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Paul’s trials and imprisonments

[Acts 21:17-28:31]

Paul’s imprisonment in Jerusalem

[Acts 21:17-23:35] The day after arriving at Jerusalem, Paul and some of his company go to see James and the elders. When Paul tells them of the things accomplished by God in his ministry to the Gentiles, they glorify God. Yet there is still disquiet amongst the Jewish believers who consider that Paul preaches against Moses. They suggest he joins four men in a purification process they need to undergo concerning a Nazarite vow. This would show that Paul is fully compliant with Moses’ law, and the things they heard concerning him are of no real concern. Paul agrees and goes with the four to the temple. Seven days later, at the end of the purification process, some Asian Jews raise an insurrection against Paul because of his teaching, and their assumption he had taken one of his Gentile friends into the temple. Paul is dragged from the temple and the people are of a mind to kill him when the chief captain, responding to the uproar, brings soldiers and has Paul bound and taken to the castle. Paul requests he be able to speak to the people. Permission is given and he addresses them in Hebrew, which encourages them to listen. He gives them an account of his birth and education, his early prejudices against Christianity, and of his miraculous conversion and call to discipleship. When they hear Paul say that God sent him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, they become outraged and want to take his life. The chief captain orders Paul to be taken and examined by scourging, but Paul pleads his rights as a Roman citizen and escapes the torture. The next day, the chief captain orders the Sanhedrin to assemble and hear Paul’s case. While offering his defence before the Sanhedrin, the high priest orders Paul to be smitten on the mouth. Paul sharply reproves him and is in turn reproved by one of the high priest’s attendants, and so he has to account for his words. He notices the council is comprised of both Pharisees and Sadducees and splits their opinion by asserting that it was because of his belief in the resurrection that he was called in question (the Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection). In fear of Paul’s safety in the tumult that follows, the chief captain has him brought into the castle. That night, Paul is comforted by a dream in which the Lord says he will also be a witness in Rome. The next morning, more than forty Jews conspire with the Sanhedrin to have Paul brought before them again, intending to lie in wait and kill him. Paul’s nephew hears of this and ensures the plot becomes known to the chief captain. Consequently, arrangements are made for Paul to be sent to Caesarea with a large escort, and a letter sent to Felix the governor explaining the circumstances of his case. When Felix hears that Paul is from the province of Cilicia, he agrees to give him a hearing, but only when his accusers are come. Meanwhile, he is to be held in Herod’s judgement hall.

Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea

[Acts 24-26] After five days, Ananias the high priest, the elders and Tertullus, an orator, come to Caesarea to accuse Paul. After Tertullus’ oration, Paul is beckoned by Felix and gives his defence. Having heard both the case against Paul and his defence, Felix decides to wait to hear the testimony from the chief captain. Meantime, orders are given for a centurion to take charge of Paul, but to allow him his liberty and access to his acquaintances. After some days Felix, with his wife, Drusilla, sends for Paul to hear from him concerning the faith. Felix is greatly affected, and suggests he would hear Paul again at a later date. He hopes that by keeping Paul in Caesarea he might receive some money in exchange for his liberty, but in the meantime sends for Paul more often to converse with him. After two years Felix is superseded by Porcius Festus. In order to please the Jews, Felix leaves Paul imprisoned, but now in Festus’ charge. As Festus is now governor of Judea, the Jews again try to get Paul brought to Jerusalem for trial, intending to lie in wait to kill him. Festus refuses, saying that his accusers must come to Caesarea. This they do, but again fail to prove anything against Paul. Festus, wanting to please the Jews, asks Paul if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem to be tried there. Paul refuses and appeals to Caesar, as is his right as a Roman citizen, which Festus acknowledges. Sometime later, Herod Agrippa and his wife, Bernice, come to Caesarea to pay respects to Festus and are told about Paul, the accusations against him, his trial and his appeal to Caesar. Agrippa wants to hear Paul for himself, so an appointment is made for the next day, which is turned into an occasion of pomp and ceremony with the chief captains and principal men of the city present. Festus opens proceedings with an account of Paul’s situation, as given to Herod the previous day, and his hope that, following Agrippa’s examination, he may then have something favourable to write when he sends Paul to Rome. Agrippa invites Paul to speak for himself, which he begins to do, but first pays a compliment to Agrippa, perhaps to secure a favourable response. Paul gives an account from his youth to his miraculous conversion, and his consequent preaching of the resurrected Christ. King Agrippa interrupts Paul, declaring him to be mad from all his learning, to which Paul defends himself with an appeal to Agrippa’s own belief in the prophets. Agrippa confesses himself almost converted by Paul’s words, before rising and discussing Paul’s situation privately and declaring his innocence. Agrippa then tells Festus that Paul could have been set free had he not appealed to Caesar.

Paul’s perilous voyage to Rome

[Acts 27:1-28:15] It having been determined that Paul must be sent to Rome, he is handed over to Julius, a centurion. Accompanied by Luke, they embark on a ship of Adramyttium and the next day arrive at Sidon. Here, Paul is permitted to go ashore to see some friends. From there they sail past Cyprus, Cilicia and Pamphylia and come to Myra where they transfer to an Alexandrian ship bound for Italy. They then sail past Cnidus, Crete and Salmone, and come to the Fair Havens where unfavourable conditions for sailing force them to take shelter. Paul warns against sailing any farther at this time, but the centurion prefers the captain’s advice and wants to head for Crete to winter there. Having had favourable winds, they sail past Crete, but are then caught in a tempest and struggle to keep the ship afloat. They are also now unable to navigate by either sun or stars because of the storm. One night, Paul has a vision and is able to tell them all they will survive and be cast on an island. After being tossed around on the sea for many days, they are finally shipwrecked on the island of Melita with the whole crew surviving, able to make it to shore on broken fragments of the ship. The local inhabitants take care of them, making a fire to keep them warm. A viper comes out of the bundle of sticks used for the fire and fastens onto Paul’s hand, which the locals perceive to be a sign that Paul is a murderer pursued by some kind of divine vengeance. But when Paul shakes off the snake and is unharmed, they then change their minds and say he is a god. The crew is courteously received by Publius, the island’s governor, and all are able to lodge with him for three days, during which time Paul miraculously heals Publius’ sick father. News of this brings others on the island to come to be healed, and Paul’s company is consequently honoured and presented with many gifts. After three months on Melita they embark on a ship for Alexandria, then land at Syracuse where they stay for three days before setting off again. They sail past the straits of Rhegium, landing at Puteoli where they find some Christians with whom they tarry for seven days before setting off for Rome. On the way to Rome, they are met by Christians at Appii, and then at the Three Taverns. Paul thanks God for these meetings and is encouraged by them.

Paul’s house arrest in Rome

[Acts 28:16-31] At Rome, Paul is delivered to the captain of the guard who permits him to live by himself, but attended by a single soldier. After three days, Paul calls for the chief Jews and states his case to them. They tell him that no letters had been received and no ill spoken of him, but Jews had spoken against the Christian faith and they want to hear from Paul about it. An appointment is made for the next day when Paul speaks to them at length from the law and the prophets concerning Christ. Some believe and some do not, to which Paul informs them that it is because of their unbelief that the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles. Paul remains under house arrest for two years, during which time he is able to preach the gospel unhindered to all who come to him. Nothing further is written in Acts concerning Paul’s mission and his death.