Missteps don’t have to derail God’s plans for you
Last week we left Paul about to appear before the Jewish high counsel. He was brought was to after telling a group of already angry Jews that Jesus had commissioned him to go to the Gentiles since the Jews would not hear him.
That same Roman commander was about to have Paul interrogated through physical harm in order to determine why he was the focus of the Jewish mob’s hatred.
Paul picked that moment to mentioned his Roman Citizenship.
In a type of “washing his hands of the issue” the commander organized a hearing before the Jewish council which is where we start off this morning in Acts 23.
Acts 23:1-5, “(1) Paul looked intently at the Sanhedrin and said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience until this day.” (2) But the high priest Ananias ordered those who were standing next to him to strike him on the mouth. (3) Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! You are sitting there judging me according to the law, and in violation of the law are you ordering me to be struck?” (4) And those standing nearby said, “Do you dare revile God’s high priest?” (5) “I did not know, brothers,” Paul said, “that it was the high priest. For it is written, You must not speak evil of a ruler of your people.”
A little on this council – it was nothing less than the official Jewish Sanhedrin of which Paul, back when he was known as Saul, quite likely used to be a part.
They were kind of like a Jewish version of a “congress”.
The fact that the Roman Commander was able to demand this hearing tells us a lot about the corruption and hellenizing influence the Romans had over the inner workings of the Jewish leadership.
Typically, it was VERY unRoman to be involved in religious matters. However, it was not beyond the scope of Rome to use political power and money to unduly influence, manipulate and even control religious leadership. As such, history tells us that the serving “high priest” at this time, namely Ananias, had literally been appointed by Rome and NOT through the natural means of succession as was demanded by the Law of Moses.
In other words, this Ananias was a Roman pawn and collaborator. As such he had no interest in God, the things of God or in honoring Jewish law or custom.
Guzik on this matter quotes from the likes of Josephus, Longnecker & Bruce by saying,
The Ananias who was high priest at this time was a man who did no honor to the office. He was well known for his greed; the ancient Jewish historian Josephus tells of how Ananias stole for himself the tithes that belonged to the common priests.
“He did not scruple to use violence and assassination to further his interests.” (Bruce) Because of his pro-Roman politics, he was, however, brutally killed by Jewish nationalists.
‘God will strike you’: “Paul’s words, however, were more prophetic than he realized. Ananias’ final days – despite all his scheming and bribes – were lived as a hunted animal and ended at the hands of his own people.” (Longenecker)
The real issue with this passage is that, on the surface of it, Paul seems to acknowledge the authority of the council and the High Priest which technically was only in power until Jesus took the literal, official and eternal role Himself. As such, these people were little more than figureheads. So one has to wonder why Paul responds as he does.
There are several possibilities but none of them so far as I know can be confirmed.
First of all, Paul claims to not know Ananias was the high priest. This is only marginally possible, but not in any way remotely plausible. Though Paul had in fact been away for years and positions such as these changed frequently, it is still unlike Paul to go into a situation fully informed.
Furthermore, a high priest is easily distinguished from others by both their wardrobe AND the seat they occupy at a formal gathering such as this.
To explain this conundrum some have suggested that Paul had poor eyesight, something which has some historical credibility to it, but even still this is unlikely. According to the text he obviously saw clearly enough to know that the one who hit him did so because the High Priest gestured to him to do it.
Then there is the apparent submission to and agreement with the entire institution as if it had not passed away once Jesus was made permanent High Priest of God’s house.
I have only four, somewhat viable reasons for this.
~ The first, which is the one possessing the least amount of eloquence is that Paul was simply being sarcastic…and regarding Ananias being high priest thus is possible.it would be tantamount to us saying… “oh really?”
The subtle nuance would have been lost on an outsider but the passage Paul quotes from links speaking lightly of God with cursing those He placed in power. The sarcasm would have called into question his appointment as high priest by God.
~ The second, was that Paul was simply attempting to ingratiate himself to the group since they still had genuine power.
~ Third is that he was taking his cue from David who, though he knew God had replaced Saul with himself as king, was unwilling to dishonor Saul until God removed him from the throne. In like fashion Paul may have honored Ananias as high priest because God in His sovereign power had not removed him.
~ Fourth is that Paul genuinely believed the power of the council and High Priest were still in some measure being used by God since he clearly took no issue with the Christian Jews continuing in their Jewish traditions, some of which required the priesthood.
In any case, Paul whether in reality, in practicality or in pretense through sarcasm acknowledged the position and power of this council and the high priest and that is all we need say about the matter.
One thing is clear – Paul knew for certain and fully acknowledged that Jesus was the One and only true high priest over God’s house.
David had prophesied it and the writer of Hebrews interpreted it. Jesus was going to be a priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
The quote often repeated in Hebrews is from Psalm 110:4,
“(4) The LORD has sworn an oath and will not take it back: “Forever, You are a priest like Melchizedek.”
It is explained in Hebrews and confirms our earlier point that Ananias was NO true High Priest for he did not become one by succession, but by Roman appointment.
Heb. 5:1-10, “(1) For every high priest taken from men is appointed in service to God for the people, to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. (2) He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness. (3) Because of this, he must make a sin offering for himself as well as for the people.
(4) No one takes this honor on himself; instead, a person is called by God, just as Aaron was. (5) In the same way, the Messiah did not exalt Himself to become a high priest, but the One Who said to Him, ‘You are My Son; today I have become Your Father,’ (6) also said in another passage, ‘You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek’.
(7) During His earthly life, He offered prayers and appeals, with loud cries and tears, to the One Who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. (8) Though a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. (9) After He was perfected, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, (10) and He was declared by God a high priest “in the order of Melchizedek.”
Heb. 6:16-20,“(16) For men swear by something greater than themselves, and for them a confirming oath ends every dispute. (17) Because God wanted to show His unchangeable purpose even more clearly to the heirs of the promise, He guaranteed it with an oath, (18) so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us.
(19) We have this hope–like a sure and firm anchor of the soul–that enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. (20) Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner, because He has become a “high priest FOREVER in the order of Melchizedek.”
Heb. 7:1-28, “(1) For this Melchizedek—King of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham and blessed him as he returned from defeating the kings, (2) and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything;
first, his name means “king of righteousness,” then also, “king of Salem,” meaning “king of peace“;
(3) without father, mother, or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God–remains a priest forever.
(4) Now consider how great this man was, to whom even Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the plunder! (5) The sons of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment according to the law to collect a tenth from the people–that is, from their brothers–though they have also descended from Abraham.
(6) But one without this lineage collected tithes from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises.
(7) Without a doubt, the inferior is blessed by the superior.
(8) In the one case, men who will die receive tithes; but in the other case, Scripture testifies that he lives. (9) And in a sense Levi himself, who receives tithes, has paid tithes through Abraham, (10) for he was still within his forefather when Melchizedek met him.
(11) If, then, perfection came through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there for another priest to arise in the order of Melchizedek, and not to be described as being in the order of Aaron?
(12) For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change of law as well. (13) For the One about Whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, from which no one has served at the altar.
(14) Now it is evident that our Lord came from Judah, and about that tribe Moses said nothing concerning priests. (15) And this becomes clearer if another priest like Melchizedek arises, (16) Who doesn’t become a priest based on a legal command concerning physical descent but based on the power of an indestructible life.
(17) For it has been testified: ‘You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek’. (18) So the previous commandment is annulled because it was weak and unprofitable (19) (for the law perfected nothing), but a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
(20) None of this happened without an oath. For others became priests without an oath, (21) but He with an oath made by the One Who said to Him: ‘The Lord has sworn, and He will not change His mind, You are a priest forever’.
(22) So Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.
(23) Now many have become Levitical priests, since they are prevented by death from remaining in office. (24) But because He remains forever, He holds His priesthood permanently.
(25) Therefore He is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them. (26) For this is the kind of High Priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.
(27) He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do–first for their own sins, then for those of the people. He did this once for all when He offered Himself.
(28) For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak, but the promise of the oath, which came after the law, appoints a Son, Who has been perfected forever.”
Though it is unlikely that Paul wrote the book of Hebrews on many grounds, it is highly unlikely that he did not know these things all too well himself and agree with them fully.
In fact, given the great likelihood that Hebrews was written BEFORE the destruction of the temple, it is quite possible that whoever wrote the book may have been inspired, in part, by these events in Paul’s life to address Hebrew Christians to encourage and aid them against the misunderstandings and outright lies of the uncompleted, pagan Jews which Paul was here appearing before.
Now as we continue in Acts 23, picking back up in verse 6, we see Paul employing common sense in his defense of the gospel before the Sanhedrin, which was one of our take-aways from last week.
Acts 23:6-35, “(6) Then when Paul noticed that part of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, he shouted out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead!”
(7) When he said this, an argument began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided.
(8) (For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)
(9) There was a great commotion, and some experts in the law from the party of the Pharisees stood up and protested strongly,
“We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”
(10) When the argument became so great the commanding officer feared that they would tear Paul to pieces, he ordered the detachment to go down, take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.
(11) The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Have courage, for just as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
Notice Jesus did NOT say, even as you have been a testimony OF Me in Jerusalem – nor did He say, even as you were to testify of Me in Jerusalem, so you must in Rome. He simply said, even as you did, you must.
“(12) When morning came, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink anything until they had killed Paul.
(13) There were more than forty of them who formed this conspiracy. (14) They went to the chief priests and the elders and said,
“We have bound ourselves with a solemn oath not to partake of anything until we have killed Paul. (15) So now you and the council request the commanding officer to bring him down to you, as if you were going to determine his case by conducting a more thorough inquiry. We are ready to kill him before he comes near this place.”
(16) But when the son of Paul’s sister heard about the ambush, he came and entered the barracks and told Paul.
(17) Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commanding officer, for he has something to report to him.”
(18) So the centurion took him and brought him to the commanding officer and said, “The prisoner Paul called me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.”
(19) The commanding officer took him by the hand, withdrew privately, and asked, “What is it that you want to report to me?”
(20) He replied, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as if they were going to inquire more thoroughly about him. (21) So do not let them persuade you to do this, because more than forty of them are lying in ambush for him. They have bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink anything until they have killed him, and now they are ready, waiting for you to agree to their request.”
(22) Then the commanding officer sent the young man away, directing him, “Tell no one that you have reported these things to me.”
(23) Then he summoned two of the centurions and said, “Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea along with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen by nine o’clock tonight, (24) and provide mounts for Paul to ride so that he may be brought safely to Felix the governor.”
“(25) He wrote a letter that went like this:
‘(26) ClaudiusLysias to His Excellency GovernorFelix, greetings. (27) This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, when I came up with the detachment and rescued him, because I had learned that he was a Roman citizen. – not true, he learned this AFTER they went down to stop the riot and though Paul was rescued as a result, he was actually arrested. This was a “padding” of the report to place himself more solidly in the Governor’s good graces and to appear even more diligent than he was – though we know he was in fact quite diligent.
(28) Since I wanted to know what charge they were accusing him of, I brought him down to their council.
(29) I found he was accused with reference to controversial questions about their law, but no charge against him deserved death or imprisonment.
(30) When I was informed there would be a plot against this man, I sent him to you at once, also ordering his accusers to state their charges against him before you.’
“(31) So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him to Antipatris during the night.
(32) The next day they let the horsemen go on with him, and they returned to the barracks.
(33) When the horsemen came to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him.
(34) When the governor had read the letter, he asked what province he was from. When he learned that he was from Cilicia, (35) he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive too.”
Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.”
Acts 24:1-27, “(1) After five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and an attorney named Tertullus, and they brought formal charges against Paul to the governor.
(2) When Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying, “We have experienced a lengthy time of peace through your rule, and reforms are being made in this nation through your foresight. (3) Most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this everywhere and in every way with all gratitude. (4) But so that I may not delay you any further, I beg you to hear us briefly with your customary graciousness.
(5) For we have found this man to be a troublemaker, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.
(6) He even tried to desecrate the temple, so we arrested him.
(8) When you examine him yourself, you will be able to learn from him about all these things we are accusing him of doing.”
(9) The Jews also joined in the verbal attack, claiming that these things were true.
(10) When the governor gestured for him to speak, Paul replied, “Because I know that you have been a judge over this nation for many years, I confidently make my defense.
(11) As you can verify for yourself, not more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship.
(12) They did not find me arguing with anyone or stirring up a crowd in the temple courts or in the synagogues or throughout the city, (13) nor can they prove to you the things they are accusing me of doing.
(14) But I confess this to you, that I worship the God of our ancestors according to the Way (which they call a sect), believing everything that is according to the law and that is written in the prophets.
(15) I have a hope in God (a hope that these men themselves accept too) that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.
(16) This is the reason I do my best to always have a clear conscience toward God and toward people.
(17) After several years I came to bring to my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings, (18) which I was doing when they found me in the temple, ritually purified, without a crowd or a disturbance.
(19) But there are some Jews from the province of Asia who should be here before you and bring charges, if they have anything against me. (20) Or these men here should tell what crime they found me guilty of when I stood before the council, (21) other than this one thing I shouted out while I stood before them: ‘I am on trial before you today concerning the resurrection of the dead.’”
(22) Then Felix, who understood the facts concerning the Way more accurately, adjourned their hearing, saying,
“When Lysias the commanding officer comes down, I will decide your case.”
(23) He ordered the centurion to guard Paul, but to let him have some freedom, and not to prevent any of his friends from meeting his needs.
(24) Some days later, when Felix arrived with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.
(25) While Paul was discussing righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for now, and when I have an opportunity, I will send for you.”
(26) At the same time he was also hoping that Paul would give him money, and for this reason he sent for Paul as often as possible and talked with him.
(27) After two years had passed, Porcius Festus succeeded Felix, and because he wanted to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.”
NOW we have all the chess players on the board to help narrow down when these events took place.
You see, at the beginning of this account Felix was the governor of Judea, but two years after the beginning of these events Felix dies and is replaced by Festus as governor of Judea.
This helps us tremendously in our timing of the events from chapters 21-28 because while we do not know specifically when this transfer of authority took place, we do know that Festus had to be in power by at least 59AD. This is because the Emperor Nero had Festus’ image minted on Judean coins by this time.
According to the account we just read in Acts we know that Paul had been in this whole mess for about 2 years and 12 days, thus making his initial trip to Jerusalem around 57AD.
As I said, Nero was Emperor at this time, having become so in 54AD. There is no biblical record of Paul appearing before him, though he was supposed to do so as we will read later in Acts. So we know that at this point in the story, it is 59AD.
This means that 8 or 9 of the 13 letters Paul authored in the New Testament he had already written by now.
- Galatians (48 AD)
- First Thessalonians (49–51AD)
- Second Thessalonians (51–52AD)
- First Corinthians (53–54AD)
- Second Corinthians (55–56AD)
- Romans (55–57AD)
- Philippians (57–59AD)
- Philemon (57–59AD)
- Colossians (58- 62AD)