Friday, July 6, 2012

The Hope of the Kingdom Fulfilled - Acts 23

(read Acts 23)

Acts 23:6 (ESV)
Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.”

Paul is brought before his religious accusers by the empire of Rome to defend himself according to their accusations. This will be the last of his defenses primarily toward those who are offended by him as a religious heretic, and the beginning of his journey deep into the political heart of the Roman empire. He will spend the rest of the book of Acts as a prisoner of the empire, giving testimony of what he has seen and heard and come to believe about Jesus and the gospel of the Kingdom of God.

His defense here is brief. He takes a page from Jesus' book of wise defense by framing his own accusation before his accusers. Just as Jesus' answers often turned the tables on his accusers, Paul deftly manages to take the pressure off himself by exploiting disagreements between the councils that testified against him before Rome. Paul gets right to the point by proclaiming the hope for all who put their trust in Jesus: the resurrection of the dead at his return. It is this future in which all that Paul preaches has its hope. If Jesus has raised from the dead, he has been vindicated, the empire has been defeated, and the new Kingdom has begun. If he has been raised from the dead, all who follow him have a hope for the same vindication by resurrection after him. If he will return, than the world will be put right according to the justice and love of the Kingdom. If he is alive, than the faithful can begin living the Kingdom life of justice and love together now, and resist the spirit of empire in faith knowing that their struggle is not in vain.

Paul offended the Aropageous of Athens with the same thing. The resurrection is the crux of the matter. Even politically, it is the heart of the offense of the gospel. If the resurrection is true, than these resistance communities are living for something real, and participating in a movement that will be the ruin of Rome and all other corruption. If what Paul says is true, the highest authority that Rome claims, the authority to kill, is still not as high as the authority by which Paul preaches, lives, and resists.

In this courtroom, Paul's short defense throws his accusers into confusion. The argument that ensues sounds more rhetorical than practical. It serves to end the trial abruptly.

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

Paul's attention shifts from this point on toward the courts of Rome. He has placed his life in the hands of God. His hope is for the Kingdom fulfilled, when the highest court will declare him justified and judge equally all the authorities of Rome he will stand before. He does not need to fear what they will do or what he needs to say. His life is forfeit. He has but one King.


v3 – Paul appeals to God’s OT law.
v5 – Paul apologizes and repents, even though what he said was true.
v7 – Paul is wise.

(read Acts 23)

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