“When I (the apostle Paul) returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’
“‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’
“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”
The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”
As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”
When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.”
The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”
“Yes, I am,” he answered. Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.” “But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied.
Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains. Acts 22:17-29 (NIV)
The apostle Paul had a rather daunting calling. He starts off preaching the Gospel in the temple, but the Jews there didn’t know how to take him. Here was a guy once known as Saul- the Pharisee who had been persecuting Christians and who had not only green-lighted but also witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen (see Acts 7.)
All the sudden here goes Saul-who-became-Paul preaching the truth of Christ that he had once so vehemently opposed. This was offensive to the crowd, who probably didn’t realize Paul had such a sordid past, and their anger kindled when they realized who stood before them.
Interestingly enough, we see that Roman citizens had some advantages in Paul’s time. American jurisprudence borrows from Roman law the assumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Paul was not afforded the due process he should have been as a Roman citizen. Instead he was presumed guilty and summarily flogged as if he were a common street thug. Flogging was not just a smack on the hand or a whipping with a belt. The instrument, called a flagellum or flagrum, that Roman soldiers would use to flog someone in the first century looked something like this:
There were many leather whip-like ends with heavy metal pieces on them that were designed to bruise and rip flesh.
It is a fact that Christians throughout the ages have endured unjust treatment for the sake of their faith throughout the centuries. There are many places in the world today in which Christians face persecution, torture and even death for professing Christ. The apostle Paul endured many such trials throughout his ministry journeys, yet his message stayed the same. The same Holy Spirit who sustains us in far lesser trials upheld the apostle Paul and multitudes of other believers throughout time.
The world may not always uphold our rights, whether they are natural rights or rights given by virtue of the law. Sinful humanity violating the eighth Commandment (do not bear false witness against your neighbor) is as popular as it ever was.
There was a sort of silver lining in the fact that the Jews rejected Paul and the Gospel he was preaching. While Paul’s own people rejected him, God intended for Paul to preach to non-Jews, people who had never heard of the One True God of Abraham, or of Jesus. Paul wrote many of the books of the New Testament under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit- writings that Christians use to this day for doctrine and encouragement in the faith.
It’s easy to get discouraged when our rights are trampled on, or when those who should understand us and listen to us don’t.
We don’t always understand the trials that we go through in this life. All we do know is that we can trust God even when we can’t trust people. God will find a way to preserve us and to work in and through us, by His grace, to His glory.