Paul was a person with a foot in two worlds, living between Jerusalem and Rome. Originally a Pharisee and Jewish leader, Paul was also a Roman citizen. In today’s reading, we see the tension between the two roles as they divided the community and confused the Roman leaders. But Paul used both to advance the gospel. Paul reminded the Sanhedrin of his old place among them—it’s possible many of the people in his hearing were old friends or coworkers of Paul’s. At the same time, he also fell back on his rights as a Roman to stay alive.
We also see the tension present between Christianity and Judaism. Paul was baptized into Christianity, but at this time, especially in Jerusalem, Jewish Christians were still viewed as a single religion with Judaism. The fault lines are starting to show in Acts 21. Within a few decades the schism was complete, though Paul’s imprisonment here happened before that took place.
It is clear that Christ had a plan for all nations to hear the good news. Paul shared that gospel, he did not compromise his message. Paul saw in Christ how the gospel was for everyone. The message of Jesus crossed every line between Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, and Romans. It was for this message the religious leaders of Paul’s day wanted to kill him (Acts 22:22). Both sides beat Paul, and both of them listened to him. But the thing that turned the Pharisees in his favor was Paul’s hope—the same hope we have—in the resurrection.
The gospel washed over all the boundaries that people in Paul’s day drew around each other. Like Paul, we can ask for a heart for the gospel that crosses these boundaries. And in Paul’s story, this message to the Sanhendrin was part of the path for him to continue spreading the gospel to the rest of the Gentile world. Throughout Paul’s ministry in Asia and Greece, Rome loomed—the center of the empire where all roads led. Paul was called and yearned to preach the gospel there. In this chapter, Jesus’s words to Paul are a promise that he would survive his persecution in Jerusalem and continue on in the path Jesus had called him to.
“Have courage! For as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so it is necessary for you to testify in Rome.” —Acts 23:11