Paul reviewed his Jewish heritage with the people who were assembled. He told of his background, training and zeal in persecuting the early Christians. The high priest and elders could attest to the fact that Saul (Paul) once had the authority to bind Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem to be imprisoned for their faith.
As Paul continued his defense, he related the events that happened on the road to Damascus when he had seen the bright light from heaven and the voice of Christ telling him what to do. He told how Ananias by divine authority had directed him to be baptized to wash away his sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
The people listened attentively until Paul stated that the Lord said, “Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.”
It was hard for the Jews to imagine their Messiah giving orders to preach to the Gentiles. At that point, they went into a frenzy, and cried out, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live.”
The commander ordered that Paul be bound and scourged to get him to confess to why the Jews were so against him. As the soldiers prepared to beat him, he asked the centurion if it was lawful for them to scourge a Roman, and uncondemned. Upon learning that they were about to scourge a Roman citizen, the commander ordered Paul to be released from the scourging. Since there were still no charges against Paul, the commander ordered the Sanhedrin to meet and state their case against him.
As Paul began to address the council, he stated how he had lived in all good conscience before God until that day.
Ananias, the high priest commanded that Paul be slapped across the mouth. In a rare outburst of anger, he spoke harsh words against the high priest. On other occasions of persecution, he had patiently and humbly defended himself. After being reprimanded for reviling “God’s high priest”, he apologized and continued his defense.
Jews were divided into two distinct sects—Pharisees, who believed in the resurrection of the dead, angels and spirits and Sadducees who did not believe in either. Paul identified himself as a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee and hoping to set them against one another stated that he was being judged concerning the “hope and resurrection of the dead.”
Upon hearing of Paul’s Pharisaical belief, the Pharisees stated, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.”
The conflict between the Pharisees and Sadducees became so intense that the soldiers forcibly removed Paul to the barracks for his protection. Having failed to hear definite charges, the commander of the Roman soldiers was still at a loss as to how to proceed next with him.
One can only imagine the state of mind that Paul was surely suffering at that time. He had been warned previously, and these warnings had been fulfilled—he was a prisoner. The Lord recognized his condition and stated to him that night, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”