Paul Escorted to Caesarea, Part 1 of 3 (series: Lessons on Acts)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

May 14, 2016


Acts of the Apostles
By: Tom Lowe


Lesson: IV.F.1: Paul Escorted to Caesarea (23:23-35)


Acts 23:23-35 (KJV)

23 And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night;
24 And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor.
25 And he wrote a letter after this manner:
26 Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting.
27 This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them: then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman.
28 And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council:
29 Whom I perceived to be accused of questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds.
30 And when it was told me how that the Jews laid wait for the man, I sent straightway to thee, and gave commandment to his accusers also to say before thee what they had against him. Farewell.
31 Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul, and brought him by night to Antipatris.
32 On the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the castle:
33 Who, when they came to Caesarea and delivered the epistle to the governor, presented Paul also before him.
34 And when the governor had read the letter, he asked of what province he was. And when he understood that he was of Cilicia;
35 I will hear thee, said he, when thine accusers are also come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod's judgment hall.


Introduction

Lysias decided to send Paul to Caesarea, the seat of the provincial government and the residence of the procurator. The urgent matter requiring Paul’s immediate removal from Jerusalem was the imminent threat from the 40 conspirators. He probably would have made this transfer sooner or later under any circumstances. The Jews were charging Paul with a capital crime, and only the procurator had jurisdiction over such cases. Furthermore, Paul was a Roman citizen, and that too placed Paul under the procurator rather than a lesser official such as himself. As commander of the Jerusalem garrison, his primary responsibility was maintaining peace and order. The mobs, the plots, all must have convinced him that Paul’s continued presence in Jerusalem was not only a danger to Paul’s own life but a threat to the general peace of the city as well.

If Paul had been a private citizen, attempting to travel from Jerusalem to Caesarea (about sixty-five miles) he would have been an easy target for the conspirators. But God arranged for 470 Roman soldiers to protect him, almost half of the men in the temple garrison! Once again in his career, Paul was smuggled out of a city under cover of night (Acts 9:25; 17:10).


Commentary

23 And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night;

Lysias lost no time in sending Paul to Caesarea. The fact that the military contingent was given orders to depart at nine o’clock at night (“the third hour of the night”) testifies both to the urgency and to his desire to accomplish the transfer as covertly as possible in the face of the ambush threat. He certainly did not want to have to explain to his superior the assassination of a Roman citizen in his custody. His concern was also expressed by the sizable number of ₶troops under whose guard Paul was dispatched— 2 centurions, 200-foot soldiers, 70 cavalry and 200 spearmen. This was nearly half the 1000 troops in the Jerusalem cohort, and more than 10 times the number of conspirators. The great size of the military escort was not intended to be a tribute to this faithful messenger of Christ. Rather, it was

an expression of the determination of the commander to maintain his reputation with his Roman superiors; if the Jews succeeded in killing Paul, a Roman citizen, then the officer in charge would be required to answer for his laziness.

The city gates would be opened to let this military force through and then would close again, making pursuit virtually impossible until the gates opened again in the morning, by which time Paul would be far away from Jerusalem and nearly to Caesarea.

We can well imagine the disappointment of the assassins (thought by some to be †Sicarii) as this strong force clattered out of the fortress and spread out in precise formation heading for the Roman capital. So much for their vows and plans to murder Paul. Caesar himself could not have been better protected.


†The Sicarii were an extremist splinter group of the Jewish Zealots in the decades preceding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70 who heavily opposed the Roman occupation of Judea and attempted to expel the Romans and their partisans from the area. The Sicarii carried sicae, or small daggers, concealed in their cloaks. At public gatherings, they pulled out these daggers to attack Romans and Jewish Roman sympathizers alike, blending into the crowd after the deed to escape detection.
††These were legionaries, the elite soldiers of the Roman army.

24 And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor.

Mounts were also provided for Paul, but the plural, “provide them beasts,” raises a number of possibilities. The additional horses may have been for relays or for baggage or, if he was chained to a soldier, for that man as well. But it could equally mean that Paul had his friends riding with him (24:23)—Luke, perhaps, and Aristarchus, who were certainly with him in Caesarea at a later date (27:1).


25 And he wrote a letter after this manner:

Lysias then drafted an official letter to the governor. Such letters were required when transferring a prisoner from one jurisdiction to another. They generally contained an account of the circumstances of arrest and the charges. The latter was difficult for Lysias.

This is the only example in the New Testament of a secular letter. However, we probably do not have the letter verbatim. Luke introduces it with the comment that it went “after this manner,” which probably means he is giving us the sense of it. The original would have been in Latin


26 Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting.

Lysias’s letter begins with the formal threefold salutation of a Greek letter, giving first the sender (Lysias), second the recipient (Felix), and finally the customary word of greeting. Felix is designated by the general word “governor” and given the respectful title “His Excellency.”


27 This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them: then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman.

After the formalities Lysias’s letter got down to the business at hand, explaining the circumstances of Paul’s arrest. He stretched the truth a bit to his own advantage—the commander was careful to portray himself as somewhat of a hero, a noble champion of Roman justice and order. The reader knows already that Lysias seized Paul in the Temple Square and put two chains on him. Fortunately for Claudius Lysias, Paul did not tattle on him (21:33). He probably was extremely fearful in case it would be reported to Felix that he had tied up an uncondemned Roman citizen. It was true that he probably saved Paul from the mob, but he certainly at that point had no knowledge of Paul’s Roman citizenship.

Paul’s recent experiences at Jerusalem supports the opinion of many in the Roman government at that time—that of all the provinces in the Roman Empire, Judea was the most volatile and difficult to govern, mostly because of the intense patriotic religious fervor of the Jews. The apostle would certainly be better off in Caesarea than Jerusalem, since the Jews would not be nearly so likely to cause a disturbance at Roman Caesarea than at Jewish Jerusalem.



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