22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this.
25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.
The Jewish people have a long long history of being oppressed by Gentiles. This event happens just a little over 100 years after their most sacred place, the Holy of Holies, was desecrated by a madman and a pig. They have enjoyed a period of being able to keep the Gentiles out of their religious practices and focus on worshipping Yahweh the way they want.
And then Jesus comes along.
Jesus started it by clearing out the outer court of the temple – the court reserved for Gentiles – and making statements about how the Father wished for people from all nations to come and worship Him. Paul, Barnabas, Peter, Philip, and others carried this message out of Jerusalem, even to other countries. People from as far as Asia and Africa heard that the Savior of the Jews was also the Savior of the Gentiles.
So when Paul is seen in parts of the temple where only Jewish men are allowed, but everyone knows he’s been hosting a bunch of Gentiles that might not even care about the Law of Moses, the crowd freaks out. Remember, the people with Paul had all had their heads shaved, so they are much more difficult to recognize. Everybody looks the same with their head shaved. (Sort of)
Nationality saves the day here, in Paul’s case. He is both a Jew and a Roman citizen, which means he has rights inside the temple and rights under Roman law.
It was almost like he was born to perfectly carry out this lifestyle that God called him to live.
His civility with the crowd and his bravery in the face of facing a flogging probably also saved him. Hurling curses at the Roman Tribune would have just made the Tribune angry. The Tribune, after all, had just rescued Paul from getting killed in a riot!
And from this perfect scenario, the next 6 chapters and the setting for most of the New Testament letters is about to be created. With a riot outside the door, and tied to a flogging board, God is in complete control.
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