June 22, 2016

 

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

 

Topic #IV: The Church Advancing to the End of the Earth (Chapters 12-28)            

                    

Subtopic F: Paul in Caesarea (23:23-26:32)                                     

                          

                                                                           

         Lesson: IV.F.3: Paul Imprisoned (24:22-27)                                 

 

 

 

Acts 24:22-27 (KJV)

 

22 And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter.

23 And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.

24 And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.

25 And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.

26 He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him.

27 But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix' room: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.

 

 

 

Commentary

22 And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter.

 

Felix immediately perceived that there was no case against Paul.  The only count in the indictment with any truth to it was the one naming Paul “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” The procurator knew that the Christian movement had not been declared an illegal religion by the Romans.  Therefore, he had no right to force Paul to justify himself for having embraced the Christian faith or to explain its doctrines.

 

When Paul gave his rebuttal to the charges against him his main point was that the only issue between him and his accusers was a theological one that should never have come to this court. The governor (Felix) may well have agreed with him on this point but the case had come to court and for various reasons he was unwilling to give an early verdict.  Instead he simply adjourned the case.  One reason for delaying the verdict appears later in verse 26, but here Luke mentions that Felix had “more perfect knowledge of  [1]that way”; that is to say, “He had complete and accurate knowledge of the facts about the Way”: somewhere, somehow, Felix (means “happy”) had acquired accurate knowledge about Christianity.  This statement gives the impression that he was sympathetic toward the Christians—or at least had no desire to see them treated unjustly by the Jews—without wanting, to offend the Jews by setting Paul free.  In any event it shows that this Roman, with a good grasp of the facts, found himself unable to condemn the apostle, and he didn’t want to pass a verdict, for the verdict would surely have been one of acquittal.  Felix then, knew the facts about Christianity and Jesus, but it is not enough for a person to know the facts about Christ, or to have an emotional response to a message.  He or she must willingly repent of sin and trust the Savior.  “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:40; NKJV).

 

Moreover, Paul’s testimony rang true.  Felix had no illusions about Ananias and his crowd.  He knew what a scoundrel Ananias was.  He had no trouble deciding Paul was innocent of the charges leveled against him.  However, he had no intention of stirring up the powerful Sanhedrin against himself.  He took the easy way out.  He deferred the case until such time as he could bring down the tribune for a firsthand report.  That sounded all right, but in reality it was a cowardly compromise.

 

 

23 And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.

 

Paul calmly accepted Felix’s decision simply because he had no other options open to him in this court, all he could do is wait and hope for release.  He remained a prisoner, though he was granted the privilege of what the Romans called [2]“free custody” as befitting his status of Roman citizen.  This meant that his friends could visit him and tend to his needs. 

 

When Felix instructs a centurion“to let him have [8]liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him,” he is addressing a problem within their prisons at that time.  Ancient prisons were places where accused people were held for trial, at which time they were released, executed, punished by fine, had their property confiscated, or received corporal punishment.  Imprisonment was not itself a means of punishment for condemned criminals.  Thus there were no provisions for feeding and caring for prisoners on a long-term basis, and it was important for friends of those accused to have access to them.  This access could be granted or denied.  Paul is pictured as being treated favorably by Rome, as the facts will show.

 

Now then James, here’s your opportunity.  You Christian Jews of Jerusalem and all Judea can now beat a path to the great warrior’s door.  Ease his suffering; show him the right hand of fellowship. Let him know he does not stand alone.  How sad is the silence of Scripture regarding any such fellowship on the part of the Jerusalem church.  Abraham Lincoln said something interesting about the kind of situation we have here: “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards out of men.” James and the other apostles would soon flee Jerusalem due to persecution by the Roman government.

 

If the saying “silence gives consent” contains any truth, the Christians in Jerusalem and Caesarea must have agreed wholeheartedly to the imprisonment of Paul.  Their silence is amply prevalent throughout the whole affair.  Shall we attribute this conspiracy of silence to Luke’s negligence in recording an example of concern shared by these Christians?  This is a possibility.  If so, the church which was so bold in the face of the early dangers and threats did not defy the religious authorities for Paul; the church which prayed for Peter and the other apostles when they were put in prison did not pray in Paul’s behalf.  Fear could not have been an excuse in refraining from visiting Paul at Caesarea because Felix permitted visitors.  While many of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were bitterly opposed to Paul’s doctrine, a few did support him on previous occasions.  We cannot believe that the minority was indifferent to what happened to the apostle.  We conclude that the author of Acts failed to mention their concern because he considered it irrelevant for his narrative.

 

What Paul’s ministry was during those two years in Caesarea, we do not know, but we can be sure he gave a faithful witness for the Lord.

 

 

24 And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.

 

During the long months of imprisonment that ensued, Felix sent for Paul frequently and talked with him (24:26).  One such occasion is singled out for our interest on which [5]“Drusilla” (“a Jewess,” and still in her teens), Felix’s wife, was also present.  She was born about a.d. 38, the youngest of the three daughters of [3]Herod Agrippa I. She had formerly been married to [7]Azizus, king of Emesa, but Felix had enticed her to leave her husband and become his third wife.  She lived as though God had never given the Ten Commandments at Sinai.

 

It was probably from “Drusilla” that Felix obtained his own information about Christianity, and she may have been the driving force behind the desire to speak with Paul in private.  However, it was probably no more than superficial curiosity that drew the couple to hear what Paul had to say; curiosity mostly on the part of Drusilla.  She wanted to hear Paul; after all, her family had been involved with “the Way” on several occasions.  Her great grandfather tried to kill Jesus in Bethlehem (Matthew 2); her great-uncle killed John the Baptist and mocked Jesus (Luke 23:6-12); and Acts 12:1-2 tells of her father killing the Apostle James. I would equate this family to modern day Mafia.

 

The apostles theme on this, as on most occasions, was “faith in Christ Jesus.” The addition of Jesus to this statement is important.  He was not merely urging belief in the Christ, but belief that Jesus was the Christ to whom they should trust themselves for salvation. How his great heart yearned to win Priscilla and Felix to Christ.  Here is one obvious reason for Paul’s chains. How else could he ever have been able to present the faith in Christ (“the doctrine of Christ”) to such a needy pair?

 

 

25 And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.

 

“And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” (24:25a)

During the meeting between Paul and Felix (24:24) there was a discussion of “righteousness,” no doubt along the lines of Romans 1-4, seeing that it is the divine standard by which human conduct is tested and the attribute of God that led Him to put humanity right with Himself.  What a sermon that must have been.  We can picture Paul earnestly setting before this couple the nature of “righteousness.” “Righteousness” of course is the great theme of the epistle to the Romans—righteousness required, righteousness revealed, righteousness received, righteousness reproduced.  Paul could have preached Christ at that point as the One who’s flawless righteousness enabled him to die, “the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18), and His glorious righteousness is imparted to the believer by faith when trust his placed in Him.  But a holy God demands righteousness; that’s the bad news.  Yet the good news is that this same holy God provides His own righteousness to those who trust Jesus Christ ([9]Romans 3:21-26).  We can never be saved by our own righteousness of good works.  We can be saved only through Christ’s righteousness made available by his finished work of salvation on the cross. 

 

History would show how far short Felix came of that benchmark, and the presence of Priscilla at his side was evidence that they both lacked the “self-control” (“temperance”) of which Paul also spoke.  We picture Paul setting before his audience the need for temperance, for self-control.  Here was a couple who knew nothing of such self-control—a young girl, the pawn of politics, following her passions into a sinful union with her lover; a worldly-wise man used to getting his own way at all costs by the ruthless exercise of power.

 

We picture Paul, too, setting before Felix and Drusilla the nearness of “judgment.”  Perhaps Paul told Felix and Drusilla what he told the Greek philosophers: God has “appointed a day, in which He will judge the world in righteousness” by the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 17:31; NKJV).  Jesus Christ is either your Savior or your Judge?  How do we know that Jesus Christ is the Judge?  “He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31; NKJV). Once again, the Resurrection! What were a few fleeting years of sin and self-indulgence compared with the eternity of all that awaited the unrepentant, the great white throne lay ahead.  There was no escape, except by way of Calvary.  They might be able to flout and manipulate, scorn or evade the judgment of men, but there awaited them the judgment of God.  There remained the supreme court of the universe and Jesus who must be faced—if not as Savior, then certainly as judge.

 

“Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee” (24:25b)

Paul’s words went like an arrow to the conscience of Felix, though what effect it had on Drusilla is not recorded. Never had he heard such preaching.  Never had he been so pierced by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. For Felix it was his moment of decision.  Eternity swung in the balance.  “Felix trembled.” The word literally means “was terrified.” Roman leaders prided themselves in their ability to be stoical and restrain their emotions under all circumstances, but a conviction from God gripped Felix’s heart, and he could not hide it.  Paul had diagnosed the case and offered the remedy.  It was up to Felix to receive it.  “Felix trembled,”but that was all.  Many are startled by the word of God, who are not changed by it.  Many fear the consequences of sin yet continue in the love and practice of sin.  In the meantime we do not find Drusilla, a Jewess, nearly as alarmed as Felix.  She had become accustomed to hearing about a future judgment: perhaps too she trusted in being a daughter of Abraham, or to the justice of the law.

 

But he let the moment pass and made the common excuse: “Some other time.” There never was another time.  He procrastinated!  “When I have a convenient season, I will call for thee,” he said.  The most “convenient season” for a lost sinner to be saved is right now“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Felix perfectly illustrates the principle put forward by the Holy Spirit in one of several devastating warnings in Hebrews: “There are those who have known the truth. They have received the gift from heaven. They have shared the Holy Spirit. They know how good the Word of God is. They know of the powers of the world to come. But if they turn away, they cannot be sorry for their sins and turn from them again. It is because they are nailing the Son of God on a cross again. They are holding Him up in shame in front of all people” (Hebrews 6:4-6; NLV). Evidently what they heard brought conviction, for when Paul was done speaking of the “judgment to come,” Felix became afraid and brought the interview to a close.  How very foolish; Felix and Drusilla needed to be warned concerning “the judgment to come,”because unless their sins were pardoned through the blood of Christ they would perish in the lake of fire.

 

Think for a moment about Felix’s foolish attitudes.  He had a foolish attitude toward God’s Word, thinking that he could “take it or leave it.” But God “now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30; NKJV).  When God speaks, men and women had better listen and obey.

 

 

26 He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him.

 

One reason for these repeated meetings was Felix’s hope of receiving a bribe; they were in no way an indication that his heart was interested in spiritual things.  Felix had a choice, he could either keep Paul in prison indefinitely or, if he chose, could speed up the process of justice and have him acquitted (there was no way that Paul could be justly condemned).  But before he would set him free, he wanted it made worth his while.  The taking of bribes was forbidden by Roman law, but provincial governors were better at the breaking of it than in the observance.  But Felix was fishing for a bribe—as though Paul, having preached to him of righteousness, would do anything as unrighteous as to help further corrupt this unrighteous man by buying his way out of prison.

 

Paul’s mention, in his defense, of the money that he had brought to Jerusalem (24:17) may have suggested to Felix that his prisoner was not without means, and the fact that he had the support of loyal friends may only have encouraged the governor in the hope that Paul would purchase his freedom.  However, his hope was never fulfilled, and Paul remained a prisoner in Caesarea.

 

Be that as it may, Felix lost no opportunity to talk with Paul.  He did not even bother to conceal his ulterior motive.  His conscience, stimulated by Paul’s sermon, was now callous and unresponsive.  Still, he found Paul fascinating and never gave up hope that Paul would weaken, grease his palm, and so secure his release.  That Felix would not release him as a simple matter of justice was in keeping with his character.

 

 

27 But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix' room: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.

 

As with many Mediterranean Communities in New Testament times, Caesarea had a mixed population, in which the Jews were an important minority.  In their present mood of inflamed nationalism, clashes were bound to happen between them and the other elements of the population, and happen they did.  Thus during Paul’s imprisonment a disturbance broke out that led to street fighting between the Jews and the Greeks.  In the end Felix lost patience and suppressed it with such [4]violence that the outraged Jews (who had suffered most at the hands of his [6]soldiers) were able to force his recall to Rome by the emperor Nero under an accusation of bad administration of his office.  The best date for this is about a.d. 58, with Felix’s successor taking office in the summer of a.d. 59.  Luke’s statement that Felix had hoped to curry favor with the Jews by leaving Paul in prison agrees well with the circumstances of his removal from office.  History does not record anything about him after this.  Meanwhile, Paul was left for the new governor, Porcius Festus, to deal with. 

 

These years of Paul’s imprisonment may have been put to good use by Luke in collecting information for the books he would write later.  But some scholars feel that he shows to little detailed knowledge of the country—especially of Galilee and Samaria—to have been there for long and that it would have been far too dangerous for a Gentile companion of Paul to have hung around.  In any event he was with Paul again in 27:1.  Personally, I believe those two years in prison were the Lord’s method of resting His servant, and preparing him for the years lying ahead of him, for they were years of comparative comfort.  Almost surely Luke and Aristarchus were with him there; and Philip also, who 20 years before, had been driven from Jerusalem by the persecuting spirit of this very same man, and who only recently had been Paul’s host, refreshing and lodging him in his own house for a short time.

 

A very interesting suggestion has been made that in all likelihood it was during this period that the letter to the Hebrews was written.  I know the doubt and the difficulty about the authorship of that letter, and that there are those who think that Paul was not the writer.  My own conviction is that Luke was the writer, but that he wrote what Paul had taught.  Some of Paul’s great letters—Ephesians and Colossians—were written during a later imprisonment in Rome.  The majority of his days of incarceration, however, were not days of toil and strife, but of quiet fellowship with Luke, Aristarchus, and Phillip, interrupted by conversations with Felix.  The governor’s mind, no doubt, was enlightened (24:22), his emotions were stirred (24:25), but his will would not yield.  He tried to gain the world, but as far as we know, he lost his soul.  He procrastinated himself into hell.

 

As for the new governor, Porcius Festus, he had no interest in Paul except as a means of currying favor with the troublesome Jews. It was now his thankless task to govern.  He left Paul in prison.  Two years of relative peace and quiet were now about to be broken for Paul.  New storms were about to break upon his head. 

 

 

 

End Notes

 

[1]Believers were not called Christians in the beginning; instead, they were known as “the Way.”

[2]  Also called “military custody.”  The NIV has “under guard.”

[3] The “Herod” of Acts 12.

[4] Felix permitted the troops to sack and loot the houses of the wealthier Jews.

[5] Drusilla and her son died twenty-one years later in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius!

[6] One of the complaints of the Jews is that Felix had used Syrian troops to quell the fighting between Jews and Gentiles.

[7] Azizus was circumcised for the sake of his marriage to but Drusilla.

[8] “Liberty” means that he was not put in the common jail or kept in close confinement. He had limited freedom in the palace, chained to a soldier.  (The guards were changed every 6 hours; that gave Paul a perfect captive congregation!)

[9]Romans 3:21-26(NLV).”But now God has made another way to make men right with himself. It is not by the law. The law and the early preachers tell about it. Men become right with God by putting their trust in Jesus Christ. God will accept men if they come this way.  All men are the same to God.For all men have sinned and have missed the shining-greatness of god. Anyone can be made right with God by the free gift of his loving-favor. It is Jesus Christ who bought them with His blood and made them free from their sins. God gave Jesus Christ to the world. Men’s sins can be forgiven through the blood of Christ when they put their trust in Him. God gave his Son Jesus Christ to show how right He is. Before this, God did not look on the sins that were done. But now God proves that He is right in saving men from sin. He shows that He is the one who has no sin. God makes anyone right with himself who puts his trust in Jesus.”

 

 

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