Who Has Your Back?

Bible Book: Acts  23 : 12-35
Subject: Care, God's; Peace; Faith: Protection, God's

Acts: the Spirit-Powered Church

Acts 23:12-35

Who Has Your Back?

For the last four years, an organization called the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published an interesting report about which online and technology companies do the best job of protecting your personal information from the government. They argue that companies ought to be diligent in protecting their users from a kind of “secret spying” on the part of the government. Using a 5-star scale, they rate companies like Amazon and Apple, as well as sites like Facebook and Twitter. They call their annual report, “Who Has Your Back?”1

In Acts 23, the Apostle Paul needed the help of the Roman government to protect him from the threat of the Jewish government.

The Jewish religious leaders, and other powerful people in town, wanted Paul dead. The Roman captain, on the other hand, would see to it that Paul was kept safe. As we read through this passage however, we have to be mindful of who it was that really had Paul’s back.

In verse 11, we read that during the night, Jesus had come to the place where Paul was being held, stood by him, and assured Paul that as he had witnessed for Him in Jerusalem, so he was going to do the same in Rome. As we see how Paul then made it out of Jerusalem alive, we realize that though it was Roman soldiers that surrounded him, it was the sovereign Lord Jesus who really had his back.

I love what R. Kent Hughes says about this particular passage. In his commentary on Acts, he writes:

“God’s servants are immortal until their work is done. No servant of God dies a premature death. God had a job for Paul to do, and no one…could thwart God’s plans.”2

We are reminded in this story that as Jesus stands alongside His people, He protects them on every side. He is our shield. He has our backs.

If you are sincerely seeking Jesus and serving Him with your life, be encouraged that “…no weapon formed against thee shall prosper…” (Isaiah 54:17)

As we look at Paul’s experience in Jerusalem, we are reminded by the Holy Spirit that:


When Paul once again escaped the clutches of the Jewish authorities by means of the Romans, there were some people in town who decided they were not going to let Paul get away again. So, a plot was hatched to assassinate Paul.

Though there is probably not anyone waiting in the parking lot to get you this morning, you do need to be aware that in a very similar way, there is a plot against you. Right now there is an enemy that is out to get you. Satan is real, and he is like a roaring, hungry lion, looking to devour your life.

As we think about the plot of Paul’s enemies, as well as our enemies, I want you to consider from this text:

A. The commitment to this plot

Look at verse 12. It says, “And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would not eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.”

Verse 13 adds that there were more than 40 who were involved in this plot. One old writer calls these men “desperadoes”.3

They certainly were desperate to see Paul dead. So much so, that they asked God to curse them if they did not succeed in their task, and they would not eat nor drink until they had done what they vowed.

Make no mistake about it; the enemy of your soul is deadly serious about doing you harm. Your physical and spiritual destruction is the one thing he is planning and pursuing every single day.

Dr. Russell Moore, in his book Tempted and Tried, speaks of this enemy. He writes that, “In the beginning pages of Scripture, we are introduced to a cryptic hyper-intelligent snake, a being later identified as a dragon, the chief of a race of rebel beings engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Most High God.”4

I like that description of the devil and his demons, because it takes away any silly, red-horned, pitch fork-toting image of Satan from our minds. The devil is not a cartoon character on your shoulder, merely whispering sinful suggestions into your ear. He is the commander of an army of diabolical, desperate demons who are intent on attacking you mercilessly, because you belong to their real enemy, the Lord Jesus.

If the devil and his demons are so serious about destroying your life, shouldn’t you be aware of that? If they have vowed to their own destruction to see to it that you are taken down, shouldn’t you take them seriously? Too many of us casually stroll through a minefield of spiritual dangers every day, blissfully unaware of the bombs that have been set in our path by the enemy of our souls.

As we look at this plot against Paul, we are reminded not only of the commitment to this plot, but also of:

B. The conspiracy in this plot

The word “conspiracy” is actually used in verse 13. However, the conspiracy went beyond just these 40 would-be assassins.

In verse 14, they went to the chief priests and elders, and told them of their plot. They urged the Jewish council to help them pull off the murder of Paul by asking the Roman captain to allow them one more hearing with the apostle.

The plan was that as the captain led Paul back to the council, they would ambush and kill him before he ever made it to the hearing.

What I want you to see is that there was more than one force working toward the killing of Paul. There was a conspiracy afoot to end his life. In much the same way, there is more than one force fighting against you spiritually. The Bible speaks of the evil trinity of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The devil wants you to sin against God, and to reap the consequences of that sin. The world provides a perfect place for the devil to set up a variety of temptations in which to trap you. And the devil knows that within your still sin-prone flesh, there is an innate weakness that makes you vulnerable to his attacks.

Do you see the potential dangers that surround you every day? You are under attack. You are being targeted, and strategies are being enacted to bring you down this very day. There is a reason why Peter instructs us to be sober and vigilant, to watch and on guard constantly. Someone is out to get you! There is a very real plot against your very life. And yet, while we are to be alert, we are never told to be afraid.

We understand why we don’t have to be afraid, as we consider not only that there is a plot against you, but also that:


While the desperadoes and the Jewish leaders were conspiring in Jerusalem to shed Paul’s blood, the Spirit lets us see that there was also a God who was insuring that their efforts would not succeed.

I want you to be encouraged that while here on the ground, the devil still seeks “to work us woe”, on the throne of heaven above us is a God who works all things out for our good and His glory. The way our God works all things out is through the wonderful principle of providence. It is my favorite theological truth! Providence is God’s way of mixing the various ingredients of this world in such a way that the product is what He has planned will come to pass.

We see this providence clearly in Paul’s story, and it reminds us of our own story. Notice with me:

A. How this providence works for us

The murderers and the men in charge conspired together to set up Paul’s assassination. It seemed like a good plot. However, their secret wasn’t really a secret. Verse 16 says, “And when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul.” This is a very interesting detail. It is one of the only glimpses we have into the personal life of Paul. Who knew he had a sister? Who knew her son was in town at this time? We didn’t know it, and the Jewish leaders apparently didn’t know it either. But, God certainly knew it. In His providence, He saw to it that the plot against Paul was leaked into the ear of this boy, who cared enough for Paul to let him know about it.

Some would call that coincidence. They would say that nephew “just happened” to be in the right place at the right time. You can call it coincidence, if it makes you feel less mystical, but when you see how this boy’s information turned this plot into the very thing that saved Paul’s life and got him out of town alive, you have to acknowledge something at work much bigger than any of the human players in this story.

Providence is the invisible but undeniable hand of God reaching down and turning the bad into good, the dangerous into glorious, and the tragic into triumph. See what happened at the cross! The enemies banded together to slay Jesus – which they succeeded in doing. Yet, they actually only succeeded in doing what God wanted them to do, thereby securing the salvation of His people.

Consider here not only how providence works for us, but consider also:

B. How providence works with us

Providence put Paul’s nephew in a place where he would overhear the plans against Paul. But it was the courage of that boy that led him to the castle to tell Paul (who was public enemy number one).

Providence brought the news to Paul’s ears, but it was Paul’s discernment that led him to send the boy to the Roman captain with this inside information.

Verse 18 says that a soldier brought the boy to the Roman official, where he disclosed what was about to go down. He even commanded the commander, saying in verse 21, “But do not…yield unto them…”

The providence of God does not give us permission to sit back and do nothing. It gives us the freedom to do what we can, while we trust God to do what only He can. Living by faith as we follow Jesus means we find a balance between trusting in His sovereign will, and trying to follow Him as He leads us by His Spirit. Right now you ought to be simultaneously relying on God to open doors for you, even as you are turning knobs and knocking. You ought to be seeking to do what you know is right, while you are believing that God will ultimately do what is right in your life. There is a real enemy that is out to get you, and you need to be armored up and ready to fight him when you see where he is attacking.

At the same time, you need to rest assured that your Captain, the Lord Jesus, sees the whole battlefield at once, and He is giving commands that will ultimately lead to victory. And because He is overseeing the battle while you fight your foe, this text reminds us not only that there is a plot against you, and there is a providence above you, but also that:


When the Roman captain, whose name was Claudius Lysias, as we learn in this text, heard about the conspiracy to kill Paul, he snapped into action. Claudius had already made a mistake or two in his handling of Paul, a Roman citizen, and he was determined he wouldn’t make any more. He organized a security detail to escort Paul out of the city by night, and see to it that he would receive a fair trial at a location outside the reach of the assassins.

As we see Paul protected in this text, we have to again acknowledge that it was more than Roman rights that were guarding him. His Lord was actively protecting him. Likewise, we are comforted to know that when our lives are in the hands of Jesus, He will move heaven and earth to protect us when necessary.

Notice in this story:

A. The might of this protection

After dismissing Paul’s nephew, with instructions to keep his secret between the two of them, verse 23 tells us that Claudius Lysias put together what amounts to a small army in order to get Paul safely out of town. All told there would be a total of 400 armed, foot soldiers, and 70 mounted soldiers assigned to escort Paul out of town, along with a horse for him to ride. Say what you will about Rome; when it came to their military, they didn’t do anything small. The result was that Paul rode out of town that night, escorted like an emperor, instead of a Jewish preacher and prisoner. What those hundreds of Roman soldiers didn’t realize that night was that they were not merely working for Caesar’s empire, they were working for the Kingdom of Christ. Their protection of Paul was actually God’s protection of him as well.

When Jesus was taken into the hands of His enemies, he told them in Matthew 26:53, that He could call, at that very moment, 12 legions of angels to come to his aid. That is something like 75,000 angels. In love for us, He did not call an angel army down to rescue Him. He died willingly at the hands of His enemies so that we might live eternally saved from ours. Now that He has risen from the dead, and sits on the throne of heaven, do you think He has lost His command over the angels of heaven?

Psalm 91:11 says, “He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”

As impressive and mighty as Paul’s Roman escort appeared to be, it was nothing compared to the angelic escort that Jesus can give to those He wills to protect.

We can see here not only the might of this protection of Paul, but notice also:

B. The mission of this protection

The Roman captain gave instructions for this security force to take Paul to the city of Caesarea, where he would be handed over to the custody of a governor named Felix. He sent along a formal letter explaining Paul’s case, and why he had sent him there to be taken care of. Though Claudius’ letter glossed over his own mistakes in handling Paul in Jerusalem, nonetheless, he insured that Paul would be protected until Felix could sort out what it was his accusers had against him. When Felix read the letter, and found out that Paul was from a place that fell under his jurisdiction, he agreed to hear Paul’s case, and to put him up in a safe place until the trial. That was exactly the mission those Roman soldiers were given - to get Paul to Felix safely. But there was a larger mission going on here.

Remember what Jesus had told Paul the night before this whole episode began. He said in verse 11, “…as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” As we shall see, Caesarea and Felix’s court were simply one more step in the larger mission that Jesus had for Paul. The protection that the Lord provided for Paul the night he was escorted out of Jerusalem was protection that furthered the mission of Paul’s life and got him closer to where Jesus ultimately wanted him to go.

We can be assured that Jesus will do whatever is necessary to protect us as His people, but that protection is not simply for our comfort and safety.

He protects us so that we may finish the mission He has given us to do. He has an ultimate destination in mind for us as His people, and He will keep us until we reach that place. You may not always be able to see His protection as clearly as 400 soldiers at your sides, but rest assured, until you finish your work, there is divine protection around you.

Before we leave this text, I can’t help but wonder about what happened to those 40 would-be assassins and their vow. If they were serious about what they said, I reckon they starved to death. Either way, they died without doing the evil they planned to do.

In a similar way, though Satan and his forces are hell-bent on destroying those us of who follow Jesus, the ultimate promise of the gospel is that one day we are going to make it to where we are going, and they are going to end up where they deserve.

Jesus, who died at the hands of His foes, and rose again to deliver us from our foes, promises that one day He will deliver us all the way home to glory.

Goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives, and when hell is filled with devil and his forces for all eternity, we will stand before the throne of Him who brought us through, and we will praise Him for His grace forever!

And even now, while we wait for that day, surrounded by those who wish us harm, we can sing with confidence:

"Through many dangers, toils, and snares,

I have already come,

Tis grace that brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home."


1 “Who Has Your Back?”, www.eff.org, accessed 4/14/16, https://www.eff.org/who-has-your-back-government-data-requests-2015

2 Hughes, R. Kent, Acts: the Church Afire, (Crossway, Wheaton, IL, 1996), Amazon Kindle edition

3 Thomas, David, Acts of the Apostles, (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1956), p. 402

4 Moore, Russell D., Tempted and Tried, (Crossway, Wheaton, IL, 2011), p. 19