Acts 23:1 – 11
23While Paul was looking intently at the council he said, ‘Brothers, up to this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God.’2Then the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near him to strike him on the mouth. 3At this Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting there to judge me according to the law, and yet in violation of the law you order me to be struck?’ 4Those standing nearby said, ‘Do you dare to insult God’s high priest?’ 5And Paul said, ‘I did not realize, brothers, that he was high priest; for it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people.” ’
6 When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, ‘Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.’ 7When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8(The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.) 9Then a great clamour arose, and certain scribes of the Pharisees’ group stood up and contended, ‘We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?’ 10When the dissension became violent, the tribune, fearing that they would tear Paul to pieces, ordered the soldiers to go down, take him by force, and bring him into the barracks.
11 That night the Lord stood near him and said, ‘Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.’
Paul had been saved from the mob, but it is apparent that the Sanhedrin is against him, without a hearing. Paul stands before the council, and, calling them brothers, says that he has fulfilled his duty to God in good conscience. At that point, Ananias (remember Ananias from Jesus’ trial? He is still around some thirty years later!), the high priest, tells someone standing near Paul to strike him across the mouth. Paul responds by calling him a "white-washed wall", judging according to the law but breaking the law by ordering him struck. Others ask how Paul dares insult the high priest, and Paul replies he did not know by his behavior that he was the high priest! Seeing that he was not going to get a fair hearing from this body, Paul embarks on a course sure to pit them against each other, he shouts, "I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead." The hereditary priesthood, from whom Rome appointed the high priest, consisted of the most conservative of Jews, Sadducees – the Sadducees believed only in the law of Moses, not in any of the prophets or histories or writings that followed. (Remember, when Jesus argued with the Sadducees he chose an argument from Moses.) Since resurrection of the dead had become a part of Jewish theology at a later time, they did not believe in resurrection. The Pharisees, however, did believe in the resurrection. It was a point of frequent disagreement and debate among the two groups! Knowing that, Paul is throwing fuel on a smoldering fire, pitting them against one another, rather than against him! The dispute became so violent that the commander of the soldiers was afraid they would tear Paul apart, and the troops took Paul away and back to the barracks.
That night, the Lord appeared to Paul saying, "Take courage!" He told Paul that he must yet testify in Rome.
Once again, we see that God did not violate the free will of the members of the Sanhedrin; they freely made their own bad decision, and did so in God’s name! And they would have killed Paul, as they had killed Jesus. Sometimes bad things are done in the name of religion – consider the inquisition, the crusades, the World Trade Center. God does not cause these things, but he does not violate the will of those who choose to do them. But God did allow the soldiers to rescue Paul at that time, for he had yet more work for Paul to do. And Christ would stand with Paul through the coming years of trial, shipwreck, and imprisonment!