When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. Now therefore you, along with the council, give notice to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”
Now the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to tell him.” So he took him and brought him to the tribune and said, “Paul the prisoner called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, as he has something to say to you.” The tribune took him by the hand, and going aside asked him privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more closely about him. But do not be persuaded by them, for more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him, who have bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they have killed him. And now they are ready, waiting for your consent.” So the tribune dismissed the young man, charging him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of these things.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
Breaking the chapters up as I have can cause us to lose track of the sequence. That means the phrase “when it was day,” loses context. So, let me recap. Day 1, some Jews found Paul in the temple. They accused him of bringing Gentiles into the Temple. That started a riot. They were about to kill Paul when the Roman tribune rescued him. Day 2, The tribune tried to find out what Paul had done and a fight broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees. Again the tribune rescued Paul. That night God tells Paul he is going to Rome. “When it was day” is the start of the third day.
More than forty men bound themselves by oath to kill Paul. In this oath, they swear to not eat or drink until they kill him. This tells us several things about them. First, they were very sure of their ability to kill Paul. Second, they were foolish men. To kill Paul they would have to kill or attack Roman soldiers. These were trained and experienced fighters. Plus Rome would not take an attack on their soldiers well. They would consider it an act of insurrection. Rome handled insurrections with brutal retaliation. Even if the men were successful it would cost them their lives and perhaps the lives of their families.
Every time I read this account I wonder what happened to these men. We know they were never able to kill Paul. Did they die of starvation and thirst? Or did they say, oh well I guess since Paul left town we can eat now? The vow was more of a curse. It was not lawful for them to change their minds. Nor could they back out.
These men bound themselves with an oath to kill Paul. They acted as if Paul’s life was in their hands. God showed them otherwise. There were not two or three men. There were over forty men. Over forty men had agreed to this oath. More than forty men conspired to commit murder. More than forty men, in the name of God, tried to usurp God’s authority. These were more than forty madmen. Having a lot of people agreeing with you has no bearing on rather or not you are right. True and justice are not determined by vote.
We must admit Paul had done some wicked things. (Acts 8:1, 9:1-2) Paul was worthy of death. He admitted it. But private citizens are not granted the right to execute.
Satan drives men to their own destruction. The sincerity of these men ought to scare us. They believed they were doing right. They believed they were doing God’s will. Did they get this from scripture? No. Did they seek God’s will through prayer and scripture? No. They believed they already knew the answer. Rather than searching the scriptures. They used their own bias. If they had searched scripture they would have seen the scriptures are all about Jesus. Then they would have repented and believed. Instead, they conspired to commit murder.
These men went to the chief priest and the Sanhedrin. They explained their the oath. Does the Sanhedrin try to stop this hideous sin? No! They agree to help. In doing so they prove Paul’s charge in Acts 23:3. They only superficially followed the law.
Let’s stop and think about this example. The office of the high priest was an office established by God. God established it through Moses. The high priest was the head of the Jewish religion. His job was to represent the people before God. Once a year he, and only he, went into the holy of holies. He was the only human on earth allowed into the most sacred place on earth.
The Sanhedrin was the governing body. They advised the high priest. They were both the legislative and judicial branches of the Jewish religion. They were the church council of the day. Both the high priest and the Sanhedrin were opposing God.
Is there anyone like the high priest today? Is there anyone who claims an appointment to their office from God? Do they claim special rights and powers as a result of their office? And is there a body today that advises that person. Is there anyone today who claims to speak for God. Why yes, there is. They claim the power of inerrancy in all matters of faith and practice. That would be the Roman Bishop or Pope and the Roman College of Cardinals.
The blasphemy of the high priest and the Sanhedrin is clear. So why assume a Pope and church councils could not err? We have clear examples in the scripture of that error. The history of the men claiming to speak for God is those men often oppose God.
There are also many protestants who claim to speak for God. Some are big names and some are in the laity. They claim a special and secret revelation. God reveals Himself in the holy scripture. God has spoken and speaks through scripture. Let’s rely on Scripture alone. Sola Scriptura.
Here is the plot. The Sanhedrin was to ask the tribune to have Paul sent to them. The pretext was to conduct a Jewish trial. Roman law allowed it. On the way, these men would attack and kill Paul. They would attack before he got anywhere near the Temple. That way, Rome would not suspect the Sanhedrin’s involvement.
But God’s sovereignty interrupted their plan. God works through ordinary means. Paul’s nephew heard about the plot. He went to the Roman barracks and warns Paul. It was not unusual to have relatives or friends come to visit prisoners. They brought prisoners necessary supplies.
Paul had the boy tell the tribune about the plot. The Roman officers and soldiers became God’s unwitting ministers. God told Paul the night before he was going to Rome. So Paul knew he was to live and serve Christ in Rome.
It is clear the tribune took the conspiracy seriously. Not only did he move Paul out of the city, but he also moved him at night. And he moved Paul under a guard of 470 men. They outnumbered the Jews by 10 to 1. Not only that but 70 of them were mounted. Calvary were the tanks of the day. This heavy infantry and cavalry ensured Paul’s safety.
They delivered Paul to Felix. Felix was the procurator of Judea. Felix was Antonius Felix. He was a freedman of Antonia. Freedmen were slaves who either won or earned their freedom. Antonia was the mother of Emperor Claudius. He became a procurator of Palestine in A.D. 52/53. His administration was notorious for its corruption, cynicism, and cruelty. According to Tacitus, Felix “reveled in cruelty and lust, and wielded the power of a king with the mind of a slave.”
The tribune sends a letter to Felix. He needed to explain why Paul was showing up on his doorstep. Here we learn the tribunes name Claudius Lysias. The letter was self-serving. He made it sound as if he heard a Roman citizen was attacked. And he came to the rescue. The fact is he learned of Paul’s Roman citizenship only as he prepared to have the soldiers whip Paul. (Act 21:37-39; 22:24-29)
The letter has a curious statement, “charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment.” Then why keep Paul a prisoner? There was a presumption of guilt. He had to be guilty of something. People don’t riot for no reason. Oh yes, yes they do.
The tribune’s second part of the letter explains why the tribune sent Paul to Felix. The tribune discovered a plot to kill Paul. So it was unsafe to conduct a trial in Jerusalem. He sent Paul to stand a trial outside Jerusalem. This reduced the chances of an attempted attack on Paul’s life.
The soldiers left with Paul that night. Then traveled to Antipatris. Antipatris was a city in Judea. It was about 35 mi northwest of Jerusalem. It was the halfway point to Caesarea. The next morning the soldiers returned to Jerusalem. The equestrian force continued the journey to Caesarea with Paul.
Once they were in Caesarea they delivered Paul and the letter to Felix. Caesarea was a city on the coast of Palestine south of Mount Carmel. This was not Caesarea Philippi. Felix read the letter and asked Paul what province he was from. He was trying to determine whether he had legal jurisdiction over Paul.
Felix determined he would hear Paul’s case. He ordered Paul held in Herod’s praetorium. Herod’s praetorium was the official residence built by Herod the Great. It became a Roman praetorium or official residence. It contained prisoners’ cells.