Comfort in Adversity—Jesus Appears to Paul in Jerusalem Jail

Message of Comfort through Courage in Adversity

The Lord Jesus appeared to Paul with a message of comfort during persecution in Jerusalem. He encouraged Paul to proceed through the persecution in good spirit knowing that God was with him and will guide him to extend his gospel mission to Rome. The encounter provides a message to all through Paul to recognize a “Rome” at the end of every adversity and proceed through with courage and faith based on living in the image of God.

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We continue the study series on Responding to Adversity with a discussion of Paul’s interaction with Christ in Jerusalem following a day that showed him potentially vulnerable to the on-going persecution. During the day, Paul faced a council of chief priests and the Sanhedrin in a judicial hearing to determine why he was being accused. The hearing showed him as maybe anxious to end the persecution as he engaged in an angry altercation with the high priest and apparently sought to exploit doctrinal differences between Pharisees and Sadducees.

Be of good cheer, Paul
Be of good cheer, Paul
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God appeared to Paul that night, physically as the Lord Jesus. He encouraged Paul and revealed to him a purpose of the persecution [Acts 23:11]: “… Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” This was a message of comfort through courage in adversity, not only to Paul, but also through Paul to every Christian. God is aware and with you as you confront adversity. Look beyond the circumstantial details of the adversity and focus on believing that God has a purpose for your experience and will intervene as he chooses to lift you beyond the current bitterness and onto greater and pleasant fulfillment. Jesus did not discuss the persecution with Paul except that he should respond with “good cheer” knowing he will go to Rome on his mission of testifying to the gospel. The message was an assurance that the persecution will not get the better of him: he should focus on the ultimate purpose as he confronts the day to day occurrences of the persecution. He gives the same message to every Christian today.

To understand the message better, we examine Paul’s interactions at the judicial hearing, first with the high priest and second, the Sanhedrin.

Judicial Hearing

Paul faces Sanhedrin
Paul faces Sanhedrin
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The Roman commander convened a judicial council to hear Paul’s case and possibly understand the accusation against Paul and how best to deal with the crisis. The council consisted of the chief priests and Sanhedrin, an assembly of elders and teachers of the law constituted to adjudicate disputes based on Jewish law, customs, and the Scripture. The hearing did not go well for Paul because his interactions with the high priest and with the Sanhedrin portrayed him as possibly anxious and maybe concerned about finding a quick end to the persecution.

Interaction with High Priest

On arriving at the hearing, Paul made a statement that could be interpreted as claiming to have served God perfectly: “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day” [Acts 23:1]. In response, the high priest, Ananias, ordered that someone standing near Paul should strike his mouth. Paul reacted angrily [Acts 23:3]: “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”

Such reaction would surprise many, especially coming from a person that has preached the gospel to several thousands. A Christian is expected to convey the image of God through his/her actions and words in every situation. God expects us to be his “ambassador” to all, whether responding to a person of authority, such as the high priest in this case, or any ordinary person. Paul’s reaction suggests he wasn’t at his best, maybe because of feeling pressure of the persecution.

RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY However, after observers questioned him for being disrespectful to “God’s high priest” [Acts 23:4], Paul realized what he had done and pulled back from the confrontation [Acts 23:5]: “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.” He used the opportunity to introduce a message on Respect for Authority and would elaborate on the message several years later in his letter to Romans [13:1–7]. There he explained that “whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” [Romans 13:2].

We can surmise based on this interaction that the pressure of persecution caused Paul to lose his best judgment momentarily in the angry reaction to the high priest. However, he realized he had done something wrong and used the opportunity to initiate a message on Respect for Authority as an aspect of living in the image of God.

Interaction with the Sanhedrin

After the interaction with the high priest, Paul continued his defense by apparently seeking to exploit doctrinal differences among the Sanhedrin: “Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, ‘My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead’” [Acts 23:6].

Teachers of the Law
Teachers of the Law
LumoProject.com FreeBibleImages.org

PHARISEE AND SADDUCEE As we discuss in a previous bible study under Responsibilities of Leaders and Followers, Pharisees and Sadducees, also referred to as teachers of the law, were educated in the body of laws that God gave to the Israelites through Moses, at times referred to as the Law of Moses and available in the present-day bible in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. The teachers of the law were experts in these laws, the Scriptures (body of writings by prophets), and their interpretations. They had responsibility to interpret the law and scriptures and make rulings based on the interpretation. They were recognized as having the authority of Moses and were at times in charge of law enforcement. For example, a famous and zealous teacher of the law, Saul, was on his way to Damascus from Jerusalem to hunt down and arrest members of “the Way” [Acts 9:2] when he had an encounter with Christ and was converted.

The teachers of the law developed into two sects, Pharisees and Sadducees, based on doctrinal differences. “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things” [Acts 23:8].

Led away from potential violence
Led away from potential violence
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Because of their recognized responsibility to interpret the law and scriptures and make rulings based on the interpretation, the teachers of the law would have played leadership role in the judicial hearing. However, Paul’s declaration that he was on trial for his beliefs as a Pharisee had the effect of splitting the assembly along the doctrinal boundary between Pharisees and Sadducees: “When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided” [Acts 23:7].

The Pharisees and Sadducees argued so vigorously that the commander feared violence and called off the hearing [Acts 23:10]: “The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.”

Comfort through Courage in Adversity
Direct Message from God

The judicial hearing was called off because of potential violence arising due to reaction to Paul’s defense. Also, his earlier interaction with the high priest could have resulted in violence except he pulled back from the confrontation and thus diffused any potential violence. Therefore, Paul apparently had reason to feel bad and low-spirited in addition to maybe feeling anxious about the persecution. God appeared to Paul physically that night in an encounter that comforted and encouraged Paul [Acts 23:11]: “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’” God brought a message of comfort to Paul through the encounter.

Message of comfort in adversity
Message of comfort in adversity
Sweet Publishing freebibleimages.org

The message is not only to Paul, but also through Paul to every Christian. Take courage from believing that God is with you in your adversity. He has a purpose for the adversity and will guide you to the purpose. Proceed through circumstances of the adversity with faith and good judgment based on living in the image of God. Notice the message did not promise an exemption from or quick end to the adversity. In fact, the encounter did not include any message to Paul regarding what would happen from the time of the encounter through the time of testifying in Rome. Nothing about how he would get to Rome. The only message is he should proceed through the experience in good cheer, that is with courage and faith of God’s companionship. We understand the message to mean there is a “Rome” at the end of your adversity. Proceed with faith of God guiding you through the adversity and on to your “Rome.”

LAUNCH PAD TO POSITIVE CHANGE The bible provides several examples of positive change through adversity. As we discuss in a previous bible study under Joseph Called to Mission, Joseph’s journey to Egypt and through different phases of his mission provides a good example to understand that God could use adversity to bring about a positive change for a person. It is almost like burning part of a rocket to launch it into higher orbit. To send Joseph to Egypt, his brothers first threw him into a dry well, where he languished until they changed their mind about killing him and instead sold him as slave to merchants travelling to Egypt. That is, God used the adversity brought to Joseph by his brothers to “launch” him into his Egypt mission.

He encountered short-lived relief from adversity on arriving in Egypt, where he fared well as a slave in the house of Potiphar. His master was happy with his performance, appointed him to position of Household Charge d’Affaires, and experienced remarkable prosperity with Joseph in charge of his household affairs [Genesis 39:4–5]. However, Joseph’s relief in Potiphar’s house was temporary. His refusal of an illicit proposal from Potiphar’s wife saw him into jail to resume his life of adversity. As we discuss under Joseph Interprets Dreams, it was in this jail that Joseph had compassion on two prisoners from Pharaoh’s staff and through his act of compassion introduced himself as a reliable dream interpreter. His positive interaction with the prisoners became a launch pad to his Egypt mission approximately two years later.

Joseph appeals for help from dungeon
Joseph appeals for help from dungeon
FreeBibleImages.org

Joseph did not know there was a “Rome” (or an “Egypt”) at the end of his adversity. He went through the adversity and suffered the pain. Recall his pleading with Pharaoh’s cup-bearer to mention his injustice to Pharaoh [Genesis 40:14–15]: “But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.” However, he lived in the image of God despite suffering through the pain of adversity. Recall it was his compassion that drew his attention to the two prisoners from Pharaoh’s staff [Genesis 40:6-7]: “When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected…” So he asked them, “Why do you look so sad today?” He had compassion and offered to do what he could to alleviate their sadness, despite his hurting from being jailed without justification. Consistent Godliness saw Joseph through the adversity and onto his “Rome” at the end of the adversity.

Summary of What We Learned

The Lord Jesus appeared to Paul with a message of comfort during persecution in Jerusalem. He encouraged Paul to proceed through the persecution in good spirit knowing that God was with him and will guide him to extend his gospel mission to Rome. The encounter provides a message to all through Paul to recognize a “Rome” at the end of every adversity and proceed through with courage and faith based on living in the image of God.

More Information

Please watch this bible study on video at VIDEO_LINK , listen to or download the audio at AUDIO_LINK . You can also download a PDF copy of the PowerPoint presentation from PDF_LINK.

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