Paul, still called Saul in the New Testament, is converted and baptized in Damascus in 33 A.D. (Acts 9). After spending only a few days with Christians, "he immediately began to proclaim Christ, that He is the Son of God" (Acts 9:20, HBFV throughout). Little did he know that the speed in which he began to evangelize would be matched by the swiftness of conspiracies against him!
The apostle, at about thirty-one years old, is a headstrong and hard driving young man determined to accomplish his goals (see Acts 9:15 - 16). The depth of Paul's Biblical knowledge and argumentation skills (he was trained as a Pharisee) are evident the moment he opens his mouth.
But Saul (Paul) increased even more in power, and confounded [bewildered, stirred up, threw in disorder] the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this is the Christ (Acts 9:22).
It wasn't long before Apostle Paul's message, coupled with his intense polarizing personality, kindled a firestorm of hatred against himself! The new evangelist discovered the secret conspiracy against his life and took immediate action.
Now when many days were fulfilled, the Jews consulted together to kill him. But their plot was made known to Saul. And they were watching the gates both day and night, in order that they might kill him (Acts 9:23 - 24).
Paul escapes Damascus, under the cover of darkness, when fellow Christians lower him down the city wall in a basket (Acts 9:25)!
A secret conspirator?
Ironically, although there were conspiracies against Paul's life, he himself was once thought to be a conspirator!
Paul, at the end of his third missionary journey (late spring of 58 A.D.), is arrested at Jerusalem's temple by the Romans under the suspicion he caused a riot (Acts 21:26 - 33). The chief captain of the Roman army, surprised that he could speak Greek, asks him the following.
"Are not you the Egyptian who previously caused confusion and led into the desert four thousand men who were murderers?" (Acts 21:38).
Who was the Egyptian involved in a conspiracy? The Jewish Historian Josephus reveals more details about this person.
"But there was an Egyptian false prophet that did the Jews more mischief than the former; for he was a cheat, and pretended to be a prophet also, and got together thirty thousand men (Josephus exaggerated this number) that were deluded by him; these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount which was called the Mount of Olives, and was ready to break into Jerusalem by force from that place;
"and if he could but once conquer the Roman garrison and the people, he intended to domineer over them . . ." (Wars of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 13, Section 5).
Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews (Book 20, Chapter 8, Section 6), goes further to state that the Romans launched an attack against this conspiracy and killed many of the men. The Egyptian ringleader, however, escaped Rome's offensive and was never found.
Paul's response to the Roman captain was that he was not the conspirator in question but a Jew who was a citizen of Tarsus in Cilicia (Acts 21:39).
Daring to fight Rome!
The next conspiracy we will look at occurs immediately after Paul, mentioned above, is accused of being a conspirator.
The Romans, desirous to find out why Paul was accused by the Jews of starting a temple riot, allow the Sanhedrin (the highest Jewish religious authority) to examine him (Acts 22:30). His appearance before the religious body ultimately causes it to descend into chaos (Acts 23:1 - 10). The Romans, for his own safety, remove him from the proceedings.
While Paul is waiting for Rome to decide what to do next, a group of fanatical Jews takes the bold step of banding together in a secret conspiracy pact against the apostle.
And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and put themselves under a curse, declaring that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. And there were more than forty who had made this conspiracy (Acts 23:12 - 13).
The willingness of the conspirators to fight well-trained Roman soldiers protecting Paul, in order to kill him, is a testament to their zealous hatred of him and the gospel! They even go so far as receiving approval and help from Jewish religious leaders for their evil plan (Acts 23:14 - 15).
The huge conspiracy is thwarted, however, when one of Paul's relatives discovers the plot and informs the Romans (Acts 23:16 - 22). The apostle, protected by 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen and 200 spearmen, is taken at night to Caesarea so that he can be tried before the Roman governor (verses 23 - 33).
One more try
After Paul's arrest and transportation to Caesarea, mentioned above, he is left to rot in prison for more than two years. His case is left in limbo by the corrupt Governor Felix who hoped someone would offer him a bribe for the apostle's release (Acts 24:26).
Felix is replaced by Governor Festus in the early autumn of 60 A.D. Festus travels to Jerusalem just three days after assuming his responsibilities. The High Priest and other leaders, the moment he arrives in the city, press him to transfer the apostle to Jerusalem. Their resuscitated conspiracy against the apostle entails ambushing and killing him as he travels for another hearing.
Then the high priest and the chief Jews presented before him the charges against Paul; and they besought him, asking a favor against Paul, that he would have him sent to Jerusalem, because they were preparing an ambush to kill him on the way (Acts 25:2 - 3).
Once again, however, the conspiracy supported by Jewish leaders is foiled. The Apostle Paul rejects being judged in Jerusalem and, using his right as a Roman citizen, appeals his case to Caesar (Acts 25:8 - 12). He, yet again, escapes the evil plots of men in order to fulfill God's perfect will (Acts 23:11).