In ACTS chapter 24, Paul is put on trial before Felix, the Roman governor of Judea. Here is a Biblical example of cruel and indecisive leadership. ◊
Recall in ACTS chapter 23, Paul is protected and escorted by Roman soldiers to Caesarea, about 50 miles northeast of Jerusalem. There he was detained in a palace built by Herod the Great that Roman regional leaders used as a place of residence or retreat.
The year is AD 58. The apostle Paul has less than 10 years to live.
The Roman procurator (governor) of the region was named Marcus Antonius Felix, who ruled from AD 52-60. He was notorius, describled by Roman historian Tacitus as “cruel, licentious, and base.”1 Near the end of his rule, he actually hired assassins to murder Jonathan, the Jewish High Priest in Jerusalem, a tenuous ally and political critic of Felix.2
Certainly, cruel, corrupt, and self-serving rulers are not reserved for our modern era.
Paul’s Trial in Caesarea
Felix does not want to deal with Paul until he can speak directly to his accusers:
Five days later the high priest Ananias [predecessor to Jonathan] went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. When 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. Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.
“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 and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.”
The other Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true. (Acts 24:1-9)
Remember that these are fellow Jews who simply hate the messenger, Paul, because of his message of Jesus Christ. For that they are willing to lie and create a false narrative in order to support the serious charges they have drummed up against him.
Felix now gives Paul a chance to say something:
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. You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. My 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. And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me.
However, 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, and 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. So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man. (Acts 24:10-16)
Paul goes straight at the false charges. He then makes the case that he honors the Hebrew Law, the Prophets, and has reverence for God while keeping his conscience clear before God and man.
He describes his honest activities and then identifies the source of these accusations and restates his wise and catalytic comment about the resurrection of the dead that raised the ire between Pharisees and Sadducces:
“After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. I 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.
But 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. Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin—unless 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.’” (Acts 24:17-21)
Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.” He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.
Several 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. As 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.” At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.
When 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. (Acts 24:12-18)
The Gospel Message Strikes in the Heart of All
Regardless of his high-level status, Felix is like any of us. We all have to deal with the Jesus thing. Are we defensive about this topic? Are we afraid when confronted with this convicting issue? Felix had multiple conversations with Paul over that 2 year period. He and his Jewish wife, Drusilla, who certainly had a Jewish perspective on the topic of Jesus of Nazareth and was probably deeply troubled herself with this word from this Jewish ex-Pharisee-turned-Christian named Paul.
The logic of who and what Jesus represented was probably a deep thorn in her side. One can only imagine the conflict in her own mind and heart, and how she had to deal with a pagan husband, Felix, who probably himself was conflicted with the same spiritual mystery of Jesus.
In the end, we don’t know what happened to this couple. Did they succumb to the heart-changing power and reality of the Spirit of God, or did they steel themselves against Christianity and never get past their own pride and fear of honest convictions?
Are you like Felix in your response to the Gospel of Christ?
Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave… At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe… – Acts 24:25-26