11. But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”
This was certainly another traumatic experience for Paul as well, for it could not have been overly pleasant for him to experience such hostility and murderous hatred from men who at one time had been his fellows. Yet the Lord knows well when one of His servants needs encouragement, and so that night He appeared to Paul, as we see it here. In fact, we read that “the Lord stood by him,” which is very interesting, since there is no suggestion that this was a dream, but every indication that the Lord was there in reality. It seems He personally came to Paul at this point to encourage him. This reminds us of Samuel in I Samuel 3, who also received such a visit from the Lord at night, and the Lord came and stood at his bedside.
So the Lord comes the following night. This sounds to us as if He waited more than twenty-four hours and then came, but that is wrong. We need to keep in mind that the Jewish days started at sunset, and went from there through twelve hours of night, and then twelve hours of day. Paul stood before the Sanhedrin in the morning of one day, and the Lord came to him on what they would call the following night, but we would call the night of that very same day. There was no delay in His coming to see Paul.
The Lord advises Paul to be of good cheer, calling him by name. Then, He tells Paul why he should be comforted. His testimony for the Lord in Jerusalem is completed, but the Lord has yet more work for him to do. As he has testified for the Lord in Jerusalem, so must he also do at Rome. This offers several sources of comfort. First of all, the Lord has received his testimony here as being for Himself, and the Lord is pleased with it. Secondly, he can now know that the actions of all these enemies of his against him will not prevail. He cannot die without completing the Lord’s mission for him, and the Lord has yet more work for him to do.
12. And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.
The Lord’s comfort was timely indeed, for when the next day dawns, Paul’s enemies go on the move. We read here of a group of the Jews who banded together and bound themselves under an oath that they would neither eat food nor drink water until they had killed Paul. We should remember that the word “Jews” in the land of Israel was typically used for those of the rich, ruling class who held all the power in the land and lorded it over the common people. (After all, almost all the inhabitants of Israel were what we would think of as “Jews,” including those who were Paul’s friends, so the word would have no meaning if we thought of it like we use the word today.) These men were the ones who were the most likely to reject and oppose Christ and His ways, and they are still Paul’s most staunch enemies now.
The Companion Bible suggests that the idea of “banded together” here is that there were some from both sides, both Pharisees and Sadducees, who came together and formed this conspiracy. For make no mistake: though some had defended Paul the day before because of political expediency, really all who had rejected Christ in the Sanhedrin hated him, and they were eager to see him dead.
Now this oath was an anathema, which would roughly translate to a cutting off. The idea was that they should die if they broke this oath. We would wonder if they really kept this oath. It was made in the heat of the moment, but when things cooled down and they were foiled in their purpose, we cannot help but think that most of them forgot all about this oath and kept themselves alive by eating and drinking, and didn’t kill themselves afterwards when they failed to keep their oath. Yet this is what they had vowed to do. They are basically saying that Paul must die, or else they must, one or the other.
13. Now there were more than forty who had formed this conspiracy.
It is not just one or two that have vowed this, but a large conspiracy of more than forty men. This looks bad for Paul, for these men are clearly very eager to have his head!
14. They came to the chief priests and elders, and said, “We have bound ourselves under a great oath that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul.
Having taken this oath, these men go about carrying it out. To do this, they seek the aid of the chief priests and elders of Israel. These elders were the presbuteros, or the representative men of Israel, its governmental leaders. These forty Jews tell them about the great oath they have bound themselves under. Notice that, while they mention that they have bound themselves to eat nothing, they leave out the part about not drinking anything either. We wonder whether this is not a sign that they were already starting to back down from their rash oath. Certainly the oath to not drink was more radical than that not to eat, for death comes much more quickly by not drinking than it does by not eating. And this more extreme part of the oath is the part they fail to mention. This further leads us to the conclusion that, when Paul escaped from their clutches, there wasn’t a one of these men who died from hunger or thirst.
15. Now you, therefore, together with the council, suggest to the commander that he be brought down to you tomorrow, as though you were going to make further inquiries concerning him; but we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”
Now they suggest their plan to the chief priests and elders. Together with the Sanhedrin, they should suggest to the chiliarch the next day that Paul be brought down to them. Their excuse for this will be the vague suggestion that they want to make some further inquiries concerning him. As he is coming down, these Jews will ambush those bringing him there, and will kill him before he ever gets to the meeting of the Sanhedrin.
Now this was a bold plan, and it involved great risks for these forty men. Paul would not have been headed for the Sanhedrin by himself, but would have been accompanied by at least several Roman soldiers. While the forty men who had formed this conspiracy were more than enough to overcome a typical number of guards, the Romans were not known as great fighters for nothing, and some of them might well be killed in the ambush. Moreover, Rome would take a very dim view indeed of this kind of ambush. If the crime was ever traced back to any of them, the cross would have been their fate. So there is no doubt but that they were willing to risk their lives and a terrible death in their zeal to kill Paul.
16. So when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their ambush, he went and entered the barracks and told Paul.
Yet here the Lord steps in. Though the conspiracy might have had forty men, the chief priests, the elders, and the Sanhedrin on their side, on Paul’s side was the Lord, and so the conspirators had no chance.
Now we read that Paul’s sister’s son heard of their ambush. We know next to nothing about Paul’s family, but it seems likely that not all of his powerful and influential kindred had followed Paul in owning the Man Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Some of these, then, would have maintained their ties with the leadership in Israel. So through these ties, it seems word comes to this nephew of Paul’s. The Companion Bible suggests that the Greek could indicate that he accidentally came upon these men and overheard their plot. If this nephew’s family is on the side of the rejecters of Christ, it seems that this nephew at least cares about his uncle Paul, and does not want to see him murdered by his enemies. Thus, he goes at once to the castle and tells Paul what he has discovered. We can see that Paul was allowed the freedom for any of his friends and relatives to come to see him, a typical privilege for any Roman citizen who was incarcerated.
17. Then Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, “Take this young man to the commander, for he has something to tell him.”
Paul knows immediately what to do, it seems. Yet the Lord was with Paul, and it is hard to say if this was Paul’s plan or His. Yet whatever the case, Paul calls one of the centurions to him and orders him to take his nephew, whom he calls “this young man,” to the commander, because Paul says he has a message for him. This is quite a thing for a prisoner to demand of his guards, so once again we see how many rights a Roman prisoner had. It may be, too, that the chiliarch now, after hearing what went on in the Sanhedrin, has a good deal of respect for Paul, and somewhat less respect for his enemies, and so he has ordered special treatment for Paul even above what would have been his right. This is hard to say, of course, but Paul certainly is treated well, for as we read in the next verse, this soldier, who himself commanded a hundred men, takes this order from Paul and obeys it.
18. So he took him and brought him to the commander and said, “Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to bring this young man to you. He has something to say to you.”
The centurion does as Paul said, and brings Paul’s nephew to the chiliarch. He reports to him the facts, telling him that Paul the prisoner called him and asked him to bring this young man to his commander, since he has something to tell him. This man, we can see, was a good soldier, and quite capable of repeating the facts succinctly and accurately.
The words of the centurion give us a good idea of the age of Paul’s nephew. The word the centurion uses to refer to him, neanias, typically refers to a man between the ages of twenty and forty. This makes sense, for Paul was probably over sixty by this time, so his sister’s son would not be expected to still be a boy. I have seen this young man depicted as a child, but an understanding of the Greek shows that this is simply an error.
19. Then the commander took him by the hand, went aside, and asked privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?”
The commander does not brush aside Paul’s message, but takes it very seriously. Again, this would seem to tell us that he has developed a certain amount of respect for this prisoner. He can tell by the fact that Paul has sent the young man by the centurion rather than telling the centurion the message that this is a message of great importance, and that Paul judges that it should be for the chiliarch’s ears alone, not even trusting it to one of his highest ranking soldiers. Therefore, he takes the young man, takes him aside, and asks him privately what this message is that he has to tell him that Paul thinks is of such importance.
20. And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask that you bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more fully about him.
Paul’s nephew tells the chiliarch the plans of the Jews that he has discovered. Notice again that he could mean nothing here by the word “Jews” but those rich and powerful leaders who were the ones who were now conspiring against Paul. He reports to the chiliarch the fact that they are planning on the following day to ask for Paul to be brought down from the castle to the Sanhedrin, pretending to have something they want to learn more fully about him.
21. But do not yield to them, for more than forty of them lie in wait for him, men who have bound themselves by an oath that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him; and now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you.”
Paul’s nephew advises the chiliarch not to be persuaded by them to do this. Then he advises him of the conspiracy of forty men who have sworn neither to eat nor to drink until they have killed Paul. All is in readiness for this plan, he reports, and the conspirators wait only for a promise from the chiliarch to bring Paul down to the Sanhedrin to put their plans into motion.
22. So the commander let the young man depart, and commanded him , “Tell no one that you have revealed these things to me.”
The commander, having heard Paul’s nephew’s report, now lets him go. The Greek word is apoluo, which means he loosed him and held him there no longer. Yet he dismisses him with a command. He warns him not to tell anyone that he had revealed these things to him. This was probably for two reasons. Primarily for the chiliarch, he did not want these conspirators to know that their ambush had been discovered, for then they might have come up with another and more desperate plan. Secondly, he probably was concerned for this young man’s safety, for the conspirators would not have been overly happy with the one who had given away their plot, and they might in that case have decided to kill the nephew of Paul in Paul’s place. No doubt this young man listened well to the commander, and kept his part in revealing this conspiracy a secret. We cannot know for certain, for we never hear of this young man again. Yet what we have heard was a very good thing, and we commend this young man for what he did.
23. And he called for two centurions, saying, “Prepare two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at the third hour of the night;
Now the chiliarch calls for two centurions. Again, a centurion was a captain over a hundred men, just like a chiliarch was over a thousand. So these men would have been his leading soldiers. Then, he commands them to prepare two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen. This last indicates some kind of lightly armed troops, perhaps not spearmen as we would think of them in the medieval sense. This word occurs only here in the Scriptures, so it is hard to say for sure. Altogether, the force he is sending totals four hundred and seventy men, a huge company! Certainly, no force of about forty could hope to stand against such a force. Moreover, when we consider that these 470 were highly trained Roman soldiers, whereas the 40 were just zealous peasants with a desire to show their zeal for God, we have to realize that the chiliarch’s plan was a good one indeed. There is no way that these men, no matter how desperate they are, will be able to harm Paul with this kind of force protecting him!
Now, he commands these centurions to send this force to Caesarea at the third hour of the night. Why Caesarea, we will learn in the next verse. Remember that the Jewish days started at sunset, or about 6:00PM, and proceeded for twelve hours of night, followed by twelve hours of day. Therefore, the third hour of the night would be around 9:00PM. So this force was to leave in the night, and to travel to Caesarea under the cover of darkness. So not only was it a huge force, but this force would be traveling in secret. Not only so, but the gates of the city would be shut at night, and no one from the city could pursue them until daybreak, when the gates would be opened once again.
24. and provide mounts to set Paul on, and bring him safely to Felix the governor.”
Paul, like the seventy horsemen, is to be provided with mounts to ride on. In all ways, Paul is treated as much like a dignitary as he is like a prisoner! But remember that his Roman citizenship had much to do with this. He would not only be going to Caesarea, but he would be going in style. We cannot fault Claudius Lysias for not treating Paul well, especially once he learned he was a Roman. If only the higher officials in the Roman government had done as much!
Now we learn the purpose for Paul being moved to Caesarea. There, he is to appear before Felix the governor. The chiliarch seems to realize that this whole situation is becoming far too big for him to deal with, and so he sends Paul to his superior, who was the Roman governor of that part of the world. Felix means “Happy,” but he was a cruel and oppressive ruler over Judea. We will see the kind of “justice” this man gives to Paul as we consider more of the story in the chapters that follow.
So Paul is returned to Caesarea, the place where he first came when he arrived in Judea back in Acts 21:8-14. This was perhaps the most Gentile city in Judea, and was where the Roman governor had his seat. Caesarea is where one of the seven, Philip, made his home, as we saw in Acts 8 and 21, and was where Cornelius lived, as we saw in Acts 10 and 11. Paul will remain here as a prisoner throughout the next few chapters, until we get to his journey to Rome starting in chapter 27.
25. He wrote a letter in the following manner:
Having set his soldiers about the job of preparing the force that is to accompany Paul, the chiliarch goes about his own task, which is writing a letter to his superior, the governor Felix, to explain to him who Paul is and what the situation is that has caused him to send Paul his way.
26. Claudius Lysias,
To the most excellent governor Felix:
Here we at last learn the chiliarch’s name, which is Claudius Lysias. Claudius means “Lame,” and Lysias means “Releaser.” We see that Claudius uses the ancient method of writing his name at the top of his letter. Of course, there is nothing sacred about our method of writing our name at the bottom.
Claudius addresses his letter to the governor Felix, giving him the exalted title of “most excellent governor Felix.” He was far from this, but of course a man was expected to address his superior in this way, and so Claudius does so. “Greetings” is literally, “Rejoice,” but this was just their way of saying “Hello” in Greek, or sometimes even “Goodbye.” Our own expression for “goodbye” is an abbreviation of “good be with ye,” which is a corruption of “God be with ye,” abbreviated to “God b’ ye,” becoming “goodbye.” Yet it is doubtful that anyone who uses this word really has this idea in mind anymore, and many who do not even believe in God will use the expression. So “Rejoice!” had come to be their common greeting, even if they didn’t really care whether or not the person they were addressing rejoiced or not.
27. This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them. Coming with the troops I rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman.
Claudius describes to Felix that Paul had been seized by the Jews, and was about to be killed by them. Of course, this was completely accurate, for this is just what we saw back in Acts 21:31. Claudius describes himself coming with his troops to deliver him, but here his story does not quite fit with what we saw back in chapter 21. Claudius describes it as if he had already learned that Paul was a Roman before he came to rescue him. He makes himself out to be a hero charging to the defense of a Roman citizen in danger. The reality was that Claudius had actually arrested Paul as a troublemaker, and, as we saw, had even been about to question him by scourging, before Paul revealed that he was a Roman. Of course, these little details Claudius leaves out of his description. He is certainly trying to put himself in the best possible light. Yet there is this about what he says that is true, anyway: he did rescue Paul. No doubt he was used by God to do this. Yet he was hardly the hero he makes himself out to be.
28. And when I wanted to know the reason they accused him, I brought him before their council.
Having completed his self-aggrandizement in the previous verse, Claudius goes back to repeating the facts in the case of Paul accurately. He describes truthfully the fact that he had wanted to know more about why the Jews were accusing Paul, and explains that for this purpose he had brought him before the Sanhedrin.
29. I found out that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but had nothing charged against him deserving of death or chains.
Claudius here tells Felix what he discovered from Paul’s trial before the Sanhedrin, which is supplemental information, since we have had no word of Claudius’ conclusions about Paul’s trial before the Sanhedrin mentioned prior to this. Claudius tells Felix that he learned that Paul was accused of questions regarding the law of the Jews. He also determined that no charges were made against him that made him deserving either of death or even of imprisonment. In this, he certainly spoke the truth, for Paul truly had done nothing wrong.
30. And when it was told me that the Jews lay in wait for the man, I sent him immediately to you, and also commanded his accusers to state before you the charges against him.
Claudius now explains to Felix the plot of the Jews to ambush Paul. He does not go into the details of this plot, knowing that this would not interest the governor. That is Claudius’ concern, and by the time Paul arrives at Caesarea, Claudius will have done his job and taken care of the situation. Felix will be satisfied that Claudius has done his duty, and will not concern himself with the details. However, it is important that Felix knows about this plot, so he knows that the Jews are desperate, and are willing to defy Roman authority to murder Paul.
The one thing Claudius does tell Felix about his response to the plot to kill Paul is that he chose to send Paul to Felix at this point. Then, he tells Felix that he commanded Paul’s accusers to appear before Felix and to state before him the charges they have against Paul. Of course, as Claudius wrote this letter, he has not actually done this yet, for he is not about to let the Jews know in advance where and when he is going to move Paul. Yet this is his plan, and what he will do the next day when the Jews arrive before him to ask, as they had planned, to have Paul brought before the Sanhedrin once more. So Claudius speaks to Felix of what he is planning to do as if he has already done it. There is nothing wrong with this, and Claudius is not telling an untruth in saying it, for by the time Felix is reading this letter, he will have already done this. Moreover, there really is no reason for him to burden Felix with more exact but unnecessary details.
Having finished what he has to say, Claudius finishes his letter by bidding Felix farewell. In English, this is a wish that all things will fare well with the recipient of the letter. The Greek is rhonnumi, which literally means “be strong.” Certainly the type of thing we would expect a Roman soldier to say to a fellow Roman in ending his letter.
31. Then the soldiers, as they were commanded, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris.
So the soldiers follow their orders and bring Paul by night, as they were commanded. They do not actually travel all the way to Caesarea that night, but only go as far as Antipatris, a city located between Caesarea and Joppa. Apparently, their journey goes without incident. Paul’s enemies probably remain completely unaware of this move, and even if they did catch wind of it, there is little they can do against a force of this size.
Antipatris means “For a Forefather.” It was in a very fertile location, about forty miles from Jerusalem in the Plain of Sharon. It was rebuilt by Herod the Great in honor of his forefather Antipater. Herod may have been an extremely wicked tyrant, but the one thing he was good at was building projects. Of course, he funded them on the backs of the poverty-stricken people of his nation. This city was one of his projects.
32. The next day they left the horsemen to go on with him, and returned to the barracks.
The next day comes the last leg of the journey. The two hundred soldiers and two hundred spearmen leave Paul at this point, and only the seventy horsemen are left to conduct him safely to Caesarea. The four hundred return from Antipatris to Jerusalem and the barracks, for it would not do for them to be out of that trouble-prone city for long.
33. When they came to Caesarea and had delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him.
So the seventy come to Caesarea with Paul. There, they deliver Claudius’ letter to the governor Felix, and present Paul before him at the same time.
34. And when the governor had read it, he asked what province he was from. And when he understood that he was from Cilicia,
Governor Felix reads the letter from Claudius Lysias, for of course until he reads it he has no idea who this man is who has been presented to him with such a large force accompanying him. After reading the letter, his only question for Paul is what province of the Roman Empire he is from. Paul explains that he is from Cilicia, a region north of Israel where Tarsus is located. As we know, when Pilate learned that the Lord was from Galilee, he sent him off to Herod, hoping that he could shift the problem to someone else. Cilicia was included in the Roman province of Syria, which was in Felix’ jurisdiction, however, and it is clear that he will get no help from that avenue. He must take care of this problem himself.
35. he said, “I will hear you when your accusers also have come.” And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.
Knowing that this is his problem to solve, Felix dismisses Paul for now. He tells him that he will not hear his case yet, but will wait for his accusers to come, so that he can hear both sides of the argument at once. This was a wise course of action, and one we cannot fault Felix for. Of course, he already knows Claudius Lysias’ opinion, that Paul is innocent of any wrongdoing. Though Lysias was not flawless in all this, we might wish that Felix was as honest and fair a man as this man, Felix’ legate in Jerusalem! Yet the Lord will use even this man’s dishonesty to bring about His Own ends.
Paul is taken to Herod’s Praetorium. A Praetorium was a headquarters or palace. Once again, we see that Paul is treated quite well, for to be imprisoned in a palace, particularly one constructed by the extravagant Herod, was hardly the worst place one could find oneself as a prisoner.
So Paul is now in Caesarea once again, and has safely escaped from the ambush his enemies planned against him. His enemies must now come to Roman turf to accuse him, and they will not dare to try to hatch any plot such as they had been scheming to do in the largely Greek city of Caesarea. So he is safe for now, and awaits his opportunity to appear before Felix. And in all this, we can see that the hand of the Lord is working, for Paul will now have the opportunity to proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ to the Roman ruler of Judea. The Lord has a plan in all this, and as hard as this must have been for Paul, he will continue to act as His agent throughout this. Working for the Lord is often not easy, but whatever he was called upon to do, Paul did it faithfully. May each of us be able to say the same.