The 472 vs. The 40 Something

Acts 23:23-35

And he called to him two of the centurions, and said, “Get two hundred soldiers ready by the third hour of the night to proceed to Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen.” They were also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor. And he wrote a letter having this form: “Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix, greetings. When this man was arrested by the Jews and was about to be slain by them, I came upon them with the troops and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. And wanting to ascertain the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their Council; and I found him to be accused over questions about their Law, but under no accusation deserving death or imprisonment. And when I was informed that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, also instructing his accusers to bring charges against him before you.” So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. But the next day, leaving the horsemen to go on with him, they returned to the barracks. And when these had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. And when he had read it, he asked from what province he was; and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, he said, “I will give you a hearing after your accusers arrive also,” giving orders for him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.

2+200+70+200 against 40, I am liking those odds. Factor in the fact that they left under the cover of darkness and we see the overkill of Jesus once again. If you think the numbers are a coincidence, or if you glossed over the account; look again. The Jewish assassins had more than 40 men lying in wait to ambush Paul. The Romans now have over 400 men protecting Paul, 200 soldiers, 200 spear men and 70 horsemen plus 2 centurions. 400 is 10 times 40 and 70 is 7 times 10. These numbers are not a coincidence but a signature of God, showing the reader on which side God aligned himself. We tend to forget that God uses wicked nations against wicked nations to perform his purposes. Jesus has declared desolation in Jerusalem and that Paul would proclaim his name in Rome. But also remember that Paul was to testify in Jerusalem first and that they rejected his testimony because he was sent to the gentiles. Jesus gave Jerusalem himself, the 12, Stephen and now Paul, Jesus does not judge Jerusalem because they killed him, or Stephen, or James, or John the Baptist, but because they killed them all. Even now, after a great cloud of witnesses, Jesus sends them Paul, who was formerly like them in every way, only more vigorously zealous, yet they still wouldn’t change their minds.

In America and around the globe we have stopped taking a long view of Scripture and seeing the sublime string; considering the context and aspirations of the author to his audience. We don’t even give the genre a passing thought and we only use examples ripped out of context that seem to agree with our presuppositions. And rather than read intently, doing the math when necessary, we actually add our own numbers to the promised numbers of the Lord to fit our narratives, not the Lord’s. When the Lord says that seventy weeks of years are declared, we add 2000 years to the equation. This previous sentence should serve to stymie dispensationalist discourse on its own, then factor in that Jesus literally said, “all this will fall upon this generation,” and a thousand other words, and dispensationalism should die a few million deaths. With careful consideration of the context and sublime string, many other doctrines and denominations should fall to the wayside. Prosperity Pentecostalism should surrender to the fact that Paul writes; “not all speaking in tongues.” The world is full of false teachings from people who are unwilling to see the sublime string, just like Jerusalem in the time of the temple toppling and prior. Jesus sent them the apostles and prophets and they failed to realize and repent. Finally, just as Jesus promised, he sent them Rome.

“And he called to him two of the centurions, and said, ‘Get two hundred soldiers ready by the third hour of the night to proceed to Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen.’ They were also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” Once again, for review, that’s a grand total of 472–two centurions, 200 soldiers, 200 spearmen and 70 horsemen. They all, plus the “mounts” had one goal, one  objective, to bring Paul “safely to Felix the governor.” This was absolute overkill orchestrated by the author of our salvation and the Bible. And along with Paul’s protectors, the commander also sent a letter.

“Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix, greetings. When this man was arrested by the Jews and was about to be slain by them, I came upon them with the troops and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. And wanting to ascertain the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their Council; and I found him to be accused over questions about their Law, but under no accusation deserving death or imprisonment. And when I was informed that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, also instructing his accusers to bring charges against him before you.”

Another huge problem we have with our modern misconceptions is that, because Paul wrote, “all Scripture is God breathed and useful,” we think every single verse is God speaking truths to us. While everything in the Bible is contextually true, some of what is written in the Bible is lies and most of what was written in the Bible was not written to us. Technically speaking, the Bible does say, Judas went an hanged himself; Go and do likewise; What you do, do quickly; There is no God. While this is obviously ripping verses out of context and pasting them together, it is exactly what the mega-church pastors do. But it is not only the mega-church pastors but mainline protestants, Roman Catholics and even evangelicals. We have to understand that most of the Bible wasn’t written to us but recorded for us and that within all the weighty truths are many lies, some of them exceptionally subtle. Look at Claudius’ letter to Felix, we see the same form as we do of the letters of Paul–from whom, to whom, and a greeting. But we also notice that while Claudius claims that he rescued Paul, which is true, he failed to mention that he had him beaten before he found out he was a Roman citizen. In his letter to Felix, Claudius makes himself out to be the hero but we don’t see it that way. We see the fingerprints of the Lord all over this situation and see Claudius for whom he is, a cog in the machinery of God’s will. We have seen the context and when we look at the letter, which is included in the Bible, we see that Claudius took some liberty and essentially lied. Look at what Claudius wrote; “I came upon them with the troops and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman.” But is this really what happened?

We remember reading what Luke wrote; “the commander [Claudius] ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way. And when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, ‘Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?’ And when the centurion heard this, he went to the ccommander and told him, saying, ‘What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman.’ And the ccommander [Claudius] came and said to him, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ And the ccommander [Claudius] answered, ‘I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.’ And Paul said, ‘But I was actually born a citizen.’ Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the ccommander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains.” Yet Claudius makes no mention of any of this in his letter to Felix and we do not wonder why. We know why but we still continue to rip verses out of context knowing that certain truths in the Bible are actually lies. We have to keep Scripture in its context.  I am not going to bother to look, but I am sure I could find a sermon somewhere, where the pastor says that “Claudius was a good man for rescuing Paul,” having only read the letter from Claudius to Felix, absolutely ignorant of the preceding text. The text where we read that Claudius put Paul in chains and had him scourged before he found out that Paul was a Roman citizen. He now is only treating Paul well, because he is afraid of getting into trouble himself, for scourging a citizen without due process. Nevertheless, it is all under the sovereignty of God.

“So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. But the next day, leaving the horsemen to go on with him, they returned to the barracks. And when these had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him.” After reaching relative safety in Antipatris, the soldiers head back to Jerusalem but the 70 horsemen continue on with Paul to Caesarea. As you can probably guess, Antipatris is almost exactly half-way from Jerusalem to Caesarea. Once the caravan carrying Paul is well outside the danger of ambush, he is left to finish the journey with the horseman. One reason is probably because they could move much faster without the troops, since they were out of the danger zone. Probably most importantly, to Claudius at least, was that he was down 472 men in a city where he had just pulled a fast one on the people, who are already angry at him. Claudius sent a small army to get Paul to safety and now he wants most of them back to maintain order in Jerusalem and to protect his assets. Nevertheless, 70 horsemen still escort the uncondemned apostle to the governor, Felix. It almost sounds apocalyptic, doesn’t it?

“And when these had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. And when he had read it, he asked from what province he was; and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, he said, ‘I will give you a hearing after your accusers arrive also,’ giving orders for him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.” Yes, that Herod and yes, Paul was housed in the same building as Felix–Paul probably in the basement but in the same building, which was pretty massive. After all, it was built by Herod. None of this should be too surprising to us, considering the letter that Claudius wrote about rescuing Paul from the Jews and that he saw nothing that deserved death, and that Paul was a citizen from Cilicia. Also, in a building that big, there was probably a holding cell or two.

And now, with other matters to attend to, Paul is placed in the Praetorium to await his accusers for five days. Why did it take five days? Apparently the anti-ambush plan worked perfectly.  Paul is safe in Caesarea before the still-hot high priest knew he was gone. Claudius was not a hero but a pawn in the plan of God. Claudius beat Paul without due process and sent him to Caesarea with a lie. Nevertheless he is a small subsection of God’s greater plan for not only Paul but the whole world. He is also a foreshadowing of the destruction that is about to fall on Jerusalem. God is already using Rome to further his plans. But this is only a taste of what is to come. This is a small scale interruption into the plans of Jerusalem against Jesus. Soon, Jesus will judge Jerusalem over her plans by utter desolation from the hand of Rome, manipulated by the hand of God.

 

 

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