THE STORY OF THE EARLY CHURCH
Verses about the Apostles' "TRAVELS and ACTS"
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15.1 PAUL'S ARRIVAL AND CHRISTIAN WELCOME IN JERUSALEM
Acts 21:16-25 - Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and they brought us to the house (in Jerusalem) of Mnason, a native of Cyprus and one of the earliest disciples, with whom we were going to stay. On our arrival at Jerusalem the brothers gave us a very warm welcome. On the following day Paul went with us to visit James, and all the elders were present. (End of the third "We" section. Verse 19 continues ....) When he had greeted them he (Paul) gave them a detailed account of all that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry, and they, on hearing this account, glorified God. Then they said to him, "You know, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews who have become believers (in the 25 years of Paul's Christian life and ministry, and thousands of miles of travel), and that every one of these is a staunch upholder of the Law. They have been told about you - that you teach all Jews who live among the Gentiles to disregard the Law of Moses, and tell them not to circumcise their children nor observe the old customs (there is no evidence Paul persuaded Jewish converts to abandon their traditional practices). What will happen now, for they are simply bound to hear that you have arrived? Now why not follow this suggestion of ours? We have four men here under a vow. Suppose you join them and be purified with them, pay their expenses so that they may have their hair cut short, and then everyone will know there is no truth in the stories about you, but that you yourself observe the Law. ....
- An expensive and public act that would prove Paul's Jewish piety and generosity. As a Jewish Christian, Paul would probably accept this as a way of smoothing his potentially difficult and dangerous stay in Jerusalem -
As for those Gentiles who have believed, we have sent them a letter with our decision that they should abstain from what has been offered to idols, from blood and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality" (as agreed at the Council at Jerusalem ten years earlier in c AD49, Acts 15:24-29, thus confirming that Paul's vow would not effect Gentile converts).
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15.2 UPROAR IN THE TEMPLE; PAUL IS ARRESTED BY THE ROMANS
Acts 21:26-39 - So Paul joined the four men and on the following day, after being purified with them, went into the Temple to give notice of the time when the period of purification would be finished and an offering would be made on behalf of each one of them. The seven days were almost over when the Jews from Asia caught sight of Paul in the Temple. ....
- These may have been Jews from the synagogue of Ephesus in Asia who rejected Paul's message (Acts 19:9), and then plotted to kill him when he tried to leave Greece by sea for Jerusalem (Acts 20:3) -
.... They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, "Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everybody everywhere to despise our people, our Law and this place. Why, he has even brought Greeks into the Temple and he has defiled this holy place!" For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian (one of Paul's companions carrying gifts to the church in Jerusalem) with Paul in the city and they had concluded that Paul had brought him into the Temple. The whole city was stirred by this speech and a mob collected who seized Paul and dragged him outside the Temple, and the doors were slammed behind him.
Paul is rescued by Roman soldiers
They were trying to kill him when a report reached the ears of the colonel (Claudius Lysias) of the regiment that the whole of Jerusalem was in an uproar. Without a moment's delay he took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. When they saw the colonel and the soldiers they stopped beating Paul. The colonel came up to Paul and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he enquired who the man was and what he had been doing. Some of the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since he could not be certain of the facts because of the shouting that was going on, the colonel ordered him to be brought to the barracks. When Paul got to the steps he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob. For the mass of the people followed, shouting, "Kill him!" Just as they were going to take him into the barracks Paul asked the colonel, "May I say something to you?"
"So you know Greek, do you?" the colonel replied. "Aren't you that Egyptian who not long ago raised a riot and led those four thousand assassins into the desert? (Josephus mentions this false prophet who led a group of Zealot "sicarii" or dagger men against Jerusalem, a rebellion put down by procurator Felix).
"I am a Jew," replied Paul. "I am a man of Tarsus, a citizen of that not insignificant city. I ask you to let me speak to the people."
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15.3 PAUL ADDRESSES THE JERUSALEM CROWD; HE IS RESCUED BY THE ROMANS
Acts 21:40; 22:1-2 - On being given permission Paul stood on the steps and made a gesture with his hand to the people. There was a deep hush as he began to speak to them in Hebrew (or Aramaic).
(Chapter 22 .....) "My brothers and my fathers, listen to what I have to say in my own defence."
As soon as they heard him addressing them in Hebrew (or Aramaic) the silence became intense.
- Paul describes in Acts 22:3-21 (Part 46.1) his strict Jewish background, his vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus, and how he had to leave Jerusalem and take the Gospel to the Gentiles:
The consequence of Paul's speech
Acts 22:22-29 - They had listened to him until he said this (... his mission to the Gentiles), but now they raised a great shout, "Kill him, and rid the earth of such a man! He is not fit to live!"
As they were yelling and ripping their clothes and hurling dust into the air, the colonel (Claudius Lysias) gave orders to bring Paul into the barracks and directed that he should be examined by scourging, so that he might discover the reason for such an uproar against him. But when they had strapped him up, Paul spoke to the centurion standing by, "Is it legal for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen, and untried at that?"
On hearing this the centurion went in to the colonel and reported to him, saying, "Do you realise what you were about to do? This man is a Roman citizen!"
Then the colonel himself came up to Paul, and said, "Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?"
And he said, "Yes."
Whereupon the colonel replied, "It cost me a good deal to get my citizenship."
"Ah," replied Paul, "but I was born a citizen."
Then those who had been about to examine him left hurriedly, while even the colonel himself was alarmed at discovering that Paul was a Roman and that he had had him bound.
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15.4 PAUL IS TAKEN BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN
Acts 22:30; 23:1-11 - Next day the colonel, determined to get to the bottom of Paul's accusation by the Jews, released him and ordered the assembly of the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin (under the high priest Ananias, as Paul had been accused of religious offences). Then he took Paul down and placed him in front of them.
Paul again attempts defence
(Chapter 23 .....) Paul looked steadily at the Sanhedrin and spoke to them, "men and brothers, I have lived my life with a perfectly clear conscience before God up to the present day -" Then Ananias the High Priest ordered those who were standing near to strike him in the mouth. At this Paul said to him, "God will strike you, you white-washed wall! How dare you sit there judging me by the Law and give orders for me to be struck, which is clean contrary to the Law?"
Those who stood by said, "Do you mean to insult God's High Priest?"
But Paul said, "My brothers, I did not know that he was the High Priest, for it is written:
'You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people.' (Exodus 22:28)"
Paul seizes his opportunity
Then Paul, realising that part of the council were Sadducees and the other part Pharisees, raised his voice and said to them, "I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees. It is for my hope in the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial!"
At these words an immediate tension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the meeting was divided. For the Sadducees claim that there is no resurrection and that there is neither angel nor spirit, while the Pharisees believe in all three. A great uproar ensued and some of the scribes of the Pharisees' party jumped to their feet and protested violently.
"We find nothing wrong with this man! Suppose some angel or spirit has really spoken to him?"
As the tension mounted the colonel began to fear that Paul would be torn to pieces between them. He therefore ordered his soldiers to come down and rescue him from them and bring him back to the barracks.
God's direct encouragement to Paul
That night the Lord stood by Paul, and said, "Take heart! - for as you have witnessed boldly for me in Jerusalem so you must give your witness to me in Rome."
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15.5 PLOTS TO KILL PAUL; THE ROMANS ESCORT HIM TO CAESAREA
Acts 23:12-35 - Early in the morning the Jews made a conspiracy and bound themselves by a solemn oath that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. Over forty of them were involved in the plot, and they approached the chief priests and elders, and said, "We have bound ourselves by a solemn oath to let nothing pass our lips until we have killed Paul. Now you and the council must make it plain to the colonel that you want him to bring Paul down to you (in Jerusalem), suggesting that you want to examine his case more closely. We shall be standing by ready to kill him before he gets here."
Leakage of information leads to Paul's protection
However, Paul's nephew (of whom nothing more is known) got wind of this plot and he came and found his way into the barracks and told Paul about it. Paul called one of the centurions and said, "Take this young man to the colonel (Claudius Lysias) for he has something to report to him."
So the centurion took him and brought him into the colonel's presence, and said, "The prisoner Paul called me and requested that this young man should be brought to you as he has something to say to you."
The colonel took his hand, and drew him aside (where they could not be overheard), and asked, "What have you got to tell me?"
And he replied, "The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the Sanhedrin tomorrow as though they were going to enquire more carefully into his case. But I beg you not to let them persuade you. For more than forty of them are waiting for him - they have sworn a solemn oath that they will neither eat nor drink until they have killed him. They are all ready at this moment - all they want is for you to give the order."
At this the colonel dismissed the young man with the caution, "Don't let a soul know that you have given me this information."
Then he summoned two of his centurions, and said, "Get two hundred men ready to proceed to Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen (an indication of Paul's apparent importance), by nine o'clock tonight." (Mounts were also to be provided to carry Paul safely to Felix the governor.)
The Roman view of Paul's position
He further wrote a letter to Felix of which this is a copy:
"Claudius Lysias sends greeting to his excellency the governor Felix.
"This man had been seized by the Jews and was on the point of being murdered by them when I arrived with my troops and rescued him, since I had discovered that he was a Roman citizen. Wishing to find out what the accusation was that they were making against him, I had him brought down to their Sanhedrin. There I discovered he was being accused over questions of their laws, and that there was no charge against him which deserved either death or imprisonment. Now, however, that I have received private information of a plot against his life, I have sent him to you without delay. At the same time I have notified his accusers that they must make their charges against him in your presence."
Paul is taken into protective custody
The soldiers, acting on their orders, took Paul and, riding through that night, brought him down to Antipatris. Next day they returned to the barracks, leaving the horsemen to accompany him further. They went into Caesarea and after delivering the letter to the governor, they handed Paul over to him. When the governor had read the letter he asked Paul what province he came from, and on learning that he came from Cilicia, he said, "I will hear your case as soon as your accusers arrive."
Then he ordered him to be kept under guard in Herod's palace.
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15.6 PAUL'S DEFENCE BEFORE THE PROCURATOR FELIX; HIS IMPRISONMENT
Acts 24:1-10a - Five days later Ananias the High Priest came down himself with some of the elders and a barrister by the name of Tertullus. They presented their case against Paul before the governor, and when Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began the prosecution in these words: "We owe it to you personally, your excellency, that we enjoy lasting peace, and we know that it is due to your foresight that the nation enjoys improved conditions of living. At all times, and indeed everywhere, we acknowledge these things with the deepest gratitude. However - for I must not detain you too long - I beg you to give us a brief hearing with your customary kindness. The simple fact is that we have found this man a pestilential disturber of the peace among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazareth sect, and he was on the point of desecrating the Temple when we overcame him (... Paul is now being condemned before the Romans, not as a religious offender, but as a rebel and potential threat to Roman rule). But you yourself will soon discover from the man himself all the facts about which we are accusing him."
Paul is given the chance to defend himself
While Tertullus was speaking the Jews kept joining in, asserting that these were the facts. Then Paul, at a nod from the governor made his reply:
- Paul defends himself confidently before procurator Felix in Acts 24:10b-21 (Part 46.2). He admits to worshipping God "according to the Way", even though it may be a sect in Jewish eyes. But he was in Jerusalem with charitable gifts and worshipping at the Temple according to tradition when he was arrested. He suggests his only offence is to believe in the resurrection of the dead:
Felix defers decision
Acts 24:22-26 Then Felix, who was better acquainted with the Way than most people, adjourned the case and said, "As soon as Colonel Lysias arrives I will give you my decision."
Then he gave orders to the centurion to keep Paul in custody, but to grant him reasonable liberty and allow any of his personal friends (possibly including Luke) to look after his needs.
Felix plays for safety - and hope for personal gain
Some days later Felix arrived with his wife Drusilla, herself a Jewess and sent for Paul, and heard what he had to say about faith in Christ Jesus. But while Paul was talking about goodness, self-control and the judgment that is to come, Felix became alarmed, and said, "You may go for the present. When I find a convenient moment I will send for you again."
At the same time he nursed a secret hope that Paul would pay him money - which is why Paul was frequently summoned to come and talk with him. .....
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15.7 TWO YEARS LATER PAUL APPEARS BEFORE PROCURATOR FESTUS; ANOTHER PLOT, AN "APPEAL TO CAESAR"; FESTUS CONSULTS KING HEROD AGRIPPA II
Acts 24:27; 25:1-22 - However, when two full years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus and, as he wanted to remain in favour with the Jews, he left Paul still a prisoner.
Felix's successor begins his duties with vigour -
(Chapter 25 .....) Three days after Festus had taken over his province he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem. The chief priests and elders of the Jews informed him of the case against Paul and begged him as a special favour to have Paul sent to Jerusalem. They themselves had already made a plot to kill him on the way. But Festus replied that Paul was in custody in Caesarea, and that he himself was going there shortly.
"What you must do," he told them, "is to provide some competent men of your own to go down with me and if there is anything wrong with the man they can present their charges against him."
Festus spent not more than eight or ten days among them at Jerusalem and then went down to Caesarea. On the day after his arrival he took his seat on the bench and ordered Paul to be brought in. As soon as he arrived the Jews from Jerusalem stood up on all sides of him, bringing forward many serious accusations which they were quite unable to substantiate. Paul, in his defence, maintained, "I have committed no offence in any way against the Jewish Law, or against the Temple or against Caesar."
- but is afraid of antagonising the Jews
But Festus, wishing to gain the goodwill of the Jews, spoke direct to Paul, "Are you prepared to go up to Jerusalem and stand your trial over these matters in my presence there?"
But Paul replied, "I am standing in Caesar's court and that is where I should be judged. I have done the Jews no harm, as you very well know. It comes to this: if I were a criminal and had committed some crime which deserved the death penalty, I should not try to evade sentence of death. But as in fact there is no truth in the accusations these men have made, I am not prepared to be used as a means of gaining their favour - I appeal to Caesar!" (... to the emperor Nero - a right granted to all Roman citizens charged with offenses involving the death penalty).
Then Festus, after a conference with his advisers, replied to Paul, "You have appealed to Caesar - then to Caesar you shall go!"
Festus outlines Paul's case to Agrippa
Some days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea on a state visit to Festus. They (Agrippa and Bernice) prolonged their stay for some days and this gave Festus an opportunity of laying Paul's case before the king.
"I have a man," he said, "who was left a prisoner by Felix. When I was in Jerusalem the chief priests and Jewish elders made allegations against him and demanded his conviction! I told them that the Romans were not in the habit of giving anybody up to please anyone, until the accused had had the chance of facing his accusers personally and been given the opportunity of defending himself on the charges made against him. Since these Jews came back here with me, I wasted no time but on the very next day I took my seat on the bench and ordered the man to be brought in. But when his accusers got up to speak they did not charge him with any such crimes as I had anticipated. ....
- In just one sentence in Acts 25:19 following (repeated in Part 46.3) Festus summarises a major claim Paul makes about Jesus ....
(Verse 19 ....) There differences with him were about their own religion and concerning a certain Jesus who had died, but whom Paul claimed to be still alive. (Verse 20 ....) I did not feel qualified to investigate such matters and so I asked the man if he were willing to go to Jerusalem and stand his trial over these matters there. But when he appealed to have his case reserved for the decision of the emperor himself, I ordered him to be kept in custody until such time as I could send him to Caesar."
Then Agrippa said to Festus, "I have been wanting to hear this man myself" (... as Herod Antipas his great-uncle had wanted to see Jesus at his trial nearly 30 years before, Luke 23:8).
"Then you shall hear him tomorrow," replied Festus.
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15.8 A FINAL APPEARANCE BEFORE PROCURATOR FESTUS AND HEROD AGRIPPA II
Acts 25:23-27; 26:1-3 - When the next day came, Agrippa and Bernice proceeded to the audience chamber with great pomp and ceremony, with an escort of military officers and prominent townsmen (... another measure of the interest in Paul and the Gospel). Festus ordered Paul to be brought in and then he spoke: "King Agrippa and all who are present, you see here the man about whom the whole Jewish people both at Jerusalem and in this city have petitioned me. They din it into my ears that he ought not to live any longer, but I for my part discovered nothing that he has done which deserves the death penalty. And since he has appealed to Caesar, I have decided to send him to Rome. Frankly, I have nothing specific to write to the emperor about him, and I have therefore brought him forward before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that from your examination of him there may emerge some charge which I may put in writing. For it seems ridiculous to me to send a prisoner before the emperor without indicating the charges against him."
(Chapter 26 ....) Then Agrippa said to Paul, "You have our permission to speak for yourself."
Paul repeats his story on a state occasion
So Paul, with that characteristic gesture of the hand, began his defence: "King Agrippa, in answering all the charges that the Jews have made against me, I must say how fortunate I consider myself to be in making my defence before you personally today. For I know that you are thoroughly familiar with all the customs and disputes that exist among the Jews. I therefore ask you to listen to me patiently.
- In Acts 26:4-23 (Part 46.4), Paul again describes his Jewish background, his encounter with Jesus, and his mission to the Gentiles -
Festus concludes that Paul's enthusiasm is insanity
Acts 26:24-32 (Verse 24 continues ....) While he was thus defending himself Festus burst out, "You are raving, Paul! All your learning has driven you mad!"
But Paul replied, "I am not mad, your excellency. I speak nothing but sober truth. The king knows of these matters, and I can speak freely before him. I cannot believe that any of these matters has escaped his notice, for it has been no hole-and-corner business. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? But I know that you believe them."
"Much more of this, Paul," returned Agrippa, "and you will be making me a Christian!"
"Ah," returned Paul, "whether it means 'much more' or 'only a little', I would to God that both you and all who can hear me this day might stand where I stand - but without these chains.
The Roman officials consider Paul innocent
Then the king rose to his feet and so did the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them, and when they had retired from the assembly they discussed the matter among themselves and agreed, "This man is doing nothing to deserve either death or imprisonment."
Agrippa remarked to Festus, "He might easily have been discharged if he had not appealed to Caesar."
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