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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Acts 24

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Paul's Trial before Felix

A. The accusations against Paul.

1. (Act 24:1) The Jews assemble their case against Paul.

Now after five days Ananias the high priest came down with the elders and a certain orator named Tertullus. These gave evidence to the governor against Paul.

a. The Jewish leadership (Ananias the high priest and the elders) bring a man named Tertullus - a skilled lawyer to present their case.

b. The presence of all three (Ananias, the elders, and a "top gun" lawyer) at the court of Felix reminds us of how serious the Jewish leadership was about obtaining a conviction against Paul.

2. (Act 24:2-4) Tertullus introduces his accusation against Paul with flattery towards Felix.

And when he was called upon, Tertullus began his accusation, saying: "Seeing that through you we enjoy great peace, and prosperity is being brought to this nation by your foresight, we accept it always and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness. Nevertheless, not to be tedious to you any further, I beg you to hear, by your courtesy, a few words from us."

a. Most excellent Felix: Felix began life as a slave. His brother Pallas was a friend of the emperor Claudius; through such influence, he rose in status as a free man became the first slave in history to become a governor of a Roman province. But his slave mentality stayed with him; Tacitus, the Roman historian, describes Felix as "a master of cruelty and lust who exercised the powers of a king with the spirit of a slave" (Historiae 5.9, cited in Longnecker).

i. "The picture drawn by Tacitus of Felix's public and private life is not a pretty one. Trading on the influences of his infamous brother [Pallas, a favorite of the emperor Claudius], he indulged in every license and excess, thinking 'that he could do any evil act with impunity' (Tacitus, Annals 12.54)." (Williams)

b. Seeing that through you we enjoy great peace, and prosperity is being brought to this nation by your foresight: This was plain, lying flattery. "In reality he [Felix] had put down several insurrections with such barbarous brutality that he earned for himself the horror, not the thanks, of the Jewish population." (Stott)

c. How aware are we of the danger of flattery?

i. Romans 16:18 speaks to us of who do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. Jude 1:16 speaks of those who mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.

ii. Four different times, the book of Proverbs connects flattery with the sin of sexual immorality. How many people have been seduced into immorality through simple flattery?

iii. Proverbs 20:19 says, He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; there for do not associate with one who flatters with his lips. We aren't to make flatterers our close friends!

iv. Psalm 78:36 says we can even flatter God: Nevertheless they flattered Him with their mouth, and they lied to Him with their tongue. When you give God insincere praise, it is flattery, and God doesn't want it.

3. (Act 24:5-6) Paul's accusers state their specific charges.

"For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, and we seized him, and wanted to judge him according to our law."

a. The charges against Paul were essentially that he was politically dangerous (a plague … a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes) and that he had profaned the temple.

i. Ancient Judea was filled with would-be messiahs and revolutionaries against Rome. Tertullus tries to put Paul in the same bag with these kinds of terrorists.

b. The reference to Paul being a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes is intended as a disparaging reference to both Jesus and His followers. Nazareth had a poor reputation as a city (John 1:46).

c. Among all Jews throughout the world: Here, Tertullus gives an unintended compliment as he describes the extent of Paul's ministry.

d. The only really specific charge against Paul is that he tried to profane the temple; but no evidence is given of the charge because none existed. This was a fabricated charge based on rumor only. (Acts 21:26-29)

i. Obviously, Paul has nothing to fear from the truth; but he knew that the truth does not always win out in a court of law!

ii. Significantly, the same man who found it so easy to flatter finds it also easy to accuse with no evidence. The two almost always go together; the person who today flatters you will likely tomorrow accuse you behind your back.

4. (Act 24:7-9) Tertullus concludes his accusation against Paul.

"But the commander Lysias came by and with great violence took him out of our hands, commanding his accusers to come to you. By examining him yourself you may ascertain all these things of which we accuse him." And the Jews also assented, maintaining that these things were so.

a. The Roman commander Lysias, who rescued Paul, is put into a bad light. Clearly, the Jews regret that the case has come this far, having preferred to settle it with mob justice.

b. By examining him yourself you may ascertain all these things of which we accuse him: Tertullus doesn't even pretend to offer outside evidence of the charges. His only hope is that Paul will incriminate himself under examination by Felix.

i. "His oration has been blamed as weak, lame, and imperfect; and yet, perhaps, few, with so bad a cause, could have made better of it." (Clarke)

c. The Jews also assented, maintaining that these things were so: The other Jewish accusers present (the high priest and the elders) agree with the charges, but offer no supporting evidence.

B. Paul's defense.

1. (Act 24:10-13) Paul exposes the weakness of the case against him.

Then Paul, after the governor had nodded to him to speak, answered: "Inasmuch as I know that you have been for many years a judge of this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself, because you may ascertain that it is no more than twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem to worship. And they neither found me in the temple disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city. Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me."

a. I do the more cheerfully answer for myself: Paul is happy to answer for himself, knowing that the facts of the case are in his favor - and notably, Paul uses no flattery in his address to Felix!

b. Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me: Even though it has been no more than twelve days, and many witnesses should be easily found, Paul's accusers provide no witnesses to demonstrate that he was in fact in the temple disputing or inciting the crowd. There is simply no proof for their accusations.

2. (Act 24:14-21) Paul explains his ministry, and why he was arrested.

"But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men. Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation, in the midst of which some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult. They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me. Or else let those who are here themselves say if they found any wrongdoing in me while I stood before the council, unless it is for this one statement which I cried out, standing among them, 'Concerning the resurrection of the dead I am being judged by you this day.'"

a. Paul makes it clear that he has not abandoned the God of my fathers or the Law and the Prophets; instead he is acting in fulfillment of them both.

b. The basis of Paul's belief is founded on something accepted by a large segment of devout Jews: The resurrection of the dead (specifically, the resurrection of Jesus).

i. Both of the just and the unjust: Paul clearly believed in a resurrection for both the righteous and the unrighteous. The idea of soul-sleep or annihilation for the unrighteous is not accurate according to New Testament teaching.

c. I came to bring alms and offerings refers to the collection Paul made for Judean Christians among the Gentile churches of the West (Galatians 2:10; Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8-9).

d. They ought to have been here before you to object: In this, Paul reminds Felix that there is no eyewitness testimony to prove the charges of Paul's accusers.

i. "This was a strong point in his defense: the people who had raised the hue and cry in the first instance, claiming to be eyewitnesses of his alleged sacrilege, had not troubled to be present." (Bruce) Because Paul is in the right, he consistently calls the case back to the evidence, the very thing his accusers avoided.

ii. Christians should never be timid about or ashamed of the truth, or of the evidence. If we are truly following God, the truth and evidence are our friends, not our accusers.

C. Felix's decision in the case.

1. (Act 24:22-23) Felix avoids making a legal decision.

But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, "When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case." So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him.

a. When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case: Felix avoided a decision under the pretense of waiting for more evidence through the Roman commander Lysias. But Felix clearly had enough evidence to make a decision in Paul's favor (having more accurate knowledge of the Way).

b. Let him have liberty: Yet, knowing Paul's innocence, he grants Paul generous liberty even while he is held in custody.

c. Felix tried to walk a middle ground. He knew Paul was innocent, yet he did not want to identify himself with Paul's gospel and the Christians. So he made no decision and kept Paul in custody.

2. (Act 24:24-25) Felix avoids making a spiritual decision.

And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, "Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you."

a. Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ: Felix wanted his wife to hear Paul's testimony, either as a curiosity or so that she could advise him. After all, he claimed to have insufficient evidence for a decision.

b. Drusilla was a sister to Herod Agrippa II and Bernice mentioned in Acts 25. Drusilla was reported to be of great beauty, and Felix seduced her away from her husband, enticing her to become his third wife.

i. "The lax morals of Felix and Drusilla help to explain the topics on which Paul spoke to them." (Stott)

c. He reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come: We can surmise that Paul spoke to Felix and Drusilla about the righteousness that is our in Jesus Christ; about the need for Christian ethics (self-control) and about our eternal accountability before God (the judgment to come).

i. We admire Paul's bold preaching, directed right to the issues of Felix's life: "Are there not some to be found, who think the highest object of the minister is to attract the multitude and then to please them? O my God! how solemnly ought each of us to bewail our sin, if we feel we have been guilty in this matter. What is it to have pleased men? Is there aught in it that can make our head lie easy on the pillow of our death? Is there aught in it that can give us boldness in the day of judgment when we face thy tribunal, O Judge of quick and dead? No, my brethren, we must always take our texts so that we may bear upon our hearers with all our might." (Spurgeon)

ii. "But some men will say, 'Sir, ministers ought not to be personal.' Ministers ought to be personal, and they will never be true to their Master till they are … But now we poor craven sons of nobodies have to stand and talk about generalities; but we are afraid to point you out and tell you of your sins personally. But, blessed be God, from that fear I have been delivered long ago. There walketh not a man on the surface of this earth whom I dare not reprove." (Spurgeon)

d. Felix was afraid: Hearing the gospel made Felix afraid; knowing his life, at least we can say that he probably understood it! The gospel should make those who are intent on rejecting Jesus afraid.

e. Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you: However, Felix was unwilling to declare his decision against Jesus. Instead, he rejected Jesus under the pretense of delaying his decision.

i. Many respond to the gospel in this way; they express their rejection through delay, by procrastinating their decision to commit to Jesus Christ - but it is rejection none the less.

ii. This is why the Bible states Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).

iii. How foolish to trust in a convenient time! Are you waiting for a convenient time to follow God? "Thou sayest, 'Another time.' How knowest thou that thou wilt ever feel again as thou feelest now? This morning, perhaps a voice is saying in thy heart, 'Prepare to meet thy God.' Tomorrow that voice will be hushed. The gaieties of the ball-room and the theatre will put out that voice that warns thee now, and perhaps thou wilt never hear it again. Men all have their warnings, and all men who perish have had a last warning. Perhaps this is your last warning." (Spurgeon)

iv. "God to-day is pulling the reigns tight to check you from your lust; perhaps, if to-day you spurn the bit, and rush madly on, he will throw the reigns upon your back, saying, 'Let him alone;' and then it is a dark steeple-chase between hell and earth, and you will run it in mad confusion, never thinking of a hell till you find yourself past warning, past repentance, past faith, past hope." (Spurgeon)

f. The claims of Jesus are never convenient for us; if we insist on waiting for a convenient time, we will wait for an eternity - in the judgment of hell.

3. (Act 24:26-27) The evil motive of Felix's heart is revealed: greed.

Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him. But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.

a. He also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him: Though Felix met often with Paul, it was not honest inquiry. He hoped to be paid off with a bribe.

b. After two years: Under Roman law, the type of custody Paul was in was could only last two years. Felix showed a blatant disregard for this by keeping Paul for such an extended period.

c. Felix … left Paul bound: Felix refused to release Paul, knowing his innocence, for the same reason Pilate condemned Jesus while knowing His innocence. They both acted out of pure political expediency (wanting to do the Jews a favor).

i. In a way, people like Felix and Pilate are the most guilty of those who reject Jesus Christ. They know what is right but refuse to do right purely out of the fear of man. They have an eternally fatal lack of courage.

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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