Acts 23:12 – 23:35
A. A sinister plot v. 12-15
1. 40 malcontents
Got together and swore a blood oath that Paul was to die in the next 24 hours. Such bloodthirsty behavior on the part of those with a zeal for God is to us unimagineable.
The Greek is, “they anathematized themselves”; that is, they bound themselves by a solemn oath. They invoked a curse on themselves, or devoted themselves to destruction, if they did not do it. Barnes
Members of the Sanhedrin, probably Sadducees since the Pharisees at least temporarily seem to have gone over to Paul’s side.
They came to the chief priests and elders, whose place and office it was to have dissuaded such an abominable murder: For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, Mal. 2:7. And they could not but have been guilty of the blood of St. Paul, had it been shed, who by encouraging the design became accessory unto it. But they had drank blood very largely before now; viz. the blood of St. Stephen, and the blood of our Saviour; and it is no wonder that they thirst for more: such wild beasts, (rather than men), when they have once tasted of blood, are never satisfied with it. But at what a low ebb was religion, when the chief priests themselves combine with assassins! Matthew Poole
3. the deception
“Tell Claudius you need for Paul to come back so you can examine him more thoroughly in order to determine accurately what the charges against him are. We will be waiting to ambush Paul and kill him before he can get to the Sanhedrin.”
How could they lose? They had the sanction of the most powerful Jewish authorities; because of the language barrier, they could keep Roman authorities in the dark regarding their plot. They might pay a heavy price for their success, but if they achieved their objective the cost would be well worth it.
At the same time, how could they keep it quiet? After all, there were likely a minimum of fifty people who knew of the plan and Jerusalem wasn’t that big a town even at feast time. Remember how quickly word spread when this whole ruckus began in the temple – “the whole city was stirred up”; “all Jerusalem was in chaos” Act_21:30-31 Perhaps Luke was using a little bit of hyperbole but the sense still is that a very large mob gathered at the temple in a short space of time.
We must remember that the conspirators were in the dark about verse 11. Contrary to their thinking, there was no way they could win! Against the import of that declaration of our Lord Christ – “you must also testify in Rome”, they were absolutely powerless.
B. The plot uncovered v. 16-22
1. providential placement of Paul’s nephew
He was probably a young boy since later on in the passage Luke tells us Claudius “took him by the hand” (v. 19); he was likely not the sort of person who would cause suspicion among the conspirators. His “experience” was providential – God could have intervened directly, sent an angel to release Paul from prison as he had before, but he sovereignly chose to work his purpose through different means.
We must remember that simply because God uses different means to accomplish his ends, the work and the mercy are not any less the Lord’s.
To co-ordinate these so that they concur to bring about the fulfilment of His will may be a less conspicuous, but is not a less veritable, token of a sovereign Will at work in the world than any miracle is. And in this case how wonderfully separate factors, who think themselves quite independent, are all handled like pawns on a chessboard by Him who ‘makes the wrath of man to praise Him, and girds Himself with the remainder thereof!’ Alexander MacLaren
2. understanding of the right thing to do
It seems he had a well-developed sense of right and wrong as well as being fairly resourceful. He knew what to do with his important knowledge, where to go, how to find Paul and deliver the information.
He followed the Biblical injunction to testify when you have knowledge about a crime (in this case that was planned) Lev_5:1 “When someone sins in any of these ways: If he has seen, heard, or known about something he has witnessed, and did not respond to a public call to testify, he is guilty.” HCSB “If you refuse to testify in court about something you saw or know has happened, you have sinned and can be punished.” CEV
3. a careful hearing
Paul listened to his nephew and believed his message. With considerable presence of mind, he knew what needed to be done, acted decisively and quickly. His visitation of the previous evening gave him peace of mind and calmness of soul in order to cope with his present circumstances.
Our faith should work in us calmness of spirit, clearness of perception of the right thing to do, swift seizing of opportunities. Paul trusted Jesus’ word that he should be safe, whatever dangers threatened, but that trust stimulated his own efforts to provide for his safety. MacLaren
Paul had enough credibility with the centurion that his request was granted for the nephew to carry the message to Claudius. Claudius also had ears to hear what was planned, take it seriously, and act on the information he was given.
4. a stern warning
Claudius shows prudence here, warning the boy to keep quiet. Two reasons come to mind – the safety of Paul’s nephew, and the safety of Claudius’ plan. Right now Claudius has the advantage but if that becomes known by the conspirators he will lose it and be forced to play defense.
C. Preemptive action v. 23-30
1. call the cavalry!
Claudius was determined not to be surprised or overwhelmed; he probably thought and rightly so that even those who had committed to a blood oath would not try to carry out their plan against 10:1 odds when defeat was certain. Nearly 500 well-armed and equipped Roman Legionaires, 70 of them on horseback, could certainly deal with 40 or 50 renegades.
Soldiers (stratiōtas), horsemen (hippeis), spearmen (dexiolabous). The three varieties of troops in a Roman army like the cohort of Lysias (Page). The stratiōtai were the heavy-armed legionaries, the hippeis belonged to every legion, the dexiolaboi were light-armed supplementary troops who carried a lance in the right hand (dexios, right, lambanō, to take). RWP
2. arrange transportation
Claudius’ consideration for Paul shows in his provision of a mount (probably a donkey and not a warhorse) for him to ride. The journey to Caesarea was about 65 miles; taken in two stages – to Antipatris during the night (about 40 miles), then a stop to rest soldiers and animals, then finish the journey to Caesarea. To travel that distance by forced march would have been more than Paul could accomplish.
3. write a letter
a formal letter of explanation to the procurator Felix, portraying himself in a favorable light (v.27), Paul as innocent of any serious charge (v. 28), describing the need for such a hasty journey at night (v.30). Although Claudius was basically a considerate, reasonably competent military officer, he has little regard for spiritual things, especially ultimate questions.
And I pray the reader yet further to observe, with what contempt he speaks of the accusations brought against Paul, which he called questions of their law. The resurrection of the dead, and a world to come, which Paul was called in question for, was, in this poor heathen’s view, things of no moment. Reader! think of your mercies in Christ. Since the Son of God brought life and immortality to light through his Gospel, oh! how precious the thought, that these things are no longer questionable. Oh! what unspeakable mercies hath Jesus brought his church! And, oh! what distinguishing grace, when a soul is made the happy partaker of Christ and and all his mercies with him? Hawker, Poor Man’s Commentary
D. Safe conduct v. 31-35
1. out of immediate danger
The ambush was planned for the next day; Claudius moved decisively and proactively to move Paul out of harm’s way at night to take the advantage away from the conspirators. Perhaps, also, another practical reason: during the night they could make much faster progress traveling, especially such a large contingent, than they could during the day.
2. the rest of the journey
After a rest the cavalry took Paul the rest of the way to Caesarea while the foot soldiers returned to Jerusalem. At that point Paul was safe from the immediate threat on his life represented by the Jewish conspirators.
3. delivered to the governor
The end of the road for Paul’s escort – once the letter and the prisoner were handed over to Roman authorities in Caesarea, they were free to return to Jerusalem.
4. “protective custody”
Paul’s continued incarceration was more for the protection of Felix and the Roman authorities in the province than for Paul’s safety. From the Roman perspective, there was no legal cause for keeping Paul in prison – remember Claudius’ take on the whole situation stated in his letter to Felix: “I found out that the accusations were about disputed matters in their law, and that there was no charge that merited death or chains.” Act_23:29
So why was Paul still in prison (and to be there for another two+ years)? From our perspective we see that was an integral part of God’s sovereign plan to put Paul not just in Rome, but in the precise place of ministry there that God had already assigned to him.
E. Christ at work
- Since Christ has purposed to build his church, his kingdom ( Mat_16:18 ), the forward progress of it is certain.
How does Christ providentially supervise and administer the building of his church? By using whatever resources he pleases (and often the ones we least expect) to accomplish his ends.
A converted Jew (Paul), a former terrorist (Christian)
His nephew (Unknown)
A Roman centurion (Pagan military/political man)
An armed escort – 200 soldiers, 70 cavalry, 200 spearmen (More pagan military)
A letter to the governor, Felix (Pagan political leader)
The Lamb Wins! The last chapter of the last book has been written, we know the ending, and Christ wins!
God’s resources are greater than the devil’s. There were forty murderers in quest of Paul’s life, but God raised nearly five hundred brave soldiers to protect him. More are they that are for us than they that are against us ( 2Ki_6:16-17 ). Truly, the angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear him and delivers them ( Psa_34:7 ). David Thomas, Acts of the Apostles