Acts 24: 17 – 27 Paul’s trial before Felix – Part 2
‘After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin – unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: “It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.” ’
Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings.
‘When Lysias the commander comes,’ he said, ‘I will decide your case.’ He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.
Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient I will send for you.’ At the same time he was hoping Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.
When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favour to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.
* * *
Paul had been arrested after riots in Jerusalem, which had started when some Jews from Asia had recognised him. Now, in his trial, Paul describes clearly and calmly what happened. He had gone to the temple to present offerings and was ceremonially clean. There was no crowd with him, nor was he involved in any disturbance. Paul points out that it was the Jews from Asia who claimed to have seen him doing wrong. His accusers before Felix (the high priest Ananias, some elders, and the lawyer Tertullus) had not seen him. How, then, could they be valid witnesses?
He goes on to point out that the only acts of his that Ananias and the elders had witnessed were those of his appearance before the Sanhedrin. He admits that he called out “It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.” If that was a crime, then let them accuse him!
Felix is left with a problem. Paul has committed no crime against Rome. He could, and possibly should, be released. However, it’s clear that the Jewish authorities are very angry with Paul and want him dead. If Felix releases Paul, it won’t be long before the Jews make another attempt on his life. If Paul were just a Jew, I don’t expect Felix would care. He’d release him and let matters take their course. But Paul isn’t just a Jew, he’s a Roman citizen.
Now, he’s not a very important citizen. Even if Felix abandoned Paul to the Jews, it’s not likely that he would suffer sanctions from Rome for doing so. But the significance of Roman citizenship had a mythic quality. The Roman Empire had a huge population and only a tiny percentage were citizens. It was important to the stability of the Empire that citizens were seen as extra-special. Even Felix, a venal man who did favours for the Jewish leaders and hoped for a bribe from Paul, probably felt deeply that the life and rights of a Roman citizen should be inviolable.
Felix can’t hold an innocent Roman indefinitely, so he delays matters “ ‘When Lysias the commander comes,’ he said, ‘I will decide your case.” ’ He makes Paul’s imprisonment as bearable as possible, and then plays for time. The strategy succeeds better than he could have dared hope. Two years later, Felix is still holding Paul, and is able to use his continuing imprisonment to curry favour with the Jewish hierarchy.
For us today, the most significant part of this passage may be the words called out by Paul before the Sanhedrin:
“It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.”
It was indeed why Paul was on trial. The resurrection of Jesus is at the absolute heart of our faith.
Thank you for raising Jesus from the dead. Please strengthen our faith, and help us to show the truth of his resurrection to those around us.
In Jesus’ name, Amen