Acts: For the Cause of Christ #32
Title: Paul’s 2nd Trial
Last week we saw Paul before the Jewish Sanhedrin which turned into a dangerous debate over doctrine. Some Jews then plotted to kill Paul if the Sanhedrin could get Paul out of the Roman fortress. The Roman Commander, having hearing of the plot, sends Paul with a military escort to Caesarea to the Governor Felix for a more formal trial.
Will Paul be able to get to Rome soon? What will Felix do?
Prosecutor’s Remarks – vs 1-9
After five days, Paul’s trial can begin. Ananias and a delegation from the Sanhedrin along with lawyer or orator to make their case against Paul.
As was common, those bringing the charges or claim spoke first to present their case to the governor. In true lawyer fashion, especially of the time, Tertullus gives Felix a heavy coating of flattery (2-4). He’s laying it on real thick folks, I doubt very much that any average Jew that would have heard Tertullus’ comments that day would have agreed with him. Both a Roman and a Jewish historian tells us that Felix was rather fierce in his governorship. But the lawyer continues to present his case against Paul.
There are three charges that the Sanhedrin are leveling against Paul. First: Treason against Rome. They call him a plague or pestilence and an agitator among the Jews. They’re blaming Paul for inciting riots and problems among the Jews throughout the Empire. In recent years there had been uprisings in major cities such as Rome and Alexandria, two places Paul has not been; true Paul was in cities closer to home where riots happened, Thessalonica, Corinth, Ephesus, in southern Galatia, and Jerusalem; but we know that he had actually started or incited any of these riots. Second charge: Religious heresy. Paul is called a “ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes”, here they are trying to say he has violated Mosaic Law. The Third charge: Temple desecration. In chapter 21, the original charge was the Paul had brought a Greek in the restricted area, now the Sanhedrin seemed satisfied to soften the charge to Paul had tried to and they had apprehended him.
Now there is debate over the inclusion of the second half over 6 through the beginning of verse 8, for our purposes today, we will include this section of verses. By including these verses we see that Tertullus is trying to score points against Lysias, and taking an even more free hand with the truth than Lysias had done in his letter. The Jews were trying to keep the peace by having the Temple Police arrest Paul so that the Jews could try him, but Lysias had troops rush in violently to grab Paul and is wasting everyone’s time by making everyone come to Caesarea. Tertullus implies that if Lysias were present Felix could get the same story from him. We know that if Lysias and the Romans had not rescued Paul, the Jewish mob would have beaten him to death, not try him according the Law.
Once Tertullus had finished, the Jewish delegation all vehemently agreed with him and joined in the attack against Paul. The prosecution has rested its case. I think that Tertullus’ tactic was that by accusing Paul of causing Jewish riots around the Empire Felix may just have him executed and be done with it, or if Felix wasn’t convinced of that charge, maybe by claiming the Jews had real legal reasons to try Paul, Felix would just send him back with them to deal with.
Defense’s Rebuttal – vs 10-21
Now that the Jews had given their trumped up charges, Paul was able to speak in his defense. (v 10)
Paul says that Felix was a judge for many years. At this point Felix was Governor of Judea for about 4/5 years, but he had spent time in Samaria serving under his predecessor Cumanus. Paul also starts with a courteous acknowledgement to Felix without stooping to hollow flattery. Tertullus’ hands were covered in whitewash, Paul’s were not.
Paul answers each of the three charges. First he states that it has only been 12 days since he had arrived in Jerusalem, basically he said he hadn’t been in town long enough to create the trouble they were accusing him, nor did they have witnesses or proof that he had spread sedition throughout the empire (11-13). Secondly, for the charge of heresy, he admits that he is a follower of the Way, but that this doesn’t mean he is a heretic. He still serves the God of the Jews, believes the OT Scriptures and holds to the orthodox Jewish belief of a resurrection (14-16). Paul was actually more orthodox than the Sadducees, who don’t hold to a resurrection, but there may have been a few Pharisees among the delegation from the Sanhedrin. Third, Paul answers the charge of temple desecration, by stating that he had been away for many years, I think it’s been about 4 years since the last time Paul was in Jerusalem at the end of chapter 18, Paul had come back bringing offerings and charitable gifts. Paul states that while he was going about his business of bringing offerings and being charitable, being ritually purified was seen by Jews from Asia.
Paul tells Felix he wasn’t doing anything he wasn’t supposed to be doing in the Temple, he wasn’t creating a problem, and the Jews from Asia that started the whole thing weren’t even there before Felix to give testimony as to what Paul supposedly did. Paul then remarks that even the Sanhedrin didn’t have grounds to charge Paul, the only thing that upset the council was Paul’s remark that he was on trial for his belief in the resurrection. Paul’s statement in verse 16 is the basis of his defense, he always sought to have a clear conscience before God and men, again he isn’t saying he is never wrong or never sins, but he gets things cleared up so his conscience is clear.
Judgement Postponed – vs 22-27
At this point Felix had heard both sides and with some knowledge he postpones his judgement (22).
Felix seems to understand what is going on, how he knew about the Way we don’t know. It is possible that he learned about it while serving in Samaria. Felix states he needs to hear testimony from Lysias before making a judgement. Lysias would be able to give some clarity to the case, as Felix had just heard two contradicting testimonies. Whether Lysias ever comes to Caesarea or not we are not told. Felix keeps Paul in custody in Caesarea until he is able to render a verdict. Paul does have some freedom, specifically mentioned is that Paul was able to receive visitors or other things he may need. If Felix did see that the case against Paul would not stand, he may have been trying to win a few points with the Jews by keeping Paul in custody and therefore out of Jews hair, keeping the Jews out of his hair.
After some time, as we see in verse 24, Felix has Paul brought to him so he and his wife Drusilla could hear more about Jesus and Paul’s faith. Drusilla is called Jewish, she is the daughter of Herod Agrippa I who had James the brother of John killed in chapter 12, roughly 12 years previous. She is also the sister of Herod Agrippa II whom we will meet in upcoming chapters. Drusilla was Felix’s third wife, possibly not quite 20 or in her early 20s at this point. She was betrothed to a prince in eastern Asia Minor but that was called off as the groom didn’t want to become a Jewish proselyte, she was then married to a king of a small state in Syria, but Felix persuaded her to leave her husband and marry him. She did. They had a son named Agrippa, who died in AD 79 when Mt Vesuvius erupted.
In verse 25 we see Paul obliged and began teaching the Christian faith. Specifically mentioned is that Paul spoke on righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgement. Paul took a courageous step by discussing these topics with man who could order his death or had him over to the Jews. But notice the rest of verse 25, “Felix became afraid” and sent Paul away saying he’d call Paul back when he had a chance. Obviously his conscience was bothering him through the Holy Spirit and Paul’s preaching of the Word. Verse 26 also give us an insight into Felix. He was hoping Paul would offer a bribe, so Felix could release him. Of course the behavior was illegal, but sometimes the Roman political wheels turned easier for someone who was able to pay. Where Felix got the idea Paul had the ability to pay a bribe, we can only speculate. Perhaps when Paul had stated that he came to Jerusalem with offerings and charitable givings Felix thought Paul had access to a large amount of funds. Felix is also an example of someone hearing the gospel several times and, as far as we know, not believing, we see that he called for Paul several times to talk with him over the next two years.
Let’s look at verse 27. We just skipped forward two years to about AD 58/59. Paul has been in custody unable to leave the Roman headquarters in Caesarea, speaking to Felix, probably taking any chance to speak to the guards or centurions that were assigned to him as well. But this was two years of not getting to Rome. Felix was recalled because of a riot that broke out between the Jewish and Gentile populations in Caesarea, which Felix ordered troops into the fray to intervene. The troops acted in such a way that there was a lot of bloodshed from the Jewish faction leaders. The Jewish population was so outraged, they were able to force Felix’s recall. Felix could have faced serious consequences when he returned to Rome, except that his brother that helped him get posted there, was very wealthy and had a lot of influence. This explains why Felix was looking “to do the Jews a favor”, if he could placate the Jews by leaving Paul in custody for Festus to deal with, it may have benefited him.
I think this passage gives us three examples responding to one’s conscience. What do I mean? I think verse 16 is a key part to this chapter, “I always strive to have a clear conscience toward God and men.”
First we see with the previous actions and the accusation from the Jewish Council an example of corrupted or seared consciences. Paul will write to Titus, “To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled. They claim to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:15-16), and to Timothy, “Now the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Timothy 4:1-2). In verses 1-9 here in Acts 24, I believe, we see seared and defiled conscience from the unbelieving Jewish Council.
Our second example is Paul himself in verse 16 says he “always strive to have a clear conscience toward God and men.” Job makes a similar statement in Job 27:6, “I will cling to my righteousness and never let it go. My conscience will not accuse me as long as I live!” Job knew he had done nothing wrong deserving the hardships he faced and he was saying that his conscience was clear. Now, being a born again Christian is the best thing for a conscience. Hebrews 9:13 and 14 tells us, “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God?” Paul is the example, and he makes several claims throughout his letters of how his conscience was clear, Paul obviously listened to his conscience a lot.
Then with Felix we see a guilty conscience. Verse 25 of our passage today, “Now as he spoke about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come Felix became afraid…” Why was Felix afraid? The Holy Spirit through Paul’s teaching of the Word was causing his conscience to bother him and he knew he was guilty and would face judgment. We see other examples of guilty consciences in Scripture as well. In 1 Samuel 24, David sneaks up on Saul and cuts the corner of his robe, and his conscience troubled him. Then in 2 Samuel 24, David again is troubled by his conscience verse 10 of that chapter reads, “David’s conscience troubled him after he had taken a census of the troops. He said to the LORD, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I’ve done. Now, LORD, because I’ve been very foolish, please take away your servant’s guilt.’”
So I ask, how’s your conscience?
Is your conscience clear before God and man? Wonderful, keep listening to it.
Is it seared, are you ignoring it? Stop ignoring your conscience. The more you ignore it the easier it is to ignore. Journalist Sydney Harris is credited with saying, “Once we assuage our conscience by calling something a ‘necessary evil,’ it begins to look more and more necessary and less and less evil.”
Is your conscience pricking and picking at you about something? Then deal with it. If it is sin confess it to God and if you are able to, ask forgiveness from the person. If your conscience is prompting you to come to Christ, don’t wait. Now is the time to confess your sins to God and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.