PAUL BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN (ACTS 22:30-23:10). Attacked by a religious mob, saved by an ungodly commander, Paul suffered the cruelty of religious hatred and bigotry! Without a hearing or trial the Jews had attempted to kill God’s preacher—like they killed the prophets before!
Claudius Lysias had failed utterly to unravel this Jewish snarl and he was determined to find the underlying cause of the matter. Besides a Roman citizen must be treated in accordance with due legal procedure. Paul was being charged with an offense against Jewish law and the proper thing would be to have Paul’s case heard before their tribunal. Had Lysias understood the Jewish mindset, he would have realized he was jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. Under the protection of civil authorities, Paul must have welcomed the opportunity the next day to defend himself before the Sanhedrin. There was no danger of death; he had the Lord’s promise of testifying in Rome.
The regular meeting place of the Sanhedrin was a room inside the Court of Israel at the Temple. The Jewish council was comprised of the leading members of the priests, Sadducees, as well as Pharisees. Both parties were religious enemies of the Way. Some members were known to Paul by face or voice. But it was a new experience for him to be on trial before the Sanhedrin. Ironically, he is following in the footsteps of Stephen, Peter, John and Jesus.
The presence of the Roman commander scared off the accusers. There were no witnesses called to prove the charge. The charge was without merit and it would have failed. Under no legal obligation to do so, Paul with a certain reckless abandonment decided to defend himself.
The apostle used a similar approach as with the crowd on the previous day; he identified himself with them: “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” He had very little to add to what he said on the steps the day before. It was a simple enough statement. It contradicted all the charges made by the mob against Paul and evidently endorsed by the Sanhedrin. Ananias, the High Priest, resented Paul’s brief defense and ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth.
Paul did not turn the other cheek! He called the High Priest a hypocrite and cursed 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, “You dare to 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.’”
Paul must have known Ananias and certainly, he was recognizable by his High Priestly garments. One cannot imagine Paul lying to the court, therefore, we might conclude that the apostle really did have poor eyesight and could not recognize him. On the other hand, he might have been speaking in holy sarcasm: “Could such a man actually be the High Priest?” Bad eyesight seems more likely.
The apostle was in deep trouble; he had alienated the entire Sanhedrin. It was clear that he was not to receive a fair inquiry and just decision. Knowing the beliefs of the council, he purposely and shrewdly drove a wedge between the two parties by identifying himself as a Pharisee and proclaiming he was on trial for his hope in the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.
Immediately, there was uproar as the teachers of the law, who were Pharisees, sided with Paul. The dispute became so violent that once again Paul was rescued from his religious enemies by ungodly soldiers. The apostle found himself back in the Fortress, a prisoner again.
Jesus had stood trial before the Sanhedrin, and so had His apostles; and now Paul had witnessed to this elite body. What great opportunities the council had and yet they would not believe.
Still, the mystery remained for Lysias. What was the matter with this man? What had he done? The commander had not learned anything except that Paul’s presence fostered vehement reactions by a mob and court. What Lysias did not grasp, the apostle understood all too well—for he had been on the opposite side years before.