Wednesday, 3 May 2023
Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. Acts 16:22
In the previous verse, the claim against Paul and Silas was that they taught customs that were not lawful for Romans to receive or observe. Now, Luke continues, saying, “Then the multitude rose up together.”
These words set the tone for what is about to happen. Luke uses a word found only here in the Bible, sunephistémi. It comes from two words signifying “together” and “to set upon.” Hence, we are being told that all who were there listening to the charges against them rose up as one.
Remembering that this is a Roman colony, the people would be zealous to uphold the law that had been broken by rushing to punish the offenders. That is seen in the next words, “against them.”
The entire crowd of Roman citizens came against these “Jews” who had come to bring their illegal influences upon their supposedly superior society. However, in the irony of the day, and much like mob thinking throughout history, they were proceeding to violate the law in their zeal to protect their law. This wasn’t just the common citizens, however. Instead, it next says, “and the magistrates.”
It is those mentioned in verse 16:20 to whom Paul and Silas were first brought to. It is these men who were bound by the law to protect those within their jurisdiction until a proper trial had been held who also joined in the moblike attack against Paul and Silas. Of these men, it says they “tore off their clothes.”
Rather, the use of a participle translates as “having torn off their clothes.” The action is taken and awaits the next action in the narrative which is “and commanded them to be beaten with rods.” Here, the verb is imperfect, “and were commanding to beat them with rods.” It wasn’t just one magistrate that called out for it, nor was it a single call.
Instead, the use of the plural verbs indicates that all the magistrates were complicit in the act of tearing off their garments and of calling repeatedly for the lictors to come and beat them. The word rhabdizó is introduced here. It signifies to beat with rods. It will only be seen again in 2 Corinthians 11:25. There, Paul is probably partially referring to this event here in Acts 16 –
“From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods [rhabdizó]; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?” 2 Corinthians 11:24-29
Life application: It is often questioned why Paul did not appeal to his Roman citizenship to avoid being punished in this illegal manner. The words of the verse seem to explain the matter. They were brought before the magistrates and were accused as “Jews” (verse 19:20). Luke records the words of accusation and then he notes the onrush of the multitude against Paul and Silas.
The indication is that there was not even time to appeal to the magistrates before the subsequent events took place. They were attacked, had their clothes torn off them, and were beaten. In such an instance, there is little chance of any appeals of Paul and Silas either being heard or listened to. This is especially so with the illegal involvement of the magistrates.
This same type of thing will occur later in Acts while Paul is in Jerusalem. The difference will be that two groups of people will be present, the Jews who would not see reason (like the Romans now in Philippi), and the impartial Romans who were charged with controlling the crowds. As there is only one type of crowd without any impartial restraining force, Paul and Silas fell to the unjust actions of the crowd.
This is a problem with having law. Unless there is an impartial and reasonable system to regulate it, things will inevitably get out of hand. If those who are charged with upholding the law fail to do so, mob rule will result. If those who are charged with upholding the law participate in violating the law, the rights of those under the law will be ignored.
Both have occurred in the recent past. In 2020, riots throughout the United States were allowed to continue without restraint, bringing destruction, loss, and death to its citizens. In early 2021, the government planted instigators within rallying citizens to foment an uprising. Those citizens, since then, have had no reasonable say in the events that have subsequently transpired.
The point of these examples is that when something curious occurs like when Paul and Silas are illegally beaten, look to the surrounding text to get a sense of why this is so. Paul and Silas were identified within a Roman colony as “Jews.” In Acts 18:2, it will be noted that all the Jews were commanded to depart from Rome. As a colony, the same prevailing disdain for Jews would arise.
In this case, an entire multitude has arisen as one, the magistrates were there inciting the crowd by tearing off their clothes, and the lictors are being ordered to beat these men by those magistrates. If you wonder why Paul and Silas were beaten, or if you wonder how hundreds of US citizens who did nothing wrong are still sitting in government prisons awaiting trials on charges that came about by events instigated by the government, you will see that nothing changes in the human heart when law is involved.
Man is being taught a lesson in the pages of Scripture. The law, because it is administered by fallible humans, and because it is set forth to regulate fallible humans, is like an enemy to man. What humanity needs is the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Human systems, no matter how well-intentioned, will never produce a perfect society. Thus, we as Christians await our eternal home where righteousness will rule forever and ever. May that day be soon.
Lord God, the world is fallen and broken. Without Your intervention in our affairs, only chaos and death will be the eventual result. This is proven again and again in both Scripture and history. May the day be soon when Your glorious kingdom will rule forever and ever. Yes, may that day be soon. Amen.