Prisoner at Ceasarea

REMOVED TO CAESAREA (ACTS 23:23-35). No soldier could afford to lose a prisoner, for that might mean the forfeiting of his own life. Claudius Lysias, out of fear, courage, or sense of fairness, thwarted the plot. While the Empire had its share of corrupt political opportunists, for the most part, the military leaders were men of quality who respected the Roman law. Lysias smuggled Paul out of Jerusalem under the protection of four hundred and seventy soldiers at nine that night. Another night escape! This time, not as a fugitive, but as a prisoner of Rome—a prisoner of Christ Jesus!

The small army traveled about three hours northward, along the high mountainous region, which divides the valley of the Jordan from the great western plain of Judea. About midnight they would reach Gophna. Here, after a short halt, they took the northern road, which leads to Neapolis and Damascus, once traveled by Paul under different circumstances. Then they turned towards the coast on the left. The soldiers brought Paul the prisoner as far as Antipatris (30 miles from Jerusalem near Aphek). The next day the foot soldiers returned to the Fortress and the cavalry of seventy men took Paul the remaining 27 miles across the coastal plain to Caesarea.

Claudius Lysias sent a most interesting letter along with Paul to Governor Felix. Lysias was somewhat lax in his handling of the truth about how and when he learned of Paul’s citizenship. As Pilate did with Christ, Lysias found no charge against the accused that deserved death or imprisonment. Unknowingly, this commander became a writer of Scripture. Could it be God’s way of saying thanks for saving His apostle three times?

After reading the letter, Felix asked a most natural question, “To what province do you belong?” He did not want to trespass on another’s jurisdiction for there were strict rules for all inter-provincial communications. Learning that Paul was from the province of Cilicia, he agreed to hear the case. There was no urgency so he would keep Paul in safe custody until the case should be heard.

Not only was Paul protected by an escort fit for a king, but he was not kept in a common prison, but placed under guard in Herod’s palace. Erected as a royal residence by Herod the Great, the palace was now used as a Roman praetorian—the place for the official business of the Emperor and the housing of those directly responsible to the Emperor.

CAESAREA. Paul would spend the next two years at Caesarea, the seat of the Roman government in Judea. The city was built by Herod the Great between 20 and 9 B.C., on the site formerly called Strato’s Tower, in order to serve as the principal Mediterranean port of his kingdom. Five major roads led to Caesarea, including the great seacoast trade route between Tyre and Egypt. The plains surrounding it were famous for their fertility.

Because of the lack of natural harbors along the coast south of the Bay of Haifa, Herod had an elaborate artificial harbor constructed here, enclosed by a semicircular breakwater two hundred feet wide. The harbor was a fine feat of engineering that exists today.


Fortress at the Harbor of Caesarea

In addition, Herod the Great built other installations, such a magnificent theater, hippodrome and the Temple of Augustus, for whom the city was named. Fresh water was supplied to the city by two brick arch aqueducts. A six mile tunnel was cut through the rock of Mount Carmel to channel water from underground springs to the aqueducts to be carried another six-and-a half miles along the shore to the city. The aqueducts were vulnerable to enemy attack.

From the outset, Caesarea was a predominantly Gentile city, and for this reason, the Roman governors of Judea from A.D. 6 onwards found it a more congenial place for their normal residence than Jerusalem. Caesarea housed three thousand troops and more than 50,000 residents in Paul’s day.

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