Paul finally gets to testify before the Roman rulers of the world. Paul appears before the Roman Governor Felix to hear the accusations against him, then Paul’s defense, and the response of the Governor to Paul’s presentation of the Gospel. Felix was an interesting guy because he started out as a slave, then he became a freedman who pandered to the depravity of the Emperor Claudius which enabled him to rise within the court until he was awarded the governorship of Judea (the surrounding area of Jerusalem). During Felix’s rule rebellions increased dramatically, and the great historian Josephus wrote that Felix routinely crucified all the leaders. The Roman historian Tacitus described Felix as “a master of cruelty and lust”. Felix was known to be corrupt, bribable, and finally the next Emperor Nero recalled him to Rome. You can imagine if a scumbag like Nero thought he was a crook how bad he really was. This was the man that Paul had to appear before, and who would determine Paul’s fate.
The Case Against Paul
Paul, in prison in Caesarea where the Governor’s Palace was located, was being charged with crimes by the Jewish Sanhedrin. The Jews hired a Roman lawyer, Tertullus to present their case against Paul. Tertullus started out by giving great praise and flattery to the Governor to soften him up with what was gross hypocrisy. I’m sure Felix was wondering what horrible crime Paul had committed to start a riot in Jerusalem, and then these Jewish leaders where going to such great lengths to have him done away with. Tertullus basically charged Paul with three crimes. First Paul was a troublemaker who would cause chaos and rebellion throughout the empire. Secondly, Paul was a leader of the bad heretical Nazarene sect. Worst of all, Paul tried to desecrate the Temple. This third charge was not true, because Paul had not taken any Gentiles into the Temple as they claimed. The Jewish mob had anticipated that Paul would do it so the mob attacked him. The Romans actually had arrested Paul in order to save him, and then removed him to Caesarea because of a plot by the Jewish leaders to murder Paul.
Paul’s Defense before Felix
In Acts 24:10-21, Paul gave his solid defense against the three charges. First of all, Paul pointed out that Felix had been a judge of Israel for years, so he knew how absurdly legalistic their traditions could be. First of all, Paul had only been there a few days so he would not have had time to stir up trouble. Paul was not even arguing with the crowds, but was at the Temple to worship the very same God that his accusers profess. Secondly, Paul was a follower of “the Way”. Notice that Paul would not refer to his belief in Christ as a sect because that had a connotation of heresy. Was Paul not permitted to practice his religion since Roman law permitted religious freedom? Thirdly, Paul did not desecrate the Temple. In fact, he was on a mission of mercy, having brought an offering to the poor. Paul was ceremonially clean since he was Jewish and had gone through the rites of purification. Therefore, his attackers had actually caused the riot. Paul added that the real reason they were angry with him was not for something he did in Jerusalem, but for what Paul had done in Asia. It was the Jews from Asia who brought charges against him, so where were they to testify against him?
Politically Correct—a Non-Decision
Felix no doubt knew that Paul was innocent, but like all crooked politicians, he felt the pressure from the crowd so he “passed the buck” on to Commander Lysias, the commander of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem.
Some time later Felix returned with his wife Drusilla, and as she had been raised a Jew, they must have thought of Paul as a curiosity, so they sent for him in Acts 24:24. Amazingly, they wanted to hear Paul speak about his faith in Jesus Christ. Paul delivered the truth of the gospel with boldness. Felix probably thought Paul would entertain him with new ideas, philosophy, or new theology. I think Paul had sparked his interest before when Paul mentioned at his trial, “For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today” (v.21). Nevertheless, Paul boldly spoke about necessary righteousness and the certainty of judgment. Felix had been married three times, had many illicit affairs, and was a ruthless crook so this was not what he wanted to hear. Since v.24 says they heard him speak about faith in Christ, Paul no doubt gave them the solution of forgiveness by believing in Jesus. But they only heard the judgment part, and they became fearful. Paul understood their repressed guilt, their sleepless nights, and their vain lust, but he was convinced that Christ could change all that. I wonder if Paul said something to them like he wrote to the Romans in 1:18, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness”.
The idea of the wrath of God scared them so much they sent Paul away promising to converse with him again. Did Felix’s fear of judgment bring him to Christ? Absolutely not, as we read of his hardness of heart in Acts 24:26 that the only contact they had after that was the seeking of a bribe. Felix had come to the climax of his life with Paul’s offer of salvation in Christ, but Felix had failed the test and rejected the Savior. In a real sense, his soul died that day. Paul had been faithful to share the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in that there was great success, but Felix had failed to receive his pardon in Christ. In two years Felix would be replaced by Festus, and Paul would get another opportunity to be a witness for Christ to the next Governor. Why does God allow evil like the false charges against Paul? How else was Paul going to get such opportunity to share the Gospel with Roman governors, and in Acts 27 they would send him to Rome, which is exactly where Paul wanted to go anyway. On the way there, in Acts 27, God used a terrible storm and shipwreck to enable Paul to convert all the people on the island of Malta (Acts 28). At the end of the Book of Acts, Paul was in Rome where he got the great opportunity to witness to the Praetorian Guard, which were the personal soldiers of Caesar. Paul also wrote four epistles from there that are in our New Testament.