A Plot to Kill (Acts 23:12-35)

A Plot to Kill (Acts 23:12-35)


  • Paul has just received the encouragement of the Lord (11).

Read Acts 23:12-35

  • In February 2008, I was called into the boss’s office and let go… > Carrie was only weeks away from delivering our third daughter… > Within a few months we sold our car and our house and moved to Mississippi.
  • The circumstances that brought us there were not planned, but looking back, we see God’s hand guiding us.
  • ”Providence, like Hebrew letters, must be read backwards.” John Flavel
  • Have you ever experienced something only God could have orchestrated?
  • Have you ever had to depend upon others in order to see God’s plan work out?
  • Paul knew he would escape this plot (11), but he didn’t know how. God used both Paul’s nephew and a Roman tribune to provide his rescue.

The courage to endure life’s devastating hardships comes from trusting the providence of God.

  1. The Plot Hatched (12-15)
  2. The Plot Exposed (16-22)
  3. The Plot Prevented (23-35)

The Plot Hatched (12-15)

  • More than 40 zealots place themselves under the threat of divine curse if they eat or drink before they kill Paul.
  • Fulfilling their vow is urgent, so they approach the leaders of the Sanhedrin (not the “scribes”, sympathetic Pharisees 23:7-8) to plot an assassination of Paul the following day.
  • Knowing that Paul was under heavy guard by Roman soldiers these men were prepared to lose their lives.
  • It’s far too easy to imagine this kind of zeal today. Like the terrorists of 9/11, these men were willing to die.
  • But their vow was irrational on multiple levels:
    1. In seeking to defend the law against its opponent, they were willing to violate multiple laws in the process.
    2. They assumed they had far more control than they actually had.
  • Oftentimes, those who are the most zealous for the law are its greatest violators.
  • Christianity offers a superior motivation – It’s called grace.
  • Dennis Johnson writes, “It is only when we surrender to Christ’s grace, abandoning our quest for vindication through the law, that we begin to fulfill the law (Rom. 8:4; 3:31).”
  • Paul understood their zeal, but he also knew the superior motivation of grace.
  • What about you? Does grace drive you to a deeper trust in God?
  • As quickly as the plot has been hatched it is being…

The Plot Exposed (16-22)

  • Unfortunately, we know nothing more about Paul’s sister and nephew. It is assumed that most of Paul’s family has disowned him because of his Christianity (Phil. 3:8).
  • Paul quickly puts the boy in touch with the tribune to relay this information.
  • God uses this boy we know nothing about to provide the protection he promised Paul would receive.
  • Here we see the compatibility between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.
  • God’s promise came to Paul at the perfect time and it strengthened his resolve to continue to fulfill God’s mission.
  • When Lot has become a war captive (Gen. 14:12), Abraham gathered 318 men from his own household who had been trained for war and rescued him. After this, probably fearful of retaliation, Abraham received a promise of God’s protection (Gen. 15:1).
  • Providence allows us to rest in God’s protection when our enemies plot against us.
  • You probably don’t have enemies plotting an ambush, but all of us have been in distressing situations. Maybe your going through one now.
  • Movie scenes with tension use music with dissonance (inharmonious notes) to get your heart racing and your palms sweating.
  • God is the great orchestrator who is able to compose a symphony out of the dissonance in our lives.1
  • Once the plot was exposed it wasn’t long before the tribune ensured it was…

The Plot Prevented (23-35)

  • Lysias sent 470 troops, almost half the garrison, to ensure Paul’s safety on the notoriously dangerous 60 mile journey from Jerusalem to Caesarea.
    • They traveled 35 miles to Antipatris during the night. Paul, still in pain, rode horseback.
    • At this point the infantry turned around and the cavalry escorted Paul the final 25 miles.
  • Lysias positions himself as Paul’s hero, conveniently leaving out that he misjudged Paul to be an Egyptian revolutionary (21:28), and was prepared to have him scourged (22:24).
  • Despite the tribune’s self-serving interests, this is the 4th time he has rescued Paul:
    1. Outside the temple (21:32-33)
    2. Outside the barracks (22:23-24)
    3. Before the Council (23:10)
    4. Escorting him to Felix (23:23)
  • Paul would remain in Caesarea for 2yrs. He was in custody in Rome for at least another 2yrs. Altogether, Paul will end his life with a minimum of 5yrs in Roman captivity!
  • Paul was completely trapped and vulnerable.
  • Sometimes, we are left with only one source of comfort – the providence of God.
  • “Providence is wiser than you, and you may be confident it has suited all things better to your eternal good than you could do had you been left to your own option.” John Flavel
  • God, in his providence, Gal. 3:13.
  • The plot was hatched, exposed, and finally prevented.


  • Paul doesn’t complain about his circumstances, rather – as we will see next week – he takes advantage of them as opportunities to be a witness.
  • Paul will have the privilege of testifying before three Roman authorities: Governor Felix (Acts 24), Governor Festus (Acts 25), and King Agrippa (Acts 26).
  • Had Paul gone to Rome on a missionary journey, it seems unlikely that he would have had those opportunities.
  • God wasn’t using Paul in spite of his circumstances, he was using Paul in the midst ofhis circumstances.
  • Do you trust him to do the same through you?