A Christian Guide to Acts by R. David Pogge

Chapter 11

Paul's Arrest

Acts 21:27 - 23

Section 11.1 - You Got the Wrong Man!

Paul had taken a vow and had his head shaved in accordance with Jewish law just seven days earlier. It should have been obvious that he had taken the vow. Hair doesn’t grow back that fast. But,

When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place.” [Acts 21:27-28]

Of course, Paul never spoke against Moses, the law, or Jerusalem; but the soldiers mistook him for an Egyptian terrorist—despite his bald head.

As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”

“Do you speak Greek?” he replied. “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”

Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”

After receiving the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic:

“Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”

When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.

Then Paul said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished. [Acts 21:37-22:5]

Paul first established his Jewish background to get credibility with his audience. He assured them that he knows and loves Jewish laws and traditions. He wasn’t some outsider who didn’t understand their beliefs who was trying force a new religion on them. He was one of them.

If you want to witness to drug addicts, you need to begin by telling about how you were once addicted, and understand what it is like. That’s why I can’t witness to drug addicts. I was never an addict, so I have no “street cred” with them. Paul had “Jew cred,” so he led with that to get the audience on his side.

Then Paul told them about his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road, and being struck blind. It was his personal testimony. It is hard to argue with personal testimony without calling someone a liar. Personal testimony explains why you believe what you believe.

The conclusion of Paul’s personal testimony came when he delivered the dramatic conclusion.

“A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there.  He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.” [Acts 22:12-13]

The high priest and all the Council could testify to Paul’s devotion to Judaism. A respected Jew had restored his sight. The time had come to tell the unpopular truth. Paul said,

“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”

The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!” [Acts 22:21-22]

The prejudice was just too great to overcome. Because of the ensuing riot, Paul was about to be flogged; but the Roman commander found out Paul was a Roman citizen and could not be legally flogged without a trial. Not only that, the Roman commander could get into big trouble by taking the side of the Jews against a Roman citizen.

The only option the Roman commander had was to take Paul into protective custody, and set up a meeting to find out what crime Paul had allegedly committed.

Section 11.2 - Paul Caused Division

Paul came up with an effective strategy for his defense. The technical term for it is, “Divide and conquer.” If the accusers were totally engaged fighting each other, they could not fight against him.

Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)

There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks. [Acts 23:6-10]

Paul could have tried to compromise, and be as inoffensive as possible. Instead, he picked the most controversial topic he could—the resurrection of someone they had murdered—in order to make it impossible to ignore Paul’s statements.

The Sadducees were liberals. They didn’t believe in resurrection, angels, miracles, or anything that isn’t scientifically verifiable. They were offended because Paul taught conservative Jewish doctrines. The Sadducees didn’t want to give up their comfortable liberal theology, and appear to be unscientific. Paul confronted them with the conservative truth, anyway.

The Pharisees were conservatives—but they had failed to understand the Old Testament prophecies about Gentiles eventually being converted. What Paul was teaching was in perfect agreement with the scriptures, but they weren’t willing to compare their traditional beliefs with what the scriptures actually said, so they refused to accept what Paul was preaching.

Today, there are many Christians who have been taught false doctrines. The truth is plain to read in the Bible—but for some reason they just can’t bring themselves to accept the fact that they have been misled all these years. So, they keep worshipping on Sunday, eating unclean meat, and continue to believe their dead friends and relatives are watching them from Heaven.

Section 11.3 - God’s Plan

The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” [Acts 23:11]

Spiritual success is hard to measure from our limited, human perspective. Paul testified in Jerusalem, and appeared to have failed, and was stuck in jail. But God was apparently satisfied. God didn’t criticize Paul for failing to win the Jewish leaders and Roman authorities in Jerusalem over to Christianity. He didn't say Paul had preached the wrong message. God said, "As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." God wanted Paul to preach the same thing in Rome that he did in Jerusalem, which could be taken as an indication of approval.

God's plan involved a strange way of getting Paul to Rome, including a two-year layover in Caesarea.

The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.” [Acts 23:12-15]

Without going into all the details contained in the rest of Acts Chapter 23, suffice it to say that discovery of this conspiracy caused Paul to be transferred to Caesarea to be tried before Governor Felix, which eventually led to Paul being sent to Rome.

Back to Chapter 10 Table of Contents On to Chapter 12