Acts 24:1–27 . . .
“Paul’s Trial Before Governor Felix”
Talking about "character and integrity" and living it aren't one in the same. When we find a man whose life radiates integrity, we should pause and learn from him. Apostle Paul was such a man. In his defense before Antonius Felix to the charges that the Jewish leaders brought against him, Paul proclaimed his integrity by saying, “I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (v. 16). Paul not only proclaimed his integrity, he lived it! The proof of Paul’s integrity was the great impact he'd had on so many, down through the centuries.
Luke contrasts Paul’s integrity with the glaring lack of integrity of a certain lawyer, Tertullus, who was willing, for a fee, to take up the Jewish leaders’ slanderous accusations against Paul. And, although Luke doesn't say anything derogatory against the Roman governor, Felix, it was common knowledge that he was a scoundrel; he was a slave who gained his freedom and rose to power through his connections. The historian, Tacitus, described Felix as "one who reveled in cruelty and lust, wielding the power of a king with the mind of a slave." He dealt with insurrection by crucifying hundreds of rebels. If Tertullus could convince Felix that Paul the renegade was a seditious man, it wouldn't bother Felix’s conscience in the least to crucify him or lop off his head.
Luke clearly presents Paul as the defendant on trial. But, if we pay close attention, we'll see that it's actually the gospel of Jesus Christ that's on trial. If Paul hadn’t been the hearty Christian who'd shared the gospel with many, he'd have never faced trial in the first place. Every time the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was told and heard, it was on trial. And because every trial demands a verdict, the gospel of Jesus Christ demands a decision. As a spectator of this trial of the gospel, keep your eyes, ears, and mind open and alert. We have here a man of integrity up against (1) a lawyer, (2) a group of Jewish leaders who'd tried to assassinate him, and (3) a governor who notoriously lacked integrity. Paul teaches us: We can live with integrity by speaking the truth, living in line with Scripture, and keeping a blameless conscience before God and men. Bear in mind that a life of integrity doesn't shield us from being falsely accused.
The structure of our text is simple and straightforward in four groups. The first nine verses are Luke’s account of the accusations made against Paul by the Jews, as represented by Tertullus, the lawyer; Luke presents Paul's defense in vv. 10–21; we learn in vv. 22–23 of Felix’s decision (or indecision); and the final verses (24–27) are an epilogue, describing the dialogs that took place between Felix (and Drusilla, his wife, at times) and Paul, over the two-year period of his incarceration in Caesarea.
The Jews Hire a High-Powered Attorney to Try Paul (24:1–9)
When you review Paul's efforts and accomplishments as a result of riots and trials, as depicted in chapters 20 through 23, we come to our text, ready to observe Paul on trial again, in a different court, and with different players. How will the Jews prosecute Paul? How will Paul do this time? Will he make his case? In order to better grasp the drama of this latest courtroom event, try not to think ahead of the story but to think of this trial as a rematch; we'll then consider the outcome and the lessons that God has for us in Luke's text.
Five days after Paul was transferred to Caesarea, High Priest Ananias and his priestly entourage from Jerusalem showed up to make their case against Paul. Their advocate, Tertullus, was a professional lobbyist and a powerful public speaker. Before he launched into his prosecution against Paul, as a "false witness," he wisely lavished the governor with flattering words that weren’t exactly true. Obviously, his intention was to win the governor’s favor when he uttered, “We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation” (v. 2). Actually, Israel had suffered numerous conflicts! And no one liked the reforms that took place under Felix’s administration.
Paul wasn't the only victim of false witnessing; the gospel itself was being smeared. When Tertullus lied about Paul he also lied about the nature of the gospel. Jesus himself was the victim of false witnessing when the Jews lied about him to Pontius Pilate; the gospel has been the victim of false witnessing in every generation since. When people feel threatened by Christianity, they often try to discredit it by making up lies about it and/or its representatives.
Paul’s Testimony to Defend Himself (vv. 10–21)
Paul’s defense is recorded in vv. 10–21. He began with an introductory statement that Luke reports in vv. 10b–13. In vv. 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 that were made against him (vv. 17–21).
There's no intent on Paul's part to flatter Felix with false or deceptive words about the glories of his leadership. He expressed thankfulness that Felix wasn't a novice but a man of considerable experience in dealing with Jews (v. 10) and Christians (v. 22). Paul expressed confidence that the things he'd present in his defense would resonate with all that Felix had learned about the Jews during his years as governor (and, during his years of marriage to a Jewess [v. 24]). There's no attempt to flatter here, only an expression of gratitude. Paul was grateful that he could present his case to a man who was knowledgeable in these matters.
In vv. 11–13, Paul summarizes his defense. It had been only twelve days prior that he'd gone up to Jerusalem to worship. That was hardly enough time to create the kind of disturbance that his accuser had just intimated. Beyond this, he'd gone to Jerusalem to worship, not to cause trouble. He wasn't arguing or debating with others in the normal places for such activities. He felt: Let those who were accusing me prove otherwise. (That would have been hard to do, since his accusers hadn't witnessed Paul committing the alleged crimes in the temple. Neither were those who'd falsely accused him present.)
Paul defended the charge that he was a cult leader outside the boundaries of Jewish orthodoxy (vv. 14–16). If it could be shown that he wasn't really a Jew, but some kind of cult leader, his religious freedoms would be revoked and he'd no longer be able to preach the gospel under the protection of Rome. We recall that a similar charge was leveled at Paul in Corinth, however, Gallio threw it out of court (see that account in Warren's summary of Acts 18:1–17). Gallio recognized that there were strong factions within Judaism. Now the same charge was raised again with Paul skillfully refuting it.
Tertullus accused Paul of being a ringleader of a sect of the Nazarenes. Paul didn't deny that he was a follower of “the Way” and that it was regarded by some as a sect. But he refused to grant that “the Way” was a departure from true Judaism. He worshiped “the God of our ancestors” and believed everything written in the Law and in the Prophets (v. 14). His faith didn't deny or denounce the Old Testament Scriptures; instead, Paul's faith was the fulfillment of these Scriptures.
Felix’s Indecision (vv. 22–23)
After Paul defended himself and the gospel compellingly from these false accusations, Felix should have acquitted him. There certainly wasn’t enough evidence to convict Paul, but Felix was reluctant to displease the Jews out of personal political fear, so he delayed his decision. He adjourned the proceedings, telling Paul that he'd wait until Claudius Lysias arrived from Jerusalem before he made his final decision.
Yes, Felix delayed his decision on Paul’s case; more importantly he delayed his decision about the gospel. Notice in v. 22 that Luke tells us that Felix was already acquainted with the Christian faith. We don’t know how much of the gospel of Jesus Christ he knew or how he knew it, but he at least had a basic understanding of the faith.
Decision Gives Way to Dialogue (vv. 24–27)
Add to that the fact that Felix and his wife Drusilla, a Jew, listened to Paul share more of the gospel. As today's video clip highlights definitively, Paul filled in all the details about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ while he discoursed on righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come. Paul’s teaching almost scared the hell out of Felix, but not quite. Just as Felix had done in Paul’s case, he delayed his decision about the gospel. Even though it seems that Felix believed that the gospel was true, he said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”
It's likely that many good things took place during the two years that Paul waited to go to Rome (v. 27), but Luke chose not to mention them. The one thing he does include in his account is the frequent discussions that took place between Felix the politician (with at least one meeting that included his wife) and Paul the gospel preacher.
Felix must have told Drusilla about the trial, and she seems to have expressed interest in hearing the message that Paul had been proclaiming for two years. At any rate, Luke tells us that after some days passed, Felix and his wife returned to Caesarea 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 seems to have had some interest in the gospel; and (3) he also hoped that Paul might offer him money (a bribe) to speed up the wheels of justice.
Because Felix wanted to do the Jews a favor, he left Paul in prison (v. 27). After two years had passed, Governor Porcius Festus succeeded Governor Felix who never did “gain more information” and never pronounced a verdict. In the end, while Paul, the man of character and integrity, remained in prison, God removed Felix from office. The gospel is always on trial. Alas, Felix and Drusilla lost the opportunity to learn the gospel, decide to accept it, and then follow Jesus.
- Q. 1 What's the difference between being "well acquainted with the Way" (v. 22) and being a true believer?
- Q. 2 Did Paul's faith in the Way deny or denounce Old Testament Scriptures? The Law and the Prophets? The Temple? Why or why not?
New International Version (NIV) [View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 24.]
† Watch these video clips: Acts 22:18–24:12, followed by 24:13–26:10, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.
Paul’s Trial Before Felix
24 Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. 2When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: “We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. 3Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. 4But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.
5“We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect 6and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him.  [See note on v. 7] 8By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.”
9 The other Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.
10 When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. 11You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.
17“After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. 18I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. 19But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. 20Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin — 21unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’”
22Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.” 23He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.
24Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” 26At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.
27When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.