This page is a verse by verse study of Acts 23:1-35. These verses describe how the Sanhedrin persecuted Paul in Jerusalem, and the Roman commander Lysias rescued him.
The Sanhedrin persecutes Paul in Jerusalem
1 Paul Starts Badly in Trial Before Sanhedrin
¶ "Paul looked in earnest at the Sanhedrin and said, “Brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” The high priest Ananias interrupted and commanded those who stood near Paul to smite him on the mouth. Paul said to Ananias, “God shall smite you, you whitewashed wall. Do you sit to judge me by the law, and yet command that I be struck contrary to the law?” Those who stood by said, “Do you revile God's high priest?” Paul replied, “Brethren, I was not aware that he was the high priest, otherwise I would have done as the scripture says, 'You shalt not speak evil of the ruler of your people.' ”"(Acts 23:1-5).
Smite him on the mouth. The commander Lysias had ordered the Sanhedrin to assemble, and had brought Paul to trial before the council as a ploy to gain intelligence about the unrest surrounding Paul. When Paul spoke in his own defense, he had uttered but one short sentence when he was intimidated and abused by being struck on the mouth by order of the court. Paul responded spiritedly, only to find himself apologising for what he said. The hearing had got off to a very bad start, and it didn't improve.
Whitewashed wall. A hypocrite.
2 Paul Sets Sanhedrin Factions Against Each Other
¶ "When Paul observed that some in the council were Sadducees, and the others were Pharisees, he cried out, “Brethren! I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. The real point on which I am being examined is the the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When Paul said this, a great argument arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The assembly was divided, because the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees confess belief in these. There was a lot of shouting. The scribes who belong to the Pharisee’s party stood up and argued agressively. They said, “We find no fault in this man; if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.”"(Acts 23:6-9).
Sadducees and Pharisees. Paul thought very quickly on his feet and employed the strategy of “divide and conquer”. By raising the issue of resurrection from the dead, Paul split the assembly. However this served only to turn the hearing into a complete fiasco.
3 Roman Commander Rescues Paul from Sanhedrin
¶ "As the dissension worsened, the commander became very concerned that Paul might be torn in pieces by the mob. He commanded the soldiers to go down and to remove Paul from them by force, and to bring him into the barracks. When night came, the Lord stood by Paul, and said, “Be of good courage, Paul, for just as you have solemnly testified about me in Jerusalem, so must you testify also at Rome.”"(Acts 23:10-11).
Into the barracks. Still frustrated, Lysias had Paul swept back to the safety of the barracks. We notice that Paul had kept quiet about Lysias’s former indiscretion in having Paul bound with thongs ready for flogging. Lysias no doubt had respect for Paul on this account, and was protecting Paul not merely out of a duty of care for a Roman citizen, but also out of gratitude.
Be of good courage. The Lord Jesus also showed respect and grace to Paul by personally appearing to him, encouraging him, and letting him know that the Jews will not prevent him from going to Rome.
3 Jewish Conspirators Fail in Plot to Kill Paul
¶ "Next day, some of the Jews conspired together. They bound themselves under an oath vowing that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. More than forty persons were involved in this plot. They came to the chief priests and elders, and said, “We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul. Now you and the Sanhedrin ask the commander to bring him down to you tomorrow. Make it sound as though you want to make a more complete examination of his case. We are ready to ambush him on his way, and kill him.” "(Acts 23:12-15).
Under an oath. The cunning of these conspirators against Paul is redolent of the devil’s own cunning. It was at once clever yet insane. Forty men put themselves under a fatal oath simply to coerce the Sanhedrin into co-operating with their scheme. In hindsight we know their plan failed. So what did they do —die of starvation to honour their oath? Hardly: they were not honourable men.
¶ "The son of Paul’s sister heard of their lying in wait. He went and entered into the barracks and told Paul. Then Paul called over one of the centurions, and said, “Take this young man to your commander, for the lad has some information for him.” So the centurion led the lad to the commander, and said, “Paul the prisoner called me over, and requested me to bring this young man to you. He has information to tell you.” So the commander took the lad by the hand, and led him aside. The commander quietly asked the lad, “What information have you to tell me?” The lad said, “The Jews have conspired to request you to bring down Paul tomorrow into the Sanhedrin. They will pretend that they want examine him more thoroughly. Don't grant their request, because more than forty men lie in wait to ambush Paul. They have bound themselves with an oath, that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him. They are ready right now, just waiting for an undertaking from you.”"(Acts 23:16-21).
Heard of their lying in wait. How this lad heard about the plot is a mystery. A lad can go unnoticed where a grown man cannot. Perhaps this lad purposely risked his life to be a spy, or perhaps he just happened to overhear somebody talking. In any event it seems the providence of God was at work here. The lad, to his credit, acted responsibly. By visiting and informing Paul, the boy gave Paul the means not only to preserve his own life but to cause Lysias to be grateful yet again. It was a choice piece of intelligence that a Jewish lad took to the Roman commander. And Lysias would appreciate that Paul trusted the commander’s army to deal with the matter rather than scheming a counter-plot himself and raising a gang of Jews to attack the ambushers.
¶ "So the commander then let the young man depart, but charged him, “You must not tell anyone that you have told me these things.” The commander then called two centurions. He said to them, “Make ready two hundred soldiers to proceed to Caesarea, with 70 mounted on horses, also 200 men armed with spears. Go at the third hour of the night. Also provide them with mounts to set Paul on. Escort him safely to Felix the governor.” And he wrote a letter after this manner: "(Acts 23:22-25).
Proceed to Caesarea. Lysias thought it prudent to remove Paul from Jerusalem to the city of Caesarea where Felix governed the province that included Judea and Jerusalem. There Paul would be dealt with more safely and fairly, with the Sanhedrin having less influence and opportunity to make trouble.
Two hundred soldiers. Usually a centurion was in charge of 80 soldiers rather than the nominal 100 that the term centurion suggests. However Lysias the commander was taking no chances. As Paul’s escort to Caesarea, two centurions were given charge of a full two hundred soldiers. These solders were support for seventy cavalry which the commander attached to them. Paul was to ride on horseback amid the cavalry who in turn were flanked by the foot soldiers. The commander made it clear that this detachment was to go all the way to Caesarea. However, even with this large force, a second contingent of two hundred soldiers armed with spears, or perhaps bows, was added, apparently to absolutely ensure the safe passage of Paul, and the main detachment, out of Jerusalem. These soldiers went as far as Antipatris (Acts 23:31-32).
He wrote a letter. Lysias concisely informs the governor Felix in Caesarea why he is sending Paul. His letter was as follows:
¶ "Claudius Lysias to the most excellent governor Felix: Greetings. This man was arrested by the Jews, and they would have killed him, had I not come with an army and rescued him. I had learned that he was a Roman. To ascertain their charge against him, I brought him before their Sanhedrin. I found him to be accused merely of questions concerning their law, and nothing worthy of death or of bonds. And when I was told how the Jews laid wait for the man to ambush and kill him, I sent him immediately to you, and ordered his accusers to state before you what they had against him. Farewell. "(Acts 23:26-30).
Summation by Lysias. This was the account of events according to Lysias (Acts 23:26-30 above). It was the truth, albeit with a gloss. Lysias gave the impression that he had kept himself well informed at all times. Actually Lysias had bungled his attempts to get the intelligence he needed, and remained largely uninformed until the prisoner and the prisoner’s young nephew enlightened him. But the commander Lysias can be forgiven for not mentioning that to Agrippa.
4 Paul Escorted Safely to Caesarea
¶ "The soldiers, following their orders, took Paul, and brought him by night to Antipatris. Next day, they left the horsemen to go ahead with him, and they returned to the barracks. When the horsemen came to Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor, and presented Paul before him. The governor read the letter, and then inquired what province Paul was from. When the governor understood that Paul was from Cilicia, he said, “I will grant you a hearing as soon as your accusers arrive. The governor commanded that Paul be kept meanwhile at Herod’s residence"(Acts 23:31-35).
The horsemen... the soldiers The horsemen were not detached from their 200 soldiers. Lysias had ordered “200 soldiers to go to Caesarea with 70 horsemen” (Acts 23:23). We recall that there was another 200 soldiers armed with spears. They were the ones who went only as far as Antipatris and then returned to barracks.
Paul was from Cilicia. Cilicia was an important province, and Felix would be inclined not to inconvenience a Roman citizen from there. So he assured Paul that the only delay would be that caused by his accusers. They, of course, would give the appearance of coming to Caesarea when it pleased them. On the other hand, they would not risk offending Felix by delaying too long. Such is the way of politics.