PAUL ON TRIAL- A STUDY OF THE RESURRECTION
Paul’s trials before the Sanhedrin, Felix, Festus, and Agrippa were without doubt some of the most significant events in his life and in addition, they are theologically definitive for New Testament doctrine. (For our purposes, we shall use the collective singular “trial” to describe those various proceedings). When one examines that trial, the accusations being made, by whom they were made, and Paul’s response to the charges, it is evident that many traditional doctrines are in alignment with Paul’s accusers! That is an unenviable position to be in.
THE CHARGES AGAINST PAUL
When Jack Scott debated Stephen Wiggins in Montgomery, Alabama, (1993) Jack took great pains in showing:
1. Paul was accused of teaching against the Old Law (Acts 21:28).
2. Paul said he was on trial for preaching the Old Testament hope of the resurrection, (Acts 24:13-15; 26:6f).
3. Paul’s eschatology was the anticipation of the fulfillment of Old Testament promises made to Israel. He then demonstrated that the view being defended by Wiggins is based upon the very accusations against Paul!
These facts were so embarrassing for Wiggins that he ignored this aspect of Scott’s argument and instead tried to state that Paul was simply on trial for being seditious; not for preaching the resurrection!
In July, 1994 I debated Bill Lockwood, who moderated for Wiggins in his debate with Jack Scott. We asked Lockwood several written questions on opening night. One of those questions was: “Are your eschatological hopes based upon a yet future fulfillment of Old Testament promises made to Israel?” Lockwood responded “No.” I also asked: “At what point of time and with what event were (or will) all promises to Old Testament Israel fulfilled and God’s relationship with them terminated? Lockwood said it was at the Cross.
Almost all amillennialists teach that Paul did teach against the Old Law. They teach that God fulfilled and therefore abrogated the Old Covenant at the Cross and therefore God’s relationship with Old Testament Israel was terminated there. I had two formal public debates with Dr. David Hester (the first in Ardmore, Ok. (2015), the second in Montgomery, Alabama, 2016). In written answers to questions and during the debate, he affirmed that God was through with Israel at the cross. He even stated emphatically that his eschatological hope is NOT the hope of Israel found in the OT, but, it is the hope of Abraham. A book of the first debate is available on this website.
In addition to the debates mentioned above, on FaceBook just recently (2019) I have asked Scott Russell and Kyle Massengale, both Amillennial ministers, to answer the question of when or if, ALL of God’s Old Covenant promises, made to Old Covenant Israel, are fulfilled. They refused to answer, but, in previous discussions, both have affirmed that God was through with Israel at the Cross, when the Law of Moses was (supposedly) “nailed to the cross.” But if that is true, it means that the Jews were right when they accused Paul of teaching against the Old Law!
Paul said he was on trial for his hope of the resurrection (Acts 24:14-15; 26:6f). He said his hope of the resurrection was from Moses and the Law! He also said that the resurrection was the hope of all twelve tribes (Acts 26:6f). Well, where did those twelves tribes get their hope? It surely wasn’t from 1 Corinthians 15! No, they got it from the Old Covenant that each of the men above (and virtually all futurists) say had been annulled at the cross! To deny this is to claim Paul did not really know why he was on trial. The so-called charge of sedition was a tactical maneuver by the Jews; they knew that Felix was not concerned with matters of their law but if they could convince him that Paul was dangerous politically Felix would be forced to act. Undeniably, Paul was on trial for his belief in the resurrection.
The Jews accused Paul of teaching against the Old Law (Acts 21:28); Paul said they could not prove their accusations (Acts 24:13; 25:7-10; 26:22f)! Any doctrinal position that attempts to have Paul teaching against the Old Covenant in any of his epistles, flies in the face of the apostle’s own declaration! And yet, this is precisely what Wiggins, Lockwood, Russell, Massengale, and of course, Sam Frost do in their writings. On the one hand they claim that Paul was in full agreement with and looked for the future fulfillment of the resurrection hope of the Pharisees (which was from God’s Old Covenant promises made to Israel in the Tanakh!), but then they turn around and claim that the Law of Moses was not even in effect when Paul said that his hope of the resurrection was from the Old Covenant! This is a massive problem for the futurist views. And even worse, they totally ignore what the Bible says about when the resurrection was to be. I recently challenged Massengale to deal with Daniel 12. Response? He totally ignored the challenge. Little wonder.
The apostle says there was but one gospel and one hope (Galatians 1:6f; Ephesians 4:4f). Yet that apostle’s one gospel included the preaching of the yet future to him (but imminent) fulfillment of the Old Testament promises made to Israel. Paul’s eschatological hope, in other words, was inextricably based upon a yet future fulfillment of the Old Testament promises made to Israel! Bill Lockwood admitted that he preaches a different gospel than Paul! Please understand that Lockwood is not distinctive in his views as noted above; his position is representative of the Amillennial paradigm. Thus, when Lockwood admitted that he does not preach what Paul preached he is admitting that the entire Amillennial position is a different gospel than what the apostle taught! The same goes for Massengale, Russell, etc., etc.
When it is claimed that all Old Testament promises made to Israel were fulfilled at the Cross and God’s relationship with them terminated there this flies in the face of Paul’s inspired declaration in Acts 24-26. The apostle said his hope was the Old Testament hope of the resurrection. This hope was promised in the “law and prophets” (Acts 24:14) and was, Paul claimed, still the hope of the twelve tribes of Israel even as he was on trial, years after the Cross (Acts 26:6-7). The apostle said in the clearest terms possible that his eschatological hope was the Old Testament hope. He also said he did not teach anything else (Acts 26:22f)!
If all Old Testament promises made to Israel were fulfilled at the Cross and God’s relationship with Israel terminated there, (as all of the men above affirm) how could Paul in Acts say he was anticipating fulfillment of Old Testament promises made to Israel? The concept that the New Testament predictions of the “end time” events are new revelations about things not foretold in the Old Testament is demonstrably false and unscriptural. Patently, if the modern Amillennial view is correct Paul was a very confused theologian!
Not only does the traditional view come into conflict with Paul’s trial in regard to the relationship of the Old Law and Israel, but Paul’s trial also gives us tremendous insight into the nature of the resurrection that Paul preached and the very reason he was being tried for his teaching about it.
WHO BRINGS THE CHARGES?
To help us understand Paul’s trial it helps to understand who brought the charges against him. After being rescued from the mob (Acts 21-22) Paul was brought before the Sanhedrin the next day, Acts 23. The Sanhedrin was composed of both Pharisees and Sadducees (Acts 23:6). The Pharisees believed in resurrection; the Sadducees did not. Paul masterfully divided the court by saying he was born and raised a Pharisee and “concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged” (Acts 23:6). On the surface this would seem to pit the Sadducees against the apostle and bring the Pharisees to his defense. In fact, in Acts 23:9 the Pharisees do cry out, “We find no evil in this man.” But, as they say, “A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum.”
Seven days, at least, passed between Paul’s appearance before the Sanhedrin and his appearance before Felix (Acts 23:11, 31-32, 24:1). When Paul gives his defense before the governor he says: “I have hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:15)– NASV, my emphasis). Notice the Concordant Literal Translation (1976) of this passage:
“Yet I am avowing this to you, that, according to the which they are terming a sect, thus am I offering divine service to the hereditary God, believing all that is written, according to the Law and in the prophets, having an expectation in God, which these themselves also are anticipating, that there shall be a resurrection which is impending for both the just and unjust.”
Notice that this translation, as well as others, renders mello, in the infinitive as it is found here as “impending.” In Acts 17:31, they render it as “about to be” signifying the imminence of the judgment and resurrection.
Say, what happened to the Sadducees? And what happened to the Pharisees who just a few days earlier had been saying they could find no fault with Paul?
Clearly it is not the Sadducees Paul is referring to when he says his accusers “cherish” the hope of the resurrection – the Sadducees have dropped out of the proceedings! So what happened to the Pharisees? Why have they changed their tune from, “We find nothing wrong with this man!” to, “We find this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world” (Acts 24:5)? Could it be that they found out what Paul was really saying about the resurrection? Let us go back to the ministry of Jesus for some help.
There can be no doubt that the Jews were eagerly anticipating the coming of the Messiah and his kingdom (cf. Luke 3:15; John 1:19f) etc. Both John the Baptizer and Jesus came preaching the imminent establishment of that kingdom (Mark 1:15; Mark 4:17). Now the Jews wanted the kingdom and Jesus promised the kingdom. Initially the Jews were exuberant about Jesus’ promise of the kingdom; but something changed and the Jews killed Jesus. Why? Because Jesus did not offer them the kind of kingdom they expected and wanted! They wanted the kingdom to come with pomp, circumstance and grandeur–not to mention wiping out the Romans. Jesus said his kingdom was not that kind of kingdom; he forbad his servants to fight. The Jews killed him for offering a spiritual kingdom when they wanted a national restoration.
Jesus did come to be king (John 18:33-37). And on at least one occasion the Jews, impressed with Jesus’ ability to feed thousands with just a few loaves and fishes–and probably misconstruing the military type arrangement of the crowd as ordered by Jesus (Luke 9:12f) -were about to come(from mello) and make Jesus their king (John 6:15). But Jesus refused their efforts. As a result Israel rejected Jesus. So, consider the following:
✦ The Jews wanted a king and Jesus came to be king.
✦ The question therefore becomes: Why, then, did they kill Jesus?
✦ The answer is undeniable: Because he refused to be the kind of king they wanted. He refused the literalistic, materialistic kingdom that they cherished and wanted!
✦ If the Jews wanted the kind of kingdom Jesus was offering, why did they kill him?
✦ If Jesus was offering the kind of kingdom that they wanted, why did they kill him?
If Jesus had offered to restore national Israel through military conquest they would have gladly coronated him! But because he desired to be spiritual king they turned on him and killed him. Now back to Paul.
Paul was teaching about the same kingdom and offering the same king as Jesus. Paul taught the resurrection. The Pharisees wanted the resurrection (Acts 24:15). But the Pharisees, at first friendly, have now turned on Paul and want him killed just as they initially welcomed Jesus message of the kingdom but then turned on him and killed him when the found out what kind of kingdom he was offering! Why did they turn on Paul? Paul said it was because of the resurrection! But if Paul taught the resurrection and the Pharisees believed in the resurrection why do they want to kill him? Again, just like Jesus, Paul taught the kingdom. The Pharisees ostensibly wanted the kingdom, but they wanted to kill Paul for his views of the kingdom! Could it be that they wanted to kill Paul for the same reason they killed Jesus, that being because he (like Jesus!) did not offer the kind of resurrection they wanted and expected?
It can hardly be objected that the Pharisees objected to Paul’s doctrine of the resurrection simply because he was offering it through Jesus. The Jews had been more than willing to accept Jesus as king on their terms. It was the nature of what was being offered that caused the violent reaction, not the person it was being offered through! The person was rejected because of what the person taught about what was being offered! This is, we believe, the only way to understand why the Pharisees did such an about face in the case of Paul.
Had Paul been offering the very thing the Pharisees desired, a physical resurrection, they would have warmly embraced him as offering the fulfillment of their hopes– as Massengale believes that they did and which was true initially. After all, they initially believed he was an ally. But they quickly learned differently and put him on trial for preaching the resurrection-the very thing they were supposed to believe in! Why seek to kill a man for espousing the same things as you?
We believe therefore, that it was what Paul was saying about the nature of the resurrection that evoked such a violent response on the part of the Pharisees. Let us return now to the teaching of Jesus in regard to the kingdom for some indication as to what that could be.
THE KINGDOM DOES NOT COME WITH OBSERVATION
As we have seen, the Jews desired a kingdom that was nationalistic and political–an outwardly observable kingdom. In Luke the Pharisees came to Jesus asking “when the kingdom of God would come” (Luke 17:20). Please note that the Pharisees that wanted a nationalistic kingdom would also expect a literalistic resurrection! Kingdom and resurrection are of the same nature and occur synchronously (Matthew 25:31f; 2 Timothy 4:1f). Jesus responded, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will one say, `See here!’ or `See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).
Please observe that Jesus said the kingdom would not come with observation. Now here is a critical point: THE COMING OF THE KINGDOM AND THE RESURRECTION ARE SYNCHRONOUS EVENTS (Revelation 11:15f)!
In 2 Timothy 4:1 the apostle said: “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom.” (See also Mat. 16:27-28; Mat. 25:31). Now if the nature of the coming kingdom was “without observation” why are we supposed to think that the attendant resurrection, which would give entrance into that New World order (Luke 20:27-38), would be of a different nature than the kingdom itself? Here then is help in understanding the vehement antagonism against Paul’s doctrine of the resurrection.
The Pharisees had already rejected Jesus even though he offered them the kingdom. They rejected him because, while he offered what they ostensibly wanted, what he was truly offering was of a different nature than what they envisioned. It was no different with Paul. While he was offering them what they supposedly desired they discovered it was of a different nature than what they wanted. Thus their original defense of Paul (Acts 23), quickly turned into their damnation of Paul.
It is manifestly evident that the traditional amillennial view of eschatology faces serious problems in light of Paul’s trial. The traditional view says Paul taught against the Old Law; Paul said that charge was false. The traditional view says God was through with Israel and all Old Testament predictions at the Cross. Paul says his one gospel consisted of what the Old Testament promised to Israel and was not yet fulfilled.
If it is the case that those Old Testament promises to Israel have not yet been fulfilled then it is evident that Israel must remain as the people of God. For surely God would not cast off His people before fulfilling His promises to them and before they had fully accomplished their purposes in His scheme. See Romans 11:25ff. Further, if those Old Testament promises to Israel are not yet fulfilled then the Old Covenant is still in effect, Mat. 5:17-18.
Paul’s trial also reveals much to us about the nature of the resurrection because when seen in light of what the Pharisees expected it is inexplicable as to why they would seek Paul’s death if he was offering them what they longed for. It is only when seen in light of Jesus’ teaching about the nature of the kingdom and the Pharisee’s rejection of that message that the rejection of Paul makes sense.
It is evident therefore that Paul’s trial before the various authorities has tremendous significance in light of the traditional views. We have only touched the hem of the garment in this article. Any doctrinal position that aligns itself with Paul’s accusers and admits that the very core of what is being taught today is not what Paul taught cannot be truth. Yet this is precisely what the Amillennial view does, as evidenced by the answers given by Wiggins, Lockwood, Russell, Massengale, Hester, et. al. Yet, like the Pharisees of old, when confronted with such difficulties, these men ridicule and condemn those of us who point out these difficulties. Like the Pharisees of old, they seek to defend tradition and status quo. They will keep accusing Paul of the things that he said were false and could not be proven; and they will keep preaching an eschatology – a resurrection – supposedly having no relationship with the Old Testament and Israel. Yet to do so is to preach a different gospel than what Paul taught.
For an in-depth study of the nature of the Resurrection, get a copy of my book: The Resurrection of Daniel 12:2: Future or Fulfilled?