As I studied this chapter, I could not help but compare it to the (mis)trial of Paul before the Sanhedrin in chapter 23. I was reminded of the two battles that took place between the northern kingdom of Israel (led by King Ahab) and Syria (whose king was Ben Hadad), as recorded in I Kings 20. This is a fascinating story, and I encourage you to read it for yourself. But for now, let me give you the short version. Ben Hadad and his allies waged war on Israel. Their combined army greatly outnumbered Israel’s warriors, but God promised to give Israel the victory—and He did! Many of Ben Hadad’s forces were killed, but he and some of his men escaped. The prophet of God warned Ahab that Ben Hadad would return the following year and instructed him to prepare for another attack.
Ben Hadad wanted to stage a rematch in order to prove to himself and to others that he should have won the first battle. He made two changes in his strategy. This time he would fight the battle on the plains, rather than in the mountains. The other change was to replace the kings who led their armies the first time, with professional military commanders. They figured by making these two changes, they would have the advantage, and assure them of a victory. Needless to say, they lost again, thanks to divine intervention.
So let’s compare that with Paul’s adventure. In the first round, the Sanhedrin were defeated when (on orders from the Roman commander) they attempted to pass judgment on Paul. After offending the high priest, Paul realized that did not stand a chance of getting a fair and impartial trial, so he shouted out that he was a Pharisee, and that he believed in the resurrection of the dead. In mind, that was pretty savvy because it split the Sanhedrin into two factions, who fought among themselves and nearly tore Paul to pieces. The commander had to intervene with force, again.
Like in the battle that Ben-Hadad restaged between his armies and the forces of Israel, there was a “change of venue.” The second battle between Ahab and Ben Hadad was fought on the plains. The retrial of Paul was removed from Jerusalem, and moved to Caesarea, and it was not with the Sanhedrin, a religious body; it was with Felix, the Roman governor over Judea. (This wasn’t because the Jews chose these changes, but because the Roman commander had taken matters out of their hands.)
In the first battle between Syria and Israel, the 32 kings led their armies in battle. In the second battle, “professional” soldiers led the armies. In the first trial before the Sanhedrin, it was hard to tell who was in charge. Which would explain why Paul did not recognize Ananias as the high priest. When they called for the Jewish leaders to come to Caesarea, they came with a professional lawyer to prosecute Paul. They did not intend to make the same mistakes twice.
So it is that we come to chapter 24, ready to watch Paul on trial again, in a different court, and with somewhat different players. How will the Jews prosecute Paul? How will Paul do this time? Will he make his case? In order to get a better grasp the drama of this event, do not think ahead of the story, but think of this trial as a rematch, and we will see what God has for us.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Story of Acts