Verbal confrontations can be quite difficult and I for one do not cherish them. They are difficult blows to the soul and yet the gospel message brings about not only verbal sparring but also peril to our lives as Paul experienced. He continues his defense before the council and again alludes to his innocence: “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” (23:1)
Again, his former life and past things Christ has cleansed and thus before God Paul knows he’s upright. What amazes me is his confidence in Christ’s redemptive work where his conscience also is cleansed. No lingering residues of “guilt” because Christ does his work of justification and sanctification perfectly. The Devil could not bring up his past as a means to condemn Paul because he knew what it meant to be justified by faith through grace. This is worthy of note because the truth sets us free—only if we know it!
Nevertheless, Paul’s accusers and the High Priest have him struck on the mouth (23:2) to which he strikes back with words and then realizes that in ignorance Paul misspoke (23:3-5). Paul perceived one group in the council (1st century religious materialists—Sadducees) and the other group (1st century substance dualists—Pharisees). The former deny the resurrection the latter affirmed it (23:6-8). What transpired was a dangerous situation in the city that threatened Paul’s life: the resurrection of the dead (23:9-10). The irony of the message which brings life to dead corpses—the hearers—can and often will bring death to the messenger. Paul was all too familiar with this. So, the Lord at Paul’s side brings word:
“Take courage, for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause in Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also” (23:11)
It’s as if Paul needed this word from Christ because the mounting opposition can make one cower and plunge into ruin. This opposition could have kept Paul from finishing the course set before him. I can relate Lord! How I need your strength in my life Lord today because I feel beat down!
Regardless, this visitation from the Lord would certainly strengthen Paul as he heard of a plot to kill him:
“When it was day, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul.13 There were more than forty who formed this plot. 14 They came to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have bound ourselves under a solemn oath to taste nothing until we have killed Paul. 15 Now therefore, you and the Council notify the commander to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case by a more thorough investigation; and we for our part are ready to slay him before he comes near the place.” (23:12-15)
Forty people wanting one man dead must have been very frightening. Yet, that was part of Paul’s course set before him by Christ as an ambassador of the Master. Fortunately the plot was foiled (23:16-35) and Paul was spared because Christ assured him that he needed to testify also in Rome. This objective could not be thwarted in God’s providential purposes.
In chapter 24 Paul makes his defense before those who described him as a: real pest; one who stirs dissension, a ringleader of The Way (24:1-6). Paul was on trial because of the resurrection of the dead (24:21) and the rest of this chapter demonstrates his reasoning.
Paul gives the back drop of the resurrection from the Law and the Prophets as evidence for its truthfulness. Moreover, it’s this future event that presently moves the apostle to maintain a blameless conscience before God and men (Vv.10-11). Knowing that judgement awaits him, Paul is not careless with how he lives but purposes to walk in the light of Christ to the best of his abilities.
We finally see Paul before Felix discussing righteousness, self-control and the coming judgment to which this ruler seemed to reject (V.25).
Conclusion: the message of the resurrection implies Christ’s work of atonement, the rescue of sinners from the coming judgment. This future event is to inform and guide how believers presently live. For although believers are forgiven and not under wrath, our lives and future rewards nevertheless depend on how we respond to the gospel message, how live out the implications of what it means to be born-again.