Just before this Paul has commanded demons out of the slave-girl who had the spirit of divination and was a large income source for Paul and Silas’ accusers. Now that the girl is in her right mind and no longer useful her owners, the accusers bring Paul and Silas before the magistrates for revenge. The crowd joins in with extreme anger when the accusers say that Paul and Silas are Jews. The crowd attacks them, the magistrates strip them and order them beaten with rods.
The magistrates have both civil and military authority. Since the Romans despised the Jews, when Paul and Silas are identified with their Jewish heritage then they are mercilessly beaten with rods. Their accusers lay claim that these apostles are ‘advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans.’ This refers to their witness to the Gospel, which has something intolerable to the world.
When a speaker today offers an opening prayer in a gathering of mainly-Christian group there will be those who bitterly say, “We should not have a prayer because it is disrespectful of those who do not share our faith.” Those who are worldly say the show of Christian beliefs is intolerable today. Yet this situation with Paul and Silas is much more then this. They are beaten, placed in stocks which are meant to inflict pain, and thrown into an innermost jail cell. Mean, vicious, and cruel people mercilessly hurt them.