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“Brethren and fathers, hear you the defence which I now make to you.”
Paul opened his speech courteously, revealing in the terms of his address the Jewish respect for the elderly, and a claimed relationship with his hearers. He and they were fellow-Jews. The mention of ‘fathers’ suggests that he recognised among the crowd, to their shame, men old in years and possibly even well known figures in authority. He requested that they now hear his defence.
Paul Is Arrested And Speaks To The Crowd Giving His Own Testimony. They Reply ‘Away With Him’ (21:31-22:29).
At this point begins the remarkable account of Paul’s imprisonment, trials and treatment at the hands of men in Jerusalem and Caesarea (from Acts 21:31 to Acts 26:32). It could well have been said of him also, ‘you will be delivered into the hands of men’ (Luke 9:44; Luke 24:7). What follows can only really be understood by those who understood the situation in Palestine. Hyrcanus and Antipater had a century before supported Caesar when he was having a difficult time in possessing his empire and as a result the Jews were given special privileges, being looked on as allies rather than just as a conquered people. And the peculiarities of their religion were thus assured to them. Nevertheless the Jews saw themselves as God’s chosen people and could never be happy under Gentile control. Matters became worse when the failures of their rulers resulted in Judaea coming under direct Roman rule through procurators, although their ruling body the Sanhedrin continued to have authority in religious affairs, and in practise considerable control in political affairs as well because the people were more responsive to them. The wise procurator kept on good terms with the Sanhedrin if at all possible (it was easier said than done). There was an uneasy peace between the procurators and the Sanhedrin, and a love-hate relationship, and the procurators had to recognise that while they could enforce their decisions through the auxiliary legions quartered in Palestine, the people looked more to the Sanhedrin because they were Jewish and were more responsive to them. It was necessary, if peace was to be maintained and harmony achieved, that the Sanhedrin was kept in harness. On the other hand the procurators in the end were in total control, and had the armed forces which ensured it, as the Sanhedrin bitterly recognised. It was they who were responsible to Caesar for the peace of the realm.
The Sanhedrin was composed of the chief priests and influential Sadducees, leading lay elders of the aristocracy and leading Pharisees. The chief priests and Sadducees controlled the Temple and its revenues, but the Pharisees had the hearts of the people, and wielded their power through the synagogues, local places of worship where Jews congregated on the Sabbath and recited the Shema and the eighteen benedictions, together with formal prayer, listened to the reading of the Scriptures, and heard them expounded by their teachers, often Pharisees. The Pharisees did not control the synagogues, for they were controlled by appointed lay elders, but their influence through them was great because of the respect in which they were held. The Sadducees, to whom a large number of the priests belonged, including especially the Chief Priests who controlled Temple affairs, did not believe in the resurrection from the dead, nor in angels. They were very politically minded and believed in freewill and the non-interference of God in human affairs (which was very convenient) and accepted only the Law of Moses as Scripture, of which they emphasised the ritual aspect. The Pharisees accepted ‘the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms’ as Scripture, believed wholeheartedly in the resurrection from the dead, and in angels and predestination, sought by their lives to attain to eternal life, held to complicated rituals of cleansing and the need to observe the Law of Moses according to their tenets and were looked up to by the people.
Under the Romans the Sanhedrin had responsibility for religious affairs and could try cases related thereto, but they did not have the ability to pass the death sentence except probably in cases of extreme blasphemy. Civil justice was mainly in the hands of the procurator. And he was responsible to Rome and was expected to maintain Roman standards of law. But there were good and bad procurators who applied the rules in different ways, and they had considerable leeway. However, they always had to keep one eye open to the fact that complaint could be made about them to Caesar where they went too far.
By the time of Paul’s visit to Jerusalem described here Judaea was a hotbed of violence and insurrection, religious disquiet and extreme dissatisfaction, and continual ferment, which was kept in control by harsh measures on the part of the procurators. Outbursts of religious passion could burst forth at any moment. Judaea (and Galilee) was like a volcano waiting to explode.
The situation just described explains why the procurators, while not willing to give the Sanhedrin its way in respect of Paul without due evidence, were nevertheless hesitant totally to reject their concerns. It was simpler to keep them from getting too upset by keeping Paul in custody and giving the impression that something was being done. But they dared not release him because of the offence that it would cause to the Sanhedrin (and they probably believed, to the people as well). The concerns of one man, while they had to be taken into account, had to be subordinated to political expediency. Thus he was like a hot potato. He must not be dropped, but was painful to hold onto. Rome prided itself on its system of justice, but affairs of state also had to be considered. Add to this Felix’ greed and Festus’ naivete and we understand the background to Paul’s treatment. It saved him from death, and it nearly killed him. But, of course, behind all was God, as Luke continually wants us to understand. And God had His way in the end.
It is easy to get the impression that for Paul these were wasted years. But if we do this is to misunderstand the situation. It is very probable that in the two years in which Paul was held in custody the church in Caesarea had constant access to him, that he fed them and helped them to grow, that he was constantly visited by his companions, prayed with them and taught them, and that he was able to send them to do what he was unable to do. Furthermore during these two years he came before the Sanhedrin, before gatherings of leading Jews, before procurators and kings, and before a gathering of all the notabilities in Caesarea, and had ample opportunity to bring home to them all his essential message. And his behaviour under his trials and sufferings must have given a huge boost, both to the church in Palestine, and to the church around the world. He was kept very busy and yet given a necessary rest at the same time.
But above all he was able to give a testimony to the resurrection which has blessed all ages. Who can forget his vivid descriptions of how he met the risen and glorious Lord Whose commission to him, and to us all, was the foundation of his whole life, and his continual and unfailing testimony to the resurrection when he himself did not know what a day would ring forth.
PAUL’S JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM AND THEN TO ROME (19:21-28:31).
Here we begin a new section of Acts. It commences with Paul’s purposing to go to Jerusalem, followed by an incident, which, while it brings to the conclusion his ministry in Ephesus, very much introduces the new section. From this point on all changes. Paul’s ‘journey to Jerusalem’ and then to Rome has begun, with Paul driven along by the Holy Spirit.
The ending of the previous section as suggested by the closing summary in Acts 19:20 (see introduction), together with a clear reference in Acts 19:21 to the new direction in which Paul’s thinking is taking him, both emphasise that this is a new section leading up to his arrival in Rome. Just as Jesus had previously ‘changed direction’ in Luke when He set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), so it was to be with Paul now as he too sets his face towards Jerusalem. It is possibly not without significance that Jesus’ ‘journey’ also began after a major confrontation with evil spirits, which included an example of one who used the name of Jesus while not being a recognised disciple (compare Acts 19:12-19 with Luke 9:37-50).
From this point on Paul’s purposing in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem on his way to Rome takes possession of the narrative (Acts 19:21; Acts 20:16; Acts 20:22-23; Acts 21:10-13; Acts 21:17), and it will be followed by the Journey to Rome itself. And this whole journey is deliberately seen by Luke as commencing from Ephesus, a major centre of idolatry and the of Imperial cult, where there is uproar and Paul is restricted from preaching, and as, in contrast, deliberately ending with the triumph of a pure, unadulterated Apostolic ministry in Rome where all is quiet and he can preach without restriction. We can contrast with this how initially in Section 1 the commission commenced in a pure and unadulterated fashion in Jerusalem (Acts 1:3-9) and ended in idolatry in Caesarea (Acts 12:20-23). This is now the reverse the same thing in reverse.
Looked at from this point of view we could briefly summarise Acts in three major sections as follows:
· The Great Commission is given in Jerusalem in the purity and triumph of Jesus’ resurrection and enthronement as King. The word powerfully goes out to Jerusalem and to its surrounding area, and then in an initial outreach to the Gentiles. Jerusalem reject their Messiah and opt for an earthly ruler whose acceptance of divine honours results in judgment (Acts 19:1-12).
· The word goes out triumphantly to the Dispersion and the Gentiles and it is confirmed that they will not be required to be circumcised or conform to the detailed Jewish traditions contained in what is described as ‘the Law of Moses’ (Acts 13:1 to Acts 19:20).
· Paul’s journey to Rome commences amidst rampant idolatry and glorying in the royal rule of Artemis and Rome, and comes to completion with Paul, the Apostle, triumphantly proclaiming Jesus Christ and the Kingly Rule of God from his own house in Rome (Acts 19:21 to Acts 28:31).
It will be seen by this that with this final section the great commission has in Luke’s eyes been virtually carried out. Apostolic witness has been established in the centre of the Roman world itself and will now reach out to every part of that world, and the command ‘You shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth’ is on the point of fulfilment.
This final section, in which Paul will make his testimony to the resurrection before kings and rulers, may be analysed as follows.
a Satan counterattacks against Paul’s too successful Ministry in Ephesus and throughout Asia Minor and causes uproar resulting in his ministry being unsuccessfully attacked by the worshippers of ‘Artemis (Diana) of the Ephesians’. This city, with its three ‘temple-keepers’ for the Temple of Artemis and the two Imperial Cult Temples, is symbolic of the political and religious alliance between idolatry and Rome which has nothing to offer but greed and verbosity. It expresses the essence of the kingly rule of Rome. And here God’s triumph in Asia over those Temples has been pictured in terms of wholesale desertion of the Temple of Artemis (mention of the emperor cult would have been foolish) by those who have become Christians and will in the parallel below be contrasted and compared with Paul freely proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God in Rome (Acts 19:21-41).
b Paul’s progress towards Jerusalem is diverted because of further threats and he meets with disciples for seven days at Troas (Acts 20:1-6).
c The final voyage commences and a great sign is given of God’s presence with Paul. Eutychus is raised from the dead (Acts 20:7-12).
d Paul speaks to the elders from the church at Ephesus who meet him at Miletus and he gives warning of the dangers of spiritual catastrophe ahead and turns them to the word of His grace. If they obey Him all will be saved (Acts 20:13-38).
e A series of maritime stages, and of prophecy (Acts 19:4; Acts 19:11), which reveals that God is with Paul (Acts 21:1-16).
f Paul proves his true dedication in Jerusalem and his conformity with the Law and does nothing that is worthy of death but the doors of the Temple are closed against him (Acts 21:17-30).
g Paul is arrested and gives his testimony of his commissioning by the risen Jesus (Acts 21:31 to Acts 22:29).
h Paul appears before the Sanhedrin and points to the hope of the resurrection (Acts 22:30 to Acts 23:9).
i He is rescued by the chief captain and is informed by the Lord that as he has testified in Jerusalem so he will testify in Rome (Acts 23:11).
j The Jews plan an ambush, which is thwarted by Paul’s nephew (Acts 23:12-25).
k Paul is sent to Felix, to Caesarea (Acts 23:26-35).
l Paul makes his defence before Felix stressing the hope of the resurrection (Acts 24:1-22).
k Paul is kept at Felix’ pleasure for two years (with opportunities in Caesarea) (Acts 24:23-27).
j The Jews plan to ambush Paul again, an attempt which is thwarted by Festus (Acts 25:1-5).
i Paul appears before Festus and appeals to Caesar. To Rome he will go (Acts 25:6-12).
h Paul is brought before Agrippa and gives his testimony stressing his hope in the resurrection (Acts 25:23 to Acts 26:8).
g Paul gives his testimony concerning his commissioning by the risen Jesus (Acts 26:9-23).
f Paul is declared to have done nothing worthy of death and thus to have conformed to the Law, but King Herod Agrippa II closes his heart against his message (Acts 26:28-32).
e A series of maritime stages and of prophecy (Acts 19:10; Acts 19:21-26) which confirms that God is with Paul (27.l-26).
d Paul speaks to those at sea, warning of the dangers of physical catastrophe ahead unless they obey God’s words. If they obey Him all will be delivered (Acts 27:27-44).
c Paul is delivered from death through snakebite and Publius’ father and others are healed, which are the signs of God’s presence with him, and the voyage comes to an end after these great signs have been given (Acts 28:1-13).
b Paul meets with disciples for seven days at Puteoli and then at the Appii Forum (Acts 28:14-15).
a Paul commences his ministry in Rome where, living in quietness, he has clear course to proclaim the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 28:16-31).
Thus in ‘a’ the section commences at the very centre of idolatry which symbolises with its three temples (depicted in terms of the Temple of Artemis) the political and religious power of Rome, the kingly rule of Rome, which is being undermined by the Good News which has ‘almost spread throughout all Asia’ involving ‘much people’. It begins with uproar and an attempt to prevent the spread of the Good News and reveals the ultimate emptiness of that religion. All they can do is shout slogans including the name of Artemis, but though they shout it long and loud that name has no power and results in a rebuke from their ruler. In the parallel the section ends with quiet effectiveness and the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God being given free rein. This is in reverse to section 1 which commenced with the call to proclaim the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 1:3) and ended with the collapse of the kingly rule of Israel through pride and idolatry (Acts 12:20-23).
In ‘b’ Paul meets with God’s people for ‘seven days, the divinely perfect period, at the commencement of his journey, and then in the parallel he again meets with the people of God for ‘seven days’ at the end of his journey. Wherever he goes, there are the people of God.
In ‘c’ God reveals that His presence is with Paul by the raising of the dead, and in the parallel His presence by protection from the Snake and the healing of Publius.
In ‘d’ we have a significant parallel between Paul’s warning of the need for the church at Ephesus to avoid spiritual catastrophe through ‘the word of His grace’ and in the parallel ‘d’ the experience of being saved from a great storm through His gracious word, but only if they are obedient to it, which results in deliverance for all.
In ‘e’ and its parallel we have Paul’s voyages, each accompanied by prophecy indicating God’s continuing concern for Paul.
In ‘f’ Paul proves his dedication and that he is free from all charges that he is not faithful to the Law of Moses, and in the parallel Agrippa II confirms him to be free of all guilt.
In ‘g’ Paul give his testimony concerning receiving his commission from the risen Jesus, and in the parallel this testimony is repeated and the commission expanded.
In ‘h’ Paul proclaims the hope of the resurrection before the Sanhedrin, and in the parallel he proclaims the hope of the resurrection before Felix, Agrippa and the gathered Gentiles.
In ‘i’ the Lord tells him that he will testify at Rome, while in the parallel the procurator Festus declares that he will testify at Rome. God’s will is carried out by the Roman power.
In ‘ j’ a determined plan by the Jews to ambush Paul and kill him is thwarted, and in the parallel a further ambush two years later is thwarted. God is continually watching over Paul.
In ‘k’ Paul is sent to Felix, to Caesarea, the chief city of Palestine, and in the parallel spends two years there with access given to the ‘his friends’ so that he can freely minister.
In ‘l’ we have the central point around which all revolves. Paul declares to Felix and the elders of Jerusalem the hope of the resurrection of both the just and the unjust in accordance with the Scriptures.
It will be noted that the central part of this chiasmus is built around the hope of the resurrection which is mentioned three times, first in ‘h’, then centrally in ‘l’ and then again in ‘h’, and these are sandwiched between two descriptions of Paul’s commissioning by the risen Jesus (in ‘g’ and in the parallel ‘g’). The defeat of idolatry and the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God have as their central cause the hope of the resurrection and the revelation of the risen Jesus.
We must now look at the section in more detail.
‘And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, they were the more quiet. And he says,’
When they heard that he was speaking in ‘the Hebrew language’ they maintained their silence. It is debated as to whether ‘The Hebrew language/dialect’ here means that he spoke in Hebrew or Aramaic. In the New Testament ‘Hebrew’ regularly means Aramaic. For example the superscription above Jesus on the cross was said to be in Greek, Latin and ‘Hebrew’ (Luke 23:38). But we can probably say one thing with near certainty, in an Aramaic speaking country Pilate would not have failed to put it in Aramaic. Thus there ‘Hebrew’ means Aramaic. Of course Hebrew lettering and Aramaic lettering are the same so that only one who knew both Hebrew and Aramaic very well would be able to tell the difference by reading it, and to outsiders it was in ‘Hebrew’, that is, the language that the Hebrews use. All Palestinian Jews tended to speak Aramaic. Hebrew was reserved for religious usage. On the other hand it could be argued that if he spoke in Hebrew it would gain special respect and emphasise that he was a true Jew. It would even help to explain why they were ‘the more quiet’.
The basis of his defence is that all through his life to this point he had acted as a true Jew, in obedience to the God of the Jews. We must remember that he is not answering a specific charge, indeed many of the crowd probably did not know what the specific charge was. What he is doing is seek to win the decent Jews onto his side by showing that all that he has done has been reasonable from a Jewish viewpoint. Then they will recognise the folly of all charges against him.
The speech is in the form of a clear chiasmus, as follows:
a Paul’s Jewish credentials are laid down (Acts 22:3).
b His severe persecution of the Way is described (Acts 22:4-5).
c The voice of the Lord speaks to him and he sees His light (Acts 22:6-9).
d He is told to arise and go into Damascus where he will be told what to do (Acts 22:10-11).
e Ananias comes to him and he receives his sight (Acts 22:12-13).
f He is told that he has been appointed to know God’s will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the voice from His mouth. He is thus to be the means of the revelation of the resurrection and enthronement of Christ, compare Galatians 1:16 (Acts 22:14).
e He is to be a witness of what he has seen and heard (Acts 22:15).
d He is told to arise and be baptised, and to wash away his sins calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16).
c The voice of the Lord speaks to him in the Temple and tells him he is to leave Jerusalem because they will not hear him (they will not see His light) (Acts 22:17).
b He describes to God his severe persecution of believers (Acts 22:19-20).
a He is told to depart and go far hence to the Gentiles (Acts 22:21).
In ‘a’ we have the stark contrast of the complete Jew, who in the parallel is sent to the Gentiles (salvation is of the Jews - John 4:22 - but is to be made available to all true worshippers - John 4:23-24). In ‘b’ the parallel is clear. In ‘c’ the voice of the Lord speaks to him and he sees the divine light, and in the parallel the voice of the Lord speaks to him and tells him that Jerusalem will remain in darkness, it will not hear him. In ‘d’ he arises so as to enter Damascus and learn what he must do, and in the parallel he must arise and be baptised, and wash away his sins calling on the name of the Lord, which is the first thing he must do. In ‘e’ his eyes are opened that he might see, and in the parallel he must be a witness to what he has seen and heard. In ‘f’ comes the central point of the whole, his call and appointment to know God’s will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear His voice, so that he may be the means of revealing to the world the resurrection and enthronement of Christ Jesus.
This revelation of the resurrection of the dead now takes central place, for having described the appearance of the risen Jesus to Paul in what follows the central part of this section of Acts is built around the proclamation of the hope of the resurrection. It is found in Acts 23:6; Acts 24:15; Acts 26:6-8 (in the introductory analysis ‘h’, ‘l’, and ‘h’). It is then followed by a further description of the risen Jesus to Paul in Acts 26:12-18. So from here to chapter 26 the resurrection from the dead is continually emphasised.
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, at the feet of Gamaliel, instructed according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, even as you all are this day, and I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest does bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders, from whom also I received letters to the brethren, and journeyed to Damascus to bring them also who were there to Jerusalem in bonds to be punished.”
First he lays down his credentials:
§ He was a Jew - this he declares clearly and emphatically. He was a Jew through and through, and proud of it. Compare 2 Corinthians 11:22; Philippians 3:4-5. This was important because God’s revealed purpose has been that it is the Jews who will bring the light of His truth to the world. Salvation is of the Jews.
§ He was born in Tarsus of Cilicia where there were large numbers of respected Jews, and his family were so ‘Jewish’ that they arranged for him to be educated in Jerusalem.
§ He was educated at the feet of the respected Gamaliel, who was called ‘Rabban’ (our teacher) as against ‘Rabbi’ (my teacher), and was a disciple of Hillel. It was later said of him, ‘Since Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died there has been no more reverence for the Law, and purity and abstinence died out at the same time.’ At the time when Paul was speaking he had been dead about five years, and was hugely respected. And it was by him that Paul had been ‘instructed according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers’. Thus his Jewish education was second to none.
§ He was ‘zealous for God, even as you all are this day’. No one had been more hot under the collar at a whisper of heresy than Paul. His zeal for the God of Israel at least paralleled that of his listeners if not exceeding it.
§ He had demonstrated his zeal in that he had ‘persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women’. He had hounded down Christians and had committed them to prison, even the women. For a Pharisee to bother about women was zeal indeed, for to a Pharisee women were of little account. And he had sought the death penalty on many. No clearer evidence of dedicated intent could be found. And all because of his zeal for God.
§ He had been so zealous that he had the high priest as a witness, and all the estate of the elders, that he had received from them letters to the brethren. He had been an official appointee of the highest officials in the land, and it was as that that he had journeyed to Damascus to bring back those who had escaped from Jerusalem and were finding refuge there, hauling them back in bonds to be punished. In his zeal against Christians he had gone to other cities so as to haul back to Jerusalem those who had fled from there.
So his credentials as a Jew, and as a zealous Jew, were impeccable. None had been more zealous than he. And his only desire had been to serve God. This alone must prove his genuineness. And then something had happened which had changed the whole course of his life, something which happened while he was on the way to Damascus to arrest and drag back to Jerusalem fleeing Christians.
“And it came about that, as I made my journey, and drew near to Damascus, about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me.”
He described how, as he was making the journey to Damascus around noon, a great light from heaven had shone around him, the light of the Shekinah, the light of God, and yet here as revealed in Jesus Christ. The reference to ‘noon’ (mesembrian) might have been intended to remind the knowledgeable among his hearers of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 28:28-29, ‘The Lord will smite you --- with blindness and with astonishment of heart, and you will grope at noonday (mesembrian) ---.’ The point was thus that he had been smitten, and blinded and filled with astonishment because he had disobeyed the Lord.
“And I fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’.”
And the result was that he had fallen to the ground and had heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ In Paul’s day much was made of the ‘bath qol’, the whisper of a voice from heaven. But he had heard the voice loud and clear. And the voice had asked him why he was persecuting ‘the Lord’. His very repetition of this was a strong hint to his listeners to consider whether they too, by their actions against Paul, were persecuting the Lord.
“And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting’.”
But he had not been able to see how what he was doing was persecuting God, so he had asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the reply had been that it was Jesus of Nazareth Whom he was persecuting. To persecute His followers was to persecute Him. Whatever else this proved it demonstrated that Jesus was alive and in heaven and approved of by God, for here He spoke from God. It was proclaiming the living, resurrected and enthroned Lord.
It was also a strong hint to the crowd. They too were persecuting Jesus when they should instead be listening to Him and acknowledging His resurrection. It had not been a secret. They too should be saying, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
“And those who were with me beheld indeed the light, but they did not hear the voice of him who spoke to me.”
Those who were with him had beheld the light. It was not just something internal. They had heard noises (as we are told elsewhere), but they had not understood exactly what was being said. They had not ‘understood the voice’. Compare John 12:28-29. They were like Paul’s listeners, unable to discern, seeing a light, hearing noises, but unresponding.
“And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise, and go into Damascus, and there it will be told you concerning all things which are appointed for you to do.’ ”
Deeply humbled he had asked Jesus what He wanted him to do. And he had been told to go into Damascus where he would be told all for which God had appointed him. He wanted his listeners to see that his whole aim had been to be pleasing to God. And his thought was, if only his listeners too would ask, ‘What shall I do Lord?’, they too would receive an answer, and it would involve them in following Jesus.
“And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me I came into Damascus.”
The vividness of the light had blinded him, and thus he had had to be led by the hand into Damascus. God had rendered him helpless, and as one who was blind waiting to see.
‘The glory of the light (tes doxes tou photos).’ The doxa of the Lord is referred to in Exodus 15:11; Exodus 16:7; Exodus 16:10; Exodus 24:16-17; Exodus 29:43; Exodus 33:19; Exodus 33:22; Exodus 40:34-35 and regularly and speaks of the direct presence of God revealed to His people for their response. Here then Paul too had been approached by His glory and light (compare Isaiah 60:1). The glory which had once descended on the Tabernacle had now descended on Paul.
“And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well reported of by all the Jews who dwelt there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight. And in that very hour I looked up on him.’ ”
And then a man had come to him. A devout Jew as measured by the Law (the Torah - the Books of Moses), and well spoken of by all Jews in Damascus. His name was Ananias. And he had stood by him and told him that he would receive his sight, and in that very hour his eyes had been opened and he had been able to see him. So in his need and helplessness the God of Israel had sent one of His true servants to speak to him and enlighten him. From the commencement until now the whole experience had been that of a Jew in close contact with Jews, involved one whose whole aim was to please God, as his whole life evidenced, and one who was enlightened by a pious Jew. The experience was Jewish through and through.
“And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know his will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear a voice from his mouth.’ ”
And Ananias, this pious and respected godly Jew, had told him that the ‘God of our fathers’, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Israel, had appointed him to know His will, and to see ‘the Righteous One’, the Messiah, and to hear Him speak to him. For ‘the Righteous One’ see on Acts 3:14; Acts 7:52.
This is the central point in the chiasmus and thus central in importance, It declares that God has appointed him for a threefold purpose:
1) To know His will. It was a special revelation from God. It was firstly His will that he should follow Jesus Christ, which is now made clear, but the ultimate point is not revealed at this stage. It is finally revealed in Acts 22:21. It was His will that he might go to the Gentiles. Those who were listening properly would be waiting to know what it was right to the end. Compare Galatians 1:16.
2) To see the Righteous One. He was privileged to see in the glorious light the resurrected, enthroned Lord of glory, the righteous Saviour and Judge. In the Old Testament righteousness and salvation are regularly paralleled. He had beheld the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6)
3) To hear a voice from His mouth. The Lord had now spoken to him, and from the mouth of the Lord he was to receive revelations from God. Compare Act 26:16 ; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4; Galatians 1:16.
“For you shall be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard.”
And the reason for this was that he might be a witness for Him to all men of what he had seen and heard, that is of the life, sacrificial death, resurrection and enthronement of Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah. There is a hint in his use of ‘all men’ of what is to come. But it could be interpreted here by his listeners as meaning all Jews of every class.
So Paul had been fully dedicated to God from birth, he had been taught by the greatest teacher in the land, he had been humbled by the glory of the Lord, he had heard the voice of the Lord, he had seen the resurrected Lord, he would receive visions in a trance, his experience had been confirmed by a pious and revered Jew, what more evidence did they need? And it had pointed him to the Lord Jesus Christ, to be baptised in His name.
“And now why do you linger? Arise, and be baptised, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”
He had then been told that he must not delay in being baptised in the name of ‘the Lord Jesus’ (Jesus is ‘the Lord’). This was now the requirement of the Lord for all men, that believing in the Lord Jesus Christ as their risen Lord and Saviour they respond to Him and be baptised as belonging to Him. Literally this is ‘Having arisen be baptised, and wash away your sins calling on the name of the Lord.’ Note the sentence construction. Each clause has a participle and a main verb. This separates the first statement from the second, so that they can be read as two separate statements indicating two separate, although connected, actions.
This is significant here for nowhere in the New Testament is baptism ever spoken of as washing. Elsewhere baptism, when specifically spoken of, points to the coming down of the Holy Spirit and to rising to new life. Its waters are like the rain that comes from heaven and provides springs and rivers that produce life. If there is a ‘washing’ it is a ‘washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit’ (Titus 2:5-6), again depicting the life giving rains. Water represents the water of life, not water of washing. Indeed when a medium for washing is described it is the washing of water with the word (Ephesians 5:26) not by baptism. When John the Baptiser spoke his call was to fruitfulness and life, and he constantly used images from nature. He too saw his baptism as pointing to the drenching and lifegiving rain in accordance with the prophets (Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:1-5; Isaiah 56:10-12). He gives not a single hint that it has in mind ritual washing. It was the Pharisees who might possibly have interpreted it in that way, and Josephus who did, and even they would not see it as ‘washing from sin’ but as removing ceremonial defilement. But they had misunderstood it.
On the other hand when men are called on to ‘wash away their sins’ in the Old Testament the idea is always of a change of life by turning from sin to right living. ‘Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well, seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge rightly on behalf of by the fatherless, plead for the widow’, says Isaiah (Isaiah 1:16-17). This has no direct connection with the image of baptism, indeed its context is a diminishing of all ritual. The point is practical. You ‘wash’ by thrusting away all sin and evil in your life. It is a practical transformation carried out by an act of will followed by acts of will.
The main purpose of water among the Jews in ancient days was in order to be used for drinking and in order to water the ground to make it fruitful. It is true that they did engage in ritual ‘washing’. But when they ritually used water on themselves it was for removing ‘earthiness’ in the presence of God, the removal of odour and all that was unpleasant. (We view things very differently. To us water is on tap and is largely for washing. Most of us own no fields that are dependent on rain. But that was not how the ancients saw it, apart from the Greeks and the wealthier Romans). In the Old Testament ritual washing never cleanses. It is only ever preparatory to cleansing, a removing of earthiness and sweat and odour. It is the passing of time in separation that cleanses spiritually. ‘You shall wash and shall not be clean until the evening’ is a regular refrain. The only water that ‘cleanses’ is water that has been purified with the ashes of a heifer, the water of purification, ‘clean water’, and that cleanses because the blood of the heifer has been shed. On the other hand when the Pharisees poured water over their hands they did not see themselves as ‘washing’. They were removing any taint of ritual uncleanness.
We are wrong therefore when we compare baptism to Old Testament ritual or to ‘washing clean’. More to the point, if baptism was connected with washing, would be David’s words in Psalms 51:0, ‘wash me and I will be whiter than snow’. But that is in parallel to ‘purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean’ which suggests that it has the water for purification in mind, the water seeped in sacrificial blood. If David was thinking of bathing, it was as a privilege of the rich. Ordinary people did not even think of washing. They did not see themselves as dirty. They saw the rich as fastidious. Yet even so the New Testament never uses this idea of baptism. Indeed Peter declares the opposite. Baptism is not the putting away of the defilement of the flesh, it is the answer of a good conscience towards God (1 Peter 3:21).
So what Ananias was saying here was, ‘arise and be baptised as a sign that you are becoming His, that you are being baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus and thus becoming His man and a recipient of the Holy Spirit, and at the same time turn your life around so that it is totally changed and ‘washed from sin’, and begin to live a new life, ‘calling on the name of the Lord’, that is, acknowledging and worshipping the Lord. Baptism was a baptism ‘unto repentance’. The baptism indicated entry into the age of the Spirit and the forthcoming ‘drenching with the Holy Spirit’, but it was promising a changed life in the future. The change of life was to result and was to be carried into effect, and that was described as ‘washing’ as in Isaiah 1:16-17.
Of course we can argue that Ananias was uniquely signifying that baptism washed from sin. It is one possible interpretation of his words. But if he did so he was the only person in the New Testament who interpreted baptism in this way, and that appears very unlikely. It was the later church that would change the meaning of baptism into this and thereby diminish its significance, for they made it teach what was intrinsically not true, and it resulted in all kinds of queer ideas so that even the most prominent Christians followed them, ideas such as not being baptised until near death because they thought that the physical act would wash away their sins up to that point. That was the inevitable result of such a foolish idea. It had become mere superstition.
The truth is that being baptised does not wash away your sins. Only the blood of Jesus appropriated by faith can do that. If you are a true Christian what baptism does signify (but only if there has previously been an act of true faith in Jesus Christ that has resulted in the baptism, or is at the time) is that the Holy Spirit has come on you, and that you have died and risen with Christ.
Thus the thoughts of the verse are, firstly to arise and be baptised, thus revealing himself as a servant of Jesus Christ as a result of receiving the Holy Spirit, and secondly to turn from sin to righteousness, resulting in true worship of the Lord. ‘Calling on the name of the Lord’ had signified worshipping God truly from as far back as Genesis 4:26. Compare Acts 2:21.
“And it came about, that, when I had returned to Jerusalem, and while I prayed in the temple, I fell into a trance, and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get you quickly out of Jerusalem, because they will not receive of your testimony concerning me.’ ”
He then omits all mention of his activities in Damascus and Arabia, and hurries on to the fact that he returned to Jerusalem, to praying in the Temple. He wants them to see that he was a faithful Jerusalemite even then. His experience did not mean that he had ceased to be a Jew, or that he had forsaken the old places and ideas. No, the fact was that it had made him a better Jew. And he had wanted to serve God in Jerusalem. But he was too honest to stop there. Had he done so things might have quietened down a little. But he knew that it would not be long before the question of his activities among the Gentiles again cropped up, so he wanted the true situation to be known. And he also wanted to challenge this crowd about their own view of Jesus. Humanly speaking it may have been a mistake (it depends on what you think he should have been after). But Paul was not in human hands.
So he went on to describe how while he was in the Temple he had fallen into a trance. Like Isaiah of old he had seen the Lord (Isaiah 6:0). And there he had heard the voice of the Lord. It was the Lord Himself Who had warned him to leave Jerusalem in haste because Jerusalem would not receive his testimony. Just as God had warned Isaiah of old that the people would not hear, so God had warned him that hearing they would not understand, and seeing they would not perceive. But whereas Isaiah had been told to go on preaching to the Jews, and only later learned that the message was also to go out to the Gentiles, it was to be different with Paul. He was to fulfil what Isaiah had looked forward to. He had come to the Jew first, and the Jews had not heard him. So now he was to go to the Gentiles.
As we know at the time when he was preaching in Jerusalem certain Hellenistic Jews were at that time plotting to kill him as they had Stephen (Acts 9:29). But he does not mention that. He simply wants them to see that he did not desert Jerusalem in line with his own purposes, or without trying to serve the Jews. He did it because he received a message from the God of Israel in the Temple of the God of Israel as to what he should do. Like Isaiah of old he did what he was told.
We may note that Peter also went to the Gentiles as a result of a trance in which God spoke to him (Acts 10:10; Acts 11:5). In both cases they responded to the direct command of God.
“And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue those who believed on you, and when the blood of Stephen your witness was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting, and keeping the garments of those who slew him.’ ”
He pointed out that he had not received the message glibly. Indeed he had been unable to believe it, and had protested that all knew that he had persecuted those who had believed in Jesus, and that he had been standing by, consenting, when Stephen was martyred, and had even watched the coats of those who had done it. Surely then they would recognise his genuineness and listen to him? But God had assured him that what He had said was true. Jerusalem would not receive His message.
“And he said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you forth far hence to the Gentiles.’ ”
He has been trying to impress on them that as a thorough Jew, he had only acted at the command of the God of the Jews all the way through. It had not been his choice. But when he told them what it was that God had next told him to do, his words were like petrol poured on a bonfire, turning a flame into a furnace. He informed them that God had then told him, ‘Depart, for I will send you forth far hence to the Gentiles.’ Now strictly the idea of going to the Gentiles should not have upset them. The Old Testament had already spoken of the light being taken out to the Gentiles by the Jews, and especially by the coming Servant (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6). And all Judaism looked for Gentile converts who would become proselytes, (although few actually sought them). And they actually welcomed into the synagogues questioning God-fearers (although not of course as equals). Furthermore he was pointing out that he had gone to the Jews first, as was always his mission, and it was only when they had turned him away that he had gone to the Gentiles. Thus he could claim to be fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy.
But in the context of his stated rejection by Jerusalem he was to their minds saying that he was going to the Gentiles instead of to Jews, because Jerusalem had rejected him and he no longer had any time for them, and that he was going to the Gentiles as Gentiles, not as those who had sought the Jewish fold. And in the light of the rumours about him this was too much for them. It appeared to confirm their worst fears. They had simply not taken in his argument, or possibly rather had not wanted to.
To Paul it was, of course, all perfectly logical. He probably could not see how they failed to understand it. And it all appeared to him so reasonable. He was a true Jew and had been called by the God of the Jews in a revelation in which had been revealed to him the Shekinah glory. How could he not then, as a true Jew, obey Him? But the problem was that it both threw the blame on them, which they did not like, and that it involved doing what horrified their ‘righteous’ souls, going to the Gentiles direct. That might be all right for the Messiah or The Prophet when He came, but not for people like Paul.
‘And they gave him a hearing up to this word, and they lifted up their voice, and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for it is not fit that he should live.” ’
Up to this point they had given him a hearing. Possibly they were waiting for him to condemn himself out of his own mouth. And now they felt that he had. The spell of silence was broken. Putting their own interpretation on his words they cried out, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for it is not fit that he should live.” Again we have the cry ‘away with him’ as in Acts 21:36. This was a period when all Israel, apart from the opportunists were seething with anger under the yoke of Rome. The ideas therefore of favouring Gentiles was totally unacceptable. A few becoming Jewish proselytes, yes, that was acceptable, and even a number of hangers on who knew their place. But giving preference to Gentiles could not be tolerated.
‘And as they cried out, and threw off their garments, and cast dust into the air, the chief captain commanded him to be brought into the fortress, bidding that he should be examined by scourging, that he might know for why they so shouted against him.’
So they not only cried out but threw off their cloaks, and hurled dust into the air, with the result that the chief captain, fearful of another riot, commanded Paul to be taken immediately inside the fortress. He could not understand what was causing the furore. So he commanded that Paul be examined by scourging.
Scourging was normal with ordinary people who were arrested, whether innocent or not. It was felt that the only way to get the truth out of them was by pain. Here was Paul, already bruised and bloodied from his beatings, and the intention was to rough him up a bit more, simply in order to try to get to the truth. Then if he proved innocent they could let him go. The parallel between Jesus’ treatment after His journey to Jerusalem, and Paul’s, continues, save that Paul is able to avoid the scourging. Scourging was a dreadful ‘punishment’ and would lay bare a man’s back. But possibly the centurion is meaning here something not quite so severe.
‘Cast dust into the air.’ Dust is regularly used symbolically. When the disciples were turned away from a city they were to cast off its dust from them. Possibly what the crowd are saying to Paul here is that Jerusalem rejects him. He can only come under judgment. This confirms Luke’s view that Jerusalem has rejected God by rejecting His servants.
‘And when they had tied him up with the thongs, Paul said to the centurion that stood by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?” ’
But once they had tied him with thongs and Paul realised what their intention was he dropped his bombshell among them. He asked the centurion whether it was lawful to scourge a Roman citizen when he had not yet been found guilty of any crime. Both knew what the answer to that was. Roman law quite clearly forbade such treatment to a Roman citizen.
‘And when the centurion heard it, he went to the chief captain and told him, saying, “What are you about to do? for this man is a Roman.” ’
Once the centurion learned this he went immediately to the chief captain and warned him to be careful how he treated Paul because he was a Roman citizen. ‘What are you about to do?’ The blame would fall on the chief captain who had ordered the scourging.
‘And the chief captain came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” And he said, “Yes.” And the chief captain answered, “With a great sum obtained I this citizenship.” And Paul said, “But I am a Roman born.” ’
So the chief captain came and officially put to Paul the question as to whether he was a Roman. To answer untruthfully to that question would be a serious offence. But when Paul replied ‘yes’ he had cause to be afraid. Roman citizens had to be treated with care. Questioningly he said, ‘Such a citizenship cost me a great deal of money’. Paul replied, ‘But I was born a Roman citizen.’ That made clear that he came from a distinguished family, for he was born and bred with citizenship rights.
We know from Acts 23:26 that the name of the chief officer was Claudius Lycias. He had probably therefore bought his freedom when citizenships were being sold off by the favourites of Claudius. Prior to that time citizenships had been more exclusive and given for especially meritorious service. Thus he knew that Paul’s ancestor must have been at the very least a very important official who was seen as loyal to the emperor.
It should be noted that for someone to claim to be a Roman citizen when they were not was a capital crime, and made them subject to summary execution, and as his citizenship could be proved or otherwise from citizenship records it would be foolish for a non-Roman citizen to make such a claim (each citizen was certificated on birth, a certificate which would be kept in the family records, but it may even be that they carried with them a certificate of citizenship. We actually know little about the details).
‘Those then who were about to examine him straightway left him alone, and the chief captain also was afraid when he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.’
Once the chief captain had learned this, Paul was unbound and ‘left alone’. And the chief captain was afraid because he knew that he could be punished for even having bound him ready for scourging. As a Roman citizen Paul was then probably given a limited freedom within the fortress.
Paul Appears Before the Sanhedrin (22:30-23:9). The Lord Assures Him That As He Has Testified in Jerusalem So Will He Testify in Rome (23:10-11).
The chief officer did not know quite what to do with Paul. He was not even quite sure of what the accusation against him was. At first it had been quite clear. He was an Egyptian insurgent, he was a blasphemer, he had taken Greeks into the inner temple, he was all that was bad (or so he had been told). Now having listened to Paul he was not so sure. He had also probably been visited by Jewish leaders who had wanted him to hand him over to them. This was presumably why he as a mere chief captain was able to ‘command’ the appearance of the Sanhedrin. If they wanted him they must justify their request, for Paul was a Roman citizen.
Having described the appearance of the risen Jesus in chapter 22 Paul will now continually proclaim the hope of the resurrection. The word of God is not bound. This proclamation is found in Acts 23:6; Acts 24:15; Acts 26:6-8 (in the introductory analysis in ‘h’, ‘l’, and ‘h’). It will then be followed by a further description of the risen Jesus to Paul (Acts 26:12-18). So his period of detention from his arrest in Jerusalem to his commencement of his journey to Rome is one long proclamation of the resurrection from the dead which is everywhere emphasised.
‘But on the morrow, desiring to know the certainty of what he was accused of by the Jews, he loosed him, and commanded the chief priests and all the council to come together, and brought Paul down and set him before them.’
So on the next day, wanting to know exactly what charges were being laid against Paul, he gave Paul his freedom within the fortress and commanded the Sanhedrin if they wished to justify Paul being handed over to them to gather to discuss the matter and formulate their charges. Then he brought Paul out and set him before the Council.
This chief captain was an object lesson to the Jews. He alone (although he did not know it) was obeying the Law, ‘;-- then you shall enquire, and make search, and ask diligently ---’ (Deuteronomy 13:14). That is what the Jews should have done. It took a Roman to hold them to it.
We note that this was at least the sixth time that the Sanhedrin had been called on to evaluate the claims of Christ. The first occasion was when the official Sanhedrin had met to consider reports about Jesus (John 11:47-53); the second was during Jesus' series of ‘trials’ (Matthew 27:1-2; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66-71); the third was for the trial of Peter and John (Acts 4:5-22); the fourth was for the trial of the Twelve (Acts 5:21-40), and the fifth was for Stephen's trial (Acts 6:12 to Acts 7:60). They had had plenty of time to come to a firm and reasonable decision about him. But they had not. They were still divided.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Acts 22". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/