A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 23:12-35. 4). Paul is rescued from a Jewish plot.
The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. They went to the chief priests and elders and said, ‘We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.’
But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.
Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, ‘Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.’ So he took him to the commander.
The centurion said, ‘Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.’
The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, ‘What is it you want to tell me?’
He said, ‘The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.’
The commander dismissed the young man and cautioned him, ‘Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.’
Then he called two if his centurions and ordered them, ‘Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.
He wrote a letter as follows:
To His Excellency, Governor Felix:
This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. I found that the accusation has to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.
So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. The next day, they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When the cavalry arrived in Caeserea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilica, he said, ‘I will hear your case when your accusers get here.’ Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.
a. The plot is hatched (23:12-22)
The Asian Jews had been frustrated in their attempts to lynch Paul, and the Sanhedrin had been unable to convict him of any offense. So now a group of more than forty Jewish men hatched a plot to murder him, binding themselves by oath to eat and drink nothing until they had succeeded. They then prevailed on the chief priests to persuade the Sanhedrin to petition the commander to co-operate with them. Their scheme was to have Paul brought back to court along narrow streets where he could easily be intercepted and killed. It seemed that everybody was now involved in the conspiracy and that Paul was in extreme danger.
But even the most careful and cunning of human plans cannot succeed if God opposes them. No weapon forged against him will prevail (Is. 54:17). On this occasion God’s providential intervention involved Paul’s nephew. It is tantalizing to read these references to Paul’s sister and her son, and to have no further information about them. Were they believers? Did they have some association with Jewish leaders which made it natural for Paul’s nephew to learn of the plot without rousing anybody’s suspicions? And how is it that he got access into the barracks so easily, especially if (as it seems from verse 19) he was only a youth? Luke does not satisfy our curiosity about any of these matters. What we do know is that the news of the plot spread from Paul’s nephew to Paul, from Paul to a centurion, and from the centurion to the commander, who then learned about it from the youth’s own lips. Doubtless remembering Paul’s Roman citizenship, the commander decided on immediate and resolute action.
Tomorrow: Acts 23:12-35. (continued). b). The plot is foiled (Acts 23:23-35).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts: Becoming a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.