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Sketches From The Life of Paul

by Ellen G. White

Chapter 20: Paul a Prisoner.

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These words, appealing to the sympathies of [p. 223] those who agreed with him in regard to the resurrection, brought a change in the council. The two parties began to dispute among themselves, and thus the strength of their opposition against Paul was broken; for however well united they were in warring against the gospel, they were divided by an insurmountable barrier in other matters of religious faith. The Pharisees flattered themselves that they had found in Paul a champion against their powerful rivals; and their hatred against the Sadducees was even greater than their hatred against Christ and his apostles. With great vehemence they now began to vindicate Paul, using nearly the same language that Gamaliel had used many years before: "We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God."

The sentence was hardly completed before the judgment hall became a scene of the wildest confusion. The Sadducees were eagerly trying to get possession of the apostle, that they might put him to death, and the Pharisees were as eagerly trying to protect him. Again it seemed that he would be torn in pieces by the angry combatants. Lysias, being informed of what was taking place, immediately gave orders to his soldiers to bring the prisoner without delay back to the fortress.

Thus closed the scenes of this eventful day. Evening found Paul still in the Roman barrack, the rude soldiery his sole companions, their brutal jests and revolting blasphemy the only sounds that fell upon his ear. He was not now nerved up by the presence of his enemies, nor was he supported by the sympathy of his friends. [p. 224] The future seemed enveloped in darkness. He feared that his course might not have been pleasing to God. Could it be that he had made a mistake after all in this visit to Jerusalem? Had his great desire to be in union with his brethren led to this disastrous result?

The position which the Jews as God's professed people occupied before an unbelieving world, caused the apostle intense anguish of spirit. How would those heathen officers look upon their conduct,—claiming to be worshipers of Jehovah, and assuming sacred office, yet giving themselves up to the control of blind, unreasoning passion, seeking to destroy even their brethren who dared to differ from them in religious faith, and turning their most solemn deliberative council into a scene of strife and wild confusion such as Roman senators or magistrates would not stoop to engage in. The cause of his God had been reproached, his national religion brought into disrepute.

And now he was in prison, and his enemies, in their desperate malice, would resort to any means to put him to death. Could it be that his work for the churches was closed, and that ravening wolves were to enter in, not sparing the flock? The cause of Christ was near his heart, and with deep anxiety he contemplated the perils of the scattered churches, exposed to the persecutions of just such men as he had encountered in the Sanhedrim council. In distress and discouragement he wept and prayed. The Lord was not unmindful of his servant. He had guarded him from the murderous throng in the temple courts, he had been with him before the Sanhedrim council, he was with him in the fortress, and was pleased to reveal himself to his faithful witness. As on [p. 225] trying occasions several times before, Paul was now comforted and encouraged by a vision in the night season. Such as visitation had been granted him in the house of Aquila and Priscilla at Corinth, when he was contemplating leaving the city for a more safe and prosperous field. And now the Lord stood by him and said, "Be of good cheer, Paul; for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome." Paul had long looked forward to a visit to Rome; he greatly desired to witness for Christ there, but had felt that his purposes were frustrated by the enmity of the Jews. He little thought even now, that it would be as a prisoner of the Lord, that he would go to Rome.

In the peaceful hours of the night, while the Lord was visiting his discouraged servant, the enemies of Paul were eagerly plotting his destruction. "And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy." Here was such a fast as the Lord through Isaiah had condemned many years before,—a fast "for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness." The Jews thus sought to give to their diabolical plan the sanction of religion. Having fortified themselves by their dreadful oath, they came to the chief priests and members of the Sanhedrim, and made known their purpose. It was proposed to request that Paul be again brought before the court as if for a further investigation of his case, and that the assassins would lie in wait and murder him while on his way from the fortress. Such was the horrible [p. 226] crime masked under a show of religious zeal. Instead of rebuking the Satanic scheme, the priests and rulers eagerly acceded to it. Paul had spoken the truth when he compared Ananias to a whited sepulcher.

The next day the plot would have been carried into effect, had not God by his providence interposed to save the life of his servant. When Peter had been made a prisoner and condemned to death, the brethren had offered earnest prayer to God day and night for his deliverance. But no such interest was manifested in behalf of him who was looked upon as an apostate from Moses, a teacher of dangerous doctrines. It was not to the elders whose counsel had brought him into this dangerous position, but to the watchful sympathy of a relative, that Paul owed his escape from a violent death.

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