In Acts 21 we read how Paul arrived in Jerusalem. And some Jews from the province of Asia saw him in the temple. And they stirred up the crowd who was there so that they seized Paul. And because they were trying to kill him, the Roman commander sent his men to rescue Paul from out of their hands. However, the Roman commander assumed that Paul must have done something wrong, so he had Paul arrested. And do you remember? He was going to have Paul flogged in order to extract a confession out of him. But Paul revealed that he was a Roman citizen. And since it wasn’t right for a Roman citizen to be flogged without a trial, the flogging was stopped. But still the commander wanted to know what Paul had done wrong. So, in chapter 23, he brought Paul to the Sanhedrin to stand trial before his accusers. Well, during the proceedings, Paul announced that he was on trial because of his hope in the resurrection. And, of course, he was thinking about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. But his statement divided the Sanhedrin because, while the Pharisees believed that God would one day raise the dead, the Sadducees did not. And so, these two groups within the Sanhedrin began to argue with one another. And the dispute became so violent that the Roman commander felt it was necessary to bring Paul back into the barracks to keep him safe.
The next morning, the Jews began to plot how they might kill Paul. But Paul’s nephew heard about it. And he told Paul. And Paul arranged for him to tell the Roman commander. And the Roman commander decided to send Paul straightaway to Felix, the Roman Governor in Caesarea. And so, chapter 23 ended with Paul being held in the palace in Caesarea, waiting for his accusers to come so that Felix could hear their case again the Apostle.
Verses 1 to 9
From verse 1 of chapter 24 we learn that Felix did not have to wait long. Five days later, Ananias the Jewish High Priest arrived in Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer, named Tertullus. It was the custom in those days for the accusers to state their case before the governor before the defendant was brought in. And that’s what happened on this occasion, because, according to verse 1, they met with Felix and reported to him the charges they had against Paul. Presumably, this initial hearing was to determine whether they really had a case and whether the trial should proceed. And clearly Felix decided that their case against Paul was worth hearing, because in verse 2 we read that Paul was brought in to face his accusers. The trial had begun.
Tertullus began by praising the governor. This was standard practice. You began such a speech by complimenting the Roman governor. But the praise he gives to Felix is connected to the charge against Paul. You see, they’re about to accuse Paul of being a troublemaker. And so he begins by praising Felix for the peace they’ve enjoyed under his governorship. And, of course, the hint is that since you’ve ensured that the province has been peaceful up to now, then the best way to ensure the peace of the province now is by getting rid of Paul the troublemaker.
And with the preliminaries over, Tertullus sets out the charges against Paul in verse 5 and onwards. And, of course, this is really only a summary of what he said. No doubt he said much more than Luke has recorded here. But look at the summary we have. First of all, he charges Paul with being a troublemaker. In fact, a better translation is that he called Paul a plague or a pestilance. In other words, he’s like a dangerous and deadly disease which needs to be stopped before it infects the whole nation. Then he accused Paul of stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He’s saying that wherever Paul goes in the Roman Empire, he causes trouble. And that was a very serious charge because rebellion and causing civil disturbances was a capital offence in the Roman Empire. And, of course, Tertullus is also being very smart. The one thing the governor had to do, the most important thing he had to do as a governor, was to keep the peace. If a governor wanted to keep his job, and if he wanted to please the Emperor, then he needed to keep the peace. And that meant removing anyone who caused a disturbance. And so, Tertullus was saying to Felix: ‘Paul’s a troublemaker. He causes riots. He threatens the peace of the Empire. You need to get rid of him.’
Next, Tertullus accused Paul of being a ringleader of the Nazarene sect who tried to desecrate the temple. Well, the Christian faith was called ‘the Nazarene sect’ because Christians are followers of Jesus of Nazareth. And Tertullus accused Paul of attempting to desecrate the temple, which again was a very serious offence. And he’s saying: ‘That’s why we seized him. We had to seize Paul before he desecrated our temple.’
In verse 8 he invites Felix to examine Paul for himself. And the other Jews who were present joined in. They were all trying to persuade Felix that everything Tertullus had said about Paul was true.
Verses 10 to 23
In verses 10 to 23 we have Paul’s defence. In verse 11 he makes the point that he arrived in Jerusalem no more than 12 days ago. In other words, he’s telling Felix that these events happened very recently and so it should be any easy matter for Felix to find eye-witnesses whose memory of what happened in Jerusalem is still fresh.
And Paul also presents himself as a good and faithful Jew. Look again at verse 12: The reason he went to Jerusalem was to worship in the temple. So, he wasn’t going there to cause trouble or to stir up a riot. He was simply going to worship the Lord like any Jew would do.
Then in verse 12 he denies the charge that he was a troublemaker. You know: he wasn’t arguing with anyone in the temple. He wasn’t stirring up the crowd in the synagogue. He wasn’t causing trouble anywhere in the city. The charges against him cannot be proven.
But then, in verse 14, Paul makes a confession. The defendant is about to confess! But what’s the nature of his confession? Well, he confesses that he’s a good and faithful Jew who worships the God their fathers. In other words, he believes in and he worships the same God that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob worshipped. However, he admits that he worships the God of their fathers as a follower of the Way. And here he’s referring to the Christian faith. And what he’s saying is that he’s not advocating a new religion. He’s not worshipping a new god. He’s worships the same God that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob worshipped, but now he has come to believe that all of the promises in the Old Testament about the coming Saviour were about Jesus Christ. And though his accusers may call Christianity a sect, they ought to understand that Christians are the ones who truly believe everything that’s in the Law and the Prophets because the Law and the Prophets testify to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In verse 15 Paul again mentions the doctrine of the resurrection. The righteous will rise to go into everlasting life. The wicked will rise to be sent away into everlasting punishment. And since the righteous and the wicked will both rise — one to honour and the other to dishonour — Paul has always tried to keep his conscience clear before God and man. Do you see that in verse 16? They’re accusing him of being a trouble-maker. They’re accusing him of stirring up trouble. They’re accusing him of desecrating the temple. But no. He’s always tried to walk in the walks of the Lord and to do his will. They claim he went to Jerusalem to stir up trouble. But no. He’s always tried to do what’s right before the Lord.
Paul continues to make the same point in the verses which follow. Look at verse 17: The reason he went to Jerusalem was to bring some gifts to the poor. He’s probably referring to the money he raised among the churches which he mentions in Romans 15 and in 1 Cor. 16 and in 2 Cor. 8 an in 2 Cor. 9. Do you remember? Gentile believers in Macedonia and Achaia were asked to raise money to send to Jerusalem in order to support the Jewish believers. And Paul also mentions how he presented offerings at the temple. And in answer to the charge that he desecrated the temple, he points out that he had been careful to purify himself so that he was ceremonially clean whenever he entered the temple. So, he hadn’t desecrated it. And there was no crowd with him. And he didn’t cause any disturbance himself.
And then, in verse 19, he refers to the Jews from the province of Asia. They’re the ones who accused Paul in the beginning and stirred up the crowd in Jerusalem to attack him. So, Paul wants to know, why aren’t they here? If they had really something against him, then they ought to be there, making their case before Felix. Well, the fact that they’re not there suggests that they really have no case against him.
So, this is Paul’s defence. He didn’t go up to Jerusalem to cause trouble, but to worship the Lord. He didn’t desecrate the temple, because he was careful to purify himself before he entered it. He’s not a trouble-maker, because he believes everything that the Law and the Prophets teach. Those who stirred up the crowd against him in the first place haven’t appeared in court to accuse him. He’s entirely innocent of the charges against him.
And then in verse 21 he returns to the doctrine of the resurrection and he makes clear that he’s been accused because of his belief in the resurrection of the dead. And, of course, that’s it, isn’t it? The Jews hate him and want rid of him because he believes not simply that the dead will rise, but he believes that Jesus rose from the dead. If he didn’t believe that, then they would have left him alone. But because he believes in it, and because he preaches it, they hate him.
And with that, Felix decided to suspend the proceedings until the Roman commander from Jerusalem came down. And Paul is put under guard.
Many of the Bible commentators believe that Paul wrote many of his New Testament letters while he was kept under guard in Caesarea. Isn’t that interesting? The Lord — who is able to work all things together for good, and who is able to bring great good out of great evil — enabled Paul to make the best use of this time in prison; and, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he was able to write to the Colossians and the Ephesians and to the Philippians and to Philemon and to Timothy and declare to them the good news of the gospel and how they might serve the Lord and remain faithful to him just as Paul remained faithful to him even when he was being falsely accused by his enemies. Isn’t that interesting? We go through troubles and trials. And we ask: ‘Why has the Lord allowed this to happen to me?’ But we need to remember and believe that our times are in his hands and he’s able to bring great good out of the evil that happens to us. And we ought to pray for his help to submit to his will for us and to remain faithful to him in whatever situation we find ourselves.
Verses 24 to 27
But look now at the follow up. Several days later, Felix, the governor, summoned Paul; and he and his wife listened to Paul who spoke to them about what? About faith in Christ Jesus (v. 24).
Was Felix convinced by what he heard? Look at verse 25: Paul’s message made him afraid. Presumably, he was afraid of the judgment to come. But instead of trusting in Christ, he did what so many others do. He said: ‘That’s enough for now. I’ll think about this later.’
But look now at verse 26: He was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe in order to be released. Isn’t that sad? Paul was able to tell him how to receive the crown of life. He was able to tell him about how to receive everlasting riches in the presence of God. Paul had something more precious than gold to give to him. But Felix, in the end, was only interested in money.
And, look at verse 27: After two years Felix was replaced. But instead of releasing Paul, he left him in prison. And the reason he left him in prison was because, verse 27 tells us, he wanted to grant a favour to the Jews.
So, not only did he want a bribe from Paul, but he wanted to please the Jews. In other words, instead of doing what was right, he did what would please the Jews so that they would think well of him. So, here’s a man who really was only interested in this world and the things this world could offer him: things like wealth and popularity. And if he’d only listened to Paul, if he’d only believed Paul’s message, he could have received treasure in heaven and he could have had favour with God.
But look at Paul: He always sought to please the Lord, even when he was in prison. And though it must have seemed at times that the whole world hated him, Paul wanted to remain faithful to his Saviour who promises to raise our bodies from the dead and to give us eternal peace and rest.