Acts 23

Sunday Morning Bible Study

October 18, 1998


As he made his way to Jerusalem, carrying gifts from the Gentile churches, Paul was warned of the danger up ahead. After having been in Jerusalem for a week, Paul was seized in the temple and falsely accused of defiling it by bringing a Gentile into the holy place. He was rescued by the Roman soldiers, who eventually allowed him to address the crowd. They listened as he shared how he came to meet Jesus on the road to Damascus. But when he got to the point where Jesus sent him to preach to the Gentiles, the crowd went berserk and the soldiers had to pull Paul into the Castle of Antonia for safety. It’s now the next day, and the Roman captain wants to know from the Jewish leaders what charges they have against Paul. Paul is now given an opportunity to address the Sanhedrin.

:1 earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience …

earnestly beholdingatenizo – to fix the eyes on, gaze upon

It could be because of his poor eyesight that he’s gazing. It could be that he’s trying to see if he recognizes any faces from the days of when he was a part of the Sanhedrin, the one which condemned Stephen.

council – Sanhedrin

consciencesuneidesis – the consciousness of anything; the conscience

Paul is saying that he’s lived his life according to his conscience. As a young man he had persecuted Christians because he was trying to be a conscientious Jew. But after meeting Jesus on the Damascus Road, he had to follow Him. It was a matter of conscience.

:2 the high priest Ananias

This is not the same as the "Annas" who was one of the high priests during the trial of Jesus. This man is the son of Nebedaeus, and was high priests from AD 48 to AD 59. In AD 52 (about five years earlier to Acts 23) he was called to Rome to answer charges of cruelty by the Samaritans, though he was later acquitted. He was known as a brutal man who cared more for Rome’s favor than for Israel’s welfare.

In AD 66, when the war will begin to break out between the Jews and Rome, Ananias gets worried because of how close he had been to Rome. He hides, but Jewish guerillas find him hiding in an aqueduct in Herod’s palace and put him to death.

:3 God shall smite thee, thou whited wall

whitedkoniao – to cover with lime, plaster over, whitewash. The term came to be applied to a hypocrite, one who covers up their character with an outward appearance of goodness, but inside they’re rotten.

Some might say that Paul isn’t doing anything wrong here. But Paul thought he did, he’s going to apologize.


Nobody’s perfect.


A carpet layer had just finished installing carpet for a lady. He stepped out for a smoke, only to realize he'd lost his cigarettes. In the middle of the room, under the carpet, was a bump. "No sense pulling up the entire floor for one pack of smokes," he said to himself. He proceeded to get out his hammer and flattened the hump. As he was cleaning up, the lady came in. "Here," she said, handing him his pack of cigarettes. "I found them in the hallway." "Now," she said, "if only I could find my parakeet."

Last week we talked about the excellent way that Paul handled himself in front of the angry crowd. He had handled the hostility leveled at him with respect:

(1 Pet 3:9 NASB) not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead …

When Jesus was struck by a soldier during His trial, He didn’t get angry:

(John 18:23 NLT) Jesus replied, "If I said anything wrong, you must give evidence for it. Should you hit a man for telling the truth?"

Yet Paul blows it. Personally, I find it a little comforting to see that even Paul still blew it after having walked with Jesus for twenty years.

The Christian Life is a life of growing. It’s a life of becoming more and more and more like Jesus. But we don’t ever "arrive" until we see Him face to face. We need to find the balance:

We need grace for ourselves and for others. We’re going to make mistakes.

(Psa 103:10 KJV) He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

(Psa 103:14 KJV) For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.

On the other hand, we need to be careful not to become so "comfortable" that we stop growing.

I can’t tell you how many times in my life I thought I had achieved the pinnacle of spirituality, only to find I’ve just gotten out of a valley and haven’t even gotten into the foothills.

:4 Revilest thou God's high priest?

revilestloidoreo – to reproach, rail at, revile, heap abuse upon

:5 I wist not …for it is written …

wist not – knew not

Some have suggested that Paul was being sarcastic here, but the Greek seems to indicate that Paul simply didn’t know that it was the high priest. Either the man wasn’t wearing any distinguishing robes, or Paul’s bad eyesight was to blame.

Either way, Paul admits that he made a mistake according to the Law:

(Exo 22:28 NASB) "You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people.

:6 But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees

As Paul is looking at the council, he remembers that it was made up of two major groups of Jews at that time.

Sadducees – A sect of the Jews that were more liberal in what they believed. They believed that only the first five books of the Bible were inspired. They did not believe in the supernatural. They did not believe in a resurrection from the dead. They did not believe in angels.

Pharisees – This was the strict, orthodox sect of Judaism. They worked hard at making sure they obeyed all the Law of God. They did believe in the supernatural, in angels, and in a resurrection from the dead. Though most Pharisees did not believe in Jesus, some Pharisees had come to believe in Jesus (Acts 15:5). We do not know if any believers were in the Sanhedrin at this time.

:6 of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

Paul exercises wisdom by taking what he knows about the Sanhedrin and exploiting its weakness through the divisions between the Sadducees and the Pharisees.

Keep in mind, Paul isn’t making something up here. He, as a former Pharisee, did indeed believe in the resurrection, and it was the resurrection of Jesus Christ that is the central focus of Christianity.

:9 let us not fight against God.

This is what Gamaliel had said twenty years earlier:

Acts 5:39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.

:10 the chief captain, fearing lest Paul …

chief captain – Claudius Lysias

fearingeulabeomai – to act cautiously; to beware, fear. Claudius has already seen what these people can do when they get mad …

:11 And the night following …

We’ll come back to this verse (or, click here)

:12 certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse

We could translate this phrase, "they cursed themselves into a conspiracy"

The idea is that they’re not going to eat or drink until Paul is killed, and if they break their promise, they will face the harshest penalty of hell.


Intensity doesn’t make it right.

Sometimes we can get our own little ideas of what "God’s will" ought to be for our life.

We can make all kinds of deals with God, anything to try and persuade Him to see it our way. We can try all sorts of methods of manipulation to get others to go along with our plans. But that doesn’t make it right.


In the early days of the kingdom of Israel, there was a particular important battle that began with the Philistines. It began with an act of incredible bravery on the part of the crown prince Jonathan, the son of Saul. When Saul saw that a battle was waging with the Philistines, he decided he better do something to get God to help them (and not realizing that God was already helping them!), and so he put the people under an oath that nobody would eat or drink until all the Philistines were killed. As the battle wore on, the people became tired and hungry. Jonathan, who knew nothing about the oath, stopped to eat some honey and continued with the battle. At the end of the day, when Saul found out that Jonathan had broken Saul’s command, he almost had Jonathan put to death, even though Jonathan had been the hero of the day. What foolishness!

In Saul’s case, he was correct in wanting God to be a part of this battle, but he was wrong in needing to do anything to persuade God. He was doubly wrong in the way he had manipulated the people.

With the Jews, Paul had commended them earlier for their zeal for God –

(Acts 22:3 KJV) I … was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.

Paul would write to the Romans:

(Rom 10:2 KJV) For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.

But zeal alone doesn’t make you right.

What does God say about the situation? Is there something in God’s Word that speaks to the issue? Have you humbled yourself to ask advice of others who understand wisdom?

:14 We have bound ourselves under a great curse

great curseanathema – a thing devoted to God without hope of being redeemed

bound ourselvesanathematizo – "we have cursed ourselves with a curse"

Keep in mind, these aren’t simple murderers. These guys think they’re doing God a great service.

John 16:2 They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.

:17 Bring this young man unto the chief captain …

Paul could have replied to his nephew, "Now I wouldn’t worry about that! Jesus promised me just last night that I would be going to Rome."

A.T. Robertson: "Paul laid his plans as energetically as if Jesus had not promised that he would see Rome"

John Gill: "Though he did not distrust the truth of Christ's words, but most firmly believed them; yet he thought it his duty to make use of the means, which providence had put in his way, for his preservation and safety"


Do the right thing before you.

Sometimes we can think that if we are really trusting in the Lord, then He’s going put this kind of impenetrable bubble of invincibility around us and we don’t have to worry about obvious precautions.

Sometimes we think that if we are really trusting in the Lord, that He’s going to come along with a giant hand and swoop us off our sofa and drop us into that mysterious cubicle somewhere where we are to be employed.


A mother told her young son to go to bed and be sure to say his prayers and ask God to make him a good boy. The boy's father, passing by the bedroom, overheard his son praying: "And make me a good boy if You can; and if You can't, don't worry about it, 'cause I'm having fun the way I am."

Sometimes He wants YOU to take action.


The story goes that a big storm was on the horizon, and the police cars went through the small farming community to warn the citizens to head for high ground. Farmer Bill heard the warning, but decided that he was just going to stay put and trust God. When the rain began to fall, and the water began to rise, the firemen came by in a boat, offering to evacuate Farmer Bill, but he said, "No, I’m going to stay put and trust God." Finally, as Bill had to climb out onto his roof to get away from the raging flood, a helicopter came by offering assistance, but Farmer Bill stayed put. When Bill got to heaven, he was kind of ticked off at God. He said to God, "How come you didn’t rescue me from the flood when I trusted you!" God gently replied, "Bill, I sent a police car, a rescue boat, and a helicopter. What did you expect?"

About three weeks ago, we became aware of a vacant building that might be a possible location for a church. At first I was a little upset at the disruption to our plans. After all, we had been planning on putting up the modular building. I didn’t want to even look too much at the building. But as I prayed about it, I remembered how for three and a half years we’ve been praying in the Men’s Prayer Meeting for that "building" out there. And I didn’t want to miss what seemed like a possible prospect. So we pursued the prospect, and have come to find out that the cost is way over our heads, so the door is closed. Do I regret looking into it? Not at all. I would have always wondered what might have happened.

:19 the chief captain took him by the hand

I get the idea that Paul’s nephew was a young kid, and Claudius Lysias was a nice guy.

:23 Make ready …

Paul is escorted from Jerusalem at 9:00 at night to make a journey through the treacherous hills of Judea with 470 Roman soldiers to protect him.

:24 bring him safe unto Felix the governor.

Felix – no, he wasn’t a cat. He’s the Roman governor over the land of Judea. As we’ll find out next week, he’s a cruel, slimy snake of a man.

:27 then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman.

Claudius Lysias is bending the truth a little. He didn’t learn Paul was a Roman until after he had rescued him. He also conveniently forgets to mention that he had bound Paul and had ordered him scourged.

:31 brought him by night to Antipatris.

Antipatris - It was a Roman military outpost, about 30 miles from Jerusalem, halfway from Jerusalem to Caesarea.

:33 Who, when they came to Caesarea

We never hear what happened to the forty men who had taken the oath to kill Paul. Did they starve themselves to death?

:34 he asked of what province he was

of what province he was – Roman law required that this question be asked at the opening of a hearing, to make sure that the governor has jurisdiction over the matter. He does.

:35 I will hear thee, said he, when thine accusers are also come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod's judgment hall.

I will hear theediakouomai – to hear one through, hear to the end. Felix will hear the case when the prosecution shows up five days later with their high powered lawyers.

judgment hallpraitorion – One of Herod’s palaces.

Final point

:11 the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.

Lesson #1:

Jesus wants to encourage you.

Be of good cheertharseo – to be of good courage, good cheer; from tharsos – courage, confidence

This is definitely something that Jesus says to people. To the one who was paralyzed:

Matthew 9:2 And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.

When the woman who had been ill for twelve years, a woman who had no hope apart from Jesus, who grasped the hem of His garment and was healed:

Matthew 9:22 But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.

When the disciples had been doing what Jesus had told them to do, to row across the sea, yet were having a terrible time in the storm, and then were frightened by Jesus walking on the water:

Mat 14:27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.

To all of us He says:

Mat 11:28-30 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. {29} Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. {30} For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Lesson #2:

Just witness. Leave the results to Jesus.

Jesus uses two similar, but different words for "testified" (diamarturomai) and "bear witness" (martureo).

We could translate the phrase, "as you have thoroughly witnessed concerning Me in Jerusalem, it is necessary for you to witness in Rome."

Jesus seemed pleased with Paul’s witness in Jerusalem. We might criticize Paul for not being very effective, but Jesus encouraged him. Jesus considered Paul’s witness in Jerusalem a thorough witness.

We can get discouraged at times if we compare ourselves with others.

I was reading the other day about the early beginnings of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, during the revival in the days of the Jesus People Movement. I read how in the first hippie house they started, 21 young guys had accepted the Lord in the first week, and 35 the next week. Later that summer through a converted motel in Riverside, more than 500 came to the Lord. And that was all through a church that three years earlier only had 25 people in it.

Yet what Jesus is concerned about is not whether we have tremendous numbers responding, but whether or not we are being faithful to witness.

In reality, it’s not up to us whether or not they respond. It’s just up to us whether or not they hear the message clearly.

Lesson #3:

He’s not finished with you yet.

Jesus wasn’t just encouraging Paul about his witness in Jerusalem, He was letting him know that He had plans for Paul in Rome as well.

(Phil 1:6 KJV) Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

You may feel as if God’s put you on a shelf and forgotten you. You may feel that you have not been very effective as a Christian. You may feel that you haven’t been a good witness.

But God’s not done with you yet. Get back to being open to God using you once more.