ACTS CHAPTER 24.
Paul’s Trial before Felix. Acts 24, 1-22.
The delegation of Jews from Jerusalem: V.1. And after five days Ananias, the high priest, descended with the elders, and with a certain orator named Tertullus, who informed the governor against Paul. V.2. And when he was called forth, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying, Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence, v.3. we accept it always and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness. V.4. Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto thee, I pray thee that thou wouldest hear us of thy clemency a few words. Paul was now once more in Caesarea, in the very city where the prophet Agabus had predicted his capture by the Gentiles, chap. 21, 11. A few short weeks ago he had here enjoyed the hospitality of Philip and the friendly society of the disciples of the city, and now he was a prisoner in the hands of the Romans and for the present kept in close confinement in the palace of Herod. But after five days, counting from the day after Paul had left Jerusalem, when the Jews received formal notice from Lysias, the high priest Ananias with several of the elders and a certain orator, Tertullus, made the journey from Jerusalem down to Caesarea. So the Jewish leaders had lost no time in selecting a representative delegation from the Sanhedrin, with Ananias himself as the head; and they had engaged the services of a Roman attorney, Tertullus, as they now had to appear in a regular Roman court and therefore must have a lawyer familiar with the procedure of such a court. This delegation, through its attorney, formally laid information against Paul before the procurator, stating their charges in the manner demanded by the Roman legal practice. When Paul was then summoned to appear before these accusers, Tertullus, with great oratorical exertion, began his speech of accusation against the prisoner. It is significant that the attorney tries to bolster up the weakness of the cause he represents by a great mass of words. The introduction of his speech was intended exclusively to flatter the governor and to engage his good will in behalf of the Jews. The speaker, in gushing terms, praised the uniform, complete peace which had come upon them, which they were enjoying through him, and the improvements, reforms, or very worthy deeds which had become the property of the people through his foresight, who had planned all these benefits for the nation in advance. And all this, as Tertullus emphasizes with great show of servility, the Jews accepted at all times and in all places, with all proper gratefulness. The full name of the most honorable Felix, as Tertullus calls the governor, the procurator of Judea, was Antonius Felix. He was a freedman of the emperor Claudius and a brother of Pallas, who was a favorite of Nero. He entered upon his duties in A.D. 53, after the deposition of Cumanus, but, as the historian Tacitus says, he exercised the power of a king in the spirit of a slave, a fact which later caused his recall. The first statement of Tertullus, that Felix had restored and maintained peace in the province, was true, in a measure, since he had suppressed some bands of robbers that had infested the country; but it was offset by the fact that he employed assassins to murder the high priest Jonathan, and that he was subject to violent and selfish passions. The attorney’s next reference to measures of reform must be discounted by the fact that the historians picture his arbitrariness, which finally made unrest and rebellion permanent. And the assertion that the Jewish nation was everywhere and always grateful to Felix for his services was afterwards shown to be untrue by the fact that the Jews themselves were his accusers in Rome. We can therefore, at best, regard the title as merely an empty form. When politeness and tact degenerate into base flattery and mock servility, truth and honesty are inevitably driven away. This impression is heightened by the next words. For Tertullus now acts as though he had not really begun to mention all the praiseworthy deeds of Felix, that, if time but permitted, he would gladly continue in the same strain indefinitely. But he intimates that the governor is so busy with all his plans for further reforms that he must not hinder and weary him by a tedious recital of all his excellencies. He will therefore consider that enough has been said, and merely beg that the governor would kindly listen to them, and, if possible, grant their desire according to his clemency. He promises to be brief. In order not to strain the courteous attention of Felix. An example of fawning, sickening hypocrisy.
The charges against Paul: V.5. For we have found this man a pestilent fellow and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes; v.6. who also hath gone about to profane the Temple; whom we took and would have judged according to our Law. V.7. But the chief captain Lysias came upon us, and with great violence took him away out of our hands, v.8. commanding his accusers to come unto thee; by examining of whom thyself mayest take knowledge of all these things whereof we accuse him. V.9. And the Jews also assented, saying that these things were so. After the rhetorical promise of the introduction, the statement of the charges against Paul is all the weaker by contrast. Tertullus declares that the Jews found this man a regular pest, an exceedingly bad and wicked person; an inciter of seditions to all the Jews in the whole world, throughout the length and breadth of the Roman Empire, a destroyer of all peace and order by creating bickerings; a ringleader of the sect of Nazarenes, the contemptuous epithet applied to the followers of Jesus. This man, against whom these charges were preferred, had, as the crowning indignity of his career and as an expression of the low character ascribed to him, made an attempt to profane the Temple. The Jews had thereupon apprehended, arrested him, with the intention, as Tertullus asserts, of giving him a fair trial according to their Law. That was again straining the truth with a vengeance, for the affair in the Temple had been the action of the mob violence of the people, and could be interpreted in no other way. But Lysias, the chiliarch, as the attorney states with a great show of outraged justice, had come upon them and had led the prisoner away, out of their hands, with great force, with armed violence, thus interfering, as Tertullus implied, with the Law according to which the Jews were permitted by the Romans to put any person to death that profaned the Temple. And then Lysias had commanded the accusers of Paul to go to the governor, and the latter could now, -so the attorney concludes his speech, -by examining the prisoner, gain an understanding, come to a conclusion, in regard to the accusations which they brought against him. His decision, as the tone of Tertullus implies, could not possibly be made otherwise than in favor of the Jews. It was a fine fabric of lies which the skillful lawyer had constructed by distorting the facts, adding motives that had not existed at the time when certain deeds were performed, and making statements concerning the character of the prisoner which were nothing but calumnies. But the Jews joined in the charge, confirming their lawyer’s words, and falsely alleging that all those things were true, that such were the facts in the case. By such means do unbelievers and enemies of Christ attempt to hinder and destroy the truth.
Paul denies the charges: V.10. Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself, v.11. because that thou mayest understand that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship. V.12. And they neither found me in the Temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogs, nor in the city; v.13. neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me. Paul’s position in this matter was very unpleasant, for he was suddenly, by the beckoning hand of the governor, placed face to face with the necessity of answering to charges of a very grave nature, some of which, in fact, were serious enough, if sustained, to result in severe, punishment, if not in death. But he relied upon the promise of the Lord for mouth and wisdom, Luke 21, 16. His answer is conspicuously free from the fawning flattery that had been the outstanding feature of the speech of Tertullus. He relied upon the fact, which he knew to be true, that Felix had for many years been a judge to this people, that he had been the highest judicial authority in the country for some time, and had thus acquired a personal knowledge of its public affairs and some insight into the religious customs of the Jews. Felix had now been procurator of Judea some six or seven years, a comparatively long period as governorships went in that country, and was bound to have been in constant touch with Jewish life and manners. This fact therefore gave Paul the necessary courage to make his defense with all openness and confidence. As his first point Paul stated, since Felix therefrom could gain accurate knowledge of the situation, that it was not more than twelve days since he had gone up to Jerusalem to worship. This statement may easily be justified in various ways, as a number of historians have shown, the exact sequence of events being immaterial. Two facts stand out in this sentence, namely, that the express purpose of Paul in going to Jerusalem was to worship, and that the shortness of the time would not possibly have permitted him to foment an uprising. And therefore he flatly denies the charges which had been preferred by the Jews through their attorney. They had not found him disputing, arguing, quarreling with any one; they hub not come upon him in the act of inciting an uprising of the people, neither in the synagogs nor in any part of the city. They could not offer or furnish any proofs to the governor concerning any of the charges which they were now bringing against him. Paul’s simple assertion of the truth was not only a general denial of the charge that he had been an agitator among the Jews in all parts of the empire, but it, incidentally challenged the opponents to bring proofs of their accusations. Thus Paul had disposed of the opening charges of Tertidlus in a form of self-evident truthfulness which could not fail of making a deep impression. If the same methods are followed by the Christians in our days, they will usually aid their cause better than by cowering fear and false submission.
The charge of being a Nazarene: V.14. But this I confess unto thee that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the prophets; v.15, and have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust. V.16. And herein do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offense toward God and toward men. Paul here took up the next charge, that of being a ringleader of the Nazarenes. Without referring to the title bestowed upon him, he proudly confesses to the truth of that charge, if that be a crime, incidentally including, however, a rebuke to the Jews themselves. After the way which they were pleased to call a sect, a schismatic party, he served the God of the fathers. The thought underlying Paul’s words was that Christianity was not a separation, but rather a fulfilling of the Jewish religion and belief. There is no difference in kind, but only in degree between the Old and New Testament religion; the Jewish patriarchs were saved by their faith in the coming Messiah, while the Christians are Saved by their faith in the Christ that has come and fulfilled the chief prophecies of old. In this way Paul’s faith was placed in all the things that were written throughout the Law and in the prophets; only Paul knew that the Messianic hopes had been realized in Jesus of Nazareth, while his accusers were still groping about in the darkness and blindness of a hope that would never be fulfilled. And he cherished the same hope toward God as these men also accepted, namely, that a resurrection of the just as well as of the unjust would surely take place. Note that Paul here makes no distinction between the high priest, a Sadducee, and the representatives of the Sanhedrin that were Pharisees, preferring to regard them as simply Jews that held the hope of their entire nation. For that reason, since he was firm in this belief, Paul exercised himself, he earnestly endeavored also, as they did, to have a clear conscience toward God and toward all men everywhere. The strongest motive and impelling power in a Christian is his faith in the Word of God and his hope of the resurrection of the dead. Note: The defense of Paul, in this section especially, is a fine apology of Christianity and the Christian faith. Thus the opponents of the true faith are silenced, when they cannot prove their assertions against the Christians, and when, in addition, the faith and the life of the Christians can truthfully be urged in their defense. The Christians do not constitute a new sect; their religion is the true religion, as it was in the world from the beginning; they believe in the Word of God and have the hope of the resurrection of the body and of eternal life.
The conclusion of Paul’s defense: V.17. Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation and offerings. V.18. Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the Temple, neither with multitude nor with tumult, v.19. who ought to have been here before thee and object if they had aught against me. V.20. Or else let these same here say if they have found any evil doing in me while I stood before the Council, v.21. except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day. V.22. And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them and said, When Lysias, the chief captain, shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter. Having disposed of the charges of the Jews and showing their utter untenableness, Paul now turns the tables upon his accusers and mentions some considerations which place them in a very unfavorable light. He states the purpose of the present trip. After a number of years, a matter of some eight or nine years, he had come up to bring alms to his nation, the collection which had been made in the congregations of Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia, and to offer sacrifices, the usual sacrifices of the festival, or he may include the offerings made for the sake of the Nazirite Jewish Christians. In the performance of these religious duties, after he had been purified in the Temple, certain Jews from Asia had found him, but not with a crowd which he might have been trying to incite to sedition, nor with any tumult which may have resulted from any intrigues of his. These Jews were the ones that had first seized him (a delicate correction of the statement of v.6), and their place it would properly have been to be present at this trial and to make accusation if the words of Lysias had been obeyed. It was a very significant fact, as Paul indicates, that the only personal witnesses of what he did in the Temple were not present to testify against him. And to this telling shot Paul adds another semisarcastic remark. He challenges these very men present here to state what fault they found in him as he was standing before the Synedrion at the hearing of Lysias, unless it were regarding that one utterance when he cried out as he was standing there that it was on account of the resurrection of the dead that he was on trial to-day before them. This was a most effective taunt, since it would show Felix that they were moved against him by party jealousy, that the entire contention was about a matter in which the Jews themselves were at variance. Altogether, the defense of Paul was a brilliant justification of himself and his cause, utterly overthrowing the fabric of lies which Tertullus had reared. And Felix could not but feel this. But he acted in a characteristic way. He put off the Jews and remanded Paul for another hearing, as though it were not possible at once to pass a judgment of acquittal or condemnation before further inquiry in the matter. Felix had a more exact and detailed knowledge of the way, of the Christian religion, since he had not been blind all these years and there was a Christian congregation in Caesarea. He knew that the Christians were harmless, innocent persons. On the other hand, reasons of policy forbade his taking the part of Paul openly and thus provoking the enmity of the Jews. So he stated as the reason for his action that he must wait until Lysias, the chiliarch, came down, when he would be able to render a decision with reference to the testimony from all sides. Note: Felix here, like Pontius Pilate, is an example of an unjust judge, one that will indeed hinder gross violence, but at the same time courts the favor of the people and curtails the rights of the believers.
Paul Retained a Prisoner. Acts 24, 23-27.
V.23. And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him. V.24. And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. V.25. And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee. V.26. He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him; wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him. V.27. But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix’ room; and Felix, willing to show the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound. The case of Paul had been continued indefinitely; he was retained in custody only for reasons of expediency and policy on the part of Felix. But the procurator at least had enough humaneness left to make Paul’s confinement as light as possible. He gave definite orders to a certain centurion to keep him in custody, thus making the officer responsible for his safekeeping. At the same time, however, he should be given indulgence, should be permitted a certain freedom of movement, and no one of his own people, the members of the local Christian congregation and others, should be hindered from serving him. Any kind of personal service, even in small matters, was allowed, the indulgence extending as far as the centurion might consider safe. Some time after, Felix with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess, came, probably having just returned to the city after a visit elsewhere, and sent for Paul. It was not a formal hearing, but a private interview, very likely because Drusilla had heard the Christian religion spoken of on so many occasions and wanted to hear this great teacher of that sect tell something about the faith in Christ. This Drusilla was the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I, and had been married at the age of fourteen to Azizus, the king of Emesa. Felix became acquainted with her, became enamored of her ravishing beauty, and, with the help of a Jewish sorcerer, named Simon of Cyprus, seduced her from her husband, with whom, according to the account of Josephus, she had led a very unhappy life. So she was now, although married to Felix according to Roman law, yet, according to the Law of God, living with him in an adulterous union. Where the Word of God does not reign, every form of sin and shame is freely indulged in, as the lust of the flesh dictates. Paul willingly complied with the request and, in accordance with the order of the Lord, first exposed the sin and its condemnation. He spoke of righteousness, of the absolute need of purity in the sight of God, of sinlessness before His judgment; he spoke of temperance, of the mastery of self, of the necessity of keeping the lusts and desires of the flesh under proper control; he spoke of the future judgment, when all these matters would be revealed before the eyes of the omniscient God. “He spoke of justice to a judge, of continence to a prefect whose recklessness and licentiousness had made him notorious, and of the future judgment to a man who needed that he should be reminded of his, future account.” The result was that Felix was filled with fear. “As he glanced back over the stained and guilty past, he was afraid. He had been a slave in the vilest of all positions, at the vilest of all epochs, in the vilest of all cities. He had crept with his brother Pallas into the position of a courtier at the most morally degraded of all courts. He had been an officer of those auxiliaries who were the worst of all troops. What secrets of lust and blood lay hidden in his earlier life we do not know; but ample and indisputable testimony, Jewish and pagan, sacred and secular, reveals to us what he had been-how greedy, how savage, how treacherous, how unjust, how steeped in the blood of private murder and public massacre during the eight years which he had now spent in the government, first of Samaria, then of Palestine. There were footsteps behind him; he began to feel as though ‘the earth were made of glass.’” 90) And it is doubtful whether Drusilla felt more comfortable than her “husband” during the address of Paul. Felix had enough; he told Paul that he might go for the present; at a convenient season he would call him again. But that convenient season apparently never came. That is a favorite phrase of sinners in high and low places to this day: at some later day, after they have thoroughly enjoyed all the lusts which the world has to offer, then they will change their lives. And in the mean time sin takes possession of their hearts so completely that they cannot shake its fetters off; the convenient moment never comes, and they are lost. How little the heart of Felix had been touched by the earnest words of Paul is shown by the fact that he hoped to be given some bribe money from Paul. It was either that the circumstances of Paul had improved since the probable death of his father, or that the procurator believed the Christians would readily collect enough money for their leading teacher in order to relieve him from the disgrace of imprisonment. With this idea in mind, he sent for Paul frequently and conversed with him, very likely dropping a hint now and then as to a method by which he could soon effect his release. But Paul refused to become a party to a crime, and was deaf to all insinuations and suggestions, open and veiled. In this way two years were soon consumed, when Felix was recalled by Nero, about A.D. 59, his successor being Porcius Festus. And the very last act of Felix was an injustice to Paul, for since he desired to gain favor with the Jews for the event of a return to his position, he left Paul in custody at Caesarea. Wherever there are unscrupulous officials in public or private life, they will be found to be time-servers, always ready to yield favors at the expense of others, and to place their own conduct in the most favorable light. The fact that innocent people may thus be harmed, apparently does not enter into their reckoning. But the government of the exalted Christ goes on in spite of all such miserable subterfuges and tricks.
Summary. Paul defends himself against the charges of the Jews as preferred before Felix through their attorney Tertullus, and his case is continued indefinitely, he being retained in custody even when Felix is recalled.