland, David E.; Bock, Darrell L.; Burge, Gary M.; Fernando, Ajith. NIVAC Bundle 6: Gospels, Acts (The NIV Application Commentary) (Kindle Locations 86571-86574). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
References within the NIVAC note:
#13. See Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2.17.6, 9 (in Josephus, Complete Works, 491, 492 resp.).
#14. On Ananias’s character and acts, see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.2, 4 (in Josephus, Complete Works, 424).