“We Must Obey God as Ruler Rather Than Men”
Giving a Thorough Witness With “Good Courage”
A VIOLENT mob is ready to beat to death an obedient servant of God. In the nick of time, Roman soldiers snatch the man from the attackers and detain him. This sets in motion a series of events spanning some five years. As a result, many high-ranking Roman officials hear about Jesus Christ.
The sufferer is the apostle Paul. About 34 C.E., Jesus revealed that Paul (Saul) would bear His name before “kings.” (Acts 9:15) By the year 56 C.E., this has not yet happened. As the apostle nears the end of his third missionary trip, however, things are about to change.
Mobbed but Undeterred
Paul is continuing his journey to Jerusalem, and “through the spirit” certain Christians warn him that intense persecution awaits him in that city. Courageously, Paul says: “I am ready not only to be bound but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:4-14) As soon as Paul visits the temple in Jerusalem, Jews from Asia who are familiar with the apostle’s evangelizing success there stir up a mob in order to kill him. Roman soldiers quickly come to his aid. (Acts 21:27-32) That rescue gives Paul rare opportunities to declare the truth about the Christ to hostile audiences and high-ranking individuals.
Preaching to Hard-to-Reach Audiences
Paul is dragged to safety up the steps of the fortress known as the Tower of Antonia.* From those steps, the apostle gives a forceful witness to the religious mob. (Acts 21:33–22:21) But as soon as he mentions his commission to preach to Gentiles, violence erupts again. The military commander Lysias orders that Paul be examined under scourging to learn why the Jews accuse him. The scourging is prevented, however, when Paul makes it known that he is a Roman citizen. The next day, Lysias takes Paul before the Sanhedrin to learn why the Jews accuse him.—Acts 22:22-30.
Standing before this high court, Paul has another fine opportunity to witness to his fellow Jews. The fearless evangelizer declares his belief in the resurrection. (Acts 23:1-8) The murderous hatred of the Jews remains unabated, and Paul is taken into the soldiers’ quarters. The following night, he receives this heartening assurance from the Lord: “Be of good courage! For as you have been giving a thorough witness on the things about me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.”—Acts 23:9-11.
A plot to kill Paul is forestalled when the apostle is secretly hurried to Caesarea, the Roman administrative capital of Judaea. (Acts 23:12-24) In Caesarea, further valuable opportunities are presented, and Paul witnesses to “kings.” First, though, the apostle shows Governor Felix that there is no evidence to support the charges against him. Later, Paul preaches to him and his wife Drusilla about Jesus, self-control, righteousness, and the coming judgment. Paul, however, is kept in prison for two years, as Felix hopes to receive a bribe that never comes.—Acts 23:33–24:27.
When Felix is replaced by Festus, the Jews renew their efforts to have Paul condemned and executed. The case is heard again at Caesarea, and to prevent a transfer of the trial to Jerusalem, Paul states: “I am standing before the judgment seat of Caesar . . . I appeal to Caesar.” (Acts 25:1-11, 20, 21) Some days later, after the apostle presents his case before King Herod Agrippa II, that king says: “In a short time you would persuade me to become a Christian.” (Acts 26:1-28) In about 58 C.E., Paul is sent to Rome. As a prisoner there, the resourceful apostle continues for two more years to find ways to preach about Christ. (Acts 28:16-31) It seems that Paul did eventually stand before Emperor Nero, was declared innocent, and was finally able to renew his missionary activity as a free man. There is no record that any other apostle had the opportunity to reach such notables with the good news.
As the above shows, the apostle Paul lived in harmony with the significant principle expressed before the Jewish tribunal by his fellow Christians: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) What a fine example he set for us! Despite persistent human efforts to stop him, the apostle fully obeyed the command to give a thorough witness. As a result of such unwavering obedience to God, Paul measured up to his assignment as “a chosen vessel” to bear Jesus’ name “to the nations as well as to kings and the sons of Israel.”—Acts 9:15.
See the 2006 Calendar of Jehovah’s Witnesses, November/December.
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WAS PAUL INTERESTED MERELY IN DEFENDING HIMSELF?
Commenting on this question, author Ben Witherington III writes: “From Paul’s . . . point of view, the crucial thing is not so much for Paul to defend himself, but rather for him to bear witness about the gospel to the authorities, both Jewish and Gentile. . . . In effect it is the gospel that is really on trial.”