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Acts 23

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

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Verses 1-35

Chapter 23

And so Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day ( Acts 23:1 ).

Paul was indeed a remarkable man. As Paul is writing to the Philippian church and sharing with them the natural advantages that he had before he accepted Jesus Christ as far as having a righteous standing before God by works, he said, "Those things which were gain to me," talking about the fact that he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Pharisee, and he said, "and concerning the keeping of the law, I was blameless." Quite a remarkable man. To be able to say I have had always a good conscience before God up until this point. Now, I can't make that kind of a statement. Paul was really some kind of a fellow to be able to state . . . and I don't know how many of you could make that kind of a statement; I've always had a good conscience before God up until this point, up till this day. The high priest didn't believe him.

Ananias commanded those that were standing by him to hit him in the mouth. And Paul said unto him, God will smite you, you whitewashed wall ( Acts 23:2-3 ):

Jesus made reference to the Pharisees as whitewashed sepulchers. The Jews were very careful about touching a dead body or anything that had touched a dead body. For according to the Jewish law, to touch a dead body or anything that had touched a dead body would make you unclean, and you would not be able to go into the temple to worship God until you had gone through a ceremonial cleansing. And this ceremonial cleansing had to be done in running water.

Our last trip over to Israel, we had gone down into the spring of Gihon and the people were looking down the bottom of the shaft at the spring of Gihon there in the Kidron valley, and as we were there and talking about the spring and the cave that went from the spring of Gihon over to the pool of Siloam, some 1700 feet by the King Hezekiah and all, there was this young Jewish fellow with his black robes and black hat and curls and all who came into the spring. He was wanting to bathe in order to make himself ceremonially clean so he could go and pray at the Western Wall. And he got very impatient with us and our group taking so long looking at the spring, so he started disrobing. And so he could get in the water, and you got to dip in running water in order that it might make you clean. We got the message and got out of there as he was getting into the water.

But it's just one of those things to become clean so you can worship in the temple, you've got to go through this ceremony of washing in running water. So they didn't want to touch a dead body or anything that was touching a dead body or near a dead body and therefore, when they would put up the tombstones, they would always paint them with whitewash so that people would see them and be careful not to touch them. So they would whitewash them so people wouldn't touch them accidentally.

And so Paul said, "You're just a whitewashed wall. You're unclean; you've got death." He lost his cool, really, and just didn't really turn the other cheek, but he said, "God will smite you, you whitewashed wall." Paul was upset because:

you're sitting here to judge me concerning the law, and yet you have commanded me to be smitten contrary to the law? ( Acts 23:3 )

It was unlawful to just hit the prisoner during interrogation. So Paul was upset. Here a guy is supposed to be a judge of the law and he's violating the law himself, and it just snapped in Paul and so he flared and called him the whitewashed wall.

Interestingly enough, in two years God did smite old Ananias, his whitewashed wall; he was assassinated within two years of this time.

And they that stood by said ( Acts 23:4 ),

They were probably shocked. They said,

Revilest thou the high priest? ( Acts 23:4 )

This perhaps is an indication that Paul did have eye trouble, because Paul said,

I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people ( Acts 23:5 ).

There are other indications that Paul did have eye problems. This is thought by many to have been his thorn in the flesh, "the minister of Satan buffeting him". He, writing his Galatian letter, said, "You had such love for me. Some of you would have, if possible, given me your own eyes" ( Galatians 4:15 ). And it could be a very direct reference to severe eye problems. So according to some of the early stories, Paul was a short, bony, little Jew with constant running eyes from his eye problems, squinting, with a very large angular nose. I don't care what he looks like. I love the guy. Oh, what a mind.

Isaac Watts was a short, little fellow, less than five feet tall. And yet, probably one of the greatest minds of England. He was always sickly, Isaac Watts, just a short, sickly little fellow. And that is why he wrote, "Were I so tall to reach the pole or span the ocean with my hand. I must be measured by my soul, for the mind is the standard of a man." You see, he didn't have much of a physical prowess, but oh, what a mental prowess this man had.

Paul the apostle, not much to look at physically, but spiritually he's beautiful. And so he's probably squinting, "I didn't know that was the high priest. Sorry about that, fellow, because the Bible says I'm not supposed to revile the ruler. Sorry about that."

Now when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, and the son of a Pharisee: and of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question today. And when he had said this, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angels, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both. And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose, and they strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let's not fight against God. And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest they would have torn Paul to pieces, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, to bring him into the castle ( Acts 23:6-10 ).

So again, Paul's endeavor to bear witness ends in riot. His lifelong dream and ambition to preach the Gospel to the Jews, he felt he could be successful. It was an absolute, total, miserable failure. Both endeavors ended in riot.

There are some who perceive this as a very clever move on Paul's part to bring a division among his accusers. They look at it as a clever, clever scheme by Paul to pit the Sadducees against the Pharisees, so while they are all fighting, he can slip out under the table and get out and leave the whole room going at each other. That's possibly so. I personally don't believe it. I believe that Paul was intending to preach the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the Pharisees. And so he brings up the fact, "I'm a Pharisee." Again, seeking to identify. "And it's because I believe in the resurrection that I've been brought here." And I believe that he wanted to go on and preach to those Pharisees the truth of the resurrection through Jesus Christ. But before he had that chance, the whole thing exploded and he had to be taken by force from among them before they tore him to pieces.

Paul must have been extremely discouraged, brought back to the Antonial Fortress, placed back into protective custody of the Roman government. As night began to fall, Paul must have been extremely discouraged sitting there, not knowing what the future held. Only aware of his failure to fulfill his lifelong dream to bring salvation to his brothers according to the flesh.

Paul had such an intense love for the Jews, that he said in his Roman epistles that he could wish himself accursed from God for his brethren's sake according to the flesh. He testified of his great love for them. He had had a yearning to preach to them and finally the opportunity came, perhaps forced by Paul, but nonetheless, that was his big moment. And it ended in disaster.

Here you're confident that you're able to do something. You're so sure, "If I just got a chance, I just haven't had the chance. If I just had a chance. Give me the chance." You're a halfback, and you know that you could run through that line and outrun the backfield and you could score. "Oh, let me have the ball; let me carry the ball." Every time you go back to the huddle you're telling the quarterback, "I want to carry it, I want to carry it. Give me a chance, give me a chance." So he finally calls the play. Your number, you get the chance. Quarterback receives the ball from center, hands off to you, you start through the line and one of the big tackles grab you, strips the ball, you fumble, the other team recovers. The coach pulls you out. You're sitting on a bench. "My big moment; I blew it."

Discouraged, dejected, Paul sat there. In that time of dejection and discouragement, the Lord came and stood by him. How beautiful. How beautiful.

And the Lord said, Be of good cheer, Paul ( Acts 23:11 ):

The word in Greek has been translated in another place, "Be of good courage." Jesus said this on many occasions, and it might be a little interesting study for you to go back and see the various places where Jesus said, "Be of good cheer, be of good courage." When the disciples were in the ship trying to go across the other side, and Jesus came walking on the water and they were frightened, they thought they were seeing a ghost, He said, "Be of good courage." You guys are scared to death. "Be of good courage; it's I" ( Matthew 14:27 ).

"Paul, be of good courage." Shows that he was discouraged. He probably thought, "This is it; this is the end. I'm no good. I can't do anything for God. I finally got my chance and I just, why did I say Gentile? Why did I blow my cool? Call the high priest a whitewashed wall. What's wrong with me? If I had not said Gentile, if I had just done this, if I just said that." Oh, how easy it is to sink in the quagmire of the why's and the if's of life, as we go back and try to change what is. But all it can do is take us deeper into that slough of despair. Paul was sinking, and so the Lord came and stood by him. "Be of good cheer, Paul, be of good courage."

for as you have testified of me in Jerusalem ( Acts 23:11 ),

"Alright, Paul, you've done it. You've had your chance and you testified of me in Jerusalem." Now the Lord isn't making light of it. The Lord is acknowledging it. The Lord is not condemning Paul. The Lord doesn't join Paul in his why's and if's. He didn't say, "Paul, why did you lose your cool, man? Paul, how could you have been so stupid as to mention Gentiles. You know their attitude towards Gentiles." He didn't come in condemning Paul. He came in commending him, which is so true of Jesus.

How is it that we always seem to picture Jesus as condemning us. Probably because of all the preachers we've heard in the past. I know that that's true in my own case. Man, I've been condemned by so many preachers during my whole lifetime. The finger was always pointing at me. And so, I, in my mind, just associated that with Jesus and I figured Jesus was constantly condemning me for good reason. But one day I read, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" ( Romans 8:1 ). And I read where Jesus said, "I did not come to condemn the world, but that the world through Me might be saved. And he that believeth is not condemned" ( John 3:17 , John 3:18 ). And then I read Paul's question, "Who is he that condemneth?" And I read his answer, "Not Jesus, for He died, yea rather, is risen again, and is even at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for me" ( Romans 8:34 ). He's not my condemner; He's my intercessor. And my whole life changed. My relationship with Jesus changed completely when I found out that He was there to lift me up instead of to push me down. He was there to draw me in instead of push me out. He was there to lift me up. How thankful I am for Jesus.

He stood by Paul and He said, "Be of good courage, Paul: for as you have testified of Me in Jerusalem . . . " And He acknowledged, "Paul, you have testified of Me here; you've given them the testimony."

so must you also bear witness of me in Rome ( Acts 23:11 ).

"Rome? Lord, did You say Rome? Alright!" Because when Paul began this whole journey back in Ephesus, taking off first from Macedonia and then to Greece to collect the offerings from the churches that he might bring them to the poor saints in Jerusalem, as he was leaving Ephesus he said, "I am going to head off this way because," he said, "I want to get to Jerusalem before the feast of the Passover." And he said, "And I must also see Rome." He was expressing there a deep desire in his heart, "I want to see Rome." Paul was always challenged by the centers of the world, by the population centers and by the cultural centers. "If I can only bear witness of Jesus in Rome." And Jesus said, "Be of good cheer, Paul, you've testified of me here in Jerusalem, now you've got to bear witness of Me in Rome." "Rome?" The new courage, the new hope, the new faith, the new calling. Back on the road. The new zeal, the new drive. Ready to go again.

It's always comforting when the Lord sets out a destination for us, because we know that nothing can deter us until we reach that destination. There were a lot of things that come in Paul's path before he gets to Rome as we'll find out this next week. One of them in the next verse.

And when it was day, there were certain of the Jews that banded together, and bound themselves under a curse ( Acts 23:12 ),

What they do is say, "May God curse us if we don't accomplish this task." So they bind themselves with this curse. "God curse us if we don't do it." And so, they bound themselves under the curse.

saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul ( Acts 23:12 ).

They really were out to get him.

And they were more than forty which entered into this conspiracy. And they came to the chief priests and the elders ( Acts 23:13-14 ),

Who evidently weren't that honorable of people.

and they said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul. Now we want you with the council to signify to the chief captain that he bring Paul down to you to morrow, as though you would enquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, before he ever gets here, will pounce on him and we're ready to kill him. Now Paul's sister's son ( Acts 23:14-16 )

This is the only mention of any relatives of Paul in the scriptures, but his nephew, his sister's son,

heard of this plot to ambush him, and so he entered into the castle, and told Paul ( Acts 23:16 ).

Remember, the Lord said to Paul, "You must bear witness of Me in Rome." Because the Lord said that, you can be sure Paul's going to bear witness in Rome. The word of the Lord has to come to pass. The Lord speaks with that advantage of foreknowledge, or what they call precognition today, so that when the Lord said, "You must bear witness of Me in Rome," Paul will surely get to Rome. Now here's an obstacle. No little obstacle, forty guys taking this curse upon themselves, not going to eat or drink till they kill him.

God works His supernatural ways often in the natural. I was talking with a pastor this week who had come in to just sit down and share some time together in the Word and exploring some of the things of God. And I said to him, "It's very important that we as Christians learn to discover how that the supernatural works in natural ways. The danger many times is not to recognize the work of God because it seems so natural. But in reality, it is God's work; therefore, it is supernatural. But sometimes people are so spiritually dull that they don't recognize the supernatural unless there is some kind of spectacular phenomena. But a person who is keenly attuned to spiritual things will learn to see God and recognize the hand of God in very natural circumstances. And we must not look for God only in some kind of spectacular phenomena, but begin to look for Him in the very natural things. For God works His supernatural works in very natural ways."

And so it seems quite natural that this little boy listening to these men talk, and they're talking about my uncle Paul, and so he listens to their plot. I see the supernatural in that. God has to protect Paul from the plot, so he plants this little kid. And who knows what the little kid was doing when suddenly he got the idea to run over and play with his little friend. And when he got over to his little friend's house, his dad was in there with a bunch of guys and here they were plotting, talking about, "We'll get him; we don't need . . . " And by what method God got that little kid where he heard it, I don't know. But it was supernatural, and yet it seems so natural.

So he came and he warned Paul.

Paul called one of the centurions, and he said, Take this little boy to the captain: for he has some things to tell him. So he took him, brought him to the chief captain, and he said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him ( Acts 23:17-18 ).

The centurion brought him in and he said,

Paul called me and he asked me to bring this little boy to you, who has something to say unto you. So the chief captain took him by the hand, and he went aside privately with him, and he said, What is it that you need to tell me? And he said, The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring down Paul to-morrow to the council, because they are going to pretend that they want to enquire somewhat of him more perfectly. But don't yield to their request: for they're lying in wait, about forty men, which have bound themselves with an oath, that they're not going to eat or drink until they have killed him: and so now they're going to be coming real quick for a promise from you to bring him down. So the chief captain then let the young man depart, and he charged him and he said, Don't tell anybody that you have showed me these things. So he called to him two centurions, and he said, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen, at the third hour of the night; And provide them with animals, that they may set Paul on them, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor. And he wrote a letter after this manner: Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix I send greetings. This man was taken of the Jews, and would have been killed by them: and I came with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman. And when I would have known the cause why they were accusing him, I brought him forth into their council: And I perceived that all they were doing is accusing him of questions about their law, but have laid no charges against him that are worthy of death or imprisonment. And when it was told me how that the Jews were ready to ambush the man, I sent him straightway to thee, and I gave commandment to his accusers also to say before you what they have against him. Farewell. Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul, and brought him by night to Antipatris ( Acts 23:18-31 ).

From Jerusalem to Caesarea is a journey of about sixty miles, of which some forty miles are through mountain country where the Jews lived and would have been easy to ambush Paul. From Antipatris, that is at the foot of the Jerusalem mountains, and from there to Caesarea is just flatland and be difficult to ambush someone in that area. So, "Paul," the Lord says, "You got to go to Rome." And he starts off in a royal way with an escort of four hundred and seventy soldiers. Seventy cavalry men and there are two hundred spearmen and two hundred foot soldiers, infantry troops that are accompanying Paul out of Rome, the forty miles to Antipatris where the foot soldiers and the spearmen leave and the cavalry men take Paul on then from Antipatris to Caesarea that he might be tried before Felix.

This fellow Felix, before whom Paul was to be tried, was at one time a slave. He had a brother Pallus, and Pallus was one of Nero's favorite persons. His brother Pallus interceded with Nero, and Nero freed Felix from his slavery. Through the continued intercession of his brother Pallus, Nero made him the only slave to become a governor in the Roman Empire up to that point. He was the first slave who became a governor.

However, he was a very crude person. He was corrupt. And Tachitus the historian said he governed like a slave. Felix had three wives in quick succession. We do not know the name of his first wife, the second was the granddaughter to Cleopatra and Anthony, whom he divorced and married finally Druscilla, who was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I. At this time, Felix had been reigning as governor over the province for five years. Very corrupt reign. He was to reign for two more years before being deposed and banished by the Roman government because of his corruption. So this is the man before whom Paul must appear now to make his next defense.

When they came to Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor, and they presented Paul also before him. And when the governor had read the letter, he asked what province Paul was from. And he answered Cilicia; And he said, I will hear thee, when your accusers are also come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod's judgment hall ( Acts 23:33-35 ).

Herod had built a palace in Caesarea, so Paul's stay wasn't too bad there in Caesarea. It's a beautiful Mediterranean port. He was there in Herod's palace, the judgment hall that was made by Herod there. Herod made a fabulous city; the ruins of Herod's period in Caesarea are awesome. The hippodrome, the stadium, and those ruins that date back to Herod's time are absolutely awesome there in Caesarea. So Paul is now a prisoner in Herod's palace in Caesarea to await this crew who come down next week in our lesson and make their accusation, having hired this sharp attorney who is a silver-tongue groggier.

So next week let's see if we can finish the book of Acts. That's your assignment, and we'll see how far we can go.

I believe that we're really on the verge of seeing another great marvelous move of God. I really feel that God is desiring to do more, even more than we've already seen, and what we've already seen is just so phenomenal, I can't handle it. But I really feel that God wants to do even more for us, and I want to be open to God. That's my desire. I really don't have any ambitions for greatness or power or notoriety. I just want to do what God wants done. I really feel that God is wanting to do more. I want to be open to whatever God might want to do. So I would just encourage you, fellows, come on out and let's just pray. Let's make ourselves available to God to just see what God might want to do. Maybe He's satisfied with what He has done. I don't think so, but maybe. But that's alright too. Let's give Him a chance anyhow.

I always like to just make myself available to God. "Here I am, Lord, want to do anything? I'm available." It's an exciting life. That life of availability to God. Because you never know what God is going to call upon you to do any given time.

My wife and I were going home from church Thursday night. We got down here to Baker and Adams, and actually what happened was a police car passed us as we were going home. And we were right at the freeway, and this police car came screaming by with lights and siren and the whole thing, and I saw him make a quick U and park there on Baker, so we knew that we were going to come up on whatever was there. There was a car parked there in the intersection and there was a guy lying there on the pavement. And my wife says, "Honey, go see if you can do anything. See if he's alright. He's just lying there." A lot of people run up and gather around. She said, "Go see if you can do anything, Honey." So I started to park, and she said, "Oh, God, help that poor guy." I've never seen such a quick answer to prayer. Before I got there, the guy was standing up and limping off. Real power through prayer.

But you never know what God might have in store. So availability to Him. God bless you. May He give you a good week. And may He use your life and may each of our hearts be open to the Spirit, that God might work in us His supernatural works in supernatural or natural ways, whatever way He sees fit. But that God will just use my life and work through my life His work this week. "

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Acts 23". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/acts-23.html. 2014.
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