The Book of Acts: Chapter 23 (pt 6 of 13)

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First, let us consider Paul’s claims. Although they seem to be intended as a disruption, they are truthful and accurate. Paul was a Pharisee—not only was it his background (taught by Gamaliel, etc.), but they shared the same essential beliefs (the resurrection of the dead, and the existence of angels and spirits). Which by the way the Sadducees did not believe (which is why they were sad-u-see. lol. I know, bad preacher humor). But in all sincerity, the Sadducees were just like many of our modern “liberal” theologians who dismiss anything miraculous: they deny there was a world-wise flood; the story of David killing the giant Goliath, was simply allegory;  an virgin birth? Oh, that’s impossible—in their eyes it couldn’t happen and didn’t happen; hence, the resurrection is impossible.

The real issue with Paul’s comments was the gospel, and the resurrection of Jesus (and resurrections of all the dead) was a central theme of the gospel. In fact, Paul wrote later in the 15th chapter of I Corinthians that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, “our faith is foolishness.” If there is no resurrection, there is no living Christ. And if there is no resurrection for Christ, everything you have believed and staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. The resurrection is the Gospel! The apostles were witnesses of the resurrection. This is the real reason why the Jews opposed Paul. (Remember, the Sanhedrin instructed Peter and John not to preach in the name of Jesus, or His resurrection).

Also, consider the response of the Sadducees. They clearly disagreed with both Paul and the Pharisees. They believed Paul was guilty, and they wanted to execute him on the spot, just like Stephen. But look at the response of the Pharisees, because I believe their response is great:

“There was a great commotion, and some experts in the law from the party of the Pharisees stood up and protested strongly, ‘We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?’” (Acts 23:9)

Huh? I love that. The Pharisees actually agree with Paul, or they are willing to accept at least the possibility he is telling the truth—what if a spirit or angel “has” spoken to him. They may not know about everything he is saying, but obviously something happened. They did not say that Paul was innocent of a specific charge, but rather that no charges should be made. There is no reason for this “trial” in the first place (other than the fact that the commander ordered it).

In my opinion, the most significant statement made by the Pharisees is that Paul may well have “received a vision from a spirit or an angel.” This statement makes no sense unless it takes Paul’s statement in chapter 22 about his vision (the one that caused the rukus) seriously. Remember what Paul said there, and the result:

“When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord saying to me, ‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ I replied, ‘Lord, they themselves know that I imprisoned and beat those in the various synagogues who believed in you. And when the blood of your witness Stephen was shed, I myself was standing nearby, approving, and guarding the cloaks of those who were killing him.’ Then he said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” The crowd was listening to him until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Away with this man from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live!” While they were screaming and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust in the air —Acts 22:17-23

Paul’s account of his vision is what caused such the problem. In that vision, God spoke to Paul. He instructed Paul to leave Jerusalem quickly because the Jews would not receive his message (the gospel), so he was to take the gospel to the Gentiles. To admit that this “message” may have been from God was an amazing concession. This implies that the message could well be true. If so, God was turning from the Jews and sending the gospel to the Gentiles. Can you imagine the impact of this concession? No wonder the Sadducees completely cast all reason and order aside, and tried to kill Paul on the spot.

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