Paul in Roman Custody, but under God’s Protection
We would like to know what Paul was thinking while lying on his bed that night. Was he elated that he had escaped certain death at the hands of the mob the day before, relieved that his Roman citizenship delivered him from the whips, or pleased that his interview before the council went far better than he could have wished for? No doubt he had much to be thankful for given how things could have turned out over the past twenty-four hours or so. On the other hand, he was in Roman custody and a prisoner with many enemies who were plotting his demise; that is, he had plenty of reason to feel ill-at-ease and maybe even frightened. So the Lord did what the Lord does in those times: He visited Paul with a word of comfort and of hope, even telling Paul His plan for him to testify in Rome so that when matters seemed confusing, he would know that God was still working His plan.
And sure enough, we learn in this passage that several Jews made a plot to take Paul’s life. Not only so but even the Sanhedrin was in on the scheme. And to think that these forty men even vowed to neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul—how hatred blinds the minds of men! The rest of the passage informs us that Paul’s nephew learned of the ambush, then went to tell Paul, who in turn told the centurion to take the boy to the tribune with the news, who then organized Paul’s escape from Jerusalem to Caesarea escorted by quite an impressive Roman guard. The tribune had a responsibility to protect Roman citizens, especially from assassins. The letter that the tribune, Claudius Lysias, wrote to Felix, the governor of Judea and Cilicia, paints a somewhat heroic picture of himself that does not quite match up with the facts, but at least he saves Paul again from certain death. As far as the tribune is concerned, it is all a matter over Jewish law and doctrine, and he would not even be bothered with it had it not risen to mob violence and had the man not been a Roman citizen. I think he was glad to give the matter over to the governor, who in turn received Paul with respect.
And so we see how God works his plan and protects his own. Yes, Paul was in Roman custody, but he was under God’s protection. The Romans served as God’s means of defending, guarding, sheltering, feeding, and just simply taking care of Paul while his enemies plotted his death in vain. Meanwhile, God was orchestrating events such that Paul would land in Rome (in a few years) to testify to God’s grace through Jesus Christ in the capital of the world. And we are also in God’s custody, and that’s a good place to be.