“After 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. After 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, we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing. For 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. And he even tried to desecrate the temple; and then we arrested him.”
In Acts 23 a plot to kill Paul was revealed to the commander. So Paul was sent to Felix, the governor in Caesarea. Acts 23:23 says, “And he called to him two of the centurions and said, “Get two hundred soldiers ready by the third hour of the night to proceed to Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen.” They were also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” Felix regarded Paul as a “VIP” because he thought he was going to make a lot of money out of him. So he put Paul up in the governor’s palace, the Praetorium, until his accusers arrived.
The apostle Paul was about to launch into sharing the Gospel with the VIPs of the Roman Empire. In chapters 24-26 he declared the Gospel to three of the most famous people of his day: Felix, the present governor [procurator] of Judea; Festus, in chapter 25, the second governor to whom he witnessed; and finally in chapter 26 he witnessed to Herod Agrippa II, a member of one of the most famous families of the ancient world. During the next two years Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea and during that time he was heard by three separate judges. In each case the apostle Paul presented the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and clarified the issues with regard to eternal life. What was really being determined in these three trials was the judges’ eternal future.
The Sanhedrin woke up one day and realized that Paul had left town. Under Roman guard the apostle Paul had been brought safely to Caesarea, thus frustrating the plot of the forty Jewish assassins to kill him. So the Sanhedrin hired a lawyer named Tertullus to present their case before Felix and Ananias brought him to Caesarea. It was customary in those days for people who were not Roman citizens to hire attorneys to represent them in Roman courts.
Ananias, the Jewish high priest, had been exposed to Roman law some years before through being in trouble with the Samaritans, and he went before the Roman emperor Claudius for trial. The emperor decided in favor of Ananias and against the Samaritans. From that time Ananias the high priest was pro-Roman. So he came to this trial with great confidence and was certain that the Romans would again rule in his favor. The Jewish elders who came with Ananias were members of the Sanhedrin and would have no problem lying to the Roman court.
It can be seen immediately that the prosecutor had a weak case, and so he had to start by flattering Felix, the governor. Tertullus accused Paul of disturbing the peace and stirring up trouble. So he flattered Felix by complimenting him for keeping the peace. However this was not quite true. Actually Felix was stirring up a lot of trouble because of his greed. He had a criminal enterprise of his own going. The first charge against Paul was disturbing the peace, the second charge was being the leader of a faction called the Nazarenes and finally he accused him of profaning the Temple. Profaning the Temple would be considered an offense against both Jewish and Roman law since the Romans protected the Jews in the function of their worship and because the temples were “banks” in the ancient world. The implications of the charge are obvious: it was an attempt to make it sound as though Paul was raising a revolution against Rome.
[We wanted to judge him according to our own Law. But Lysias the commander came along, and with much violence took him out of our hands, ordering his accusers to come before you.] These verses, though true statements, are not found in the original Greek text. They were added by the translators somewhere along the way to clarify the story.
“By examining him yourself concerning all these matters you will be able to ascertain the things of which we accuse him.” The Jews also joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so.”
Tertullus was saying to Felix that if he examined Paul he would see that what he had said was true: Paul had disturbed the peace, had led a revolt against the Jews and against Rome, and had profaned the Temple. The religious Jews who had come from Jerusalem also joined the indictment alleging that these things were true.
“When 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 since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. Neither 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. Nor can they prove to you the charges of which they now accuse me.”
Felix had to follow the Roman system of law which said that a person was innocent until proven guilty and there could be no guilt proven until the defendant had a chance to answer the charges against him. The Greek word for nodded is “neuo,” which meant that the governor looked down his nose and nodded, and that was the signal for the defense (Paul) to speak. This is important to note because it tells us that at least Felix was seemingly going to follow the correct Roman trial procedures.
Paul began by saying that he was delighted to defend himself before Felix because Felix had a great deal of experience as a judge. Paul appealed to the spirit of Roman law and to an objective attitude on the part of the judge expecting a fair hearing for the defense. Paul was himself familiar with Roman law and therefore he was going to be logical and impersonal. Paul avoided flattery [such as the flattery of Tertullus] but he did not neglect courtesy. Paul denied the charges and demanded proof of guilt. Paul distinguished between accusation and proof.
“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; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.”
Felix could never understand the spiritual implications of what Paul did, but he could certainly understand the legal implications because legally Paul was innocent. Paul had been charged with having started a riot, with being a revolutionary, and of profaning the Temple. He was now going to show that it was humanly impossible to have been in Jerusalem for twelve days, to have been incarcerated for half of those twelve days, and still have time to have done these things he was being accused of. And he said he came to Jerusalem to worship, not to stir up trouble. The word to worship means to do homage, to reverence God. His whole purpose in coming to Jerusalem was to worship, and this was absolutely contrary to rioting, to starting a revolution, and to profaning the Temple. Paul was saying you can’t come to worship in the Temple and come to profane the Temple at the same time.
Paul turned the tables on his accusers by claiming that they were the ones who were profaning the Temple and their own spiritual heritage. The Old Testament Scriptures were patterns pointing to Christ. Judaism recognized the Old Testament Scriptures, therefore they should have recognized Jesus Christ. But they did not. It was Paul who acknowledged the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures, these people did not. Paul said his conscience was clear before God and men. Therefore he asked why the men who stirred up this controversy in the first place, the Jews from Asia, were not present. Everyone under Roman law had the right to face their accusers.
“Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings; in which they found me occupied in the temple, having been purified, without any crowd or uproar. But there were some Jews from Asia — who ought to have been present before you and to make accusation, if they should have anything against me. Or else let these men themselves tell what misdeed they found when I stood before the Council, other 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.’”
Now Paul began to state the true facts of the case against him. They had not brought up one bit of evidence to show Paul had been profaning the Temple, that he was in the synagogues all over Judea talking against Rome or that he had incited a riot. They had no evidence. The only people who had accused Paul in the Temple and who had caused all the trouble were the Asian Jews, and they didn’t even show their faces in the Roman court. They didn’t dare because they were in violation of Roman law and could have been seized and punished if the case showed them to be the instigators. So the very witnesses against Paul did not even show up because they were the ones who actually started the riot, not Paul.
Notice that they did not produce as evidence the account of the previous trial in Jerusalem. They didn’t mention it because what happened was the Sanhedrin, instead of trying Paul, got into a battle among themselves over resurrection. Furthermore, if they brought up the previous trial they would have to give a complete account—and it had ended up in a riot! The Romans had to rescue Paul before he was killed. Once Paul mentioned that he was being judged because of the resurrection, Felix knew immediately that this didn’t have anything to do with Roman law.
“But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.” Then 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. But 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. But 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.” At 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. But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.”
Felix knew that Paul was not guilty, but Felix was an opportunist and sought to use the situation to his political and monetary advantage. So Felix said he wanted more facts from other sources. He continued to keep Paul under house arrest until Paul’s departure to Rome, hoping he would receive money in the form of a bride. Felix was thinking that if he let Paul’s friends come and go freely they would bring Paul money to pay for his release.
Felix’s wife Drusilla who is mentioned here was one half Arab and one half Jewish. When a person had any Jewish blood at all they were considered to be Jews. Felix invited Paul to spend the day with him and his wife and the Gospel was shared with two of the most famous people in the Roman Empire at this time. There were a lot of conversations during the day when he was at the palace with them. The Greek word for discussing is “dialegomai” and means to teach in a conversation. It means that during the day Paul constantly discussed faith in Christ with them.
Paul witnessed to Felix and Drusilla in the same manner that the Holy Spirit convicts a person –of sin (because they believe not in Me), of righteousness (because I go to the Father and you no longer see me) and of judgment (because the ruler of this world has been judged).(John 16:8-11)Felix was fearful, perhaps realizing he was going to be judged by God, so he sent Paul away not wanting to hear any more about Jesus Christ. But Felix continued speaking with Paul in the hope that a bribe was forthcoming. Two years passed and Felix was replaced by Porcius Festus. Once Festus came, Paul was no longer treated in the manner in which Felix had done because Festus wasn’t interested in a bribe.