The Accusations In The Sanhedrin Court
Text: Book of Acts Chapter 23
When we left off in our last lesson Paul had been bound by the Roman commander Lysias, in Jerusalem. He would have been tortured by these Romans in a search for the truth but Paul was also a Roman citizen and therefore could not be scourged or tortured without a good cause.
Lysias was determined to know whether Paul was guilty of a religious offense or some civil offense.
Lysias needed to have answers because if news of this riot reached Caesarea where the Roman procurator stayed it could cost Lysias his job or even his life.
Rome would not allow its citizens to come under the jurisdiction of a Jewish court so Lysias called this court to come to him.
So let’s begin:
*****Act 23:1 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.
Paul began his statement by saying up until this day he had lived before God in good conscience.
Paul was not claiming to have always lived in conformity with God’s will.
What Paul was saying was that he had always acted in a manner that was keeping with how he felt God wanted him to conduct himself.
BUT, His understanding of how God wanted him to live had changed when he met Jesus, and believed and was saved.
*****Act 23:2 And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.
Act 23:3 Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?
Act 23:4 And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest?
Act 23:5 Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.
This Ananias could have been the same high priest as at the time of Christ which was 30 years before this day.
This priest was also a political appointee and was a notoriously corrupt and cruel man according to history.
He could not tolerate the arrogance of Paul and ordered those that were seated near him to hit him in the mouth.
Paul immediately told this high priest that God would strike him down and called Ananias a whitewashed wall.
It was common to washed limestone tombs. The purpose behind whitewashing the tomb was to make them highly visible. This prevented the Jews from accidentally touching them and becoming ceremonially unclean.
Though a recently whitewashed tomb might be clean, white, and even ornate it was nonetheless full of dead men’s bones!
The outward appearance could be flattering but inside was death!
It is obvious that the Apostle Paul did not regard this appointed high priest as much of a man and certainly not a godly man.
Let’s see what Jesus had said about these men before he went to the cross.
Mat 23:27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
This Ananias was indeed a hypocrite. Every high priest was expected by God to show honesty and fairness along with compassionate concern for every human being.
Paul’s response showed that though he had respect for the office of high priest but he had no respect for this man Ananias.
History shows that this Ananias was indeed one of the most corrupt men to ever be named high priest.
Paul had not been formally charged with any offense So, Here Paul switch tactics. He no longer tried to tell what happened at the Temple. He began now using his wit and ability to forestall the evil judgment of this group of men.
*****Act 23:6 But when Paul perceived that the 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: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.
Act 23:7 And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided.
Act 23:8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.
We already know that the major religious groups among the Jews in the time of the New Testament were the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
Paul was a devout Pharisee before his salvation but he was also well versed in the ways of the Sadducees.
The Sanhedrin court consisted of both these groups and Paul could tell by the way they dressed which ones were from each group. (Matt 23:5)
The Sadducees were wealthy and were considered the party of the sophisticated Jew.
The Pharisees were more spiritually minded but just as carnal.
Let’s see how they would match up in today’s world.
The Sadducees had abandoned spiritual doctrine.
They denied any resurrection past or future.
They denied the existence of angels and also the spirit world. In other words the Sadducees did not believe in heaven or hell and did not believe in any kind of life after death.
Their world was a world of politics and not religion!
The Pharisees were legalistic and the force in the synagogues, insisting on keeping the law and the traditions, even making up their own laws.
The Pharisees were the smaller of the two groups. They represented hypocrisy and superstition but they still had the support of the people!
It was the desire for political power that gave the Sadducees control of the high priest and they were sometimes called the chief priest.
These two groups were enemies of each other so Paul was quick to use this to his advantage!
*****Act 23:9 And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees’ part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.
These scribes were the scholars of the Law and most of them were Pharisees because the Law meant more to them that it did to the Sadducees.
These are the men who could read, write, and interpret the Law.
These were the secretaries and the chroniclers and they sometimes taught in the schools, in the synagogues and were even considered lawyers who could settle legal disputes in the courts of law, even at the Sanhedrin council.
They quickly found that Paul had broken no law.
*****Act 23:10 And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.
That word "dissension" means that the disputing between the Sadducees and the Pharisees became so fierce and intense that the Roman commander feared that Paul would be injured.
That word "strove" means they were about to use their fists in a real fight.
So once again this chief captain ordered his soldiers to rescue Paul and return him to the safety of the castle.
*****Act 23:11 And the night following 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.
Five times Jesus uses this phrase "be of good cheer".
We know that the number five represents "grace".
Jesus informed Paul that his work in Jerusalem was completed!
He also told Paul he would not die in Jerusalem that he would actually bear witness of Him in Rome.
There can be no doubt that this brought great comfort to Paul.
Many things can trouble God’s righteous people but some way or another the Lord can deliver them out of them all.
The Lord Jesus Christ knows that, we His servants will suffer with Him, but if possible He would have us all cheerful and very conscious of His presence with us at all times.
There is not one thing that men on this earth can do that can change the plan of God!
Paul was more secure this day than he ever realized in all his life!
*****Act 23:12 And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.
Act 23:13 And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy.
Act 23:14 And 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.
Paul’s life had been in danger from the very beginning of his ministry.
The Jews had tried to kill them on his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion.
The Jews drove him out of Antioch in Pisidia.
They threatened to stone him in Iconium.
And Paul was stoned in Lustra.
The Jews tried to have Paul arrested in Corinth.
There was a plot to kill Paul in Ephesus and it is possible that these Jews now in Jerusalem could have been those same Asian Jews of Ephesus.
That phrase "bound themselves under a curse" comes from the Greek word which is based on the word "anathema".
Under Jewish law failure to complete this oath could result in invoking the judgment of God!
BUT, these 40 men needed the assistance of the chief priest and the Jewish elders in order to be successful.
40 men could not have defeated the Roman Garrison!
*****Act 23:15 Now therefore ye with the council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you to morrow, as though ye would enquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him.
We can see that these certain Jews hated the Apostle Paul so much that they were willing to cause problems with Rome. They were willing to ambush any detachment of soldiers that brought Paul to that meeting place and kill Paul.
*****Act 23:16 And when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul.
God had already told Paul that he was going to Rome and that no harm would come to him, so we can readily see the direct involvement of the hand of God.
This is the only place in the Bible that we see a mention of Paul’s sister and her son!
There is no mention of when this sister had moved to Jerusalem nor how this son of hers learned about this conspiracy against his uncle.
This information was provided by the Holy Ghost and we need only accepted as the truth.
It is very possible that since Paul was not actually a prisoner but was held more or less in protective custody that he could be visited by his family and friends.
*****Act 23:17 Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him, and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain: for he hath a certain thing to tell him.
Act 23:18 So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him, and prayed me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say unto thee.
Act 23:19 Then the chief captain took him by the hand, and went with him aside privately, and asked him, What is that thou hast to tell me?
Act 23:20 And he said, The Jews have agreed to desire thee that thou wouldest bring down Paul to morrow into the council, as though they would enquire somewhat of him more perfectly.
Act 23:21 But do not thou yield unto them: for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, which have bound themselves with an oath, that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him: and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee.
Act 23:22 So the chief captain then let the young man depart, and charged him, See thou tell no man that thou hast shewed these things to me.
In giving this information from this nephew to Paul and the chief Captain, the Jews were not aware that the Romans knew of their plot.
We must remember no Roman soldier could afford to lose a prisoner without it affecting his own life especially that of a Roman citizen.
We have yet to see in the Book of Acts where the Holy Ghost did not speak favorably of the Roman military officers.
Luke writes no record in the Book of Acts of Roman persecution against the church by it’s military.
There is no doubt that the Roman Empire was politically corrupt but for the most part the military were men of quality who respected the laws.
Under these conditions this vow of these 40 men could not be carried out!
The question might arise whether these men proceeded to starve themselves to death. This is very unlikely because the "Mishna", the Jewish writings, provided for the release from vows under such conditions as these.
*****Act 23:23 And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night;
Act 23:24 And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor.
In order to stop any attack by these 40 men this chief captain put together an overwhelming force. He had 200 soldiers 70 Calvary men and another 200 spearman for a total of 470 men.
The third hour of the night would have been about 9 o’clock in the evening and this would have provided greater secrecy and greater protection for Paul.
This chief captain had decided it was time for Paul to be judged by the Roman governor.
*****Act 23:25 And he wrote a letter after this manner:
Act 23:26 Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting.
At this time Felix was governor of Judea and Samaria. He held the position once held by Pontus Pilate.
The capital of the province was still in Caesarea which was 65 miles northwest of Jerusalem. Paul would now go before the Roman governor.
*****Act 23:27 This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them: then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman.
Act 23:28 And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council:
Act 23:29 Whom I perceived to be accused of questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds.
By Roman law, Felix would need to know why a Roman citizen was held in custody without having any charges made against him.
So Lysias addressed the two main points.
1) How Paul became the subject of Roman custody.
2) The fact that Paul was a Roman citizen.
What was not mentioned was the fact that Paul was apprehended by the Jews in one of the Temple courtyards and he did not explain how or when he had learned that Paul was a Roman citizen.
The main thing he wanted Felix to know was that the Jews would have killed Paul if he had not intervened with his troops.
Lysias wanted Felix to know that he considered that the issue at hand pertained entirely to Jewish law but it did not seem to him there was any basis for Paul to be put to death or to even be imprisoned.
*****Act 23:30 And when it was told me how that the Jews laid wait for the man, I sent straightway to thee, and gave commandment to his accusers also to say before thee what they had against him. Farewell.
It was also important for Felix to know that there was a conspiracy against Paul and that a group of Jewish terrorists had planned to attack the Roman garrison.
He also informed Felix that he had directed the Jewish leaders to go before him and make their own case against Paul who would be safer in Caesarea than he was in Jerusalem.
*****Act 23:31 Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul, and brought him by night to Antipatris.
Act 23:32 On the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the castle:
Act 23:33 Who, when they came to Caesarea, and delivered the epistle to the governor, presented Paul also before him.
Antipatris was a city built by Herod the Great in honor of his father Antipater. It was 40 miles from Jerusalem on the way to Caesarea. This trip began about 9:00 pm that night and ended the next day.
At this point the foot soldiers and the spearman returned to Jerusalem and the calvary of 70 men continued to take Paul to the castle and Caesarea and presented Paul and the letter from Lysias to Felix.
*****Act 23:34 And when the governor had read the letter, he asked of what province he was. And when he understood that he was of Cilicia;
Act 23:35 I will hear thee, said he, when thine accusers are also come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s judgment hall.
The reason Felix asked Paul which province he was from was to determine whether he had the authority to hear this case or if he needed to send Paul to another governor.
If Paul had not been a Roman citizen this question would not have even been asked!
It was very important to make certain all Roman citizens were handled properly, especially in the question of capital punishment.
This was not so for any that were not Roman citizens!
We cannot read this passage of scripture without seeing the hand of God in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul.
Jesus had told Paul he would be going to Rome.
Paul had not realized that the Roman government would provide him his transportation and his security.
And, God used the Jews to make certain that His purpose would be fulfilled.
The Jews were determined to kill Paul, but the Romans were just as determined to keep him alive, so we see God prevails over all things.