May 14, 2016

 

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

 

Topic #IV: Paul in Caesarea (Chapters 12-28)            

                    

Subtopic F: Paul in Caesarea (23:23-26:32)                                                      

                          

                                                                           

         Lesson: IV.F.1: Paul Escorted to Caesarea (23:23-35)

 

 

 

Acts 23:23-35 (KJV)

 

23 And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night;

24 And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor.

25 And he wrote a letter after this manner:

26 Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting.

27 This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them: then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman.

28 And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council:

29 Whom I perceived to be accused of questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds.

30 And when it was told me how that the Jews laid wait for the man, I sent straightway to thee, and gave commandment to his accusers also to say before thee what they had against him. Farewell.

31 Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul, and brought him by night to Antipatris.

32 On the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the castle:

33 Who, when they came to Caesarea and delivered the epistle to the governor, presented Paul also before him.

34 And when the governor had read the letter, he asked of what province he was. And when he understood that he was of Cilicia;

35 I will hear thee, said he, when thine accusers are also come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod's judgment hall.

 

 

Introduction

 

Lysias decided to send Paul to Caesarea, the seat of the provincial government and the residence of the procurator. The urgent matter requiring Paul’s immediate removal from Jerusalem was the eminent threat from the 40 conspirators. He probably would have made this transfer sooner or later under any circumstances.  The Jews were charging Paul with a capital crime, and only the procurator had jurisdiction over such cases.  Furthermore, Paul was a Roman citizen, and that too placed Paul under the procurator rather than a lesser official such as himself.  As commander of the Jerusalem garrison, his primary responsibility was maintaining peace and order.  The mobs, the plots, all must have convinced him that Paul’s continued presence in Jerusalem was not only a danger to Paul’s own life but a threat to the general peace of the city as well.

 

If Paul had been a private citizen, attempting to travel from Jerusalem to Caesarea (about sixty-five miles) he would have been an easy target for the conspirators.  But God arranged for 470 Roman soldiers to protect him, almost half of the men in the temple garrison!  Once again in his career, Paul was smuggled out of a city under cover of night (Acts 9:25; 17:10). 

 

 

Commentary

23 And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night;

 

Lysias lost no time in sending Paul to Caesarea.  The fact that the military contingent was given orders to depart at nine o’clock at night (“the third hour of the night”) testifies both to the urgency and to his desire to accomplish the transfer as covertly as possible in the face of the ambush threat.  He certainly did not want to have to explain to his superior the assassination of a Roman citizen in his custody.  His concern was also expressed by the sizable number of ₶troops under whose guard Paul was dispatched— 2 centurions, 200 foot soldiers, 70 cavalry and 200 spearmen.  This was nearly half the 1000 troops in the Jerusalem cohort, and more than 10 times the number of conspirators.  The great size of the military escort was not intended to be a tribute to this faithful messenger of Christ.  Rather, it was an expression of the determination of the commander to maintain his reputation with his Roman superiors; if the Jews succeeded in killing Paul, a Roman citizen, then the officer in charge would be required to answer for his laziness.

 

The city gates would be opened to let this military force through and then would close again, making pursuit virtually impossible until the gates opened again in the morning, by which time Paul would be far away from Jerusalem and nearly to Ceasarea.

 

We can well imagine the disappointment of the assassins (thought by some to be †Sicarii) as this strong force clattered out of the fortress and spread out in precise formation heading for the Roman capital.  So much for their vows and plans to murder Paul.  Caesar himself could not have been better protected.

 

 

†The Sicarii were an extremist splinter group of the Jewish Zealots in the decades preceding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70 who heavily opposed the Roman occupation of Judea and attempted to expel the Romans and their partisans from the area. The Sicarii carried sicae, or small daggers, concealed in their cloaks. At public gatherings, they pulled out these daggers to attack Romans and Jewish Roman sympathizers alike, blending into the crowd after the deed to escape detection.

††These were legionaries, the elite soldiers of the Roman army.

 

24 And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor.

 

Mounts were also provided for Paul, but the plural, “provide them beasts,” raises a number of possibilities.  The additional horses may have been for relays or for baggage or, if he was chained to a soldier, for that man as well.  But it could equally mean that Paul had his friends riding with him (24:23)—Luke, perhaps, and Aristarchus, who were certainly with him in Caesarea at a later date (27:1). 

 

 

25 And he wrote a letter after this manner:

 

Lysias then drafted an official letter to the governor.  Such letters were required when transferring a prisoner from one jurisdiction to another.  They generally contained an account of the circumstances of arrest and the charges.  The latter was difficult for Lysias.

 

This is the only example in the New Testament of a secular letter.  However, we probably do not have the letter verbatim.  Luke introduces it with the comment that it went “after this manner,” which probably means he is giving us the sense of it. The original would have been in Latin

 

 

26 Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting.

 

Lysias’s letter begins with the formal threefold salutation of a Greek letter, giving first the sender (Lysias), second the recipient (Felix), and finally the customary word of greeting.  Felix is designated by the general word “governor” and given the respectful title “His Excellency.”

 

 

27 This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them: then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman.

 

After the formalities Lysias’s letter got down to the business at hand, explaining the circumstances of Paul’s arrest.  He stretched the truth a bit to his own advantage—the commander was careful to portray himself as somewhat of a hero, a noble champion of Roman justice and order.  The reader knows already that Lysias seized Paul in the Temple Square and put two chains on him.  Fortunately for Claudius Lysias, Paul did not tattle on him (21:33).  He probably was extremely fearful in case it would be reported to Felix that he had tied up an uncondemned Roman citizen.  It was true that he probably saved Paul from the mob, but he certainly at that point had no knowledge of Paul’s Roman citizenship.

 

Paul’s recent experiences at Jerusalem supports the opinion of many in the Roman government at that time—that of all the provinces in the Roman Empire, Judea was the most volatile and difficult to govern, mostly because of the intense patriotic religious fervor of the Jews.  The apostle would certainly be better off in Caesarea than Jerusalem, since the Jews would not be nearly so likely to cause a disturbance at Roman Caesarea than at Jewish Jerusalem.

 

 

28 And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council:

 

Lysias’s account of the hearing in the Sanhedrin was less biased.  One wonders how he could have understood what was going on, since the whole proceeding was no doubt conducted in Aramaic.  He probably arranged for an interpreter, which was the usual practice in such circumstances.

 

 

29 Whom I perceived to be accused of questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds.

 

He certainly learned enough from the proceeding to realize that the whole debate involved “questions about their religious law” and not any infraction of Roman law—it was not a case for a civil tribunal.  His official report to Felix flatly stated that “there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment.” The picture would not change.  It was the conclusion reached by all the Roman officials right up to Paul’s appeal to Caesar.

 

Acts 23:29 is another of Luke’s “official statements” from Roman officials, proving that Christians were not considered criminals.  The officials in Philippi had almost apologized to Paul (Acts 16:35-40), and Gallio in Corinth had refused to try him (Acts 18:14-15).  In Ephasus, the town clerk told 25,000 people that the Christians were innocent of any crime (Acts 19:40), and now the Roman captain from the temple fortress was writing the same thing.  Later, Festus (Acts 25:24-25) and Herod Agrippa (Acts 26:31-32) would also affirm that Paul should have been set free.  Even the Jewish leaders in Rome had to confess that they had had no official news against Paul (Acts 28:21).

 

 

30 And when it was told me how that the Jews laid wait for the man, I sent straightway to thee, and gave commandment to his accusers also to say before thee what they had against him. Farewell.

 

The final part of Lysias’s letter related the immediate circumstances leading to his transfer of Paul—the ambush plot.  The Tribune added the further note that he had ordered Paul’s accusers to prepare their case for presentation before Felix.  At the writing of the letter he would not yet have done this but surely waited until Paul was at a safe distance from Jerusalem.

 

Luke would not have known the contents of Lysias’s letter, but it may have been read aloud at Paul’s trial, with Luke present.  It should be noted that missing from the letter was any mention of his preparing to have Paul flogged.

 

 

31 Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul, and brought him by night to Antipatris.

 

Verse 31 resumes the narrative, noting that the soldiers carried out Lysias’s orders as commanded (v. 23).  The new information is that they took Paul to Antipatris on the first leg of the journey; Luke implies that they reached the town that same night.  This must have been an all-night forced march for that many people to cover that much ground in that short a time.  Troops were able and trained to undertake all-night marches when necessary, as Josephus and other ancient historians testify.  When military discipline was properly observed, soldiers exercised daily, and were drilled regularly with forced marches of 20 miles at 4 miles an hour; sometimes the drills were closer to 5 miles per hour. 

 

Antipatris was a military station rebuilt and fortified by Herod the Great and named for his father Antipater.  It marked the border between Judea and Samaria and lay about thirty-five miles from Jerusalem, or somewhat more than half the distance from Jerusalem to Caesarea.  It was a natural stopping place for troops making a two-day journey, but it was a rather long march for foot soldiers to make without a stopover.

 

 

32 On the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the castle:

 

 

Some interpreters suggest that the reference to the foot soldiers returning to the barracks should be placed earlier than the arrival at Antipatris.  The picture would then be that the foot soldiers returned to Jerusalem at some point along the way to Antipatris where they had reached a safe distance from the city, leaving the others to go on to Antipatris and the next day to Caesarea.  The second leg of the journey, from Antipatris to Caesarea was a distance of about twenty-five miles through open, mainly Gentile, country (the Plain of Sharon). But of course the possibility still remains that the whole party was mounted.  With the return of the 400 troops, this would also solve the problem of the heavy reduction of the Jerusalem garrison.  However that may have been, it was the cavalry that accompanied Paul the next day for the twenty-five miles to the governor’s headquarters at Caesarea, where they handed over to Felix both their prisoner and Lysias’s official letter.

 

 

33 Who, when they came to Caesarea and delivered the epistle to the governor, presented Paul also before him.

 

Claudius Felix, procurator of Judea from A.D. 52-59, plays a major role in the following chapter of acts.  Knowledge of his background and of general conditions during his administration throws significant light on the Acts narrative.  Felix owed his high position to his brother Pallas, who had considerable influence in the court of the emperor Claudius.  Both brothers were freedmen of the imperial family; Felix being a freedman of the Emperor’s mother, Antonia.  The high procuratorial office granted Felix was something almost unheard of for a former slave and was doubtless secured through his brother’s influence in the imperial court.  That it was considered with disdain in some Roman circles is reflected in Tacitus’s judgment that Felix “wielded royal power with the instincts of a slave”.  He was known for indulging in every lust.  The reference to “royal power” could be related to either his administration or to his family life.  His administration was marked by the rising tide of Jewish nationalism with many insurrections, both political and religious.  All were brutally suppressed by the procurator.  He tended to be arbitrary in his dispensing of justice and totally lacking in understanding of or sympathy for the Jews.  This only heightened the anti-Roman feelings of the Jews and proliferated the freedom movements.  Felix’s ambitions and pretentious nature was nowhere demonstrated more clearly than in his marriages.  He had three wives.  All were princesses.  The first was the granddaughter of Anthony and Cleopatra.  The third was Drusilla, the daughter of Agrippa I (see 24:24).  Felix’s administrative ineptitude was bound to catch up with him sooner or later, and he was finally removed from office for his total mismanagement of a dispute between the Jews and Gentiles of Caesarea (24:27). 

 

The letter was probably carried by one of the centurions that Lysias placed in charge of the troops. The other would have returned to Jerusalem with the foot soldiers. The empire (except perhaps for Egypt) had no postal service except for official government business; most people send letters via persons who were traveling, or (for official imperial business) by the Roman military’s imperial post.

 

The question I have, and perhaps you may be thinking the same thing, “Where is James, the elders, and the Jerusalem church at this time?”  Did they have a sigh of relief that Paul was gone at last?  Who could guarantee that the fanatical zealots, out for Paul’s blood, might not turn now in rage on the church?  It would surely be best; to sit quietly and refrain from championing Paul and drawing unwanted attention to themselves.  And as for Paul’s Gentile companions, well, it would be best, too, if they slipped away from Jerusalem to Caesarea, perhaps (where indeed we again see Luke and Aristarchus later); or maybe they should simply go back home to their own countries.

 

 

34 And when the governor had read the letter, he asked of what province he was. And when he understood that he was of Cilicia;

 

At this point in the narrative, Luke gave no hint about Felix’s shortcomings.  Everything is related in formal, official language to emphasize that Paul’s transfer to Caesarea was very much a protective move on the part of the Roman officials.  Felix’s question about Paul’s native province was aimed at determining whether he had legal jurisdiction over Paul in his role as Judean procurator.  The rules of procedure required that this should be the first question asked.  This little interchange between Felix and Paul reflects criminal law at that time.  The practice had been to try criminals in the province in which their crime was committed, but by the beginning of the second century A.D., and almost certainly earlier, the possibility existed of sending the accused for trial to his own province.  “The point,” then, “of the question put to Paul, in mid-first century, was not to protect the rights of the accused . . .  but to enable the procurator . . .  to avoid a tiresome affair altogether, if he felt inclined, either by expelling an accused person from a province to which he did not belong, or by a refusal of jurisdiction.”

 

During the reign of Claudius, both Judea and Cilicia were under the single provincial administration of the imperial legate of Syria.

 

 

35 I will hear thee, said he, when thine accusers are also come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod's judgment hall.

 

As an official within that administrative unit, Felix determined that it was within his authority to give Paul a formal hearing—“Iwillhearthee,” saidFelix—hewouldhaveafullhearing.  In the meantime Paul was confined to the praetorium; a former palace built by Herod the Great which now served as the Roman headquarters.  This was his real “handing over to the Gentiles” that Agabus had foretold (21:11).  In the story line, “thine accusers” should be the Diaspora Jews from Asia who because of a misunderstanding had charged Paul with defiling the temple by bringing Gentiles into its inner courts which were reserved for Jews (21:27-30).

 

The apostle now appears in the role of one who has presented an appeal for an official “hearing.” This would seem to suggest that he had asserted his Roman citizenship, not merely to escape scourging, but to evade the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin and place himself under the immediate jurisdiction of Rome; and that his transfer to Caesarea may have taken place, not merely to safeguard him from the Jewish plot, but at his own request as a privilege he had the right to claim.

 

Thus Paul arrived back in Caesarea.  Little did he know at the time that he was to stay for two years as a prisoner, his case in limbo and his patience tried to the limit.  His detention was lenient, and he could communicate with his friends.  It is to be hoped that the saints at Caesarea were more hospitable than those at Jerusalem.  We do not know.  We can only see this caged lion impatiently pacing up and down, fretting because of his distressing circumstances, until at last he settled down to dignify his captivity by regarding himself as “a prisoner of Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1).

 

We will find that his accusers were quick to come down to Caesarea.  They didn’t hesitate to follow Paul.  As we move along, I think you will detect that Paul is not defending himself as much as he is witnessing for Christ.  The Lord Jesus had said he would witness before governors and rulers and Kings.  He is being brought before them.  This is God’s method.  Paul is in the will of God, and God is carrying out His purpose. 

 

Are you as impressed as I am with the amazing providence of God in caring for His servant?  “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them (Psalm 34:7).  “Let us trust in God, and be very courageous for the Gospel,” wrote Charles Spurgeon, “and the Lord Himself will screen us from all harm.”

 

God’s people can afford to be daring, in the will of God, because they know their Savior will be dependable and work out His perfect will.  Paul was alone—but not alone!  His Lord was with him and he had nothing to fear.

 

 

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