The Apostle’s spirit, which was much depressed, as we have seen, by anticipations of coldness and distrust on the part of the Church at Jerusalem, must have been lightened by his kind reception. He seems to have spent the evening of his arrival with these sympathizing brethren; but on the morrow, a more formidable ordeal awaited him. He must encounter the assembled Presbyters of the Church; and he might well doubt whether even the substantial proof of loving interest in their welfare, of which he was the bearer, would overcome the antipathy with which (as he was fully aware) too many of them regarded him. The experiment, however, must be tried; for this was the very end of his coming to Jerusalem at all, at a time when his heart called him to Rome. (See Acts 19:21, Romans 1:10-15, 15:22-29) His purpose was to endeavor to set himself right with the Church of Jerusalem, to overcome the hostile prejudices which had already so much impeded his labors, and to endeavor, by the force of Christian love and forbearance, to win the hearts of those whom he regarded, in spite of all their weaknesses and errors, as brethren in Christ Jesus. Accordingly, when the morning came, the Presbyters or Elders of the Church were called together by James (who, as we have before mentioned, presided over the Church of Jerusalem) to receive Paul and his fellow-travelers, the messengers of the Gentile Churches. We have already seen how carefully Apostle Paul had guarded himself from the possibility of suspicion in the administration of his trust, by causing deputies to be elected by the several churches whose alms he bore, as joint trustees with himself of the fund collected. These deputies now entered together with him into the assembly of the Elders, and the offering was presented, - a proof of love from the Churches of the Gentiles to the mother Church, whence their spiritual blessings had been derived.
The travelers were received with that touching symbol of brotherhood, the kiss of peace, which was exchanged between the Christians of those days on every occasion of public as well as private meeting. Then the main business of the assembly was commenced by an address from Apostle Paul. This was not the first occasion on which he had been called to take a similar part, in the same city, and before the same audience. Our thoughts are naturally carried back to the days of the Apostolic Council, when he first declared to the Church of Jerusalem the Gospel which he preached among the Gentiles, and the great things which God had wrought thereby. The majority of the Church had then, under the influence of the Spirit of God, been brought over to his side, and had ratified his views by their decree. But the battle was not yet won; he had still to contend against the same foes with the same weapons.
We are told that he now gave a detailed account of all that "God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry" since he last parted from Jerusalem four years before. The foundation of the great and flourishing Church of Ephesus doubtless furnished the main interest of his narrative; but he would also dwell on the progress of the several Churches in Phrygia, Galatia, and other parts of Asia Minor, and likewise those in Macedonia and Achaia, from whence he was just returned. In such a discourse, he could scarcely avoid touching on subjects which would excite painful feelings, and rouse bitter prejudice in many of his audience. He could hardly speak of Galatia without mentioning the attempted perversion of his converts there. He could not enter into the state of Corinth without alluding to the emissaries from Palestine, who had introduced confusion and strife among the Christians of that city. Yet we cannot doubt that Apostle Paul, with that graceful courtesy which distinguished both his writings and his speeches, softened all that was disagreeable, and avoided what was personally offensive to his audience, and dwelt, as far as he could, on topics in which all present would agree. Accordingly, we find that the majority of the assembled Elders were favorably impressed by his address, and by the tidings which he brought of the progress of the Gospel. The first act of the assembly was to glorify God for the wonders He had wrought. They joined in solemn thanksgiving with one accord; and the Amen (1Corinthians 14:16) which followed the utterance of thanks and praise from apostolic lips was swelled by many voices.
Thus the hope expressed by Apostle Paul on a former occasion, (2Corinthians 9:12) concerning the result of this visit to Jerusalem, was in a measure fulfilled. But beneath this superficial show of harmony there lurked elements of discord, which threatened to disturb it too soon. We have already had occasion to remark upon the peculiar composition of the Church at Jerusalem, and we have seen that a Pharisaic faction was sheltered in its bosom, which continually strove to turn Christianity into a sect of Judaism. We have seen that this faction had recently sent emissaries into the Gentile Churches, and had endeavored to alienate the minds of Apostle Paul's converts from their converter. These men were restless agitators, animated by the bitterest sectarian spirit; and although they were numerically a small party, yet we know the power of a turbulent minority. But besides these Judaizing zealots, there was a large proportion of the Christians at Jerusalem, whose Christianity, though more sincere than that of those just mentioned, was yet very weak and imperfect. The "many thousands of Jews which believed" had by no means all attained to the fulness of Christian faith. Many of them still knew only a Christ after the flesh, - a savior of Israel, - a Jewish Messiah. Their minds were in a state of transition between the Law and the Gospel, and it was of great consequence not to shock their prejudices too rudely, lest they should be tempted to make shipwreck of their faith, and renounce their Christianity altogether. Their prejudices were most wisely consulted in things indifferent by James; who accommodated himself in all points to the strict requirements of the Law, and thus disarmed the hostility of the Judaizing bigots. He was, indeed, divinely ordained to be the Apostle of this transition-Church. Had its councils been less wisely guided, had the Gospel of Apostle Paul been really repudiated by the Church of Jerusalem, it is difficult to estimate the evil which might have resulted. This class of Christians was naturally very much influenced by the declamation of the more violent partisans of Judaism. Their feelings would be easily excited by an appeal to their Jewish patriotism. They might without diffcult be roused to fury against one whom they were taught to regard as a despiser of the Law, and a reviler of the customs of their forefathers. Against Apostle Paul their dislike had been long and artfully fostered; and they would from the first have looked on him perhaps with some suspicion, as not being, like themselves, a Hebrew of the Holy City, but only a Hellenist of the Dispersion.
Such being the composition of the great body of the Church, we cannot doubt that the same elements were to be found amongst the Elders also. And this will explain the resolution to which the assembly came, at the close of their discussion on the matters brought before them. They began by calling Apostle Paul's attention to the strength of the Judaical party among the Christians of Jerusalem. They told him that the majority, even of the Christian Church had been taught to hate his very name, and to believe that he went about the world "teaching the Jews to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs." They further observed that it was impossible his arrival should remain unknown; his renown was too great to allow him to be concealed: his public appearance in the streets of Jerusalem would attract a crowd of curious spectators, most of whom would be violently hostile. It was therefore of importance that he should do something to disarm this hostility, and to refute the calumnies which had been circulated concerning him. The plan they recommended was, that he should take charge of four Jewish Christians, who were under a Nazaritic vow, accompany them to the temple, and pay for them the necessary expenses attending the termination of their vow. Agrippa I., not long before, had given the same public expression of his sympathy with the Jews, on his arrival from Rome to take possession of his throne. And what the King had done for popularity it was felt that the Apostle might do for the sake of truth and peace. His friends thought that he would thus, in the most public manner, exhibit himself as an observer of the Mosaic ceremonies, and refute the accusations of his enemies. They added, that, by so doing, he would not countenance the errors of those who sought to impose the Law upon Gentile converts; because it had been already decided by the Church of Jerusalem, that the ceremonial observances of the Law were not obligatory on the Gentiles.
It is remarkable that this conclusion is attributed expressly, in the Scriptural narrative, not to James (who presided over the meeting), but to the assembly itself. The lurking shade of distrust implied in the terms of the admonition was certainly not shared by that great Apostle who had long ago given to Apostle Paul the right hand of fellowship. We have already seen indications, that, however strict might be the Judaical observances of James, they did not satisfy the Judaizing party at Jerusalem, who attempted, under the sanction of his name, (Acts 15; See Galatians 2:12) to teach doctrines and enforce practices of which he disapproved. The partisans of this faction, indeed, are called by Apostle Paul (while anticipating this very visit to Jerusalem) "the disobedient party." (Romans 15:31) It would seem that their influence was not unfelt in the discussion which terminated in the resolution recorded. And though James acquiesced (as did Apostle Paul) in the advice given, it appears not to have originated with himself.
The counsel, however, though it may have been suggested by suspicious prejudice, or even by designing enmity, was not in itself unwise. Apostle Paul's great object (as we have seen) in this visit to Jerusalem was to conciliate the Church of Palestine. If he could win over that Church to the truth, or even could avert its open hostility to himself, he would be doing more for the diffusion of Christianity than even by the conversion of Ephesus. Every lawful means for such an end he was ready gladly to adopt. His own principles, stated by himself in his Epistles, required this of him. He had recently declared that every compliance in ceremonial observances should be made, rather than cast a stumbling-block in a brother’s way. (Romans 14) He had laid it down as his principle of action to become a Jew to Jews that he might gain the Jews, as willingly as he became a Gentile to Gentiles that he might gain the Gentiles. (See 1Corinthians 9:20) He had given it as a rule, that no man should change his external observances because he became a Christian; that the Jew should remain a Jew in things outward. Nay more, he himself observed the Jewish festivals, had previously countenanced his friends in the practice of Nazaritic vows, and had circumcised Timothy, the son of a Jewess. So false was the charge that he had forbidden the Jews to circumcise their children. In fact, the great doctrine of Apostle Paul concerning the worthlessness of ceremonial observances rendered him equally ready to practise as to forsake them. A mind so truly catholic as his was necessarily free from any repugnance to mere outward observances; a repugnance equally superstitious with the formalism which clings to ritual. In his view, circumcision was nothing, and uncircumcision was nothing; but faith, which worketh by love. And this love rendered him willing to adopt the most burdensome ceremonies, if by so doing he could save a brother from stumbling. Hence he willingly complied with the advice of the assembly, and thereby, while he removed the prejudices of its more ingenuous members, doubtless exasperated the factious partisans who had hoped for his refusal.
Thus the meeting ended amicably, with no open manifestation of that hostile feeling towards Apostle Paul which lurked in the bosoms of some who were present. On the next day, which was the great feast of Pentecost, Apostle Paul proceeded with the four Christian Nazarites to the Temple. It is necessary here to explain the nature of their vow, and of the office which he was to perform for them. It was customary among the Jews for those who had received deliverance from any great peril, or who from other causes desired publicly to testify their dedication to God, to take upon themselves the vow of a Nazarite, the regulations of which are prescribed in the sixth chapter of the book of Numbers. In that book no rule is laid down as to the time during which this life of ascetic rigor was to continue: but we learn from the Talmud and Josephus that thirty days was at least a customary period. During this time the Nazarite was bound to abstain from wine, and to suffer his hair to grow uncut. At the termination of the period, he was bound to present himself in the Temple with certain offerings, and his hair was then cut off and burnt upon the altar. The offerings required were beyond the means of the very poor, and consequently it was thought an act of piety for a rich man to pay the necessary expenses, and thus enable his poorer countrymen to complete their vow. Apostle Paul was far from rich; he gained his daily bread by the work of his own hands; and we may therefore naturally ask how he was able to take upon himself the expenses of these four Nazarites. The answer probably is, that the assembled Elders had requested him to apply to this purpose a portion of the fund which he had placed at their disposal. However this may be, he now made himself responsible for these expenses, and accompanied the Nazarites to the Temple, after having first performed the necessary purifications together with them. On entering the Temple, he announced to the priests that the period of the Nazaritic vow which his friends had taken was accomplished, and he waited within the sacred enclosure till the necessary offerings were made for each of them, and their hair cut off and burnt in the sacred fire.
He might well have hoped, by thus complying with the legal ceremonial, to conciliate those, at least, who were only hostile to him because they believed him hostile to their national worship. And, so far as the great body of the Church at Jerusalem was concerned, he probably succeeded. But the celebration of the festival had attracted multitudes to the Holy City, and the Temple was thronged with worshippers from every land; and amongst these were some of those Asiatic Jews who had been defeated by his arguments in the Synagogue of Ephesus, and irritated against him during the last few years daily more and more, by the continual growth of a Christian Church in that city, formed in great part of converts from among the Jewish Proselytes. These men, whom a zealous feeling of nationality had attracted from their distant home to the metropolis of their faith, now beheld, where they least expected to find him, the apostate Israelite, who had opposed their teaching and seduced their converts. An opportunity of revenge, which they could not have hoped for in the Gentile city where they dwelt, had suddenly presented itself. They sprang upon their enemy, and shouted while they held him fast,
"'Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place; and furthermore, he has also brought Greeks into the temple, and has defiled this holy place.'" (Acts 21:28, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV) where noted)
Then as the crowd rushed tumultously towards the spot, they excited them yet further by accusing Paul of introducing Greeks into the Holy Place, which was profaned by the presence of a Gentile. The vast multitude which was assembled on the spot, and in the immediate neighborhood, was excited to madness by these tidings, which spread rapidly through the crowd. The pilgrims who flocked at such seasons to Jerusalem were of course the most zealous of their nation; very Hebrews of the Hebrews. We may imagine the horror and indignation which would fill their minds when they heard that an apostate from the faith of Israel had been seized in the very act of profaning the Temple at this holy season. A furious multitude rushed upon the Apostle; and it was only their reverence for the holy place which preserved him from being torn to pieces on the spot. They hurried him out of the sacred enclosure, and assailed him with violent blows. (See Acts 21:31, 32) Their next course might have been to stone him or to hurl him over the precipice into the valley below. They were already in the Court of the Gentiles, and the heavy gates which separated the inner from the outer enclosure were shut by the Levites, - when an unexpected interruption prevented the murderous purpose.
It becomes desirable here to give a more particular description than we have yet done of the Temple-area and the sanctuary which it enclosed. Some reference has been made to this subject in the account of Stephen’s martyrdom, especially to that "Stone Chamber" - the Hall Gazith - where the Sanhedrin held their solemn conclave. Soon we shall see Apostle Paul himself summoned before this tribunal, and hear his voice in that hall where he had listened to the eloquence of the first martyr. But meantime other events came in rapid succession, for the better understanding of which it is well to form to ourselves a clear notion of the localities in which they occurred.
The position of the Temple on the eastern side of Jerusalem, the relation of Mount Moriah to the other eminences on which the city was built, the valley which separated it from the higher summit of Mount Zion, and the deeper ravine which formed a chasm between the whole city and the Mount of Olives, - these facts of general topography are too well known to require elucidation. On the other hand, when we turn to the description of the Temple-area itself and that which it contained, we are met with considerable difficulties. It does not, however, belong to our present task to reconcile the statements in Josephus and the Talmud with each other and with present appearances. Nor shall we attempt to trace the architectural changes by which the scene has been modified, in the long interval between the time when the Patriarch built the altar on Moriah for his mysterious sacrifice, (Genesis 22) and our own day, when the same spot is the "wailing-place" of those who are his children after the flesh, but not yet the heirs of his faith. Keeping aloof from all difficult details, and withdrawing ourselves from the consideration of those events which have invested this hill with an interest unknown to any other spot on the earth, we confine ourselves to the simple task of depicting the Temple of Herod as it was when Apostle Paul was arrested by the infuriated Jews.
That rocky summit, which was wide enough for the threshing-floor of Araunah, (1Chronicles 21:18; 2Chronicles 3:1) was levelled after David’s death, and enlarged by means of laborious substructions, till it presented the appearance of one broad uniform area. On this level space the temples of Solomon and Zerub babel were successively built: and in the time of the Apostles there were remains of the former work in the vast stones which formed the supporting wall on the side of the valley of Jehoshaphat, and of the latter in the eastern gate, which in its name and its appearance continued to be a monument of the Persian power. The architectural arrangements of Herod’s Temple were, in their general form, similar to the two which had preceded it. When we think of the Jewish sanctuary, whether in its earlier or later periods, our impulse is to imagine to ourselves some building like a synagogue or a church: but the first effort of our imagination should be to realize the appearance of that wide open space, which is spoken of by the prophets as the "Outer Court" or the "Court of the Lord’s House;" and is named by Josephus the "Outer Temple," and, both in the Apocrypha and the Talmud, the "Mountain of the House." That which was the "House" itself, or the Temple, properly so called, was erected on the highest of a series of successive terraces, which rose in an isolated mass from the center of the Court, or rather nearer to its north-western corner.
In form, the Outer Court was a square; a strong wall enclosed it; the sides corresponded to the four quarters of the heavens, and each was a stadium or a furlong in length. Its pavement of stone was of various colors: and it was surrounded by a covered colonnade, the roof of which was of costly cedar, and was supported on lofty and massive columns of the Corinthian order, and of the whitest marble. On throe sides there were two rows of columns: but on the southern side the cloister deepened into a fourfold colonnade, the innermost supports of the roof being pilasters in the enclosing wall. About the south-eastern angle, where the valley was most depressed below the plateau of the Temple, we are to look for that "Porch of Solomon" (John 10:23, Acts 3:11) which it familiar to us in the New Testament: and under the colonnades, or on the open area in the midst, were the "tables of the money-changers and the seats of them who sold doves," which turned that which was intended for a house of prayer into a "house of merchandise" (John 2:16), and "a den of thieves" (Matthew 21:13). Free access was afforded into this wide enclosure by gates on each of the four sides, one of which on the east was called the Royal Gate, and was perhaps identical with the "Beautiful Gate" of Sacred History, while another on the west was connected with the crowded streets of Mount Zion by a bridge over the intervening valley.
Nearer (as we have seen) to the north-western corner than the center of the square, arose that series of enclosed terraces on the summit of which was the sanctuary. These more sacred limits were fenced off by a low balustrade of stone, with columns at intervals, on which inscriptions in Greek and Latin warned all Gentiles against advancing beyond them on pain of death. It was within this boundary that Apostle Paul was accused of having brought his Heathen companions. Besides this balustrade, a separation was formed by a flight of fourteen steps leading up to the first platform, which in its western portion was a narrow terrace of fifteen feet wide round the walls of the innermost sanctuary, - while the eastern portion expanded into a second court, called the Court of the Women. By this term we are not to understand that it was exclusively devoted to that sex, but that no women were allowed to advance beyond it. This court seems to have contained the treasury (Mark 12:41, Luke 21:1) and various chambers, of which that at the south-eastern corner should be mentioned here, for there the Nazarites performed their vows; and the whole court was surrounded by a wall of its own, with gates on each side, - the easternmost of which was of Corinthian brass, with folding-doors and strong bolts and bars, requiring the force of twenty men to close them for the night. We conceive that it was the closing of these doors by the Levites, which is so pointedly mentioned by Luke (Acts 21:30):and we must suppose that Apostle Paul had been first seized within them, and was then dragged down the flight of steps into the Outer Court.
The interest, then, of this particular moment is to be associated with the eastern entrance of the Inner from the Outer Temple. But to complete our description, we must now cross the Court of the Women to its western gate. The Holy Place and the Holy of Holies were still within and above the spaces we have mentioned. Two courts yet intervened between the court last described and the Holy House itself. The first was the Court of Israel, the ascent to which was by a flight of fifteen semicircular steps; the second, the Court of the Priests, separated from the former by a low balustrade. Where these spaces bordered on each other, to the south, was the hall Gazith, the meeting-place of the Sanhedrin, partly in one court and partly in the other. A little farther towards the north were all those arrangements which we are hardly able to associate with the thoughts of worship, but which daily reiterated in the sight of the Israelites that awful truth that "without shedding of blood there is no remission," - the rings at which the victims were slaughtered, - the beams and hooks from which they were suspended when dead, - and the marble tables at which the entrails were washed: - here, above all, was the Altar, the very place of which has been plausibly identified by the bore in the sacred rock of the Moslems, which appears to correspond exactly with the description given in the Mischna of the drain and cesspool which communicated with the sewer that ran off into the Kedron.
The house itself remains to be described. It was divided into three parts, the Vestibule, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies. Prom the Altar and the Court of the Priests to the Vestibule was another flight of twelve steps, the last of the successive approaches by which the Temple was ascended from the east. The Vestibule was wider than the rest of the House: its front was adorned with a golden vine of colossal proportions: and it was separated by a richly-embroidered curtain or veil from the Holy Place, which contained the Table of Show-bread, the Candlestick, and the Altar of Incense. After this was the "second veil" (Hebrews 9:3), closing the access to the innermost shrine, which in the days of the Tabernacle had contained the golden censer and the ark of the covenant, but which in Herod’s Temple was entirely empty, though still regarded as the "Holiest of All." (ib) The interior height of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was comparatively small: but above them and on each side were chambers so arranged that the general exterior effect was that of a clerestory rising above aisles: and the whole was surmounted with gilded spikes, to prevent the birds from settling on the sacred roof.
If we were to remount to the earlier history of the Temple, we might perhaps identify the tower of Antonia with the "palace" of which we read in the book of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:8, 7:2). It was certainly the building which the Asmonean princes erected for their own residence under the name of Baris. Afterwards rebuilt with greater strength and splendor by the first Herod, it was named by him, after his Romanizing fashion, in honor of Mark Antony. Its situation is most distinctly marked out by Josephus, who tells us that it was at the north-western corner of the Temple-area, with the cloisters of which it communicated by means of staircases (Acts 21:35, 40). It is difficult, however, to define the exact extent of ground which it covered in its renewed form during the time of the Herods. There is good reason for believing that it extended along the whole northern side of the great Temple court, from the north-western corner where it abutted on the city, to the northeastern where it was suddenly stopped by the precipice which fronted the valley: and that the tank, which is now popularly called the Pool of Bethesda, was part of the fosse which protected it on the north. Though the ground on which the tower of Antonia stood was lower than that of the Temple itself, yet it was raised to such a height, that at least the south-eastern of its four turrets commanded a view of all that went on within the Temple, and thus both in position and in elevation it was in ancient Jerusalem what the Turkish governor’s house is now, - whence the best view is obtained over the enclosure of the Mosque of Omar. But this is an inadequate comparison. If we wish to realize the influence of this fortress in reference to political and religious interests, we must turn rather to that which is the most humiliating spectacle in Christendom, the presence of the Turkish troops at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where they are stationed to control the fury of the Greeks and Latins at the most solemn festival of the Christian year. Such was the office of the Roman troops that were quartered at the Jewish festivals in the fortress of Antonia. Within its walls there were barracks for at least a thousand soldiers. Not that we are to suppose that all the garrison in Jerusalem was always posted there.
This imperfect description of the Temple area and of the relations subsisting between it and the contiguous fortress is sufficient to set the scene before us, on which the events we are now to relate occurred in rapid succession. We left Apostle Paul at the moment when the Levites had closed the gates, lest the Holy Place should be polluted by murder, - and when the infuriated mob were violently beating the Apostle, with the full intention of putting him to death. The beginning and rapid progress of the commotion must have been seen by the sentries on the cloisters and the tower: and news was sent up immediately to Claudius Lysias, the commandant of the garrison, that "all Jerusalem was in an uproar" (verse 31). The spark had fallen on materials the most inflammable, and not a moment was to be lost if a conflagration was to be averted. Lysias himself rushed down instantly, with some of his subordinate officers and a strong body of men, into the Temple court. At the sight of the flashing arms and disciplined movements of the imperial soldiers, the Jewish mob desisted from their murderous violence. "They left off beating of Paul." They had for a moment forgotten that the eyes of the sentries were upon them: but this sudden invasion by their hated and dreaded tyrants reminded them that they were "in danger to be called in question for that day’s uproar." (Acts 19:40)
Claudius Lysias proceeded with the soldiers promptly and directly to Apostle Paul, whom he perceived to be the central object of all the excitement in the Temple court: and in the first place he ordered him to be chained by each hand to a soldier: for he suspected that he might be the Egyptian rebel, who had himself baffled the pursuit of the Roman force, though his followers were dispersed. This being done, he proceeded to question the bystanders, who were watching this summary proceeding, half in disappointed rage at the loss of their victim, and half in satisfaction that they saw him at least in captivity. But "when Lysias demanded who he was and what he had done, some cried one thing, and some another, among the multitude" (verse 33, 34); and when he found that he could obtain no certain information in consequence of the tumult, he gave orders that the prisoner should be conveyed into the barracks within the fortress. The multitude pressed and crowded on the soldiers, as they proceeded to execute this order: so that the Apostle was actually "carried up" the staircase in consequence of the violent pressure from below. And meanwhile deafening shouts arose from the stairs and from the court, - the same shouts, which, nearly thirty years before, surrounded the praetorium of Pilate, (Compare Luke 23:18, John 19:15) - "Away with him, away with him!"
At this moment, the Apostle, with the utmost presence of mind, turned to the commanding officer who was near him, - and, addressing him in Greek, said respectfully, "May I speak with thee?" Claudius Lysias was startled when he found himself addressed by his prisoner in Greek, and asked him whether he was then mistaken in supposing he was the Egyptian ringleader of the late rebellion. Apostle Paul replied calmly that he was no Egyptian, but a Jew; and he readily explained his knowledge of Greek, and at the same time asserted his claim to respectful treatment, by saying that he was a native of "Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city:" and he proceeded to request that he might be allowed to address the people. The request was a bold one; and we are almost surprised that Lysias should have granted it: but there seems to have been something in Apostle Paul's aspect and manner, which from the first gained an influence over the mind of the Roman officer; and his consent was not refused. And now the whole scene was changed in a moment. Apostle Paul stood upon the stairs and turned to the people, and made a motion with the hand, as about to address them. And they too felt the influence of his presence.
At these words Apostle Paul's address to his countrymen was suddenly interrupted. Up to this point he had riveted their attention. They listened, while he spoke to them of his early life, his persecution of the Church, his mission to Damascus. Many were present who could testify, on their own evidence, to the truth of what he said. Even when he told them of his miraculous conversion, his interview with Ananias, and his vision in the Temple, they listened still. With admirable judgment he deferred till the last all mention of the Gentiles. He spoke of Ananias as a "devout man according to the law" (verse 12), as one "well reported of by all the Jews" (ib), as one who addressed him in the name of "the God of their Fathers" (verse 14). He showed how in his vision he had pleaded before that God the energy of his former persecution as a proof that his countrymen must surely be convinced by his conversion: and when he alluded to the death of Stephen, and the part which he had taken himself in that cruel martyrdom (verse 20), all the associations of the place where they stood must (we should have thought) have brought the memory of that scene with pathetic force before their minds. But when his mission to the Gentiles was announced, - though the words quoted were the words of Jehovah spoken in the Temple itself, even as the Lord had once spoken to Samuel, (1 Samuel 3) - one outburst of frantic indignation rose from the Temple-area and silenced the speaker on the stairs. Their national pride bore down every argument which could influence their reason or their reverence. They could not bear the thought of uncircumcised Heathens being made equal to the sons of Abraham. They cried out that such a wretch ought not to pollute the earth with his presence - that it was a shame to have preserved his life: and in their rage and impatience they tossed off their outer garments (as on that other occasion, when the garments were laid at the feet of Saul himself), and threw up dust into the air with frantic violence. This commotion threw Lysias into new perplexity. He had not been able to understand the Apostle’s Hebrew speech: and, when he saw its results, he concluded that his prisoner must be guilty of some enormous crime. He ordered him therefore to be taken immediately from the stairs into the barracks; and to be examined by torture, in order to elicit a confession of his guilt. Whatever instruments were necessary for this kind of scrutiny would be in readiness within a Roman fortress; and before long the body of the Apostle was "stretched out," like that of a common malefactor, "to receive the lashes," with the officer standing by, to whom Lysias had entrusted the superintendence of this harsh examination.
Thus Apostle Paul was on the verge of adding another suffering and disgrace to that long catalogue of afflictions, which he had enumerated in the last letter he wrote to Corinth, before his recent visit to that city (2Corinthians 11:23-25). Five times scourged by the Jews, once beaten with rods at Philippi, and twice on other unknown occasions, he had indeed been "in stripes above measure." And now he was in a Roman barrack, among rude soldiers, with a similar indignity in prospect; when he rescued himself, and at the same time gained a vantage-ground for the Gospel, by that appeal to his rights as a Roman citizen under which he had before sheltered his sacred cause at Philippi. He said these few words to the centurion who stood by:"Is it lawful to torture one who is a Roman citizen, and uncondemned?" The magic of the Roman law produced its effect in a moment. The centurion immediately reported the words to his commanding officer, and said significantly, "Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman citizen." Lysias was both astonished and alarmed. He knew full well that no man would dare to assume the right of citizenship if it did not really belong to him; and he hastened in person to his prisoner. A hurried dialogue took place, from which it appeared, not only that Apostle Paul was indeed a Roman citizen, but that he held this privilege under circumstances far more honorable than his interrogator; for while Claudius Lysias had purchased the right for "a great sum," Paul "was free-born." Orders were instantly given for the removal of the instruments of torture: and those who had been about to conduct the examination retired. Lysias was compelled to keep the Apostle still in, custody; for he was ignorant of the nature of his offence: and indeed! this was evidently the only sure method of saving him from destruction by the Jews. But the Roman officer was full of alarm; for in his treatment of the prisoner he had already been guilty of a flagrant violation of the law.
On the following day the commandant of the garrison adopted a milder method of ascertaining the nature of his prisoner’s offence. He summoned a meeting of the Jewish Sanhedrin with the high priests, and brought Apostle Paul down from the fortress and set him before them, - doubtless taking due precautions to prevent the consequences which might result from a sudden attack upon his safety. Only a narrow space of the Great Temple Court intervened between the steps which led down from the tower Antonia and those which led up to the hall Gazith, the Sanhedrin’s accustomed place of meeting. If that hall was used on this occasion, no Heathen soldiers would be allowed to enter it; for it was within the balustrade which separated the sanctuary from the Court. But the fear of pollution would keep the Apostle’s life in safety within that enclosure. There is good reason for believing that the Sanhedrin met at that period in a place less sacred, to which the soldiers would be admitted; but this is a question into which we need not enter. Wherever the council sat, we are suddenly transferred from the interior of a Roman barrack to a scene entirely Jewish.
Paul was now in presence of that council, before which, when he was himself a member of it, Stephen had been judged. That moment could hardly be forgotten by him: but he looked steadily at his inquisitors; among whom he would recognize many who had been his fellow-pupils in the school of Gamaliel, and his associates in the persecution of the Christians. That unflinching look of conscious integrity offended them, - and his confident words - "Brethren, I have always lived a conscientious life before God, up to this very day" - so enraged the high priest, that he commanded those who stood near to strike him on the mouth. This brutal insult roused the Apostle’s feelings, and he exclaimed that God should strike him down. If we consider these words as an outburst of natural indignation, we cannot severely blame them, when we remember Apostle Paul's temperament, and how they were provoked. If we regard them as a prophetic denunciation, they were terribly fulfilled when this hypocritical president of the Sanhedrin was murdered by the assassins in the Jewish war. In whatever light we view them now, those who were present in the Sanhedrin treated them as profane and rebellious. "Revilest thou God’s high priest?" was the indignant exclamation of the bystanders. And then Paul recovered himself, and said, with Christian meekness and forbearance, that he did not consider that Ananias was high priest; otherwise he would not so have spoken, seeing that it is written in the Law, (Exodus 22:28) "Thou shalt not revile the ruler of thy people."
But the Apostle had seen enough to be convinced that there was no prospect before this tribunal of a fair inquiry and a just decision. He therefore adroitly adopted a prompt measure for enlisting the sympathies of those who agreed with him in one doctrine, which, though held to be an open question on Judaism, was an essential truth in Christianity. He knew that both Pharisees and Sadducees were among his judges, and well aware that, however united they might be in the outward work of persecution, they were divided by an impassable line in the deeper matters of religious faith, he cried out, "Brethren, I am a Pharisee, and all my forefathers were Pharisees: it is for the hope of a resurrection from the dead that I am to be judged this day." This exclamation produced an instantaneous effect on the assembly. It was the watchword which marshalled the opposing forces in antagonism to each other. The Pharisees felt a momentary hope that they might use their ancient partisan as a new weapon against their rivals; and their hatred against the Sadducees was even greater than their hatred of Christianity. They were vehement in their vociferations; and their language was that which Gamaliel had used more calmly many years before (Acts 5:39) (and possibly the aged Rabban may have been present himself in this very assembly): "If this doctrine be of God, ye cannot destroy it: beware lest ye be found to be fighting against God." "We find no fault in this man: what, if (as he says) an angel or a spirit have indeed spoken to him" - The sentence was left incomplete or unheard in the uproar. The judgment-hall became a scene of the most violent contention; and presently Claudius Lysias received information of what was taking place, and fearing lest the Roman citizen, whom he was bound to protect, should be torn in pieces between those who sought to protect him, and those who thirsted for his destruction, he ordered the troops to go down instantly, and bring him back into the soldiers’ quarters within the fortress.
So passed this morning of violent excitement. In the evening, when Paul was isolated both from Jewish enemies and Christian friends, and surrounded by the uncongenial sights and sounds of a soldier’s barrack, - when the agitation of his mind subsided, and he was no longer strung up by the presence of his persecutors, or supported by sympathizing brethren, - can we wonder that his heart sank, and that he looked with dread on the vague future that was before him? Just then it was that he had one of those visions by night, which were sometimes vouchsafed to him at critical seasons of his life, and in providential conformity with the circumstances in which he was placed. The last time when we were informed of such an event was when he was in the house of Aquila and Priscilla at Corinth, and when he was fortified against the intimidation of the Jews by the words, "Fear not: for I am with thee." (Acts 18:9, 10) The next instance we shall have to relate is in the worst part of the storm at sea, between Pair Havens and Malta, when a similar assurance was given to him:"Fear not: thou must stand before Caesar." (Acts 27:24) On the present occasion, events were not sufficiently matured for him to receive a prophetic intimation in this explicit form. He had, indeed, long looked forward to a visit to Rome: but the prospect now seemed farther off than ever. And it was at this anxious time that he was miraculously comforted and strengthened by Him who is "the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea; who by His strength setteth fast the mountains; who stilleth the noise of the seas and the tumult of the people." In the visions of the night, the Lord himself stood by him, and comforted him (Acts 23:11).
The contrast is great between the peaceful assurance thus secretly given to the faith of the Apostle in his place of imprisonment, and the active malignity of his enemies in the city. When it was day, more than forty of the Jews entered into a conspiracy to assassinate Paul: and, that they might fence round their crime with all the sanction of religion, they bound themselves by a curse, that they would eat and drink nothing till the deed was accomplished. Thus fortified by a dreadful oath, they came before the chief priests and members of the Sanhedrin, and proposed the following plan, which seems to have been readily adopted. The Sanhedrists were to present themselves before Claudius Lysias, with the request that he would allow the prisoner to be brought once more before the Jewish Court, that they might enter into a further investigation: and the assassins were to lie in wait, and murder the Apostle on his way down from the fortress. The plea to be brought before Lysias was very plausible: and it is probable, that, if he had received no further information, he would have acted on it: for he well knew that the proceedings of the Court had been suddenly interrupted the day before, and he would be glad to have his perplexity removed by the results of a new inquiry. The danger to which the Apostle was exposed was most imminent: and there has seldom been a more horrible example of crime masked under the show of religious zeal.
The plot was ready: and the next day it would have been carried into effect, when God was pleased to confound the schemes of the conspirators. The instrument of Apostle Paul's safety was one of his own relations, the son of that sister whom we have before mentioned as the companion of his childhood at Tarsus. It is useless to attempt to draw that veil aside which screens the history of this relationship from our view, though the narrative seems to give us hints of domestic intercourse at Jerusalem, of which, if it were permitted to us, we would gladly know more. Enough is told to us to give a favorable impression, both of the affection and discretion of the Apostle’s nephew: nor is he the only person the traits of whose character are visible in the artless simplicity of the narrative. The young man came into the barracks, and related what he knew of the conspiracy to his uncle; to whom he seems to have had perfect liberty of access. Paul, with his usual promptitude and prudence, called one of the centurions to him, and requested him to take the youth to the commandant, saying that he had a communication to make to him. The officer complied at once, and took the young man with this message from "the prisoner Paul" to Claudius Lysias; who - partly from the interest he felt in the prisoner, and partly, we need not doubt, from the natural justice and benevolence of his disposition - received the stranger kindly, "took him by the hand, and led him aside, and asked him in private" to tell him what he had to say. The young man related the story of the conspiracy in full detail, and with much feeling. Lysias listened to his statement and earnest entreaties; then, with a soldier’s promptitude, and yet with the caution of one who felt the difficulty of the situation, he decided at once on what he would do, but without communicating the plan to his informant. He simply dismissed him, with a significant admonition, - "Be careful that thou tell no man that thou hast laid this information before me."
When the young man was gone, Claudius Lysias summoned one or two of his subordinate officers, and ordered them to have in readiness two hundred of the legionary soldiers, with seventy of the cavalry, and two hundred spearmen; so as to depart for Caesarea at nine in the evening, and take Paul in safety to Felix the governor. The journey was long, and it would be requisite to accomplish it as rapidly as possible. He therefore gave directions that more than one horse should be provided for the prisoner. We may be surprised that so large a force was sent to secure the safety of one man; but we must remember that this man was a Roman citizen, while the garrison in Antonia, consisting of more than a thousand men, could easily spare such a number for one day on such a service; and further, that assassinations, robberies, and rebellions were frequent occurrences at that time in Judea, and that a conspiracy also wears a formidable aspect to those who are responsible for the public peace. The utmost secrecy, as well as promptitude, was evidently required; and therefore an hour was chosen, when the earliest part of the night would be already past. At the time appointed, the troops, with Apostle Paul in the midst of them, marched out of the fortress, and at a rapid pace took the road to Caesarea.
The road lay first, for about three hours, northwards, along the high mountainous region which divides the valley of the Jordan from the great western plain of Judea. About midnight they would reach Gophna. Here, after a short halt, they quitted the northern road which leads to Neapolis and Damascus, once traveled by Apostle Paul under widely different circumstances, - and turned towards the coast on the left. Presently they began to descend among the western eminences and valleys of the mountain-country, startling the shepherd on the hills of Ephraim, and rousing the village peasant, who woke only to curse his oppressor, as he heard the hoofs of the horses on the pavement, and the well-known tramp of the Roman soldiers. A second resting-place might perhaps be found at Thamna, a city mentioned by Josephus in the Jewish wars, and possibly the "Timnath Heres," where Joshua was buried "in Mount Ephraim, in the border of his inheritance." And then they proceeded, still descending over a rocky and thinly-cultivated tract, till about daybreak they came to the ridge of the last hill, and overlooked "the great plain of Sharon coming quite up to its base on the west." The road now turned northwards, across the rich land of the plain of Sharon, through fields of wheat and barley, just then almost ready for the harvest. "On the east were the mountains of Samaria, rising gradually above each other, and bounding the plain in that direction: on the left lay a line of low wooded hills, shutting it in from the sea." Between this higher and lower range, but on the level ground, in a place well watered and richly wooded, was the town of Antipatris. Both its history and situation are described to us by Josephus.
The foot-soldiers proceeded no farther than Antipatris, but returned from thence to Jerusalem (Acts 23:32). They were no longer necessary to secure Apostle Paul's safety; for no plot by the way was now to be apprehended; but they might very probably be required in the fortress of Antonia. It would be in the course of the afternoon that the remaining soldiers with their weary horses entered the streets of Caesarea. The centurion who remained in command of them proceeded at once to the governor, and gave up his prisoner; and at the same time presented the despatch, (Acts 23:33) with which he was charged by the commandant of the garrison at Jerusalem.
We have no record of the personal appearance of Felix; but if we may yield to the impression naturally left by what we know of his sensual and ferocious character, we can imagine the countenance with which he read the following despatch.
"Claudius Lysias to the most excellent governor, Felix: Greetings! This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be put to death by them when I came up with a troop and rescued him, after learning that he is a Roman. And desiring to know the cause for which they accused him, I brought him down to their Sanhedrin.
"I found that he was accused of questions concerning their law, but had done nothing worthy of death or bonds. But when I was informed that a plot against this man was about to be carried out by the Jews, I sent him to you at once, and have also commanded the accusers to say the things against him before your judgment seat. Farewell." (Acts 23:26-30, HBFV)
Felix raised his eyes from the paper, and said, "To what province does he belong?" It was the first question which a Roman governor would naturally ask in such a case. So Pilate had formerly paused, when he found he was likely to trespass on "Herod’s jurisdiction." Besides the delicacy required by etiquette, the Roman law laid down strict rules for all inter-provincial communications. In the present case there could be no great difficulty for the moment. A Roman citizen with certain vague charges brought against him was placed under the protection of a provincial governor, who was bound to keep him in safe custody till the cause should be heard. Having therefore ascertained that Paul was a native of the province of Cicilia, Felix simply ordered him to be kept in "Herod’s praetorium," and said to Paul himself, "I will hear and decide thy cause when thy accusers are come." Here, then, we leave the Apostle for a time.