Paul's Arrest in Jerusalem


Background (traditions and surroundings)

Within this journey are the traditions of Paul's life and his surroundings. Paul arrived in Jerusalem (Rom 15:30-31) under some apprehension (Acts 21:17). His fellow travelers and other Christians feared for his life. Even Paul knew he was in jeopardy. But his desire to go to Rome was overwhelming. This would be the last he will see his blessed Jerusalem. This journey is the finale of his life.

An examination of Jerusalem at the time of Paul's last Jerusalem visit will give some insight into what Paul was fighting. This took place about 58 A.D.

The political power in Judea was the Roman procurator, Felix (52-60 A.D.). He was a ruthless ruler coming out of freedom of slavery. Tacitus, the hisorian, said "He exercized the power of a king with the mind of a slave."

Festus followed shortly. They both judged Paul at Caesarea, the seat of government at that time. On special occasions, the Roman leaders would go to the city and reside in Herod's palace. As you recall, the Romans let the Jews in certain cities run their own laws within certain Roman guidelines. That means the Sanhedrin, especially the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, held a great deal of power. Rome allowed no political disorder. Lysias, a Roman tribune, tried to get the Sanhedrin to try Paul. When the crowd would not allow that to happen, Lysias "rescued" Paul and took him to Felix. Another problem for the captures was the fact Paul was a Roman citizen. This meant the local courts had no jurisdiction over Paul; only Rome did.

The troops in the area were under the curator, Claudius. At the time of Paul's arrest, there were thought to be five cohorts (1 cohort has 480 men; i.e. 5 cohorts has 2400 men) and a unit of cavalry (120 men) in Caesarea. In Jerusalem, there was one cohort of 480 men. They were stationed in the Citadel. The Citadel was attached to the Temple and was within two flights of stairs to the Temple courts. Being this close, the military could keep order more easily, especially during the festival times.

During 6 - 41 A.D., although Rome tolerated the Jewish religion, the curator or procurator controlled the appointment of the high priest. But 44 - 66 A.D. the Herods controlled the priest. The Romans accepted theJewish objections to idols and Roman figures. Even the coins minted in Palestine did not have any human image. There were two sacrifices per day by the high priest in the Temple for Caesar and Rome. This seemed to satisfy Rome for being "worshipped". Caligula and Pilate tried to break this "acceptance" but eventually were overruled by Rome.

Paul was seized in the beautiful and lavish Herod's Temple. It was on the Temple Mount. In summary, the Temple Mount consisted of an Outer Court for Gentiles. There were warnings to Gentiles to stay out or else they would be put to death. The Romans apparently allowed the Jewish this particular right of ruling the death sentence. The next court inward was the Court of the Women (Jewish only, of course). The Court of the Israelites (only Jewish men, of course) was next. Then the Court of the Priests was next. This was the area for sacrifices. There was a porch leading to the Holy Place; then the Holiest of Holies (empty during the New Testament times). In Acts 21, Paul was the court of Priests and was dragged out by the Jews to the Court of the Gentiles. He was rescued and arrested by Lysias.

The relationship between the Jews and Romans were very tense. This certainly did not help Paul at all. Robert Picirilli writes of two incidences. One problem occurred approximately 48 A.D. under Cumanus. A soldier said something indecent at the Temple during Passover. There was a riot in which 20,000 Jews were killed in a stampede of people. The second incident involved Jews led by two Zeolots (similar to terrorists to the Romans) who invaded Samaria for revenge. Because of the lack of control, Claudius exiled Cumanus and the Zealots were killed.

Paul appeared (58 A.D.) to Felix (52 - 60 A.D.). Felix had continuous rebellion because he thought he could do whatever he wished to the Jews. The number of Zealots increased. The sicarii (Latin - political assassins) came about at this time. Now patriotism for the Jews was growing. There was much oppressive taxation: agricultural produce, poll tax, property tax, per capita head tax, customs and duties, etc. Excess tax monies went into and shortfall monies came out of the publicans (tax collectors) pockets. All this lead toward a major revolt of the Jews. This resulted, of course, in the crushing of the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Paul was even thought to be a Zealot (Acts 21:37-38).

Felix also feared losing his position because of the unrest. He therefore succombed to the demands of the Jews against Paul, whether they were right or not.

Paul's Accusations

It is important to recall the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-29). Accusations are being made against Paul which are not true. Paul is accused of teaching Gentiles AND Jews not to obey the Mosaic Law. James recommended that Paul should demonstrate his Jewish respect and ways. There were four persons purifying themselves by going through the Nazirite Vow (Acts 15:23-27).

A Nazirite (from a verb meaning "to separate or abstain") was a layperson of either sex who was bound by a vow of consecration (Num 6:1-21) to God's service for a specific period of time or in some cases for life. The person could drink no fruit of the vine, could not cut the hair, and could not be defiled by going near a dead person. These outward signs served as a public testimony of dedication to God. Examples of Nazirites were Samson (Judg. 13), Samuel (1 Sam 1:9-11), John the Baptist (Luke 1:15, 80), and Paul (Acts 18:18). After the time of the vow, the hair would be shaven and burned.

Paul would go through this seven days of dedication and sacrifice. If Paul joined them, he could prove he still was dedicated to the Jewish ways. Paul would even pay for his expenses himself. Josephus (Josephus Antiquities 19.6.1) tells of a time when Herod Agrippa I bore the expenses for the person on the vow. This was apparently a public show of his piety.

Attack of Paul in the Temple

Paul was also accused of taking a Gentile into the inner court of the Temple. They saw Trophimus of Ephesus (remember he accompanied Paul back to Jerusalem from Ephesus) with Paul. The Jews in the Temple jumped to the conclusion Trophimus went with Paul into the inner courts of the Temple. Paul would NEVER take a Gentile into the inner courts of the Temple.

There were thousands of unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem during these celebration times. Some recognized Paul and instigated a riot. They said he defiled the Temple and therefore, by Jewish law, should be put to death. Paul was dragged outside the courts and into the Gentile Court. They started to beat Paul. Claudius Lysias, a military tribune, and his troops rescued Paul. He used two centurions which is about 160 men (Acts 23:23). Remember that he is two flights of stairs away. When Lysias tried to find out the problem, he received conflicting stories. So he removed Paul to the Citadel. Then Paul asked if he could address the people. Not thinking it was a dangerous thing to do, Lysias allowed Paul to speak (Acts 21:39; 22:21).

Paul spoke in Hebrew (Aramaic) to the people. This quieted the crowd. Paul then gives a dissertation again of his conversion. He eventually got to the point where God told him he was to evangelize the Gentiles. The people listened no longer. They were violent and asked for his death.

The next step for Lysias was to scourge or whip Paul for the truth. Paul informed the centurion which was to whip him that he was a Roman citizen and to whip him would be unlawful. The commander said he paid a large sum of money to become a Roman citizen; Paul said he was born into citizenship. Lysias understood and canceled the scourging (Acts 22:24, 29).

Lysias is still in turmoil. So he asked the Sanhedrin for a hearing of Paul (Acts 23:30). This did not improve the situation.

First of all, Paul offended the Sanhedrin. He said he was in perfect harmony with God to this day (Acts 23:1-3). Ananias, a high priest called this blasphemous and ordered Paul to be struck in the mouth. At this point Paul apparently apologizes. Picirilli says "I wist not" (Acts 23:5) can be translated "I did not take into account" or " I forgot myself". Paul says it is written one shall not speak evil of the ruler of the people. This order of following your appointed leaders is elaborated upon in his letters.

Second, Paul divided the Council (remember, there are Pharisees and Saducees represented). He then says the apparent problem here was the resurrection (Jesus', of course). This immediately divided the Council because the Pharisees believed in an afterlife and resurrection; the Sadducees did not (Acts 23:6-10). The Scribes of the Pharisees actually asked that Paul be released. This created such a disorder, Lysias had Paul removed again.

Christ spoke to Paul at night to tell Paul that He wanted Paul to go to Rome and to be assured He would see to it Paul got there (Acts 23:11). We know of four times Christ appeared to Paul: at his conversion (Acts 9:5), in Corinth (Acts 18:9 10), on his first visit to Jerusalem (Acts 22:17-18), and here during his last visit to Jerusalem.

There was a group of forty men who made a vow to kill Paul (Acts 23:12-15). They would not eat of drink until his death. They went to the priests and elders and told them of the vow. Paul's nephew (sister's son) somehow heard about the plot and reported it to Paul (Acts 23:16-22). Paul then had his nephew tell the captain.

This is the only reference in the Bible to a family member. Remember that Paul is on the "outs" with his family because of his apparent disassociation with the Jews and their traditions and because of his association with the Gentiles. It appears his sister has some sisterly love for Paul. This love was apparently passed on to her son.

Finally, Lysias sees Jerusalem is too dangerous for Paul. So Lysias with 270 soldiers, under cover of night, took Paul to Antipatris for the night. Antipatris was a city Herod the Great built (9 B.C.) in honor of his father Antipater. It was about 40 miles from Jerusalem and 25 miles from Caesarea. They then took him to Caesarea, the local seat of the Rome leadership. The Jews wanted Paul killed by Roman law did not allow this to happen at this time. They took Paul to Felix.

Trial of Paul with Felix

The letter of transmittal of Paul to Felix (Acts 23:26-30) explained to Felix what he had done on this case. Felix asked from what province Paul came. Roman law required that this question be asked at the opening of a hearing, for Paul had the right to be tried in his home province or in the province where the alleged crime was committed. Tarsus was in Cilicia. Felix was a deputy of the legate of Syria and Cilicia, and so claimed the right to conduct the hearing, whichever choice Paul made. Such a detail is strong proof that Luke was with Paul at the hearing. Felix verified Paul was from Cilicia. Remember, if someone lies about being a Roman citizen, he is killed. He commanded Paul to be held until the accusers came and gave their case. It is interesting to note Paul was kept in the luxurious palace for the Roman governor. It was built by Herod the Great (22-10 B.C.)

Paul's hearing took place in from of Felix after five days in Caesarea (Acts 24:1-9). Ananias, the high priest with the elders and Tertullus went to Caesarea. Tertullus represented the Sanhedrin and, after giving the traditional praises to Felix, spoke of the charges. The accusations were of a general nature. Paul was a troublemaker. He was the leader of the heretical Nazarenes (in Hebrew and Aramaic, Christians are still called Nazarenes). He attempted to profane the Temple. By now, the Sanhedrin had softened the statement of Paul's profaning of the Temple to attempting rather than succeeding. He said Lysias had, with violence, taken Paul from the Jews. That is why they were there for the hearing; we were commanded to come with the charges.

Now Paul presented his defense (Acts 24:10-21). Paul also offered his niceties to Felix. It had been twelve days since entering Jerusalem (est: 6 in Jerusalem, 2 to Caesarea, 5 in captivity in Caesarea). Paul said he was not disputing, arguing, or even presenting his ideas in the Temple with other men, or raising a problem with other people in the synagogue or the remainder of the city. What's more, the Sanhedrin cannot prove any of their accusations. Paul had come to give alms. The Asian Jews accusing him of definign the Temple should have been there at the hearing.

Felix delayed the judgment until he could obtain a statement from Lysias. He was, apparently, the only independent voice of what happened (Acts 24:22-26). Paul was left under guard but was free to have visitors. Later on, Felix and his wife, Drusilla, a Jew, arranged for a "preaching" session from Paul. Drusilla was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I. Since she married Felix (who persuaded her to desert her husband), a pagan, she had seriously broken Jewish law.

Paul spoke on righteousness, self discipline, and judgment. Felix was not very happy about the message and put him away again. He saw Paul several times hoping to receive a bribe from Paul to let him go. Eventually, Felix was removed from power and Festus took over. Felix left Paul's case for Festus to handle. It appears Felix was recalled to Rome. While Paul was in prison, there was much disorder and street fighting between the Jewish and Syrian inhabitants. As you know, Rome does NOT like disorder.

Trial of Paul with Festus

Festus was not in office long (59 61 A.D.) (Acts 25:1-11). However, on his first encounter in Jerusalem the Jewish leaders told him about Paul's case and his imprisonment. Festus again required the Jews to go to Caesarea. After ten days in Jerusalem, Festus returned to Caesarea. The next day he brought Paul to him with Paul's Jewish accusers. He listened again to both sides. Festus wanted to satisfy the Jews so he waned to set up a trial in Jerusalem. Paul knew he would probably be killed before the trial. SO, he through a wrench into the negotiations. He said I have done no wrong. Therefore, I appeal to Caesar. Since he was a Roman citizen, he could request a Rome trial. Actually, Festus was pretty happy about this because it took the case out of his hands. It appears, historically, if the person does not ask for a Roman trial, the procurator could perform the trial and sentence.

Herod Agrippa was king over parts of Galilee and Perea and some northeastern areas of Palestine. Agrippa and Bernice visited Festus as a "welcoming to office" type of visit. Bernice was Agrippa's sister with whom he lived incestuously. She accompanied Festus continuously. Felix's wife Drusilla was also their sister. After a few days Festus brought the Paul case to Agrippa and explained the whole problem (Acts 25:13-21).

Agrippa said he wanted to hear the man speak (Acts 25:22-27). With great pomp; Agrippa, Bernice, Festus and many important people requested Paul to be brought to him. The Bible talks about Festus needed help to write. Whenever a prisoner was sent to Rome, he needed to send a letter of explanation. Until now, Festus did not have enough to write because he thought Paul was innocent. Now he was bringing Paul to Agrippa to assist in writing the information necessary in the letter.

Paul was asked to explain his case (Acts 26:1-23). The usual courtesies were given to Agrippa. He then proceeded to tell his side of the case. He went through a complete history of his life, conversion, and preaching. Eventually (Acts 26:24-27), Agrippa said to stop! But Paul kept on saying Agrippa would know much of the history and prophets. The Herods were considered proselytes and therefore knew Jewish law. Paul asked Agrippa whether he believed in the Prophets (Acts 26:27). Paul's question placed Agrippa in a dilemma. If he said yes, then he would have to acknowledge Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecies. To say no would have put him at odds with the Jews. Agrippa said (Acts 26:28-29) you almost persuaded me to be a Christian. It is not known for sure whether Agrippa was actually almost converted or whether he was being sarcastic. Paul chose to actually believe he was almost converted.

The most important point to know is if Paul had not asked to go to Rome, he would have been released.

Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea about two years.