Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem and his arrest (Acts 21:17-40)
When Paul arrived in Jerusalem, he was arrested, and tried before the Jewish Council. A plot was hatched to kill him, and he was rescued and taken to Caesarea. Paul was then tried before the Roman Governors: Felix, Festus, and Agrippa.
Paul recounted his missionary activities among foreigners to the elders of the Church in Jerusalem. The elders glorified God for his efforts. The elders then said that some Jewish Christians had accused him (Paul) of preaching against Judaism (the religion of the Jews). They said in order to clear himself, he should perform the Jewish rite of purification for those under a vow to show that he was not against Judaism. They also informed him that they had sent letters of the decision of the Jerusalem Council to the affected Gentile Churches.
Paul took the advice and the following day, he purified himself along with four other men. He then found out from the temple authorities when the days of the purification would be over and the necessary offerings made. He was told seven days.
When the seven days were almost complete, some of the Jews who had met Paul in Asia Minor spoke against him. They accused him of speaking against the temple and the Law of Moses, and had brought foreigners into the temple. They had seen Paul with Trophimus, a Greek from Ephesus, and concluded that he (Paul) had brought him (Trophimus) into the temple. The Jews seized Paul because of the grave accusation made against him, closed the gates of the temple and attempted to kill him. But the Roman army officer, a tribune came with soldiers and rescued Paul. They arrested him (Paul) and ordered him to be bound with chains. The Jews could not agree on the charges against Paul, and so the tribune brought him into the barracks.
As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, the tribune accused him of being an Egyptian ringleader who led a revolt. In reply, Paul denied it and said he was a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia. Paul then addressed the Jews in the Hebrew language.
Paul before the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin) and the plot to kill him
(Acts 22:30-33; 23:1-35)
The Roman tribune brought Paul before the Sanhedrin to find out the reasons why the Jews accused him. Paul was the first to speak. He said he had lived in good conscience before God. The moment he said this, the high priest, Ananias commanded those who stood by him (Paul) to strike him on the mouth. Paul cursed him and when he was reminded that he was cursing the high priest, he apologized.
When Paul noticed that one section of the people were Pharisees, he cried out that he was a Pharisee; and it was in respect to the resurrection from the dead that he was on trial. This led to a disagreement between the Pharisees, who believed in the resurrection from the dead, and the Sadducees who did not believe such. In the end, some of the scribes who supported the Pharisees declared that they found nothing wrong with Paul. The disagreement then became violent, and the Roman tribune, afraid that Paul would be molested, commanded the soldiers to take him by force from the Jews and bring him to the barracks.
The significance of Paul’s trial before the Sanhedrin: Paul’s trial before the Sanhedrin shows that sentiments and emotions can affect a fair trial. The action of the high priest in ordering Paul to be physically abused was unjust and indicates bias on the part of the Sanhedrin against Paul.
Paul before the Roman Governors
Paul’s trial before Felix: (Acts 24:10-23): Paul appeared before the Roman governor, Felix to defend himself against charges made by the Jews. The Jews said Paul was a troublemaker who had caused rebellion among the Jews all over the world. They also said he was the ringleader of the Christians who had made the Temple unholy by his actions there.
Felix asked Paul to defend himself against the charges. Paul told the governor that all the charges were false. He did not commit any of the crimes he was accused of. Paul admitted that he was a Christian and a follower of the new religion. But, he was obedient to the Jewish Law and religion. He said the Jewish religion itself spoke about the resurrection of the righteous, and of wicked people on the day of judgement. He said his accusers had nothing against him. He concluded by saying that he was on trial because of his belief in the resurrection from the dead:
‘With respect to the resurrection from the dead I am on trial before you this day’
Felix did not find Paul guilty of any offence; yet he did not set him free. He said he would wait for the Roman captain who brought Paul to be tried by him. What Felix wanted was a bribe from Paul before he could release him. But Paul did not bribe him. Paul was therefore left in prison till another governor succeeded Felix. His name was Porcius Festus.
Paul’s Trial before Festus: (Acts 25:1-21) Porcius Festus, the new governor went to Jerusalem soon after his arrival in Caesarea. While he was in Jerusalem, the Jews brought up the case of Paul before him. The Jewish elders requested him to send Paul to Jerusalem for trial. Their plan was to kill him on the way. But Festus told them he was going back to Caesarea and they could accuse Paul there.
On his return to Caesarea, Festus called Paul from prison for trial. The Jews were there again to accuse him; but they could not prove any of their charges. Paul in his defense showed that the charges were false:
‘Neither against the Law of the Jews, nor against the Temple, nor against Caesar have I offended at all’.
Festus made an attempt to pervert justice by trying to please the Jews instead of seeing to it that justice was done. Therefore, he made a new proposal to Paul that favoured the Jews:
‘Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?’
There was a danger in the suggestion of Festus, because the Jews might either kill Paul on the way or condemn him to death in Jerusalem. Paul realized that he was not going to get a fair trial. But a Roman citizen who feared that he might not get a fair trial had the right to appeal to the highest authority in the land, that is, the Emperor. Therefore, Paul used his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to the Emperor:
“I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried, to the Jews I have done no wrong, as you know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer, and I have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death; but if there is nothing in their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.’
The governor knew that Paul had the right to appeal to Caesar and he could not stop him. Therefore, he held a meeting with his advisers. Their decision was that Paul must appear before the Emperor to present his case:
“You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go.”
Paul’s Trial before Agrippa: (Acts 25:23-27; 26: 1-16): King Herod Agrippa who was in charge of the province of the governor, Festus, visited Caesarea to welcome the new governor. Festus told King Agrippa about Paul, the prisoner left behind in prison by Felix. King Agrippa said he would like to listen to Paul himself. The following day Paul was brought before the governor and the king.
Festus introduced Paul’s case to the king. He told the king that Paul was innocent of the charges made against him by the Jews. Therefore, he asked the king to listen carefully to Paul’s defense to discover whether he could make out any charges against him for record purposes. Paul was then given permission to address the king.
Paul started his defense by telling the king of his early life. He said he had been a strict Jew from his youth. He had belonged to the strictest party of the Pharisees, who were strong believers in the resurrection from the dead. He said it was because of this belief in the resurrection that he was on trial.
Paul mentioned how he had defended the religion of the Jews by persecuting the Christians in Jerusalem and pursuing them to foreign cities. He said he was converted to Christianity while he was on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus.
Paul then spoke of his preaching in obedience to the divine voice. He preached first in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and Judea, and finally to the Gentiles. Paul said it was because of his relationship with the Gentiles that the Jews had seized him in Jerusalem when he came for the rites of purification, and tried to kill him.
Paul went on to tell the king that he had only told the Jews what Moses and the prophets had said would happen about our Saviour Jesus Christ; that Jesus Christ would suffer and rise from the dead.
Festus said that Paul was mad for saying that Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead. But the king was impressed by what Paul said concerning the resurrection, and confessed:
“In a short time you think to make me a Christian.”
“Whether short or long, I would say to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am – except for these chains. ”
After Paul had finished his defense, the king and the governor and their counselors withdrew to confer among themselves. They agreed that Paul had done nothing wrong. He did not deserve to be put in prison or to die. The king then said to the governor:
“This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
Paul must therefore go to Rome to be heard by the Emperor himself.
The significance of Paul’s trial before the Roman Governors: The defense of Paul before Felix is important for Christians whenever they are brought before the civil authorities. It means that Christians have the right to speak in self-defense, to witness publicly to their religious beliefs when the occasion demands it. The bribery attempt by Felix to influence the course of justice should be condemned as a perversion of justice. The lesson is that Christians should learn to reject bribery and corruption, and fight for justice according to the laws of the Nation.
The trial before Festus demonstrated the possible weakness of civil authority. When people in authority allow themselves to be influenced by other considerations, it is difficult for justice to be done. The governor knew that Paul was innocent, yet he tried to favour the Jews to get him killed.
Paul was given a fair trial by the authorities. This shows that in a fair trial, the human rights of the citizens are protected.
Religious Guidance and Counselling
God wants you to stop telling lies and making false accusations against other people
Some of us are still fond of telling lies about others and making false accusations against them. We know it destroys the character of the person. It may even lead others to attack and kill innocent people. But, yet still, we do it. And then, we regret. We need the help of Jesus to save us from this bad, nasty and dangerous habit.
Because of the dangers involved, God wants you to pray to Him through Jesus to give you the strength to overcome the bad habit of telling lies and making false accusations against others.
God wants you to defend Jesus Christ before the authorities
Some of you will be brought before the authorities to defend your faith in Jesus Christ. When that happens you should not be afraid; because the moment you pray to Jesus to give you spiritual courage to defend your faith before the authorities, he will fill you with boldness to do so.
God wants you to ensure fair and equitable justice
Some of you will either become judges, magistrates, lawyers or occupy places of responsibility someday. You may be influenced, in the discharge of your duties, to deny justice to some people and favour others. This is wrong. When that happens, you must learn to pray to God through Jesus to help you resist such pressures. This is because God wants all of you to be true Christians by dispensing justice without fear, favour or bias.
God wants you to establish good government in your country
You shall all grow up to take part in the administration of your Nation. You might be tempted to be unreasonable and unjust by denying the people their human rights. This will be very bad and unfair.
As Christians, God wants you to avoid such tendencies and establish good government in your Nation. Therefore, when you find yourself in such a situation, you must immediately pray to God through Jesus to help you overcome the temptation. It is your duty to establish good government in the Nation by being just and reasonable in the administration of justice so that the human and civil rights of the people are safeguarded.
Religious and Moral Lessons
- Telling lies about others and making false accusations against them is bad. You must learn to pray to God through Jesus to help you stop telling lies about others and making false accusations against them.
- The high priest ordered Paul to be struck because he disagreed with him. You must learn to avoid acting violently against people who disagree with you.
- The Jews made false accusations against Paul in order to get him into trouble. You must learn to avoid making false accusations against others in order to get such people into trouble, like the Jews did to Paul.
- Paul did not deny his faith in Jesus before the authorities, but rather confessed to be a Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ. As Christians, you must learn to pray to God through Jesus to have the spiritual courage to stand up and speak for Christ anywhere and before any authority, like Paul did.
- Paul refused to bribe the governor (Felix) to release him. You must learn to pray to God through Jesus to reject bribery and corruption, which could destroy our society, like Paul did.
- The civil authorities may not always be just. You must learn to be impartial and just in your dealings with others.
- Paul exercised his civic rights by appealing to the Emperor for fair trial. You must learn to exercise your civic rights, like Paul did, so that you are not cheated or wrongfully treated.
- King Agrippa and Festus were fair in their judgement that Paul was innocent. You must learn to pray to God through Jesus to help you ensure fair trial to protect innocent citizens, like King Agrippa and Festus did. You must also learn to ask Jesus to help you to be fair in your judgement and in your dealings with others.
- A good government must recognize, protect and defend the human and civil rights of its citizens. You must learn to give your full support to the government when it recognizes, protects and upholds the rights of all its citizens.