Confinement In Caesarea
As the book of Acts begins to wind down, the parallels between the lives of the early apostles, especially Paul, and the life and ministry of Jesus, become more obvious. As the Gospel impacts the world and the church of Paul’s day, the pressure from the unholy alliance of so-called religious leaders, and the state, becomes more oppressive. Consider a relative aside: As one carefully peruses the 1812 pages of The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, in contrast to some contemporary historians, it is rather obvious that the attacks on God’s messengers, EJ Waggoner and AT Jones, and even more subtly, Ellen White; mimic the attacks on Paul in our study. While error is parasitic, truth stands alone and can only be undermined through deliberate and/ or ignorant theological and or historical distortions.
During the 1888 era, specifically in 1890, Ellen White wrote the following that was obviously applicable for the resistance to the message of Christ our only Righteousness, and must be applied to those who will not accept or who otherwise choose to distort the prophetess’ multiple endorsements of the 1888 Message. She wrote,
“The very last deception of Satan will be to make of none effect the testimony of the Spirit of God…There will be a hatred kindled against the Testimonies which is satanic.” 1SM 48.
This same hatred of the Gospel is seen in our present study.
In the mid-19th century, a hymn was penned that resonates with Paul’s day and should with ours. Excerpting some of the pertinent lines it states,
“Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, In the strife of truth and falsehood, For the good or evil side; ….By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track… “Though the cause of evil prosper, Yet ‘tis truth alone is strong; Though her portion be the scaffold, And upon the throne be wrong; Yet that scaffold sways the future, And, behind the dim unknown, standeth God within the shadow, Keeping watch above His own.” (Hymn 606, SDA Hymnal).
In the run up of Paul being sent to Caesarea, we see him appearing before the Sanhedrin and before the Sadducee, Ananias. As Paul with conviction asserts the clarity of his conscience before God and man, he is met with a slap on the mouth. His response is very interesting given downplaying of his words or the attempt by some to blame his response on poor eyesight. Hardly! Undoubtedly, Paul knew who Ananias was as he was intimately acquainted with the Sanhedrin and Ananias had been appointed high priest several years earlier.
According to the great Jewish historian, Josephus, Ananias was known for his avarice and brutality as a stooge of Rome. So when Paul told Ananias that God would strike him he was in effect prophesying the end of Ananias. Paul’s response to Ananias, modeled similarly on the words of Christ might be described as the “guillotine of sophistry”. Not to mention that Leviticus 19:15 proscribes Ananias’ behavior. There is no evidence there is any personal rancor on Paul’s part. The sheer force of his prophecy was sufficient and is born out in the murder of Ananias’ by the Jews near the beginning of the war with the Romans, which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
With this bit of background let’s highlight Chapters 24-26 of the book of Acts. First let us note that resistance to the Gospel is coupled with persecution of God’s messengers. Ellen White even prophesied that Jones and Waggoner could lose their way and much of the responsibility at the feet of the persecuting leadership. The point of whether or not they rejected Christ, we can leave that outcome with the righteous judge. Thankfully, Paul stood for the truth to his death in Rome.
Our second note, let us not forget the particular doctrine that created the deepest opposition. While the Pharisees opposed Paul on the grounds of their disbelief in the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, the Sadducees also added a severe additional charge of resurrection rejection. Being the Hellenized, or Greek-influenced faction of Judaism, the Sadducees were thoroughly committed to the wedding of Judaism to Greek ideology. As the human body was virtually persona non grata to the Greeks, the idea that the Messiah could possess a resurrected, redeemed body, was preposterous. This position put them in opposition to the Pharisees who at times actually tried to protect Paul.
In Acts 24, it should be noted that the Sadducees, or better known as Roman sycophants, hired the best Hellenistic or possibly Roman lawyer they could find. Tertullus was hired to hang Paul, with the truth being an unfortunate casualty. Before governor Felix sedition was the charge, that is, he was charged with creating unrest. The evidence? None! Reminiscent of what is often heard or implied in today’s accusatory environment, “It’s the seriousness of the charge, not the nature of the evidence that matters.”
According to Roman law, sedition was punishable by death. Paul’s strongest defense occurs in verse 14, “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets.” Then he again references the resurrection and fearlessly revisits the assertion that had gotten him slapped as he stated his commitment to have a clear conscience before God and man.
Felix was placed under deep conviction by the Holy Spirit, but failed to respond and was replaced two years later by Festus. Tragically Felix had gone too far as inspiration records, insomuch that, “Never was he to receive another call from God.” AA 427.
In chapter 25, a similar repeat of judicial activism, in contrast, - legislated law, occurs under pressure from the Jews. Festus is desirous of doing the Jews an illegal favor, but is bound by Roman law not to surrender a Roman citizen, ‘without due process.’ In fact in 25:10, Paul’s constitutional erudition is displayed. He proclaims, “I stand at Caesar’s [not Jerusalem’s] judgment seat, where I ought to be judged.” Jerusalem judgment meant death, whereas in Caesarea, judgment by Rome meant the opportunity for a more fair trial.
Ellen White says the following which should sober us all:
“The apostle knew he could not look for justice from the people who by their crimes were bringing upon themselves the wrath of God. He knew that, like the prophet Elijah, he would be safer among the heathen than with those who had rejected light from heaven and hardened their hearts against the gospel.” The same could be said about the resistance to the gospel in the 1888 era all the way down to our day. The claim that the 1888 Message had been accepted leads to the question: “If the resistance hasn’t been real, then why are we still here?”
In the pivotal chapter 26, we find Paul before King Agrippa and his sister, Queen Bernice. Josephus and others have reported that their relationship was an incestuous one. Paul was happy to appear before Agrippa, as he acknowledged Agrippa’s familiarity with the Jewish beliefs and customs. It would seem to me that the core of Paul’s defense is found here in verses 6 and 7. Let the extent and depth of his words sink into our minds. Especially if we have the courage to embrace the belief that the 1888 Message IS the gospel Paul lays out as being ‘non-negotiable’ in Galatians 1:6-10.
“And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews.” Acts 26:6-7.
So it was with Jones, Waggoner, and Ellen White. They were not innovators, but proclaimers of the same Gospel found throughout Scripture. The Gospel they taught was unsullied by the traditional gospel lens of Calvinism or Arminianism.
Thankfully, Paul ignores Festus’ attempt to undermine his witness to King Agrippa and, instead calls him to repentance; to which King Agrippa responds, “You almost persuade me to be a Christian” (v. 28). Festus’ attempt to silence Paul, should serve to remind us how we can respond to those who would reject the 1888 Message or claim that the Message is merely Adventism finally catching up to the Gospel of the Reformation. Our response? ‘Absolutely Absurd!’ Even though the 16 century Reformation has given Christendom many blessings, our identity is not found there, but in the 1844 reality of the Cleansing of the Sanctuary. 1888, I believe, was the Holy Spirit’s call to the Church to return to our 1844 identity, and to cooperate with our High Priest as he not only forgives, but ‘blots out’ sin.
Ellen White repeatedly referred to the 1888 Message in conjunction with the Latter Rain. Paul when called, responded to the Early Rain, and just as Jesus promised, experienced amazing power all the way to his death in Rome. The even greater, ‘Latter Rain;’ awaits Laodicea’s repentance and the resultant corporate perfection and translation of the Bride of Christ.