Paul surveyed the members of the council with a steady gaze, and then said his piece: "Friends, I've lived with a clear conscience before God all my life, up to this very moment."
That set the Chief Priest Ananias off. He ordered his aides to slap Paul in the face.
Paul shot back, "God will slap you down! What a fake you are! You sit there and judge me by the Law and then break the Law by ordering me slapped around!"
The aides were scandalized: "How dare you talk to God's Chief Priest like that!"
Paul acted surprised. "How was I to know he was Chief Priest? He doesn't act like a Chief Priest. You're right, the Scripture does say, 'Don't speak abusively to a ruler of the people.' Sorry."
Paul, knowing some of the council was made up of Sadducees and others of Pharisees and how they hated each other, decided to exploit their antagonism: "Friends, I am a stalwart Pharisee from a long line of Pharisees. It's because of my Pharisee convictions - the hope and resurrection of the dead - that I've been hauled into this court."
The moment he said this, the council split right down the middle, Pharisees and Sadducees going at each other in heated argument.
Sadducees have nothing to do with a resurrection or angels or even a spirit. If they can't see it, they don't believe it. Pharisees believe it all.
And so a huge and noisy quarrel broke out. Then some of the religion scholars on the Pharisee side shouted down the others: "We don't find anything wrong with this man! And what if a spirit has spoken to him? Or maybe an angel? What if it turns out we're fighting against God?"
That was fuel on the fire. The quarrel flamed up and became so violent the captain was afraid they would tear Paul apart, limb from limb. He ordered the soldiers to get him out of there and escort him back to the safety of the barracks.
That night the Master appeared to Paul: "It's going to be all right. Everything is going to turn out for the best. You've been a good witness for me here in Jerusalem. Now you're going to be my witness in Rome!"
Next day the Jews worked up a plot against Paul. They took a solemn oath that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed him.
Over forty of them ritually bound themselves to this murder pact
and presented themselves to the high priests and religious leaders. "We've bound ourselves by a solemn oath to eat nothing until we have killed Paul.
But we need your help. Send a request from the council to the captain to bring Paul back so that you can investigate the charges in more detail. We'll do the rest. Before he gets anywhere near you, we'll have killed him. You won't be involved."
Paul's nephew, his sister's son, overheard them plotting the ambush. He went immediately to the barracks and told Paul.
Paul called over one of the centurions and said, "Take this young man to the captain. He has something important to tell him."
The centurion brought him to the captain and said, "The prisoner Paul asked me to bring this young man to you. He said he has something urgent to tell you."
The captain took him by the arm and led him aside privately. "What is it? What do you have to tell me?"
Paul's nephew said, "The Jews have worked up a plot against Paul. They're going to ask you to bring Paul to the council first thing in the morning on the pretext that they want to investigate the charges against him in more detail.
But it's a trick to get him out of your safekeeping so they can murder him. Right now there are more than forty men lying in ambush for him. They've all taken a vow to neither eat nor drink until they've killed him. The ambush is set - all they're waiting for is for you to send him over."
The captain dismissed the nephew with a warning: "Don't breathe a word of this to a soul."
The captain called up two centurions. "Get two hundred soldiers ready to go immediately to Caesarea. Also seventy cavalry and two hundred light infantry. I want them ready to march by nine o'clock tonight.
And you'll need a couple of mules for Paul and his gear. We're going to present this man safe and sound to Governor Felix."
Then he wrote this letter:
From Claudius Lysias, to the Most Honorable Governor Felix:
I rescued this man from a Jewish mob. They had seized him and were about to kill him when I learned that he was a Roman citizen. So I sent in my soldiers.
Wanting to know what he had done wrong, I had him brought before their council.
It turned out to be a squabble turned vicious over some of their religious differences, but nothing remotely criminal.
The next thing I knew, they had cooked up a plot to murder him. I decided that for his own safety I'd better get him out of here in a hurry. So I'm sending him to you. I'm informing his accusers that he's now under your jurisdiction.
The soldiers, following orders, took Paul that same night to safety in Antipatris.
In the morning the soldiers returned to their barracks in Jerusalem, sending Paul on to Caesarea under guard of the cavalry.
The cavalry entered Caesarea and handed Paul and the letter over to the governor.
After reading the letter, the governor asked Paul what province he came from and was told "Cilicia."
Then he said, "I'll take up your case when your accusers show up." He ordered him locked up for the meantime in King Herod's official quarters.
Published by permission. Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved. (The Message Bible Online)