The political contrast between Israel in the Old and New Testaments is wide.
David would always be the “standard” for Israelite kings. Today we read of all the people he organized for temple service, as well as the thousands he commanded who served in the nation’s military. Israel was a major world power. David extended Israel’s borders and had significant political weight in the world.
Jesus was born into a very different Israel. It was no longer a sovereign nation, but was ruled by Rome. Rome instituted its own governors and officials throughout all of Israel. Even though the Jews maintained the Sanhedrin, their own religious ruling council, they had no true governmental control.
The Jews had been waiting for a “Messiah” to come and re-establish Israel as a major world power. One of the reasons Jesus was rejected as Messiah by most of the Jewish council was that he wasn’t a political figure. They couldn’t accept the radically different notion that Jesus came to establish a heavenly or spiritual Kingdom on earth.
Consequently, the Jewish Sanhedrin was very much against the new sect of Jews who believed Jesus to be their Messiah. First, they didn’t want this new sect stealing even an ounce of their limited power and influence. And secondly, I imagine the thought of a Messiah having come and not returning sovereign rule to Israel – was… well – a very bitter pill to swallow.
So, in today’s reading – we see Paul, standing before Felix, the Roman governor of Judea. Felix organized a trial, and the Jewish council sent a delegation from Jerusalem to testify against Paul.
The entire conflict between the Jews and Paul could be summarized in one word: Resurrection. Paul, himself, admitted this to Felix when he said…
It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day (Acts 23:21).
The resurrection of Jesus was just as world-changing – just as life-altering back then as it is today. If Jesus’ resurrection was FACT, then his claims to deity were true, and the Jewish Sanhedrin would be forced to accept that they killed the Messiah. And if Jesus was really the Messiah, all of their hopes and aspirations for a Sovereign Israel would be lost. There was just too much to lose. It was much easier for the Sanhedrin to turn a blind eye to the facts, than to admit the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.
Their lust for power was so strong that they were willing to do anything to silence Paul. Even break their own law (and Roman law) to conspire to kill him.
But God used Felix, the corrupt Roman governor, to protect Paul from ambush and death. Indifferent to Paul’s innocence, Felix kept Paul imprisoned, albeit comfortably, for two years. What better way to protect Paul from the rage of the Jewish Sanhedrin than to keep him locked up in a Roman prison!!! What men intended for evil, God worked out for good!
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