23 May 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 24:1 – 26:32. Paul on trial.
Jerusalem and Rome were the centres of two enormously strong power blocs. The faith of Jerusalem went back two millennia to Abraham. The rule of Rome extended some three million square miles round the Mediterranean Sea. Jerusalem’s strength lay in history and tradition, Rome’s in conquest and organization. The combined might of Jerusalem and Rome was overwhelming. If a solitary dissident like Paul were to set himself against them, the outcome would be inevitable. His chances of survival would resemble those of a butterfly before a steamroller. He would be crushed, utterly obliterated from the face of the earth.
Yet such an outcome, we may confidently affirm, never even entered Paul’s mind as a possibility. For he saw his situation from an entirely different perspective. He was no traitor to either church or state, that he should come into collision with them, although this is how his accusers tried to frame him. The enemies of Jesus had followed the same ploy. In their own court they had accused him of threatening to destroy the temple and of blaspheming Mk. 14:55-64; Lk.22:66-71), while before Pilate they had represented him as guilty of sedition – subverting the nation, opposing taxes to Caesar and claiming to be himself a king (Lk. 23:1-3). Now Paul’s enemies laid similar charges against him, namely that he offended ‘against the law of the Jews’, ‘against the temple’ and ‘against Caesar’ (25:7-8).
But Paul was as innocent in these areas as Jesus had been. He had no quarrel with the God-given status of either Rome or Jerusalem. On the contrary, as he had written to the Roman Christians, he recognized that the authority given to Rome came from God (Rom. 13:1ff.) and that the privileges given to Israel came from God also (Rom. 9:4-5). The gospel did not undermine the law, whether Jewish or Roman, but rather ‘upheld’ it (Rom. 3:31). To be sure, the Romans might misuse their God-given authority and the Jews might misrepresent their law as the means of salvation. In such situations Paul would oppose them. But that was not the issue now. Paul’s contention, while on trial, was that in principle the gospel both supports the rule of Caesar (25:8-12) and fulfils the hope of Israel (26:6ff.). His defence before his judges was to present himself as a loyal citizen of Rome and a loyal son of Israel.
Paul’s double denial of treason and double insistence on loyalty is the thread which runs through these chapters. So far he has defended himself before a Jewish crowd (21:40ff.) and the Sanhedrin (23:1ff.). Now he will stand trial before the procurator Felix (24:1ff.), the procurator Festus (25:1ff.) and King Agrippa II (25:23ff.). In each of these five trials, in which the charge was now political (sedition), now religious (sacrilege), the judging audience was part Roman and part Jewish. Thus, when Paul spoke to the Jewish crowd and the Jewish Council, Claudius Lysias, the Roman tribune, was present and listening, while when Paul stood before Felix and Festus, the representatives of Rome, it was the Jews who were prosecuting. Then in the fifth trial, which was the grand finale, King Agrippa II combined both authorities within himself, for he had been appointed by Rome but was also an acknowledged authority on Jewish affairs.
Tomorrow: Acts 24:1-27 1). Paul before Felix.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.