Acts 24: 1 – 16 Paul’s trial before Felix – Part 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. 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.
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 defence. You can easily verify that not 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 that 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.
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What charges did the high priest bring against Paul?
- Stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world.
- Ringleader of the Nazarene sect.
- Attempting to desecrate the temple.
Paul was a Roman citizen, being tried in a Roman court. Which of these accusations justifies sanctions under Roman law?
Troublemaker. This would require specific evidence of specific trouble-making. Not proven.
Stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. This would require specific evidence of specific riots. In any case, the court under Felix only had jurisdiction over the province of which he was governor.
Ringleader of the Nazarene sect. This is not a crime in itself. It would only become a crime if the sect were to plot and act against Roman rule, and no evidence of this is provided.
Attempting to desecrate the temple. While the Romans cared nothing for the holiness of the temple, the Governor would have been concerned to ensure that Jewish religious sensibilities were respected, especially in Jerusalem and even more especially towards the temple. Jerusalem was a powder keg that could erupt into violence at any time – as indeed it did some years later.
Paul knew perfectly well that Felix’s jurisdiction only applied within his province, so he chooses to defend himself only against those charges that Felix is competent to hear. He starts twelve days earlier when he arrived at Jerusalem and says three things:
- He went to Jerusalem to worship.
- He didn’t argue with anyone at the temple.
- He didn’t stir up crowds at synagogues or anywhere else in the city.
The hearing is going well for Paul, but Felix must be concerned. Here is a Roman citizen who has not committed crimes against Rome, but around whom trouble has started over and over again. Political dynamite!
During the course of his defence, Paul says something very interesting.
“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 that these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”
Paul once persecuted the Way; now he is its most vocal advocate. And yet his theology hasn’t changed; he still believes everything in Moses and the prophets. He wasn’t persuaded or convinced by argument – far from it. He changed because he had a personal encounter with the living Jesus.
Coming to belief in Jesus may be dramatic, like Paul’s conversion, or it may be quiet and gradual. However it happens, we reach a point where we say, “Jesus, I put my trust in you.” It is a personal commitment to a personal Lord. It is a personal encounter with the living Jesus.
Thank you for sending Jesus to us. Thank you that we can know him and serve him personally as our living Lord.
In Jesus’ name, Amen