When Paul returned to Jerusalem after his third missionary journey, there was a spirit abroad in the city; it was the spirit of evil. After the ridiculous behavior of the Sanhedrin in the last scene, a new plot comes to light when “some Jews” form a conspiracy some 40 strong, to murder Paul. They need an accomplice in order for their plans to come to fruition, for Paul was being held in the Roman barracks, a stronghold they dared not attack. Who could they get to help them set an ambush?
Obviously, if you are plotting murder, the ones who will help you are the chief priests and elders, those great paragons of righteousness and virtue, those men who are responsible for maintaining the law of God: They quickly agreed.
In 23:17-22 we learn something interesting for it appears that Paul had a nephew in town who was privy to this information. We might rightly wonder if he was connected to the chief priests and elders in some way, after all, Paul had been a Pharisee, perhaps the nephew was in the same line of work; sadly, Luke doesn’t quite say. In any case, the nephew pays Paul a visit in the barracks to warn him, and Paul sends him off to the commander to share the information. The commander listens, and takes the warning to heart, making a plan of his own; he will send Paul to Caesarea under heavy military escort in the dark of night.
I’m not sure how Luke came into this bit of knowledge, but it seems that the commander wrote a note to Governor Felix in Caesarea:
To His Excellency, Governor Felix:
This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him. (23:25-30)
I suppose we can forgive our commander for his rather loose treatment of the facts here for he was a military man with a political hot potato on hands that was beyond his pay grade, and it would appear that this note accomplished its purpose; Felix accepted the case which was no doubt quite a relief for our commander.
Paul and Felix would have to wait for the accusers to come to Caesarea before they could proceed. Would the accusers be arrested upon arrival there for their roles as co-conspirators in the plot to murder a Roman citizen, as Roman law would require?
Don’t hold your breath…