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Paul Charged Before Felix
The Council took its time to prepare the matter well. They also hired an attorney, literally an orator. After five days they appeared before the governor with this orator, a certain Tertullus, and brought charges against Paul. Tertullus was thoroughly informed by the Council and would bring their case forward with verve, but without success. He was hired because of his oratorical talent, but has no inner connection with the case itself.
He starts his speech with an enormous show of flattery. The “much peace” they “attained” and the “reforms … for this nation” that Tertullus praises as having been brought about by Felix’s policies are gross lies. There is nothing known of such a policy by this man who, on the contrary, was known as a man of low morals. The gratitude is extraordinarily feigned, it is hypocrisy of the highest order. The Jews could drink this man’s blood, but they kept quiet or nodded in agreement with this hypocrisy.
With his judicial flattery, Tertullus responded to the stadholder’s feelings. The governor only had to listen for a moment and the matter would be perfectly clear to him. Then the governor could get back to dealing with the really important and difficult matters. The man standing in front of him turned out to be a pest. It is a sick man who also spreads sickness. It is abundantly clear that he is a cause of riots among all Jews throughout the entire empire. Could anyone be an even bigger criminal? In addition, he is also the leader of a state dangerous sect, that of the Nazarenes.
Tertullus easily swings from one extreme to the other. He praises Felix as a high-ranking man of stature, while in the same breath he presents the high-ranking apostle as a pest, someone who is harmful to public health. With all this, Tertullus wants to give the impression that Felix is rendering the whole world a great service when he condemns this man. He removes a rotten fruit that would otherwise further destroy all the beautiful fruits of Roman policy, of which the Jews are also a beautiful fruit.
Indeed, “this man” was “a fellow who stirs up dissension”. Everywhere he went, there was commotion and unrest among the Jews. Only they, the Jews, were the troublemakers themselves. Tertullus presents Paul as a gang leader of “the sect of the Nazarenes”, a name for the Christians that we only find here. He turns the followers of the Nazarene, the Lord Jesus, into a gang.
Tertullus also makes the great accusation, albeit in a weakened form, regarding the desecration of the temple. He presents it as if Paul ‘tried’ to desecrate the temple, which actually means that he did not do it. But also, the attempt has been a reason to arrest him and judge him according to “our own” law. It is still the old lie that Paul wanted to bring his Greek friend Trophimus into the temple.
To reinforce the accusation, Tertullus refers to what Lysias did in the liberation of Paul. It seems that Tertullus means that Lysias shouldn’t have done that, because then Felix wouldn’t have had to spend his good time on this matter. By talking about “much violence” Tertullus also hints how much they would have liked to have eliminated this man. But this is how the case turned out. They did what Lysias commanded and have come to Felix. Felix will understand that you don’t do that if you’re not very sure about your case.
While Tertullus made his plea like this, the Jews repeatedly showed their consent. They have supported Tertullus by asserting that everything is as he presents it.
Paul Refutes the Accusations
Then Paul gets the opportunity from Felix to defend himself. He defends his own cause. He does not need an orator like Tertullus (Mt 10:18-20). He does so with a dignity that completely overshadows the drivel of Tertullus. Without a hint of flattery, he recognizes Felix as a judge over the people of the Jews. Paul mentions that he knows that Felix has held that position for many years. This means that Felix is well acquainted with the customs of the people. It gives Paul good courage in his defense. It makes a big difference whether you have to explain something to people who understand your subject or to people for whom the matter is completely unknown.
He begins by pointing out that it is only twelve days since he came to Jerusalem. So it makes no sense to present him as someone who has built a reputation as a troublemaker. And then the reason he came to Jerusalem. It was no other reason than to worship and to bring the money of a collection of the nations to the poor believers in Jerusalem (Acts 24:17). Are these activities of a gang leader?
Paul speaks of worship, but not in the Christian sense of the word, but according to the Jewish norm. He speaks here as a true Jew among the Jews. Christian worship is not connected to a place like Jerusalem. Here he is the Jew who still has a connection with Judaism. There was a Christian church in Jerusalem that he visited, but he did give the impression that he was not talking about Christian worship.
His stay in the temple and the accusations they make about it, he dismisses them all as fabrications. Paul denounces his accusers by stating that they cannot prove anything to Felix about their accusations against him.
Paul Declares his Orthodox Faith
Then Paul declares that he is not an apostate Jew, but that he serves the God of the fathers. With this he confesses to serve the same God that his accusers confess to serve. He also confesses to believe everything that is in the law and the prophets. However, there is also a big difference and that he mentions as well. He serves the God of the fathers and believes that what is according to the law and written in the prophets is in accordance with the Way.
With this he confesses that the movement that within Judaism is considered a cult and is called ‘the Way’ is the point of reference of his actions. With this he refers in veiled terms to the Lord Jesus, to Him Who is the Way from and to God. That is also the basis of the hope he has in God – a hope they too have – that there is a resurrection. Here too Paul points to the common ground on which he and his accusers stand.
At that time Christendom was still seen as a sect of Judaism whose followers confessed that the Messiah had come, but otherwise distinguished themselves from the orthodox Jews. By always seeking that common ground, Paul says as it were: They rejected me, but I did not reject them. In this way he declares his solidarity with his people. How then could he be called ‘a pest’?
The resurrection was known to the Jews from the Old Testament (Job 19:25-27; Psa 16:9-11; Dan 12:13), but the distinction between a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous was not. The New Testament shows us that there is a difference of a thousand years between the two resurrections (Rev 20:4-6).
Mentioning the resurrection to Felix confronts the governor with the situation after death. Surely it is a hint for Felix to think about that. Paul presents the resurrection as a hope (Acts 23:6; Acts 26:6; Acts 28:20). This hope is the sure fulfillment of the promises God made to His people.
In that hope, in that expectation, Paul lived and that – “in view of this” – was the motive for him to serve God with a blameless conscience. In no way did he want to do anything that would cause him to lose his inner bond with God, nor lose sight of the fulfillment of God’s promises. By speaking in this way, he also speaks to the conscience of the people for whom he appears (cf. Acts 23:1). Felix did not have a blameless conscience, nor did Tertullus and the unbelieving Jews.
Once again he points out that he was not in Jerusalem for many years and that when he got there again, it was not to cause unrest, but to do good. If Felix wants to, he can check all that and he will get it confirmed. He had come to Jerusalem with the money from the collection of the nations with him (Rom 15:25-28; 1Cor 16:1-4; Gal 2:10).
This was intended for “my people”, who are his believing Jewish brothers from the church in Jerusalem, with whom he also wanted to present offerings. There was no problem until some Jews came from Asia. Felix should call them to declare under oath that they had found him with a pagan in the temple. As far as Paul is concerned, the Jews from Jerusalem who appeared before Felix may also come up with a real accusation.
The only thing they could accuse him of is what he shouted when he was standing among them. He shouted something that these Sadducees refused to believe. But such an accusation wouldn’t impress Felix at all. He would not concern himself with a theological difference.
Felix and Paul
Felix was embarrassed. He knows that Paul has done nothing for which Roman law holds him guilty. He knows ‘the Way’ quite well, of which he will have been informed by his wife Drusilla, who is a Jewess (Acts 24:24). However, if he would admit that Paul is innocent, he would feel the anger of the Jews and to him their favor is more important than the law. That is why he resorts to a way out and says he is holding on to the matter in order to investigate it more closely. He would wait until Lysias came. That is an excuse, for when would he come?
You can be familiar with ‘the Way’, but do not go that Way. His way out means that Paul remains imprisoned. In addition he is given a considerable degree of freedom of movement which shows that Felix does not see him as an enemy of the state. Pilate was also convinced of the innocence of the Lord, but he did not release Him.
After a few days Paul is given the opportunity to speak to the governor alone. This was done at the request of Felix, who returned to Caesarea with his wife Drusilla. Surely he wants to hear more from Paul about the faith in Jesus Christ. Paul speaks about this and appeals to Felix’s conscience. Fearless, he tells the wicked Felix what must affect his conscience.
He talks to him about “righteousness”, which refers to his life in connection with others. In this he is certainly not righteous and still acts unrighteously. He tramples underfoot the rights of others with the greatest ease, if it is to his advantage. In the same way he has appropriated his wife Drusilla who belongs to another man.
Also “self-control” is a subject about which Paul speaks. Self-control has to do with one’s own person. He has no self-control whatsoever, but gives in to his lusts and is already married to the third princess.
Finally, Paul presents “the judgment to come” to him as something he should take into account. The judgment places Felix in his relationship to God. But he does not want to take God into account either. Felix does not care that it is “now … the acceptable time” (2Cor 6:2b).
Paul places all this in the perspective of faith in the Lord Jesus. Felix can escape the judgment about his unrighteousness and the unbridled life in sin by believing in Him. Felix feels himself in the presence of God. His conscience speaks, while Paul has said nothing of his depraved way of life. Paul has only made God’s Word shine in power and that does its work.
But Felix does not want the light and sends Paul away. Many have undoubtedly been afraid when they stood before Felix, but here the roles are reversed. Christendom is too expensive for Felix. He doesn’t want to give up his life of sin. He would have to sacrifice too much for it which is not what he would like to do. Felix reacts like so many people have reacted and still do.
Luke notices another hindrance for Felix to accept the gospel and that is his greed for money. Love of money is a root of all sorts of evil (1Tim 6:10). He hopes that Paul will give him money to let him go. Every time he talks to Paul, it is from that motive. That keeps him from making a choice for Christ.
Thus, two years pass. We have arrived in the year 60. Then Felix is succeeded by Porcius Festus. Although Felix is convinced of Paul’s innocence and he has the opportunity to set him free, he still leaves him prisoner. This also has to do with the fact that the accusers have still not appeared. But he doesn’t care about justice. Money and public opinion are more important to him.
Paul has been imprisoned for more than two years. Yet he doesn’t make use of the opportunity to buy himself free. And why is he imprisoned? Because of a humanly unfortunate cause he has imposed on himself. But God uses it. Because of this, governors like Felix (means ‘happy’) and Festus (means ‘feast’) come into contact with the gospel. If they would accept it, they would become truly happy and could really feast. As far as we have their history in Scripture, it seems that they have let the opportunity of a lifetime pass by.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Acts 24". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14