The Apostle Paul Goes On Trial Before Governor Felix
[Acts chapter 24, verses 1-16]
by Minister Paul J. Bern
Last week when we were finishing our 3-part in-depth teaching of Acts chapter 23, the apostle Paul had been quietly transferred overnight to Caesarea from Jerusalem under guard under orders of the Roman commander there. And so as we begin part one of Acts 24, we find Paul being kept under guard in Herod’s palace. There has been a five-day wait for Paul’s accusers to arrive. After all, this was around 2,000 years ago, but there was no more than about 63 miles that separated Paul from his accusers. That would have been roughly 3 days on foot even for older people, so Paul’s accusers clearly took their sweet time getting to their destination. And so this week as we move on to part one of chapter 24, five days have gone by, Paul’s accusers have finally arrived, and Paul’s trial is about to begin. So here we go, starting from verse 1:
“1)Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. 2) 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. 3) Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. 4) But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly. 5) 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 6) and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him and wanted to judge him according to our law. 7) But the commander Lysias came and with the use of much force snatched him from our hands 8) and ordered his accusers to come before you. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.’ 9) The other Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.” (Acts 24, verses 1-9)
Right there in verse one, we see an immediate problem with the Sanhedrin’s case. They had hired an attorney to present their case who may have known little concerning their law, which we know today as the Mosaic Law. In point of fact, it is likely that counselor Tertullus was ambivalent at best regarding his view of the Law of Moses. Had it not been for his representing the Hebrew religious body in that particular matter, he was probably an agnostic or pagan individual busying himself with getting rich. My point here is that the Sanhedrin and all those with them had hired a nonreligious man to represent them concerning a religious matter, and all this before governor Felix, another notorious pagan of his day. So these super-religious Jews weren’t making very good choices. Choices notwithstanding, their lawyer presents their case, and then come the accusations, which begin at verse 5.
“5) 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 6) and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him and wanted to judge him according to our law. 7) But the commander Lysias came and with the use of much force snatched him from our hands 8) and ordered his accusers to come before you….” As you just read, these utterances under oath were exaggerations at best, but isn’t this what happens when people get accused of circumventing the political, economic, or in this case religious establishment? Precisely the same thing happened to Jesus Christ when he was crucified. President John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert, Malcolm X and Rev. Dr. King, Jr. came cent5uries after that. Let’s not forget the Spanish Inquisition, who slaughtered untold multitudes of people who refused to pledge allegiance to the Vatican, and the Salem Witch Trials of the 1600’s here in America, etc.
The phony charges the Jews lodged against Paul are especially apparent in verse 7. That’s where Tertullus states that the Roman commander had taken Paul by force illegally, when in fact the Roman forces were present to keep Paul from getting killed by his accusers. This was clearly perjury (compare this to Acts 23, verses 9-10). Then in verse 9 of chapter 24, all those present from the Jerusalem delegation solemnly swore that what Tertullus had presented was the truth. At this point it was Paul’s turn to defend himself in front of his bogus accusers, and so let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s lesson, starting at verse 10.
“10) 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. 11) You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12) 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. 13) And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14) 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, 15) 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. 16) So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.’” (Acts 24, verses 10-16)
In verse 10, the apostle Paul’s term “a judge over this nation” was a reference to the Jewish nation whom we know today as Israel, and whose lineage can be traced back at least 4,000 years. It was also a public acknowledgment of the common heritage that Paul shared with his accusers, an observation that certainly did not escape Governor Felix. “11) You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12) 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. 13) And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me….” Scenes like this have been playing out wherever there is religious persecution, and this has been especially true for Christianity. More Christians died for their faith during the 20th century than in the previous 19 centuries combined.
“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….:” In no way did Paul ever say he was anything other than a follower of Jesus Christ and the Salvation of his shed Blood. The Way was truly the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one can stand in God’s presence without the covering – yes, a literal covering – of the Blood from the cross at Calvary. Absolutely no one.
“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. 16) So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” So here we have Paul saying in open court that he is certain of his innocence, far more so than the faith of his ‘religious’ accusers. All who were Jews at these proceedings had the Mosaic Law that was handed down by Moses, and Paul made sure everyone knew that he shared that same faith. Besides, the members of the Sanhedrin and the Temple Council who were present had known Paul since before his conversion, back when he was still known as ‘Saul of Tarsus’. So even though they pretended not to, they all knew exactly what Paul was talking about as he testified. But Paul still had more to say, and we will find out exactly what that was when we return next week for part 2 of Acts chapter 24. I look forward to seeing you back here again!