Diving Deeper Lesson Outline for Acts 23:23-35
The title is drawn from a recognition that the Bible is linked to secular history.
Luke writes about not only the history of Paul’s current predicament but also inserts the story into the Roman geographical and political realities of that time.
Here we examine some examples and some implications of linking revelation with history.
But first, I have a couple of points about Paul’s immediate history.
1) A WAY OF LIFE FOR THE APOSTLES
Acts 23:27 – This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen.
Our lesson text today contains much review, so we will use that as license to review even further.
To live a life in obedience to Christ, was to live a life mired in threats, intimidation, imprisonment and even death.
In Acts, we see a pattern of apostle persecution that began with some restraint but quickly escalated to violence.
Acts 4:21a – And when they had further threatened them, they let them go…
Acts 5:18 – They arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.
Acts 5:33 – When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.
Acts 5:40 – and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them…
Acts 7:58 – Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him.
Acts 8:3 – But Saul was ravaging the church…he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
Acts 9:23-25 – …the Jews plotted to kill him,…watching the gates day and night in order to kill him…
Acts 9:29 – …But they were seeking to kill him.
Acts 12:2 – He killed James the brother of John with the sword,
Acts 14:5 – When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them,
Acts 14:19 – …they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.
Acts 16:23 – …they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison…
2) JEWISH STRATEGY OF DEFEATING THE GOSPEL MESSAGE
Acts 23:29 – I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment.
There never was an attempt made by the Jewish leaders and laymen, that we know of, to discredit Jesus’ miracles, His death or the empty tomb.
In fact, they readily admitted the power of this testimony.
The Jews claim was that the apostles were teaching against the law.
The Jews first handled the problem posed by the apostles by asking them to speak no more of Jesus or else – Plan A.
In fact, Gamaleil advocated reason and pragmatism.
As time went on, however, it became clear that the apostles were unfazed by threats.
So as we just saw, the Jewish leaders were more & more willing to resort to violence.
To garner support for violence, they realized it was necessary to stir up intense hatred of the apostles.
So enter Plan B – turn the public against the apostles by falsely accusing them of corrupting the laws and customs of Moses.
Jerusalem, we have a problem – Plan A:
The Jewish leadership and layperson of Jerusalem were all in agreement that Signs & Wonders were taking place.
However, the apostles rightly attributed the source of the Signs & Wonders to a resurrected Jesus.
Plan A was to convince the apostles to stop this attribution and shut up.
Acts 4:13-17 – Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”
Acts 4:21b – finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.
Plan A not working:
Frustration was building among the Jewish leadership, but Gamaliel argued for a reasonable solution.
Like previous movements, he argued, if the movement is bogus it will die.
Acts 5:34-35 & 38-40 – But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men…..38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
Too much at stake so time for Plan B – divide and conquer:
The problem with Gamaliel’s approach was that if the movement didn’t die, the status quo might.
And given the power of the apostles argument and witness, this possibility was unacceptable.
Acts 6:10-14 – But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.”
**Notice here, like in Acts 4:13-17 that the influence of the power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit was not in question.
What exactly was at stake for the Jewish leadership?
Why such violent opposition to the apostles’ message?
Further evidence of Plan B in action:
Acts 13:45 – …they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him.
Acts 13:50 – …incited the devout women and the leading men, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas.
Acts 14:2 – …stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.
Acts 17:5 – …Jews were jealous..formed a mob, set the city in an uproar…
Acts 17:13 – …they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds.
Acts 18:13 – saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.”
Acts 21:20b-21 – …you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.
***The tactics of the Jews had even lingered and brought doubts to the believing Jews.
Acts 21:27-28 – …stirred up the whole crowd…the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”
POI – The Jews’ Plan B strategy was also employed by Gentiles.
Acts 16:21 – They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.
Acts 19:27-28 – And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” 28 When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
POI – Scripture paints a clear picture of the Jews treatment of the apostles, the tactics used and their motivation.
For me, the apostles’ willingness to endure this for Jesus, a dead man, demonstrates not only the probability of their claim that He in fact was raised from the dead but also the power of this risen Christ to sustain and encourage during hardships suffered on His account.
They had nothing to gain (they weren’t politicians or power brokers) and everything to lose.
3) FELIX AND CAESAREA – CHRISTIANITY AS HISTORY
I am fascinated how Scripture is so deeply rooted in and intertwined with secular history.
And unlike many other religions, the authority of Scripture is linked to its accurate depiction of that history.
Of course the best example of this is that, “Christianity is belief in a person, a genuine historical individual – but at the same time a special individual, whom the church regards as not only human, but divine.” – William Lane Craig
By contrast, little of the Koran is rooted in the actions of persons that existed in a secular historical context.
The Koran is a revelation of God to Muhammad over a period of about 23 years.
Its 114 chapters consist mainly of spiritual teachings and their application not a publicly recorded and verifiable history.
For example, chapter 30 entitled “The Romans” makes no mention of any names or specific places.
So historically, there is nothing at stake.
But in our text today, Scripture unashamedly plants itself right in the middle of Roman politics and jurisprudence.
And it does so in such a way that if its historical context is found to be inaccurate, the authority of Scripture itself could be called into question.
Acts 23:24 – Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor
Luke claimed that Antonius Felix was the governor of the Judean Province of the Roman Empire.
Secular historians agree.
Felix is known to have been in power from about 52-58 A.D.
Bronze coins minted during his time in power have been discovered.
He had 3 wives &, in fact, one of his wives was the 2nd cousin to Emperor Claudius (41-54 A.D.).
He had a son die in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.
Historians at the time of Felix wrote that he “practiced every kind of cruelty and lust”.
He was known to put down disturbances with “severity.”
In our verses today, Luke reveals the below odd conversation.
Acts 23:34-35 – On reading the letter, he asked what province he was from. And when he learned that he was from Cilicia 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium.
In fact, there was a Roman practice know as “Forum Domicilli” that would have given Felix the option of sending Paul back to the province of his birth to have a hearing.
We see the same thing going on with Pilate and Jesus.
Luke 23:6-7 – When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time
If Felix was never governor of the Judean Province, how does that help or hurt the authority of the Bible?
Acts 23:33-35 – When they had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. 34 On reading the letter, he asked what province he was from. And when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium.
Luke claimed that the governor of the Judean province and Herod’s praetorium were in Caesarea.
In fact, we know that about 6 A.D., the administrative capital was moved from Jerusalem to Caesarea.
Due to its status as the capital, Caesarea contained a Roman built aqueduct, hippodrome, a amphitheater and Herod’s praetorium was converted into the governor’s palace.
Having been there, I can tell you that even in ruins it is a beautiful place.
Interestingly, it is in the amphitheater that was found a seat marker for Pontius Pilate; it had his name inscribed on it.
Other references to Caesarea:
Acts 8:40 – But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
Acts 21:8 – On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.
Philip evangelized in and lived in Caesarea.
Acts 10:1-2 – At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.
Peter came to Caesarea after his vision and met up with a converted Roman centurion.
Acts 18:22 – When he [Paul] had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch.
As with Felix, if Caesarea was not the capital, or did not have Herod’s palace, or was not the capital in which the governor would have resided, we may have a problem with the authority of scripture.
I find it difficult to divorce the teachings of Luke with the history in which it happened.
It is in the context of all this history that the our faith finds one of its many reasons to be probable.
The more we confirm the accuracy of the historical context of the Bible, the more probable it becomes.
Therefore, an effective Christian apologetic is rooted in the truth of the history in which it was born.
I love the boldness demonstrated by God by putting his revelation smack dab in the middle of human history.
I have heard it said, “if God and the Bible are true, why didn’t God make it loud and clear?”
I think this is one way that He did exactly that!
But as important, is that in our text today we find the continued fulfillment of God’s call to Paul that he, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” – Acts 9:15-16