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Acts 23

Thursday Evening Bible Study

March 27, 2014


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On the day of Pentecost, the church was born. It began with the Holy Spirit filling the believers. As the apostles preached about Jesus, the church began to grow.

By chapter seven, the church was beginning to experience persecution. Stephen was the first one to die for his faith. One of the main men behind the persecution was a man named Saul. But when Saul headed for the city of Damascus to pursue the Christians there, he was knocked off his horse by a bright light and he met Jesus. Saul is more well known by his Roman name, Paul.

By chapter 10, the gospel began to reach even the Gentiles, starting with a Roman Centurion named Cornelius.

In chapter 13, we began a new section of Acts as we began to focus on the ministry of Paul.

Play Missionary Journeys map clip

Paul’s first missionary journey took him from Antioch of Syria, through the area of Galatia.

Paul’s second missionary journey took him past Galatia, into Greece, then back through Jerusalem and on to Antioch.

We are now on Paul’s third missionary journey, very similar to the second, except he’s now in Jerusalem.

While Paul was in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, a riot breaks out in the Temple, and the Jews try to seize Paul and put him to death.

The issue that is causing the riot has to do with the Gentiles.

Some of the Jewish Christians had heard rumors that Paul had been teaching the Jews who lived around the world that they no longer needed to keep the Law of Moses, that they could live like Gentiles.

He had not.
Paul taught what the Jewish believing church in Jerusalem taught – that salvation comes through believing in God’s grace. This is true for Jew and Gentile.
Jews don’t have to stop being Jews, but their salvation was never based on how well they kept the Law of Moses.

Some of the unbelieving Jews thought that Paul had even brought a Gentile into the Temple because they had seen him walking around town with a Gentile.

He had not.

The truth was that Paul was in the Temple completing a very Jewish ceremony, the Nazirite vow. Apparently Paul had taken the vow himself, and he was also paying the fees involved for four other Jewish believers.

The Romans stepped in to take Paul away from the crowd, but Paul was allowed first to speak to the crowd.  Paul spoke in Hebrew, and the Romans didn’t understand what he was saying.

Paul told the crowd how he came to believe in Jesus as the Christ, but when Paul started to tell them that Jesus had sent him to preach to the Gentiles, the crowd went crazy again.

Then the Romans take Paul into the Antonio Fortress.  They are about to beat him to make him tell what made the crowd so angry when Paul lets them know that he is a Roman citizen.

The Romans realize they can’t legally beat Paul, but they can’t let him go either or else the crowd might revolt.
They call for the Jewish Sanhedrin to come the next day and tell them why Paul should be arrested.

23:1-10 Paul before the Sanhedrin

:1 Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.”

:1 looking earnestlyatenizo – 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.

It could be he’s trying to size up these men who have gathered to accuse him.

:2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth.

:2 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 priest 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 got 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 Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?”

:3 you whitewashed wall

This is a wall that is made pretty on the outside with a white coat of paint.  Paul is calling him a hypocrite.

:4 And those who stood by said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?”

:5 Then Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ”

:5 I did not know … he was the high priest

Some suggest that Paul’s bad eyesight kept him from recognizing the high priest. 

It could be he simply didn’t know who was the high priest at the time.

It could also be that Paul is being a bit sarcastic – like, “He sure doesn’t act like a high priest…”

Paul is quoting

(Exodus 22:28 NKJV) “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.

Pay attention though – Paul is apologizing.

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.”
Jesus had a similar situation when He stood on trial before the other “Annas” and was questioned by him.
(John 18:22-23 NKJV) —22 And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, “Do You answer the high priest like that?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?”

Jesus handled the situation much better.  He didn’t mock the high priest, but He simply pointed out the truth.  But then, He is Jesus.

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. 
(Philippians 1:6 NKJV) being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;

God will keep working on us until the day that we are with Jesus.

But until then, we are still growing.

:6 But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!”

:7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided.

:8 For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.

:6 concerning the hope and resurrection

The actual reason the crowd had tried to kill Paul was because they thought he had brought a Gentile into the Temple.

But when Paul sees that he has a group of both Pharisees and Sadducees before him, he decides to bring up an issue that actually underlies everything (the resurrection of Jesus), an issue that will provoke some sympathy among the Pharisees, but will also upset the Sadducees.

The Pharisees were the more theologically conservative of the two groups.

They believed in the authority of the entire Old Testament Scriptures.
They believed in the miraculous, including the resurrection.

The Sadducees were the more theologically liberal of the two.

They only believed the first five books of the Bible were authoritative.
They did not believe in miracles, or the resurrection.
The priests (and high priests) tended to be Sadducees.

:9 Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.”

:10 Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks.

:10 dissensionstasis – a standing, station, state; an insurrection; strife, insurrection

:10 there arose a great dissension

Paul had struck a nerve.

The arguing got so fierce that the commander (who wouldn’t have understood their arguing in Hebrew) thought they would end up tearing Paul to pieces.

Since Paul was a Roman, the commander had a responsibility to protect Paul.

23:11-22 Plot against Paul

:11 But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”

:11 Be of good cheer, Paul

You have to be careful as you read this to not think that Paul was some sort of cocky fellow who wasn’t afraid of nobody.

The only reason I can think of that Jesus would appear to Paul and say these things is because Paul must have been terrified.


You are not alone

Paul had a similar experience when he was in Corinth and began to experience some trouble.
(Acts 18:9–10 NKJV) —9 Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.”

Paul was afraid, and Jesus encouraged him.

Paul will have this experience again on the way to Rome when his ship is caught in a horrible storm and has been adrift “many days”.  Paul spoke to the other passengers:
(Acts 27:23–24 NKJV) —23 For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, 24 saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’
You will see a hint of this toward the end of his life when he writes to Timothy:
(2 Timothy 4:16–17 NKJV) —16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. 17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.
There are times in life when it seems that we are all alone and life is heading for a tragic ending.
Sometimes that simply isn’t true.  Sometimes there are people that care very much about us, but we get so caught up in our distress and depression that we just don’t see the help around us.
There may be times when we are indeed alone.  Yet even then, God is with us.
David knew times like this.
(1 Samuel 30:6 NKJV) Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.
David wrote,
(Psalm 27:10 NKJV) When my father and my mother forsake me, Then the Lord will take care of me.
Isaiah wrote,
(Isaiah 49:15–16 NKJV) —15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you. 16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.
When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were thrown into the fiery furnace, they were not alone.  Nebuchadnezzar said…
(Daniel 3:25 NKJV) “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”
When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, he wasn’t alone.  He said,
(Daniel 6:22 NKJV) My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you.”
Isaiah wrote,
(Isaiah 43:2 NKJV) When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.
You are not alone beloved.  You just aren’t.

:11 as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem

There are some who felt that Paul was being disobedient by going to Jerusalem when he had been warned so many times about the trouble that would face him there.

I believe Paul was doing exactly what the Lord had asked him to do – to give a witness about Jesus in Jerusalem.

This phrase verifies that Paul was on track with God’s plan for his life.

:11 you must also bear witness at Rome

Paul’s life isn’t over just yet.

Jesus still has things for him to do.  We get a glimpse into …


God’s guidance

Paul had written to the Romans just a few months earlier when he had been visiting Corinth:
(Romans 1:13–15 NKJV) —13 Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. 14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. 15 So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.
Toward the end of his letter, he reiterated his desire to visit Rome:
(Romans 15:23–33 NKJV) —23 But now no longer having a place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come to you, 24 whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while. 25 But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. 26 For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. 27 It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. 28 Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain. 29 But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ. 30 Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, 31 that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you. 33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
Paul had longed for a day when he could go to Rome and preach the gospel.
It would appear that the “longing” came from God.
David wrote,

(Psalm 37:4 NKJV) Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

Jesus now confirms to Paul that he will indeed go to Rome.
It just might not be the way he had planned on going to Rome, but he’ll make it there.

But he won’t be using his normal travel agent, he’ll be a prisoner of Rome.

It also won’t be in the timing that Paul had expected.

He will be spending quite a bit of time in prison first in Caesarea before being transferred to Rome.

:12 And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.

:13 Now there were more than forty who had formed this conspiracy.

:14 They came to the chief priests and elders, and said, “We have bound ourselves under a great oath that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul.

:15 Now you, therefore, together with the council, suggest to the commander that he be brought down to you tomorrow, as though you were going to make further inquiries concerning him; but we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”

:12 neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul


Intensely Wrong

These forty men are going to enter into a “fast” where they will not eat any food until Paul is dead.
Fasting is something people do when they want to get serious with God about something.
When David’s young infant became sick

(2 Samuel 12:16 NKJV) David therefore pleaded with God for the child, and David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground.

When Jehoshaphat was faced with a huge invading army…

(2 Chronicles 20:3–4 NKJV) —3 And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4 So Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.

Jesus hinted that fasting was something that could enhance the power of a person’s prayers, such as when He cast a demon out of a child…
(Matthew 17:21 NKJV) However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”

I believe the power behind fasting is that we are learning to deny our fleshly appetites and learn to focus our hearts on God.  Not an easy thing to do.

Yet sometimes the concept of “fasting” is abused or misused.
When Saul was chasing the Philistines…

(1 Samuel 14:24 NKJV) …for Saul had placed the people under oath, saying, “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.” So none of the people tasted food.

Saul’s son Jonathan saw this “fast” for what it was:

(1 Samuel 14:29 NKJV) But Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land…”

Saul’s “fast” looked religious, but it only made his warriors too weak to fight.

When Jezebel plotted to steal Naboth’s vineyard.

(1 Kings 21:9–10 NKJV) —9 She wrote in the letters, saying, Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth with high honor among the people; 10 and seat two men, scoundrels, before him to bear witness against him, saying, You have blasphemed God and the king. Then take him out, and stone him, that he may die.

Making the people “fast” would make them think that God was behind what was happening.

In Acts, these men have taken an oath to not eat until they have killed Paul.
They think they are actually doing God’s will.  Jesus had said,

(John 16:2 NKJV) They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.

Sometimes we can make the mistake of thinking that “intensity” means “right”.  We can think that because someone is “intense” in what they believe that it must be right.  They can simply be “intensely wrong”.
Paul wrote about some of the Jews…

(Romans 10:2 NKJV) For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

:16 So when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their ambush, he went and entered the barracks and told Paul.

We find out that Paul has a sister and a nephew.

:17 Then Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, “Take this young man to the commander, for he has something to tell him.”

:18 So he took him and brought him to the commander and said, “Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to bring this young man to you. He has something to say to you.”

:19 Then the commander took him by the hand, went aside, and asked privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?”

I find it endearing that the commander takes nephew by the hand.  I wonder how old the nephew was.

:20 And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask that you bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more fully about him.

:21 But do not yield to them, for more than forty of them lie in wait for him, men who have bound themselves by an oath that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him; and now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you.”

:22 So the commander let the young man depart, and commanded him, “Tell no one that you have revealed these things to me.”

The commander doesn’t want word to get out that they know about the plot.

23:23-35 Sent to Caesarea

:23 And he called for two centurions, saying, “Prepare two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at the third hour of the night;

:24 and provide mounts to set Paul on, and bring him safely to Felix the governor.”

:23 Prepare two hundred soldiers …

The commander is going to send Paul with quite an armed escort.

40 Jewish commandos aren’t going to risk taking on a force this size.

:23 at the third hour of the night

Around 9:00 pm.

:24 provide mounts to set Paul on

Paul is going to get to ride a horse as well.

:25 He wrote a letter in the following manner:

The commander is going to send a letter along with Paul explaining why Paul is being sent to him.

:26 Claudius Lysias, To the most excellent governor Felix: Greetings.

:26 Claudius Lysias

This is the name of the commander that has been working with Paul.

:26 governor Felix

This is not Felix the cat, but Felix the governor.

He was the Roman procurator of Judea (A.D. 52 to probably 58) with headquarters in Caesarea.

:27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them. Coming with the troops I rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman.

:27 having learned that he was a Roman

The commander is stretching the truth a bit.

He “rescued” Paul to keep a riot from happening, but he didn’t learn that Paul was a Roman until AFTER he had put Paul in chains and was about to have him whipped.

It looks better if the governor just thinks that Paul had been rescued because he was a Roman citizen.

:28 And when I wanted to know the reason they accused him, I brought him before their council.

:29 I found out that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but had nothing charged against him deserving of death or chains.

:30 And when it was told me that the Jews lay in wait for the man, I sent him immediately to you, and also commanded his accusers to state before you the charges against him. Farewell.

:29 nothing …deserving of death or chains

The commander could have simply set Paul free, but there is still the issue of the accusations from the highest Jewish leaders, and he dare not offend them too much.

This threat against Paul’s life has kept Paul from getting through the entire trial.

It’s now being placed in Felix’s hands.

:31 Then the soldiers, as they were commanded, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris.

:31 Antipatris

Play Jerusalem to Caesarea map clip

Antipatris was a military outpost, forty miles down the hill from Jerusalem.
It wouldn’t be as bad for Paul and the horsemen, but the four hundred soldiers and spearmen are on foot, marching to Antipatris.
It will be another 30 miles across the coastal plain to Caesarea from Antipatris.

:32 The next day they left the horsemen to go on with him, and returned to the barracks.

:33 When they came to Caesarea and had delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him.

We never hear from the hungry guys who want to kill Paul.  Perhaps they all starved themselves to death.

:34 And when the governor had read it, he asked what province he was from. And when he understood that he was from Cilicia,

:35 he said, “I will hear you when your accusers also have come.” And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.

:34 he asked what province he was from

Roman law required that this question be asked at the opening of a hearing, as part of the interrogation to make sure that the governor has jurisdiction over the matter.  Apparently there could have been a choice as to where the case was tried.  It could have been tried in Tarsus or at Caesarea.  Felix apparently doesn’t want to offend the Jews by making them travel to Tarsus to try the case.

:35 Herod’s Praetorium

This would have been the palace in Caesarea built by Herod the Great.

It would have had cells in it for prisoners.

The palace in Caesarea was built out over the water.

The archaeologists have found a tile floor dating back to Paul’s time indicating that one particular room was used by the soldiers for interrogating prisoners.

If time, play “Herod’s Palace Caesarea” clip.

Praetoriumpraitorion – the palace in which the governor or procurator of a province resided, to which use the Romans were accustomed to appropriate the palaces already existing, and formerly dwelt in by kings or princes; at Jerusalem it was a magnificent palace which Herod the Great had built for himself, and which the Roman procurators seemed to have occupied whenever they came from Caesarea to Jerusalem to transact public business