ARRESTED BY THE JEWS Part 3 of 3 (Acts Series)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

34 And some cried one thing, some another, among the multitude: and when he could not know the certainty for the tumult, he commanded him to be carried into the castle.
35 And when he came upon the stairs, so it was, that he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the people.
36 For the multitude of the people followed after, crying, Away with him.

The Tribune naturally assumed that Paul was a criminal (v. 38). He then attempted to find out what crime he had done. It is not clear whom he was questioning. It may have been Paul himself (but verse 37 may tell us) or the crowd. In any case, Paul could not have made himself understand, for the people in the crowd were shouting, some of one thing, some another. Lysias was totally unable to ascertain any substantive accusation against Paul because of the chaos and uproar created by the crowd. As with most mobs, many of the participants probably did not know what the commotion was all about: “Inside, the people were all shouting, some one thing and some another. Everything was in confusion. In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there” (19:32). Lysias’s only recourse was to take the prisoner into the Tower and question him there. The original troublemakers must have escaped during the great commotion, knowing that they could not actually substantiate their charges.

The mob had fallen back upon catching sight of the soldiers but it had not gone away. So Lysias ordered that Paul be taken to the barracks. As the troops withdrew to the steps, the crowd became increasingly violent, angry at seeing Paul snatched from their grasp. When they reached the steps of Antonia, the soldiers had to lift Paul up and carry him to protect him from the violence of the mob. Why this was necessary is not immediately clear. Paul may have been somewhat incapacitated from the severity of his beating. If he was bound at the feet, this would certainly explain why the soldiers found it more expedient to carry him. As they hastened up the steps, the crowd milled around below, shouting, “away with him!”— (to execution) the same words the mob had screamed at Jesus (Luke 23:18; John 19:15) in this very place some twenty-seven years earlier (Luke 23:18; John 19:15; also see Acts 22:22).

37 And as Paul was to be led into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, May I speak unto thee? Who said, Canst thou speak Greek?
38 Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?

As they reached the top of the stairs and were about to enter the barracks, Paul asked the tribune for permission to make a request. His language was in polite, polished Greek, and the Tribune was amazed that he would speak Greek in the first place. This seemingly insignificant incident, due to Paul’s good education and cultured manner, is one of the turning points of history. From this moment on, the Tribune took more than a passing interest in Paul, and protected him from his enemies. Yet to Paul it was the most natural thing in the world that he should address his captor in Greek and in a gentlemanly way. Thus God uses the everyday things of life to carry on His purposes in the world.

Lysias had assumed that Paul was a Palestinian with no education. He then disclosed that he had suspected Paul of being a revolutionary, perhaps the Egyptian who had stirred up a considerable following in about a.d. 54. Josephus also spoke of this Egyptian. According to him, the Egyptian was a false prophet who stirred up a following of some 30,000 “dupes,” led them into the wilderness and from there to the Mount of Olives, where he promised that the walls of Jerusalem would fall at his command and allow them to easily defeat the Roman force. Instead of Jerusalem’s walls falling, Felix arrived on the scene with heavy troops, killed 400 of them, took another 200 captive, and put the Egyptian and the rest to flight. This was just one of the many incidents of unrest and political discontent Josephus related as having occurred during the tenure of Felix. The difference between Luke’s 4000 and Josephus’s 30,000 is most likely evidence of Josephus’s tendency to give exaggerated figure’s.

In Acts, the followers of the Egyptian are described as Sicarii meaning “Dagger men.”Josephus also spoke of this terrorist group among the more zealous Jewish freedom fighters. Arising in the time of Felix, they derived their name from the Latin word sica, meaning dagger. Their practice was to mingle in large crowds on special occasions, plunge their curved daggers into their pro-Roman political enemies, and then quickly disappear into the crowd. One of their better-known victims was Jonathan, the former high priest, the son of Annas. It is easy to see how Lysias might have confused Paul with these fanatics. He had witnessed many of them rise and fall. He naturally associated them with crowds and riots like the one surrounding Paul. In this instance perhaps he thought the Egyptian had returned and some of his former “dupes” were now repaying him.

39 But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.
40 And when he had given him licence, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying,

Paul was no terrorist. He was not even an Egyptian. He was, in point of fact, a Jew (a Jew, in case the commander should think he was a Gentile and guilty of profaning the temple), and a citizen of the proud Hellenistic city of Tarsus (a Tarsian, to distinguish him from the Egyptian), “no ordinary city” as he described it. The reference at this point is to his Tarsian citizenship, not his Roman citizenship, which is not divulged to Lysias until later (22:25-29). Ordinarily, it was impossible for a Roman citizen to hold dual citizenship, but by the time of the emperors, this evidently became quite common. The Jews of Tarsus appear to have enjoyed full civil rights under Roman law, something of which the Tribune was either ignorant or too preoccupied for the implications to sink in. At the moment he was simply trying to say that he was not the man he had been taken for. But the crowd was not interested in the truth, hence, they had accused him of teaching against the Jewish people, the law, and the temple.

Paul’s exchange with Lysias was relevant to his request to address the Jews. The fact that he was a Jew obviously gave him some grounds for addressing his fellow Jews. He was obviously cultured which assured Lysias that he was not one of the rabble and deserved to have his request honored. Permission was granted, for Lysias may have hoped that he would get enough information for an official report. He never did (see Acts 23:23-30).
Paul’s sudden reappearance at the top of the steps of the Antonia and his characteristic and authoritative wave of his hand, produced the desired effect—it brought a hush over the crowd. Gradually the tumult died away until only a voice or two here and there still called out angrily, but soon, these, too, died away and silence fell. There is no stillness, no silence in the world as awesome as the hush of a mighty crowd that moments before had been lifting its united voice in a roar. It says much for the power and authority of Paul that a gesture of his hand at the right moment could call down such a hush on that maddened multitude. The moment would not last, but Paul knew how to capitalize on it. He addressed them in their own native tongue (probably Aramaic). His choice of language was aimed at gaining the people’s attention and, if possible, winning their hearts (Romans 9:1-3; 10:1).

The whole episode has been questioned by a small group of commentators on two grounds: first, whether Paul would have been physically capable of speaking and, second, whether permission for him to speak would have been granted. There is no evidence, however, that he was actually hurt in the fracas.

In the next lesson, his speech was his defense against these charges.


{1]Diaspora: The scattering of the Jews to countries outside of Palestine after the Babylonian captivity.

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