“The secret of Roman government was the principle of indirect rule,” wrote Arnold Toynbee. This meant that the real burden of administration was left pretty much on the shoulders of the local authorities. Imperial Rome got involved only if there was danger from without or if the local governing units were at odds with one another. In this chapter we see the Roman legal system at work and three men each making his contribution.
Who will win?
Tertullus, the Accuser;
Paul, the Witness to Truth;
Felix, The Foolish
Tertullus began with the customary flattery, a normal part of the judicial routine. After all, before you can win your case, you must win over your judge. He brought three charges: a personal charge (“he is a pestilent fellow”), a political charge (sedition and leading an illegal religion), and a doctrinal charge (profaning the temple). This first accusation reminds us of the charges brought against the Lord Jesus at His trial (Luke 23:1–2, 5). Of course, his statement was an exaggeration, but how many court cases have been won by somebody stretching the truth?
For the most part, Roman officials like Felix did not want anything to do with cases involving Jewish law (John 18:28–31; Acts 16:35–40; 18:12–17). The fewer Jews who ended up in Roman courts, the better it would be for the empire. Tertullus had to present this third charge in a way that made the Jews look good without making the Romans look too bad, and he did a good job.
Paul did not flatter Felix (see 1 Thess. 2:1–6); he merely acknowledged that the governor was a man of experience and therefore a man of knowledge. After this brief but honest introduction, Paul then proceeded to answer the charges of Tertullus.
Even though the high priest was a Sadducee, there were certainly Pharisees in the official Jewish delegation, so Paul appealed once again to their religious roots in the Scriptures. The fact that Paul was a Christian did not mean that he worshipped a different God from the God of his fathers. It only meant he worshipped the God of his fathers in a new and living way, for the only acceptable way to worship the Father is through Jesus Christ (John 5:23). His faith was still founded on the Old Testament Scriptures, and they bore witness to Jesus Christ
Paul and the early Christians did not see themselves as “former Jews” but as “fulfilled Jews.” The Old Testament was a new book to them because they had found their Messiah. They knew that they no longer needed the rituals of the Jewish law in order to please God, but they saw in these ceremonies and ordinances a revelation of the Savior. Both as a Pharisee and a Christian, Paul had “taken pains” always to have a good conscience and to seek to please the Lord.
Paul closed his defense by replying to the members of the Jewish council (Acts 24:20–21). Instead of giving him a fair hearing, the high priest and the Sanhedrin had abused him and refused to hear him out. Ananias was no doubt grateful that Paul said nothing about his slap in the face, for it was not legal for a Roman citizen to be treated that way.
Do we detect a bit of holy sarcasm in Paul’s closing statement? We might paraphrase it, “If I have done anything evil, it is probably this: I reminded the Jewish council of our great Jewish doctrine of the resurrection.” Remember, the book of Acts is a record of the early church’s witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:22).
Felix was full of foolish attitudes. If ever a man failed both personally and officially, that man was Felix, procurator of Judea. He certainly could not plead ignorance of the facts, because he was “well acquainted with the Way” (Acts 24:22 niv). His wife, Drusilla, was a Jewess and perhaps kept him informed of the activities among her people, and as a Roman official, he would carefully (if privately) investigate these things. He saw the light, but he preferred to live in the darkness.
Felix saw to it that Paul was comfortably cared for while at the same time safely guarded. “Liberty” in Acts 24:23 means that he was not put in the common jail or kept in close confinement. He had limited freedom in the palace, chained to a soldier.
(Thanks to commentary of Warren Wiersby for background information of this chapter.)
ACTS—God’s Actions through His Disciples
Acts 24, The Message
Paul States His Defense
1-4 Within five days, the Chief Priest Ananias arrived with a contingent of leaders, along with Tertullus, a trial lawyer. They presented the governor with their case against Paul. When Paul was called before the court, Tertullus spoke for the prosecution: “Most Honorable Felix, we are most grateful in all times and places for your wise and gentle rule. We are much aware that it is because of you and you alone that we enjoy all this peace and gain daily profit from your reforms. I’m not going to tire you out with a long speech. I beg your kind indulgence in listening to me. I’ll be quite brief.
5-8 “We’ve found this man time and again disturbing the peace, stirring up riots against Jews all over the world, the ringleader of a seditious sect called Nazarenes. He’s a real bad apple, I must say. We caught him trying to defile our holy Temple and arrested him. You’ll be able to verify all these accusations when you examine him yourself.”
9 The Jews joined in: “Hear, hear! That’s right!”
10-13 The governor motioned to Paul that it was now his turn. Paul said, “I count myself fortunate to be defending myself before you, Governor, knowing how fair-minded you’ve been in judging us all these years. I’ve been back in the country only twelve days—you can check out these dates easily enough. I came with the express purpose of worshiping in Jerusalem on Pentecost, and I’ve been minding my own business the whole time. Nobody can say they saw me arguing in the Temple or working up a crowd in the streets. Not one of their charges can be backed up with evidence or witnesses.
14-15 “But I do freely admit this: In regard to the Way, which they malign as a dead-end street, I serve and worship the very same God served and worshiped by all our ancestors and embrace everything written in all our Scriptures. And I admit to living in hopeful anticipation that God will raise the dead, both the good and the bad. If that’s my crime, my accusers are just as guilty as I am.
16-19 “Believe me, I do my level best to keep a clear conscience before God and my neighbors in everything I do. I’ve been out of the country for a number of years and now I’m back. While I was away, I took up a collection for the poor and brought that with me, along with offerings for the Temple. It was while making those offerings that they found me quietly at my prayers in the Temple. There was no crowd, there was no disturbance. It was some Jews from around Ephesus who started all this trouble. And you’ll notice they’re not here today. They’re cowards, too cowardly to accuse me in front of you.
20-21 “So ask these others what crime they’ve caught me in. Don’t let them hide behind this smooth-talking Tertullus. The only thing they have on me is that one sentence I shouted out in the council: ‘It’s because I believe in the resurrection that I’ve been hauled into this court!’ Does that sound to you like grounds for a criminal case?”
22-23 Felix waffled. He knew far more about the Way than he let on, and could have settled the case then and there. But uncertain of his best move politically, he played for time. “When Captain Lysias comes down, I’ll decide your case.” He gave orders to the centurion to keep Paul in custody, but to more or less give him the run of the place and not prevent his friends from helping him.
24-26 A few days later Felix and his wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish, sent for Paul and listened to him talk about a life of believing in Jesus Christ. As Paul continued to insist on right relations with God and his people, about a life of moral discipline and the coming Judgment, Felix felt things getting a little too close for comfort and dismissed him. “That’s enough for today. I’ll call you back when it’s convenient.” At the same time he was secretly hoping that Paul would offer him a substantial bribe. These conversations were repeated frequently.
27 After two years of this, Felix was replaced by Porcius Festus. Still playing up to the Jews and ignoring justice, Felix left Paul in prison.
THINK ABOUT IT…
Too close for comfort is the example of the world today. We come close enough to be impressed by Jesus but not committed enough to believe and follow Him as Lord of our lives. We fit Jesus into our “already scheduled programming”! Paul definitely had an impact on Felix and his wife through his witness of Jesus as Savior and Lord. Not only was Felix’s mind informed, but his heart was moved by fear, and yet he would not obey the truth. It is not enough for a person to know the facts about Christ, or to have an emotional response to a message. He or she must willingly repent of sin and trust the Savior.
Felix left Paul in prison for his own selfish reasons. He wanted to hear Paul speak Truth until Paul came too close for his own comfort. Maybe Felix and his wife thought that they were closer to God if they kept Paul in their pocket to be pulled out and used to soothe their own guilty conscious from time to time. But as far as we know, Felix never converted to The Way, The Truth and The Life of Jesus.
Friends, isn’t that like many in the world today? Is it like us? We seek a Savior but when Jesus asks us to come closer, to feel the beat of His heart, the sound of His voice, to lean on Him through troubles and to walk with Him daily, we shy away, shrug our shoulders and think, “some other time”. We think we have time. But the Truth is we miss out on all the wonderful moments we could experience with Jesus.
Lord and Savior,
Thank you for saving my soul, making me whole, pointing out how to live life to the full while correcting my course for your best in me. This is momentous work to be done in me and in all of us who really believe that you are really real. Please continue your work of salvation in me for I have not arrived yet. But you know that, and you are lovingly patient with me. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all you have done, are doing and will do in my life. I am forever grateful.
In Jesus Name, Amen. I believe.