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35. Paul Stands Before Felix: The Preacher and the Politician (Acts 24:1-27)

Introduction

As a husband and especially as the father of five daughters, I have spent a fair amount of my life waiting. Waiting has become an accepted part of life. There are “waiting lines” at the bank. We wait for traffic jams to clear, or to muddle on, or for the light to change. We wait at the checkout stand in the grocery store. We wait in the doctor’s office. Some of you may be waiting for this message to end. Waiting is an accepted (though not without complaint) part of everyday life.

Have you ever stopped to think how much of our time, as Christians, is spent waiting on God? As I read through the Old Testament, I see many “divine delays,” requiring saints to be constantly waiting. I find Abraham and Sarah, waiting for the promised son, and the blessings which God promised him and his seed. I see Joseph waiting for his dreams to be fulfilled. I see Moses, waiting for 40 years, to become the deliverer of Israel, and then another forty years before Israel could enter the promised land. Indeed, Moses still waits to enter into God’s rest, because he sinned in the wilderness. David had to wait to take the throne of Israel. Israel had to wait for her restoration, and for the Messiah to come. When I read Hebrews 11, I must come to the conclusion that all of the Old Testament saints waited on God, and are still waiting, for the full and final fulfillment of His promises.

In the New Testament, it is no different. Waiting is one of the duties of every saint. We, like the apostles and the early church, wait for the Lord’s return, for our complete sanctification, and for the perfection of heaven. In our chapter, Paul will find himself waiting for a decision from Felix. In this case, Paul will wait for two years, and still not have a verdict pronounced by this politician. In Paul’s situation, there was no good reason for a delay. An immediate “not guilty” verdict could and should have been pronounced, but this would not have been politically advantageous, so far as Felix was concerned.

The two years which Paul spent in his Caesarean cell would have been a source of great irritation and frustration to some of us. We can imagine all sorts of places that Paul could have traveled, and ministries he could have been performing. But God “waylaid” him in a prison cell, on charges which were totally unfounded, and all because of a politician who would not risk offending some of his constituency. The delay was a part of God’s divine design. Many good things must have resulted from this two year period, but Luke chose to tell us only of one of Paul’s ministries. In our lesson, we will seek to learn why Paul’s imprisonment was prolonged, and how God used this in accomplishing His purposes. For those of us who find waiting a frustrating experience, there is much to learn from this passage.

The Setting

For some time, Paul has had his sights set toward Jerusalem, and then toward Rome (see 19:21). As Paul began to approach Jerusalem, he was warned in every city that his arrival would result in “bonds and afflictions” (20:22-24). This did not deter him, however. When he finally reached Jerusalem, he met with James and the elders of the church, who gladly received his report of God’s work through the Gospel in the lives of the Gentiles (21:17-20a). They further urged Paul to correct some misconceptions about his ministry and message by demonstrating that in coming to faith in Christ he had not completely rejected Judaism, and especially its ceremonial worship. In other words, they asked Paul to prove that he was still, as a Christian, “zealous for the law” (21:17b-25).

Paul took their advice and went to the temple, along with the four men whom the elders had recommended, to purify himself and to make sacrifices, paying their expenses, and thus identifying himself with all that they did. At the end of seven days, some Asian Jews spotted Paul in the temple, and also Trophimus, a Gentile from Ephesus. They jumped to the conclusion that Paul had brought him into the temple to defile it. These Asian Jews called upon the Jerusalem Jews to help them be rid of Paul once for all. It was their intention to put Paul to death. A riot broke out as men gathered in the frenzy of the moment, many of whom did not know what was going on.

News of this riot reached the ears of Claudius Lysias, the Roman commander who was in charge. He wrongly concluded that a dangerous revolutionary had returned to Jerusalem and had started this riot, thinking Paul to be this man. His prompt arrival cut short the Jew’s efforts to kill Paul. When the commander learned that Paul was not the Egyptian revolutionary, and when he was unable to determine the cause of this riot from the crowd, he allowed Paul to address the crowd, hoping (it seems) to learn what the underlying cause of the riot was. Paul spoke to the crowd in Hebrew, preventing the commander from learning anything, and eventually leading to another outbreak, the result of Paul’s words which told of his vision, in which the Lord commanded him to flee Jerusalem and go to the Gentiles (22:17-21ff.).

The commander was greatly upset by this turn of events, and planned to learn the truth by examining Paul by scourging. In the course of preparing him for this “interrogation” Paul indicated to the centurions that he was a Roman citizen, which quickly changed the commander’s mind about beating him without a trial. The commander released Paul and arranged for his trial by the Sanhedrin the following day. After offending the high priest, Ananias, Paul turned the Council into a chaotic free for all by taking his stand with the Pharisees in believing in the resurrection of the dead (23:1-10). The commander, once again, had to intervene, to save Paul. He placed him in custody once again.

The Jewish opponents of Paul concluded that there was no legal way of disposing of him, and so they became party to a conspiracy in which Paul was to be assassinated (23:12-15). When Paul learned of this plot through his nephew, he sent the young lad to the commander, who took prompt and decisive action, sending Paul to Felix in Caesarea that night, under heavy guard. With Paul Claudius Lysias sent a letter which explained the situation:

26 “Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix, greetings. 27 “When this man was arrested by the Jews and was about to be slain by them, I came upon them with the troops and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. 28 “And wanting to ascertain the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their Council; 29 and I found him to be accused over questions about their Law, but under no accusation deserving death or imprisonment. 30 “And when I was informed that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, also instructing his accusers to bring charges against him before you.”

While Claudius Lysias’ account to Felix may not be completely accurate, we shall see that the account of the situation which was given by the Jews accusing Paul was completely fabricated, virtually inferring that Claudius Lysias was a liar. The story of the “Preacher and the Politician,” of Paul and Felix, takes up at this point.

The Structure of the Text

The structure of our text is simple and straightforward. The first nine verses are Luke’s account of the accusations made against Paul by the Jews, as represented by Tertullus, the lawyer. Verses 10-21 are Luke’s account of Paul’s defense. Verses 22 and 23 describe Felix’s decision (or indecision). And the final verses (24-27) are an epilogue, describing the dialogues which took place between Felix (and Drusilla, his wife, at times) and Paul, over the two year period of his incarceration in Caesarea. We may summarize the structure of this chapter this way:

  • The charges against Paul—verses 1-9
  • Paul’s defense—verses 10-21
  • Felix’s (in)decision—verses 22-23
  • Felix’s dialogues with Paul—verses 24-27

The Charges Against Paul
(24:1-9)

Five days later, Paul was brought before Felix to stand trial. Felix was a very colorful personality, as others point out:

“Marcus Antonius Felix (as his full name is usually taken to have been) was a man of servile birth, who owed his unprecedented advancement to a post of honor usually reserved for the equestrian order to the influence which his brother Pallas exercised at the imperial court under Claudius. Pallas was a freedman of Claudius’s mother Antonia, and was for a number of years head of the imperial civil service. Felix succeeded Ventidius Cumanus as procurator of Judaea in A.D. 52, but before that he may have occupied a subordinate post in Samaria under Cumanus. His term of office as procurator was marked by increasing insurgency throughout the province, and by the emergence of the sicarii. The ruthlessness with which he put down these risings alienated many of the more moderate Jews, and led to further risings. Tacitus sums up his character and career in one of his biting epigrams: “he exercised the power of a king with the mind of a slave.” Despite his lowly origins, he was remarkably successful in marriage (from a social point of view, that is); his three successive wives were all of royal birth, according to Suetonius. The first of the three was a grand-daughter of Antony and Cleopatra; the third was Drusilla, youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I, who figures in the following narrative.”499

A. T. Robertson adds,

“He was one of the most depraved men of his time. Tacitus says of him that “with all cruelty and lust he exercised the power of a king with the spirit of a slave.”500

It was an interesting group which arrived from Jerusalem to prosecute the case against Paul. Noticeably absent were the Asian Jews, who had mistakenly assumed that Paul was seeking to defile the temple. Had these Jews come only for the religious holidays, and returned to Asia? Or, had they (or the Jerusalem Jewish leaders) discovered that they had jumped to the wrong conclusion? Were they reluctant to be cross examined in front of Felix? Also absent was Claudius Lysias, the commander of the Roman troops, who had rescued Paul and sent him to Caesarea for trial.

I am not sure how many of the Pharisees were present, for none are specifically mentioned.501 If there are any Pharisees present, I do not think that their heart is in this attack on Paul nearly to the degree that the Sadducees were pursuing this matter. Ever since the resurrection of our Lord the Pharisees have taken a more retiring position in Jewish effort to oppose the gospel. It was Gamaliel, a Pharisee, who (in Acts chapter 5) advised his colleagues on the Council to “back off” and leave the Christians alone, for if this were of God, they could not be stopped, and if it were only of men, it would die of itself. When Paul cried out in the Council (Acts 23), affirming his belief in the resurrection of the dead, the Pharisees came to Paul’s defense. I do not think that the Pharisees were a party to the conspiracy to assassinate Paul, nor do I think they were enthusiastic about prosecuting him before Felix.

This put the Sadducees (that is, the high priest and the other elders who came to Caesarea) in a very awkward position. They were summoned to come and to press charges against Paul. They, if closely questioned, could be charged with responsibility for the disorder in Jerusalem. And they were now without any great support from the Pharisees, not to mention the fact that the Asian Jews were absent. They were indeed in a precarious position. Little wonder that they hired a Roman lawyer,502 Tertullus,503 to represent them, and to prosecute Paul on their behalf. As weak as their position was, they needed a “Perry Mason,” who was familiar with Roman jurisprudence and who could make their case look stronger than it really was.

Before we look at the case which Tertullus presented against Paul, let us give a moment to consider just what verdict it was that the Jews were seeking. It is my opinion that the Jews do not expect, or even want, a verdict pronounced which would find Paul guilty of a minor offense. They did not want Paul imprisoned; they wanted Paul dead (see Acts 22:22; 23:12, 27; 25:3). They knew that Rome, to this point in time, was trying to save Paul’s life. While the Jews who opposed Paul would have delighted in having a verdict which found Paul guilty of treason and a death penalty imposed, they knew better than to expect this. Consequently, they really did not want Felix to try Paul at all, but to hand him back over to them for trial in Jerusalem, so that the conspiracy to kill Paul could be carried out.

Tertullus did the best he could with what he had to work with, but it was not enough to convince Felix, who was too well informed to be taken in by the arguments of the prosecution. Tertullus began with a very flowery and flattering introduction. He spoke of Felix as a very wise and benevolent leader, who skillfully had brought peace and progress to the Jewish nation. Even without a knowledge of secular history, the words of Tertullus are too smooth and too flattering. But with a knowledge of secular history, we know that these statements were hypocritical and dishonest. Felix was no man of peace, and the Jews did not have a high regard for him. It was due to a Jewish protest that Felix was recalled by the emperor.504

Whether or not Felix was a “man of peace,” his duty was to “keep the peace” in that region, for which he was accountable to Rome. If Paul was a trouble-maker and a disturber of the peace, Felix would find his job to be much easier without Paul’s presence. Thus, the Jewish leaders seem to be suggesting to Felix (through Tertullus) that if he simply turns Paul over to them, they will take care of him and thus rid Felix of a serious problem. Felix does not need to find Paul guilty of treason or of revolutionary activity, he need only find that Paul should be turned over to the Jews for trial in Jerusalem. “Leave Paul to us,” they seem to be saying, “and we will remove a major administrative problem for you.” It was, indeed, a tempting thought, for where Paul went there was often disorder, for whatever reason.

The case which Tertullus presented against Paul was a truly shoddy one. In the first place, there were no eye-witnesses. There were only general allegations, and mostly of misconduct elsewhere. The best that they can do is to point to what they considered an imminent threat of the temple being desecrated, for the offense had not actually taken place. And they have the audacity to suggest to this Roman official that he will find sufficient evidence from Paul’s testimony.505 In Roman law and in Jewish law, Paul is not required to testify against himself. We know of this legal protection as the “fifth amendment.”

The charges against Paul were:

(1) He was, in the eyes of the Jews, a ‘real pest’ (verse 5).

(2) He stirred up unrest among the Jews world-wide (verse 5).

(3) He was the ringleader of a non-Jewish sect (verse 5).

(4) He tried to desecrate the temple (verse 6).

The account which Tertullus gave of the riot which took place in Jerusalem was very different, both from that which Luke tells us really happened (chapters 21-23) and from the account which Claudius Lysias wrote in his explanatory letter to Felix (23:26-30). We know from Luke’s account that Paul had done nothing wrong in Jerusalem, and that the Asian Jews had jumped to a wrong conclusion, which precipitated their efforts to kill Paul with the aid of the native Jerusalemites. They would have killed Paul had not Claudius Lysias arrived on the scene. On more than one occasion, Paul was rescued from being put to death by this Roman commander. They had been unsuccessful in their efforts to try Paul in the Sanhedrin, because the issue of the resurrection of the dead divided the two major parties represented in this council.

The account which they Jews wanted Felix to believe, implied by the words of Tertullus, was very different from what actually happened. Their story would go something like this:

“We knew that Paul was a trouble-maker, and so we kept our eyes on him. We saw him attempting to desecrate the temple, and, fortunately, were able to stop him before he succeeded in this horrible task. {Incidentally, Paul seeks Roman protection, not only claiming to be a Roman citizen, but claiming to be a Jew. In reality, he does not hold to the Judaism of our nation or of our fathers, and thus he should not be protected in the conduct and propagation of his cultic religion.} We wanted to bring Paul to trial and to justice, but Claudius Lysias, your commanding officer in Jerusalem, violently intervened. Using excessive force, he kept us from bringing Paul to justice by seizing him from us (injuring some in the process).506 We are here, not because we think that you need to try Paul’s case, but because we believe you will agree with us that we should be given jurisdiction in this case. If you will turn Paul over to us, we assure you that we will bring this man to justice, and at the same time rid you of a major problem. We know you will be ever grateful to us for this.”

Paul’s Defense
(24:10-21)

Paul’s defense is recorded in verses 10-21. Paul began with an introductory statement, reported in verses 10b-13. In verses 14-16, Paul spoke about his relationship to Judaism, and its bearing on his conduct. He concluded (as least so far as Luke’s account of his defense is concerned) by specifically answering some of the charges which were made against him (verses 17-21).

Paul’s introduction is very different from that of Tertullus. Tertullus’ introduction was longer, contained much more flattery, and was essentially untrue. Paul’s introduction was short and truthful: he was grateful to stand trail before Felix because he was a man with considerable experience in dealing with this nation. Felix was no “wet behind the ears” novice, who would be taken in by the fancy words of Tertullus, or by the impassioned words of his opponents. Felix knew these Jews and the issues which were really at stake. Thus, Paul could gladly state his case before this official.

In his defense, Paul very carefully sticks to the issue at hand—his conduct in Jerusalem. He does not seek to bring up or to defend himself on any matters outside Jerusalem. Would Tertullus allude to him as a world-wide trouble-maker? Paul would not speak to such allegations. In the first place, there were no specific charges made, but only general, unsupported accusations. Tertullus did not even mention specific places or incidents. Second, Paul was not on trial concerning his conduct elsewhere, only for his conduct in Jerusalem. And so Paul spoke only to those charges which were pertinent.

Paul’s Introductory Comments
(24:10b-13)

After a very brief statement about his cheerful defense to Felix, based upon his years of experience in dealing with the Jews, Paul went right to the essence of the matter. He could not possibly be guilty of the charges, for he had only arrived in Jerusalem 12 days before. He had not been to Jerusalem for several years, and he could hardly have had the time required to do all the evil things which his opponents alleged. Throughout the short time of his stay, he had only engaged in private matters, and had not made any public appearances or statements. The charges which were leveled against Paul, he said, were without any basis. We know this to be true, and this was also exactly what Claudius Lysias had stated in his letter to Felix. There was no substance to the case against Paul. It should be thrown out of court.

Paul’s Relationship to Judaism
(24:14-16)

A very serious allegation, the most serious one to Paul and to the gospel, was that he practiced a form of religion that was contrary to Judaism. The Jews seemed to suggest that the reason why Paul’s ministry was so volatile and led to such violence was that he was not a true Jew and opposed Judaism. This charge was made in Corinth, before Gallio, and was rejected by Gallio, who knew better (see Acts 18:12-17). But the Jews continued to try to disown Christianity and Paul as anti-Jewish.

Paul now turns his attention to the allegation of Tertullus that Paul was a cult-leader, the ringleader of a “sect” called the “Nazarines” (verse 5). The Jews would like Felix to believe that Paul was not a true Jew at all, but one who opposed the Jews, and whose alleged attempt to desecrate the temple was the outgrowth of his “faith.” He openly professes his association with “the Way,” which the Jews call a sect, but he strongly protests the charge that it is a sect. Paul insists that his faith and practice is not only consistent with Judaism, but it is, in fact, the only true Judaism. His wording is carefully chosen so that instead of reflecting a “we/they” polarization, he refers to an “our/us” commonality in many areas, thus affirming his close ties with Judaism.507

Paul served “the God of our fathers,” not some other “god” (verse 14). Paul’s faith and practice was based upon the revelation of God to Israel in the “Law and the Prophets” (verse 14). His “hope” was like that of those who stood before him, opposing him. His hope was in God and in the resurrection of the dead, both the righteous and the wicked. It was this hope and this certainty that he would give account for his every deed that motivated him to “maintain a clear conscience, both before men and before God” (verses 15-16). Paul counters the implied charge that he held to a deviant religious faith, which prompted him to desecrate the temple, with his profession to hold to the same hope as his opponents, and which thus prompted him to live righteously before God and before men.

There is a “tension in the text” here, at least in my mind. In his reference to a common faith, Paul specifically mentions a belief in the “Law and the Prophets” and in the resurrection of the dead, both the righteous and the wicked. He indicates that his hope is based upon these beliefs, which he shares with those Jews who are present and who are opposing him. Now if there were any Pharisees present (none have been specifically identified as such), then Paul could simply be saying that his belief in these truths was the same as that of the Pharisees. We know this to be true from Paul’s trial before the Sanhedrin, when the Pharisees sided with Paul on the issue of the resurrection (see 23:6-10). But it cannot be said that the Sadducees believed in these things, as Paul did. There must have been Pharisees present, then, and Paul must have identified only with these Pharisees. By implication, Paul was claiming to be orthodox, while these Sadducees were the heretics. If there was a “sect,” it was the Sadducees who were to be seen as in this camp, not Paul, and not Jewish Christians.

A similar statement, shouted out by Paul, was made during his trial before the Council, the Sanhedrin (Acts 23). To this incident Paul will draw attention in verse 21. It was such a statement that divided the Sanhedrin. They would not make the same mistake here, it seems, for that would prove Paul’s point, that whatever the differences between he and the Jewish leaders were, they were differences between Jews, differences within Judaism. I can imagine how irritated the Sadducees were when Paul spoke of his hope as the only true Judaism, thereby indicating that they were the heretics. How they must have wanted to debate this point, or even to kill Paul for what he said, but they could not, lest they lose this case.

Paul’s Answers to Specific Charges
(24:17-21)

Paul’s conduct while in Jerusalem was completely consistent with all that he had said up to this point. In order to refute the charges against him, Paul walked through the events of those few days in Jerusalem, explaining exactly what he did, and what happened as a result.

Having been away from Jerusalem for several years, Paul returned to his people and nation. He came there, not to stir up trouble nor to attack Judaism, but to “bring alms” to his own people and to present offerings (verse 17). These were not the actions of a revolutionary, an anti-Jew, but were the very things which a true Jew would do on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Paul’s time was spent in the temple, not in seeking to desecrate it, but involved in a cleansing and purifying ritual for himself and other (Jerusalem) Jews.

The uprising was not to be seen as the result of anything Paul did, but rather as the result of the activity of some Asian Jews, who were in Jerusalem at the time. These Asian Jews, who allegedly witnessed some violation of the Jewish law, and who started the riot which occurred, were not even present before Felix. Their absence spoke loudly in Paul’s defense, Paul implied. Why were they not here, since they were the only one’s who claimed to have witnessed his allegedly illegal activities? Paul’s case should have been thrown out of court, simply on the basis of this absence of any direct testimony.

Paul pressed on. Let those who stood before Paul and Felix, as Paul’s accusers, tell what laws Paul had broken (verses 20-21). They were seeking to have Paul turned over to them, so that they could try him. But they had already attempted to try Paul. And what was the result? Another disturbance, and it was they who were disorderly in this uprising, not Paul. And the cause of all this was Paul’s statement, identifying himself with the belief of the Pharisees, in the belief that there is a resurrection of the dead. The fact that the Pharisees sided with Paul in this debate was evidence that whatever Paul’s differences were with some of the Jews, there were other prominent Jewish leaders who agreed with him. If the trial of Paul before the Sanhedrin had resulted in a kind of mistrial, and one that caused a small riot, why should he them go back to be tried there again?

Felix’s (In)Decision
(24:22-23)

Paul was right in his statement to Felix that he was a man of experience, a man who understood the Jews and the issues which divided them. But Felix was also a man with considerable knowledge concerning Christianity, or “the Way” (see verse 22). Through sources which are not revealed, Felix understood Christianity and Judaism. The opposition of these Jews to Paul and to the gospel he preached came as no new thing to Felix. It was just a replay of the same old hassles. Because of this, Felix could have quickly pronounced judgment, finding for Paul, and setting him free. But this was not to be the case, for at least two reasons: (1) God, in His sovereignty, had ordained that Paul go to Rome and that he preach the gospel to kings (see Acts 1:8; 9:15; 23:11). God had ordained, as we shall see in the remaining chapters of Acts, that His plans and purposes for Paul would be achieved through the unbelief and opposition of the Jews, and through the good and evil actions of Roman rulers. (2) Felix was a politician, who hoped to use this situation for his own advantage. If he were fortunate, he might not only obtain a bribe from Paul, but he might also curry the favor of the Jews. In the concluding verses of this chapter we see Felix as the cunning politician and Paul and the consistent, faithful preacher of the gospel.

Felix could hardly find Paul guilty of any Roman offense, and he did have to concern himself with the protection of Paul’s rights, since he was a Roman citizen. He was not able to turn Paul over to the Jews or to the Sanhedrin, but he could postpone the verdict, thereby pacifying (if not pleasing) the Jews, and providing at least an opportunity for him to obtain a bribe from Paul. Since the Jews had (in my view) challenged the actions of Claudius Lysias, Felix could delay a verdict until this commander could be summoned and his testimony heard (but remember, he had written to Felix that Paul was not guilty of any crime worthy of death or imprisonment). And so Felix put off the decision, knowing that it would not gain him the favor of anyone. At the same time, he attempted to pacify Paul by instructing that he be given a measure of freedom while incarcerated, so that visitors could come and go freely, to minister to Paul. With considerable skill, Felix avoided coming to a decision and pronouncing a verdict for his remaining two years in office. He managed to leave this problem with his successor, Festus.

Felix Dialogues With Paul
(24:24-27)

I am convinced that many good things took place during the two years that Paul waited to go to Rome,508 but Luke chooses not to mention most of these. The one thing he does include in his account is the frequent discussions which took place between the politician (and, at least one meeting which included his wife, Drusilla) and the preacher.

Drusilla, the wife of Felix, was a Jewess, Luke tells us. She was a woman with an interesting heritage and past:

“Drusilla was the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I, and at this time was not yet twenty years old. As a small girl she had been betrothed to the crown prince of Commangene, in eastern Asia Minor, but the marriage did not take place because the prospective bride-groom refused to become a proselyte to Judaism. Then her brother Agrippa II gave her in marriage to the king of Emesa (modern Homs), a petty state in Syria. But when she was still only sixteen, Felix, with the help (it is said) of a Cypriot magician called Atomos, persuaded her to leave her husband and come to be his wife, promising her (with a play on his name) every ‘felicity’ if she did so. Accordingly, she joined Felix as his third wife, and bore him a son named Agrippa, who met his death in the eruption of Vesuvius in A. D. 79.”509

“She was one of three daughters of Herod Agrippa I (Drusilla, Mariamne, Bernice). Her father murdered James, her great-uncle Herod Antipas slew John the Baptist, her great-grandfather (Herod the Great) killed the babes of Bethlehem.”510

Felix must have told his wife, Drusilla, about the trial, and she seems to have expressed interest in hearing the message which Paul was proclaiming. At any rate, Luke tells us that after some days passed, Felix returned to Caesarea with his wife, and Paul was summoned. At first, it may have been with the guise of gaining more information from Paul. But there were obviously other reasons: (1) Drusilla, a Jewess, seems to have been at least curious about Paul’s preaching; (2) Felix himself seems to have had some interest in the gospel; (3) Felix also hoped that Paul might offer him money (a bribe) to speed up the wheels of justice.

If you were Paul, and you were summoned to Felix, a Roman governor, and his wife, a Jewess, and were asked about your message, what would you have said? What a temptation there would have been for Paul to “tone down” his message, to focus his attention on the “glad texts”511 of the Old Testament. If this would have been the course taken by others, it was not what Paul did. He spoke instead about the gospel, about “righteousness, about self-control, and about the judgment to come” (verse 25).512 Such topics hardly put the minds of these two people at ease, although they would have done so, if they had repented and come to faith in Jesus as Savior and Messiah.

When Paul got around to the judgment to come, Felix became frightened, as sent Paul away. He would talk with Paul more about this later. And so he did, but there is no indication that he or Drusilla came to faith. Many other times Paul was called before Felix. It was with incredibly mixed motives that Felix sent for him. He had some interest in the gospel, but he also felt the pressure of the Jews. He feared, to some degree, a judgment to come, and yet he also hoped for a bribe from Paul. His ambivalence and wavering never ended. And so, for two years, Paul’s imprisonment lingered on, and the discussions continued. Finally, Festus, his replacement, was left with the sticky matter of Paul’s case.513 It seems that Felix was “off the hook.”

Conclusion

This text has much to say to us. Let me conclude by pointing out some important lessons.

(1) Our text underscores the grace of God to Felix and his wife. Most of us are probably inclined to view this two year delay from Paul’s point of view. It would seem that this was a needless waste of time, for Paul’s arrival in Rome is put off two years. But from another perspective, it is a manifestation of the marvelous grace of God. Paul’s two year incarceration in Caesarea was, as verses 24-26 underscore, a time for the gospel to be repeatedly proclaimed to this governor and his wife. What amazing grace we see! God had purposed and promised that Paul would be His instrument to proclaim the gospel to Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel (Acts 9:15), and this is exactly what happened at Caesarea.

It is true that Felix and Drusilla seem to have rejected this gospel, and thus they will experience the judgment about which Paul spoke. But think of it. God not only ordained that this Roman ruler and his wife hear the gospel, but that they hear it for two years. They are surely without excuse.

This text, when viewed in the light of other Scripture, illustrates the fact that delays are by divine design, and are manifestations of divine grace:

3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with {their} mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For {ever} since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” 5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God {the} heavens existed long ago and {the} earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not let this one {fact} escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up (2 Peter 3:3-10).

This two year delay was a manifestation of God’s grace to Felix and Drusilla. But this grace was rejected, and so this couple must face the eternal wrath of God, rather than to eternally enjoy His glorious salvation. How sad it is to see the procrastination of Felix. He thought that he was shrewd to put off the decision of Paul’s guilt or innocence, and along with this he put off the matter of his own guilt (through his sins) or innocence (in Christ). There is a coming day of judgment, and the matter of eternal salvation should be dealt with today:

And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain—for He says, “AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU”; behold, now is “THE ACCEPTED TIME,” behold now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

Let Felix and his wife be a warning to you, not to put of the matter of your eternal destiny. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is the offer of the Gospel to you, which produces self-control, and which keeps you from the coming judgment on unbelievers. Be saved today.

(2) The power of the gospel is inseparably linked with the purity of the gospel. Paul was surely given the opportunity to modify the gospel in such a way as to be less offensive to this ruler and his wife. Righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come were some of the most uncomfortable topics that Paul could have raised, but these are precisely the issues of the gospel, and a key to its power, for the Lord Himself promised that the Holy Spirit would “convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8-11). Are we as concerned for the purity of the gospel as Paul was? If not, the power of the gospel is at issue. While it is true that we are drawn to Christ by His love, and by the promise of the good things of gospel, it is just as true that we are driven to the gospel by the fear of sin and its eternal consequences. It is the false teachers who appeal to the self-indulgence of sinful men, and who represent God as one who condones sin (see 2 Peter). Let us never minimize the essential elements of the gospel, whether men wish to hear them or not.

(3) The power of God is inseparably linked to the purity of our lifestyle. From Luke’s words it would seem that a bribe from Paul might have secured Paul’s release. It is implied by our text that Paul not only refused to pay this bribe, but that he refused to consider this as an option. Paul believed in the sovereignty of God. God could achieve His purposes through unsaved, wicked, men, just as He could work through men and women of faith. If Paul was to be released, it would not be due to a bribe. Paul wanted a verdict which would protect and promote the preaching of the gospel. He left his fate in God’s hands. If he could not be released legally and honestly, he would not be released. Paul’s purity of lifestyle was directly linked, I believed, to his grasp of the power of God. A Christian need not “bend the rules” or “play the world’s games” in order to live godly lives and to promote the gospel. Are we really convinced of this? I fear that we are far more influenced by pragmatism here than we are by the power of God.

(4) The sovereignty of God assures us that His promises will be fulfilled, whether by means of faithful, obedient servants, or by self-serving government officials, or by those who are religious and who oppose the gospel. The Book of Acts is a constant reminder of the fallibility of men and of the faithfulness of God. Those things which God had promised in the Old Testament, and which our Lord had promised His disciples and the church, are recorded as being fulfilled in Acts. The fulfillment of God’s promises is not dependent upon men, nor can men successfully oppose God’s purposes. In our text alone, God’s purposes for Paul and for the gospel are achieved through the stubborn unbelief and opposition of the Sadducees, through the self-serving efforts of Felix, and through the obedience of Paul. God’s purposes and promises are sure, because God is sovereign. He works all things for the good which He has purposed and promised. We may rest in Him and in His promises, because of His power.

(5) God’s purposes are often achieved in ways we would never expect, and at times when His power seems least visible. From a purely human point of view, things could hardly have looked more bleak and less promising, for Paul or for the gospel. The Jews of Jerusalem wanted Paul killed, and seemed capable of doing so. Paul’s ministry in Jerusalem was cut short, and his future ministry in Rome seemed unlikely. At a time when Paul would have wanted his freedom, he was deprived of it—for two years, no less—and his future ministry looked far from promising. Faith never walks by sight, but always in the assurance of God’s person and promises.

(6) Ministry often occurs in ways that look incidental or accidental. Christians seem to have a “stained glass” concept of ministry. We think of ministry in very formal, structured, and planned terms. And yet the Book of Acts speaks of much ministry as though it were incidental, unplanned, and even unexpected. When we look at the events described in Acts 24, they look chaotic, out of control. Paul’s ministry seems terminated, and his life endangered, but in the midst of a maze of wrong motives and sinful actions (on the part of Felix and the Jews), God arranged for the gospel to be preached to this ruler and his wife. God was in control, although it did not appear to be this way. Ministry is doing the right thing when everything around us seems to be going wrong. Ministry is living in obedience to God’s commands, in the midst of sin, opposition, and confusion, out of faith in the person of God and in the certainty of His promises.

God is in control when the world seems to be out of control. What a message this has for us today, as we seek to live godly lives in a chaotic world. May He find us faithful, trusting in Him and in His promises, and living according to His Word, faithfully proclaiming His salvation to a lost and dying world.


499 F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), pp. 436-437.

500 A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), III, p. 408.

501 Although Paul’s words in verses 14 and 15 seem, on the surface, to assume that some Pharisees are present.

502 “The employment of a Roman lawyer (Latin orator) was necessary since the Jews were not familiar with Roman legal procedure and it was the custom in the provinces (Cicero pro Cael. 30). The speech was probably in Latin which Paul may have understood also.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), III, p. 412.

503 I think most commentators would agree that Tertullus was, indeed, a Roman. Bruce thinks he was a Hellenistic Jew. This is hard to square with verse 9, which seems to state that when Tertullus, the Roman lawyer, presented his case the Jews present attested to what he said. The fact that Tertullus spoke as though he was a Jew (for example, “we arrested him,” verse 6) is to be expected, for he represented them and spoke on their behalf.

504 “Felix had suppressed a riot, but Tacitus (Ann. XII. 54) declares that Felix secretly encouraged banditti and shared the plunder for which the Jews finally made complaint to Nero who recalled him. But it sounded well to praise Felix for keeping peace in his province, especially as Tertullus was going to accuse Paul of being a disturber of the peace.” A. T. Robertson, III, pp. 412-413.

“Obviously Felix had certain accounts to his credit in his Judean administration. In addition to the dispersing of the Egyptian Sicarii’s insurrection (Acts 21:38), he had quelled uprisings and banditry under the leadership of one Eliezer and a serious disturbance between the Syrians and the Caesarean Jews. But the other side of the ledger was seriously overbalanced with discredits. He was reprehensible for both bad character and maladministration. His lustful, mercenary, oppressive, unjust, and cruel conduct was all too well known by his Jewish subjects . . .” Charles W. Carter and Ralph Earle, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), p. 356.

505 There is some discussion as to just who is referred to by “him” in verse 8. The shortened version would require that it be Paul who should be questioned. The longer version (including verses 6b-8a) would allow for “him” to be Claudius Lysias.

506 Bruce reminds us that the words set apart in verses 6b-8a are “. . . added in the Western text, and were taken over into TR {Textus Receptus, the text from which the King James Version was translated}. They are not found in the Byzantine witnesses, and are therefore not included in The Greek New Testament according to the Majority Text, ed. Z. C. Hodges and A. L. Farstad (Nashville, TN, 1982).” Bruce, p. 438, fn. 3.

It is my personal opinion that the words are a genuine part of the text, and that they are not only consistent with the argument of the Jews, but supportive of this argument. I believe that these words also provided Festus with his excuse, so that he refused to give his verdict until Claudius Lysias (whose conduct was questioned by Tertullus and the Jews present) was able to testify. So long as Claudius did not appear, a decision could be postponed, indeed, must be postponed.

507 It is interesting to recall that Paul’s purpose for going to Jerusalem (the convey the gift from the Gentile churches) and his worship in the temple was for the purpose of narrowing the growing gap between Judaism and Christianity.

508 “In all probability he came and went with frequent visits with Philip the Evangelist. It was probably during this period that Luke secured the material for his Gospel and wrote part or all of it before going to Rome. He had ample opportunity to examine the eyewitnesses who heard Jesus and the first attempts at writing including the Gospel of Mark (Luke 1:1-4).” A. T. Robertson, III, p. 424.

“Some have conjectured that he wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews during this period (if indeed it was written by Paul); others that the Ephesian, Colossian and Philippian epistles, with perhaps Philemon, were written here. However, evidence is lacking for any of these hypotheses.” Carter and Earle, 366.

509 F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), pp. 447-448.

510 A. T. Robertson, III, p. 422.

511 You will recall that in the movie, “Polyanna,” this little girl is shown to get the preacher (who preached “hell and brimstone messages” prior to her counsel) to preach on “glad texts,” the positive, upbeat, texts of the Bible, and to set aside the others.

512 “‘Righteousness, self-control, and judgment to come’ (25) were, however, the last themes calculated to soothe either the governor or his wife. Righteousness had small part in Felix’ administration; self-control was not prominent in the court-favorite who had persuaded the young Jewess at his side to abandon her husband, Azizus, King of Emesa. And judgment to come was too direct a reminder, even to a man who took little thought of the hereafter, of that summons to Rome and a last accounting, which ultimately befell him. Felix was tangled in a web of evil circumstance of his own weaving, and the time was not convenient to cut himself boldly free (25).” E. M. Blaiklock, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company {photolithoprinted}, 1966), p. 182.

513 “The occasion of Felix’s recall from his office was an outbreak of civil strife between the Jewish and Gentile inhabitants of Caesarea, in which Felix intervened with troops in such a way as to cause much bloodshed among the leaders of the Jewish faction. On his return to Rome he would have faced a severe penalty, Josephus informs us, had it not been for the advocacy of his brother Pallas. Pallas had been removed from his post as head of the imperial civil service in A.D. 55, but (largely on account of his colossal wealth) he retained great influence for several years after that.” F. F. Bruce, pp. 448-449.

“Luke does not tell why Felix ‘received’ a successor. The explanation is that during these two years the Jews and the Gentiles had an open fight in the market-place in Caesarea. Felix put the soldiers on the mob and many Jews were killed. The Jews made formal complaint to the Emperor with the result that Felix was recalled and Porcius Festus sent in his stead.” A. T. Robertson, III, p. 424.