After Paul and his companions returned to Jerusalem from their three year stay in Ephesus, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the Temple, and they stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place!”
Luke tells us that they said this because they had previously seen a guy named Trophimus (an Ephesian) hanging out in the city with Paul and they assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.
The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains.
The commander (Greek: chiliarch) was responsible for 1,000 soldiers known as a regiment. His name was Claudius Lysias and he was stationed at the fortress of Antonia. “Officers” refers to centurions. Since the plural form of the word is used here, it is likely that at least two centurions and over 150 soldiers were involved.
The commander asked the crowd who this man was that they were beating and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Get rid of him!”
As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he starting asking questions to the commander, and the commander was surprised that Paul could speak Greek. He had assumed that Paul must have been that trouble-maker Egyptian guy he’d heard about that led 4000 terrorists out into the desert.
The historian Josephus told of an Egyptian false prophet who some years earlier had led 4,000 people out to the Mount of Olives. Roman soldiers killed hundreds of them, but the leader escaped. The word translated here as “terrorists” is a Greek loanword from the Latin word sicarii, meaning “dagger-men,” or men known for being violent assassins.
Paul tells him he is a Jew from Tarsus, and he gets permission to speak the crowd once they settle down. When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.
Then Paul said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify.”
Paul, when he was a youth, had been a disciple of Gamaliel, who was the most honored rabbi of the first century …even more than Jesus at the time. Of course, now Jesus is the famous one, in no small part thanks to Paul.
Paul then goes on to tell them that while he was on his way to Damascus to arrest the followers of Jesus, Jesus himself appeared to him with a blinding light on the road, saying, “Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
He told them how he had been blind, but had been healed, and how he had been baptized as a believer in Jesus.
He then tells the crowd how he had been given a message from God while in a trance at the Temple, telling him to leave Jerusalem because the people there would not believe his message.
And when he says that God had told him to go and deliver his message to the Gentiles, the crowd went into an uproar once again, shouting, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”
As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be tortured and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. But when Paul mentions that he’s not only a Jew from Tarsus, but also a high-ranking Roman citizen, the commander gets scared and tells the interrogators to get away from him. According to Roman law, Roman citizens were assured exclusion from all degrading forms of punishment: beating with rods, scourging, or crucifixion, for example.
The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, so the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”
At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth.
Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”
Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!”
Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”
Ananias, the son of Nebedaeus, was the high priest from AD 47-59. He is not to be confused with the high priest Annas from Luke chapter 3, who was high priest from AD 6-15. Ananias was noted for cruelty and violence. When the revolt against Rome broke out, he was assassinated by his own people. Paul calls Ananias a “whitewashed wall” – a metaphor for a hypocrite – because Ananias has acted improperly in ordering that Paul be struck. Striking someone prior to a conviction was illegal. In this case, Paul had not even been properly charged.
Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, decided to change the subject and play the parties against each other, and he called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers! I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees! I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead!”
When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided.
You see, the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.
There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”
The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.