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The Book of Acts Series

Acts, Chapter 24

John Baugh

March, 2010

Acts 24 (New American Standard Bible)

Acts 24

Review and Preview:

The 24th Chapter of Acts opens with the apostle Paul held prisoner in Herod's Praetorium in the Judean town of Caesarea, about 60 miles north of Jerusalem. He is being held there by the Governor Felix, awaiting the arrival of the Chief Priest and others from Jerusalem. Paul was arrested there as a riot was about to break out in the Temple. After two unsuccessful attempts to address the Jerusalem Jews and witness to them about Jesus Christ and his 30 year long ministry to the Jews and Gentiles proclaiming Jesus as the Christ and Messiah, Paul's case has been sent to Felix for a hearing. Neither of the attempts to speak to the Jerusalem Jews has accomplished more than creating increased anger among the Priests members of the Sanhedrin and others associated with the Jerusalem Temple. When it was discovered that a threat had been made against Paul's life by a group of forty Jews who swore an oath to not eat or drink before they had killed him, the Roman tribunal commander in Jerusalem decided to take Paul to the Judean provincial capital at Caesarea for trial.

Since Paul has claimed his rights as a Roman citizen, a hearing before Felix will be required to settle the matter of any charges brought against him and so he waits as Felix's prisoner until the arrival of those who will testify against him.

Felix:

Felix was the successor to the Governor, Pontius Pilate. He is an interesting character. We have some knowledge of him from secular history. He had been governor of the province of Judea for five years at the time this chapter records, and had previously lived for two years in the city of Samaria. So he knew something about the Jews and about their nation. He was born a slave, but his brother, Pallas, managed to become a favorite of the emperor in Rome. Through the influence of his brother Pallas, Felix had been freed from slavery and later had been appointed governor of this province. He was the first slave in Roman history to become a governor of a Roman province.

By the time he meets Paul, Felix has been married to three different princesses. We know nothing about his first wife other than that she was a princess. His second wife was the granddaughter of Antony and Cleopatra. The third wife appears with him in this account. Her name was Drusilla. She was a Jewess, the daughter of Herod Agrippa, the king who had put the Apostle James to death. She had been the wife of the king of Emesa, but Felix had seduced her and now she was living with him as his wife. This man was completely unscrupulous. He was known to hire thugs to eliminate even friends who happened to get in the way of his political ambitions. It is before this judge that the Apostle Paul would appear.

The first nine verses of Chapter 24 set forth the charges that are leveled against the apostle. But Luke first lists the participants on this occasion:

Paul before Felix

1After five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders, with an attorney named Tertullus, and they brought charges to the governor against Paul.

Five days have passed before the High Priest arrives in Caesarea, accompanied by some of the elders of the Temple in Jerusalem. He is accompanied by an attorney representing him. The attorney is a man named Tertullus and he will argue the case against Paul. Scholars say that the attorney was a short man, because his name is the diminutive form of the name Tertius and meant "Little Tertius".

After introducing the players and bringing Paul to the courtroom, Luke begins his report of the charges,

 

2After Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying to the governor, "Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation, 3we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. 4But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing.

Attorney Tertullus begins by attempting to flatter Felix. He starts out in with flowery fluff. "Oh most excellent Felix, we know that all these great things are happening in our nation because of you..." Both he and Felix know that this fluff has no bearing on the case, and eventually the lawyer changes tactics, saying "That I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us by your kindness, a brief hearing" Then he gets down to business and lists the charges that the High Priest wants to bring against Paul.

5For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6And he even tried to desecrate the temple; and then we arrested him. [We wanted to judge him according to our own Law. 7But Lysias the commander came along, and with much violence took him out of our hands, 8ordering his accusers to come before you.] By examining him yourself concerning all these matters you will be able to ascertain the things of which we accuse him." 9The Jews also joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so.

The attorney lists three particular charges against Paul. They are designed to gain the attention of this Roman governor and to arouse his hostility against the apostle.

The first charge was that Paul was a revolutionary pest, a troublemaker who stirred up difficulties and riots all through the empire. This lawyer knew that would have an impact on Felix because the Romans had a far-flung empire to administer, and the one thing they would not tolerate was civil disorder. The Romans had a reputation for dealing harshly with any known troublemaker.

Secondly, Paul was labeled a religious radical, a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. Felix had likely heard about the Nazarenes. Additionally, he knew that there were many false messiahs around who were ready to entice this fanatically religious nation in way that would cause nothing but trouble for Rome. Jesus himself had predicted, there were a wave of false messiahs, who claimed to be the true one and created much trouble for the Romans. The lawyer was implying that Paul was one of them.

The third charge leveled against Paul was that he was a sacrilegious fanatic who had tried to profane the temple and defile it by bringing Gentiles in. That again was something to which the Romans would pay attention. The Romans knew that the Temple area was very sensitive to the Jews and any violation of Temple rules only created trouble for the Soldiers charged with keeping order in Jerusalem and might quickly inflame the entire nation.

All of these charges were raised to create concern within the Roman administration, but there was no truth in any of them. The Jews who came along to support the charges simply affirmed them. But they didn't offer any proof; they couldn't.

In Verses 10-21, Luke gives us the apostle's defense.

10When the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded: "Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense,

Paul begins with the only decent statement an honest man could make about Felix. "You've been governor here for a number of years. You know this nation, and I hope you'll listen to me." And Paul proceeds from that point, answering the attorney's charges.

The first charge was that he was a revolutionary troublemaker.

11since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12Neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city itself did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot. 13Nor can they prove to you the charges of which they now accuse me."

His arguments are simple. "First, I have had no time to incite a riot. It is only twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem, and I've been absent from the province for years before that. You can't get a riot going in twelve days. Second, I made absolutely no effort to do so. I've never even been seen disputing with anybody, either in the temple, or in the synagogues, or in the city. I've made no attempt anywhere to stir up any difficulty, arouse a crowd or incite emotions in any way, and third, no proof whatsoever has been offered for any of the claims made against me. You have merely the affirmations of these Jews that I did these things. But no evidence has been advanced at all."

Next he moves to the charge of being a religious radical.

14"But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets; 15having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.

To the second charge he pleads guilty. "But," he says, "I want to point out that though I am indeed a follower of this Way, a member of what they call a sect, nevertheless it is most interesting to note that this 'sect' accepts the Law and the Prophets, just as do these members of the Sanhedrin. Furthermore, it stresses the hope which the Old Testament teaches, that of the resurrection of the dead, both just and unjust, and many of these Jews standing here believe it just as well as I. And third, it results in a conscientious life; a life lived in good conscience before God and man. He then argues, what can be so wrong with that?" "I admit I'm a member of this 'sect,' but so what? It simply agrees with all that these people themselves affirm to be the truth. What violation of Roman law is involved in becoming a member of this Christian group?"

The third charge was that of profaning the temple.

17"Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings; 18in which they found me occupied in the temple, having been purified, without any crowd or uproar But there were some Jews from Asia - 19who ought to have been present before you and to make accusation, if they should have anything against me. 20"Or else let these men themselves tell what misdeed they found when I stood before the Council,21other than for this one statement which I shouted out while standing among them, 'For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today.'"

His argument is very simple. "Rather than defiling the temple," he said, "I was bringing gifts of money and offerings to my people." (the collection for the saints at Jerusalem that he had brought there from Macedonia.) "And," he says, "I also went into the temple and I worshipped there, as any Jew should. That is where they found me. But I wasn't disturbing anyone or profaning the temple. I was fulfilling its purpose."

"Furthermore," he points out, "the men who accuse me are not even present here. Certain Jews from Asia are the ones who brought the charges against me, and they're not even here."

It is apparent here how careful Luke has been in recording this. Paul's syntax gets a little mixed up. He starts out talking about the Jews from Asia but loses the trend of his thought, and ends up simply pointing out that they ought to be there to make an accusation, and he never completes his sentence.

Finally he sums it all up, saying, "The most that I have done, the very most that can be charged against me, is that when I stood before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem I said something that divided them among themselves. I cried out to them, 'With respect to the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you this day.' Now if that is wrong then that is what I am guilty of."

Paul's defense here is stated plainly and clearly with little elaboration. He makes his point and then moves on.

Now it becomes Felix's matter to make a decision that will impact Paul's life.

22But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way, put them off, saying, "When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case." 23Then he gave orders to the centurion for him to be kept in custody and yet have some freedom, and not to prevent any of his friends from ministering to him.

Felix doesn't need to have Lysias come down. He has already received from him a letter exonerating Paul. But he uses this as an excuse, in order that he might hear something more from the apostle. Felix's curiosity has been awakened and, as Luke tells us, he had "a more exact knowledge about the Way." He knows something about Christianity, and he wants to hear more. So he retains Paul in custody, even though he has every legal right to set him free.

24But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you." 26At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him.

During this time, Paul was under "house-arrest," with access to friends and with some liberty. But he is still in the custody of the Romans and is unable to move about freely. After a few days the governor sends for him. You can see the Spirit of God working in this man's life.

Paul's message had a profound effect upon Felix. Luke tells us that as the governor listened to Paul's message of righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come Felix was, literally, "terrified," he trembled. He felt the impact of the logic of the apostle's presentation. Luke summarizes for us what Paul said. It was again the rational, orderly development you would expect from Paul. He reasoned with him of righteousness, of self-control, and of judgment to come. When he finished, Felix trembled. It is important to consider what Paul said.

He began, first, to talk to the governor about righteousness, or about God's expectation of humanity, his rightful demand upon us. Here he is dealing, basically, with the purpose of life. Why are you here? What has God put you into the world to do? All through the Gospels, you find Jesus constantly unveiling before men the purpose of human life: It is to produce true manhood and womanhood, the righteousness of God, the proper behavior expected of mankind.

Then he went on to talk about self-control. Here is a word which appears only one other time in Paul's letters -- during his listing of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. If the Holy Spirit is in us then he is producing the life of Christ in us, and we will be characterized by love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). That is the word used here. When Paul talked with Felix about self-control he was talking about the fruit of the Spirit, and of the provision God makes to meet the demand for righteousness. In other words, God not only asks men to behave rightly, but he also makes available to them the power by which to do it.

As Paul reasoned with Felix of the demand of God, he also told him about the supply available to meet that demand, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and about the self-control which comes by means of the presence of the Holy Spirit in one's life. He didn't just argue with him about what he should have done; he also told him how he could have done it - how God has made provision in Jesus Christ for the Spirit of God to be released in us so that we can behave ourselves as we know we ought, and as God has designed us to do, to produce self-control. He told him about God's provision of grace in Jesus Christ, and about God's life in man.

Finally, Paul told him about the judgment to come. There is coming a time when every life is going to be evaluated, when each human being, without exception, will suddenly find himself standing naked before God, with all his life laid out for everyone to see. Then to all will be evident the value, or the lack of it, of the life they have lived. That is the judgment to come. Jesus spoke of this. He said that there will come a time when that which is spoken in secret shall be shouted from the housetops, and that which is hidden shall be revealed. All the hidden secrets of the heart and everything done in secret shall be openly displayed.

Judgment will be a time when everyone will see their life exactly as it was, with nothing hidden, nothing covered over, all of it there. Then the great question will be: "In the face of God's demand for righteousness, what did you do about the provision he made to make it possible? What did you do with Jesus Christ?" When Paul reasoned this way before the governor, he trembled. It all came home to him. But this was his response: "Go away, for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will summon you." He procrastinated, put it off. He did so because he had a problem. The fact that he delayed Paul's release, and then sent for him and even brought his wife to hear him, indicates that this man had a hunger for God. He wanted something from God; but, Luke says, he also wanted money from Paul. He had a double eye. He was looking in two directions.

Jesus said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all other things shall be added to you," {cf, Matt 6:33 KJV}. But you can't put them on the same level of priority. You can't want God and money. That is what destroys men. That is what blinded this man so that he could not see the exceeding importance of this moment.

Felix had one of the most unusual opportunities ever afforded a human being: To spend hours with the Apostle Paul, to hear the clarity of his revelation of the nature of reality, of the way things really are, and to understand the provision God has made to meet it, to understand the truth as it is in Jesus. But he passed it by, turned his back and walked away. "Go away," he said, "until I have a more convenient season, a better opportunity."

Luke's last sentence sums it all up:

27But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.

There was absolutely no legal reason for this delay, only political expediency. Felix desired to do the Jews a favor. He left Paul in prison. Paul was anxious to be on about his ministry, and yet he continued to be held in jail through no legal fault of his own. He should have been set free and Felix continued to hold him in confinement and delay the fulfillment of his hope to get to Rome.

Yet God's delays are always times of learning. Although we are not told any more about what happened to the apostle during his two years of arrest, we can speculate that out of this time came many of the great truths which are reflected in Paul's letters. His letters to the Ephesians, the Colossians, the Philippians, to Philemon, were all written after this. In Philippians there is a passage which may well have grown out of his time in confinement. In the fourth chapter of Philippians, the apostle says,

Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

That is what you learn in a time of waiting.

 

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