But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them.
And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”
Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks.
The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
The tribune had seized Paul because of a riot. And Paul appeared to be the reason for it. The tribune had no idea why the Jews were rioting. So he took Paul in for interrogation. He was about to beat the truth out of Paul when he found out Paul was a Roman citizen. This ended the interrogation. But he still needed to find out what was going on. Was a crime committed? If so, what was it? And who did it?
The most reasonable thing to do was have Paul brought before the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the highest Jewish legal body. It was both a judicial and legislative body.
Paul began his defense with a simple declaration of fact. He stated he had lived his life before God with a clear conscience. For that statement Ananias, the high priest, order someone to strike Paul in the mouth. This showed Ananias’ character. He was not concerned with truth. He had no concern for God’s law. His very command was a violation of God’s law. His concern was asserting his authority.
Paul’s response to Ananias’ command was to call him out. He said God would strike Ananias. He called him a whitewashed wall. This was an idiom for hypocrisy. Whitewash was used to paint the outside of tombs. The outside was clean but the inside was dead. Paul was calling Ananias two-faced.
Paul pointed out Ananias’ command violated God’s law. This command was evidence Ananias did not care about the law. He cared about his position. Paul recognized Ananias for who he was. He was a petty man with power. A petty man who was willing to abuse his power.
Paul was then called out for showing disrespect to the high priest. Paul immediately backed down. He quoted for Exodus 22:28. This text defines a form of blasphemy. Paul was aware he came close to crossing the line. He backed off out of respect for the law.
This should serve as a reminder to us. We live in a volatile political climate. It is not uncommon to hear slanderous comments about whoever is in power. Clinton, Bush, Obama, or Trump, it does not matter. God’s law says we are not to speak ill of our rulers.
But let’s back up and look at this in a fuller context. Paul said his conscience was clear. Really? Was Paul’s conscience clear? No. He said in 1 Corinthians 15:9 he was the least of the apostles. Why? He was guilty of persecuting the church. Christ’s grace covered his sin. But his conscience still accused him. What Paul meant was he always did what he thought God commanded. When he persecuted the church he thought he was doing God’s will. God told him otherwise. (Acts 9:4-6)
Let’s remind ourselves who Paul was. Paul was a Pharisee. (v6) He was a persecutor of the church. (Act 8:3) Paul went to the high priest authorization to imprison Christians in Damascus. (Acts 9:1) the day before this he made the statement the entire Sanhedrin could vouch for him. They knew him. He knew them. They knew he persecuted the church. (Acts 22:4-5). He had lived in Jerusalem since childhood. He had one of the best educations possible. (Acts 22:3) How could he not know Ananias was not the high priest?
In the Old Testament, the high priest served for life. There was one notable exception. Solomon deposed the high priest Abiathar and appointed Zadok (1 Kings 2:35 and 1 Chronicles 24:2-3). But other than that the high priest was a high priest for life.
Rome found it easiest to rule through established civil governments. But they wanted the “right” people in offices. So they appointed them. They made sure the men in these offices served their interests. Herod the Great appointed no less than six high priests. Other Roman rulers appointed the men they wanted as high priests. John 18:13 indicates the changing of the high priest was frequent. In fact, a casual reading one would think Rome appointed a new high priest every year. Paul had been away from Jerusalem. So that would explain why Paul did not recognize Ananias as the high priest. He may have remembered him. He may have remembered him as a jerk.
Ananias was the son of Nebedaeus. He was a brutal and violent man. He ruled as a high priest from 48-AD 59. He was assassinated early in the war with Rome (a.d. 66-70).
Paul recognized there were two groups present. These were Pharisees and Sadducees. These groups had very different theologies. The Sadducees were the liberal theologians of the day. They did not believe in angels or spirits. But the key point here was they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.
Paul uses the division between the two to his benefit. He engaged in an honest lie. Paul was preaching the resurrection of Jesus. The result of the resurrection was God now offered forgiveness of sins to the Gentiles. Gentile inclusion was the cause of the riot. So while it was true the resurrection was the formal cause of Paul’s trial. It was not the immediate cause. Paul was honest. But he slanted it to his benefit.
The mention of the hope of the resurrection brought the Pharisees to his defense. The Sadducees could not let that stand. Because, according to them, there is no such thing as the resurrection of the dead.
Paul’s declaration of the resurrection caused the Pharisees to come to his defense. “We find nothing wrong with this man.” Sometimes God sends defenders among our enemies. Well, the Sadducees could not let that state and they argued against it. The disagreement was so strong it turned violent.
Once the Sanhedrin turned violent the tribune sent the soldier to rescue Paul. Paul was a Roman citizen and his prisoner. The tribune was responsible for Paul’s safety.
At this point, I cannot help but have some sympathy for the tribune. All he was trying to do was find out what was going on. Yet every time he did there was a riot.
Paul was in a mess. If the tribune released him, the Jews would kill him. Either the mob would kill him. Or the Jewish leaders would kill him. While it was unpleasant, his safest place was a roman jail.
But the Lord came to him that night and reassured him. He was not going to die. He was going to get an all-expense-paid trip to Rome.