16:35 And when it was day, the magistrates sent the officers, saying, “Let those men go.”
36 So the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace.”
37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out.”
38 And the officers told these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans. 39 Then they came and pleaded with them and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.
Interesting end to their time in Macedonia. Before we get into it you need to understand that Rome very much had a two tier system. Roman citizenship was highly coveted. A Roman citizen had much more rights and freedoms than anyone else and certainly benefitted from a much more careful and fair justice system. When Paul, Silas, and Timothy showed up the people assumed they were not Roman. A fair assumption since they were teaching a form of Judaism and not many Jews became Roman citizens. However Paul was Roman and so were Silas and Timothy. Because it was assumed they weren't, they were beaten and thrown in prison without any kind of formal hearing. Had they been foreigners it would have been perfectly permissible but it turned out they were Romans. This is where the situation gets interesting.
Apparently after considering the matter the city magistrates decided it was best just to send these religious fanatics packing. As a result they gave their decision to the city officials who delivered the message to the prison. When word came to Paul that they were being released and were to leave the city without further incident he refused. He wanted to speak to these magistrates himself.
The question is why? At first it seems he wanted to defend his rights as a Roman citizen. When the magistrates heard they were Roman they were afraid. Remember how the jailer was going to kill himself because he failed to keep the prisoners in? The Roman judicial culture was strict. Failure was not tolerated. These magistrates knew that if Paul went higher up the ladder of justice they would be in serious trouble for beating Roman citizens without a trial.
A culture of fear built on no tolerance for failure. Each level of power fears their superiors who themselves are afraid. Studies have proven repeatedly that fear negatively affects performance. People do a worse job when fear of failure is their number one concern.
Now do you see why Paul wanted to see the magistrates? He had no intention of getting them in trouble. In the end he did exactly what they wanted. He left the city quietly. So why the meeting? Paul wanted them to see that he was different. Their failure would not be held against them. He wanted to leave them with the lingering question "Why didn't they take us to task for what we did?" Paul planted a seed. A very unRoman seed. A seed of mercy. They would eventually hear the rest of the story. They beat men who then went to prison singing the praises of their God. Men who could easily have escaped leaving the jailer to pay the price but didn't. Men who behaved in every way opposite to what was normal.
We never find out what impact all of this had on those officials and magistrates but you can be sure it had one. A profound one.
Remember this. If your first concern is you and your rights your impact is neutered because you are just like everyone else.