Paul’s Trial Before Felix
In Acts chapter 24, we see a vivid contrast between Paul and the other men who come center stage at his trial.
Paul displays respect for authority, responds in honesty to the accusations made against him, and faithfully testifies the gospel of Jesus Christ.
On the other hand we see Tertullus, the attorney bringing charges against the Apostle seeking favor by using flattery, the Jewish leaders claiming that the false accusations were true and Felix refusing to free Paul to gain favor with the people.
The Charges Against Paul
History reveals that Ananias the high priest was one of the most corrupt men to hold that position in all of Israel’s history. He arrives with a number of elders and with Tertullus, one known for his oratorical abilities, whom he had hired to present the charges.
Tertullus begins his presentation with words of flattery in an attempt to influence Felix. He says, “Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence, We accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness.” There was really not much good that could be said about Felix, but that did not stand in the way of a man who was seeking favor to his own advantage.
The deceitful heart of fallen sinners will seek to justify the use of flattery but God’s Word clearly condemns it. “A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin” (Proverbs 26:28). “A man that flattereth his neighbour spreadeth a net for his feet” (Proverbs 29:5). Flattery is the use of dishonest words in an attempt to manipulate others. May we rather speak words that are good “to the use of edifying, that they may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).
Then Tertullus presents the charges.
He first accuses him of sedition, which would be a crime against the Roman government.
He describes him as being “a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world.” Describing Paul as being a pest reveals the deep hatred many had for him; and although he claims he had stirred up trouble all over the world, he fails to cite a specific incident of such activities.
This is often the tactic used by those who want to discredit an opponent. It is frequently observed in the political world. If a broad sweeping accusation is made even without any facts, the damage is done. Sad to say the same tactic is sometimes used among Christians. A church or an individual may be said to be “unsound’ or “out of order” and without any facts, the charge is accepted and fellowship is broken.
Second, the charge was made that he was “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.”
This implied that Paul was not only guilty of sedition against the government but an active leader in a sect that was troubling the Jews.
Often those who contend for truth are accused of being trouble makers. King Ahab accused Elijah of troubling Israel but the prophet answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim” (1 Kings 18:18).
And then the third charge was that he tried to desecrate the temple.
Again no facts were presented to substantiate the claims.
The Defense by Paul
Paul begins his defense by respectfully acknowledging that Felix had been judge for many years and would then be qualified to hear his testimony. He points out that it had only been twelve days since he went to Jerusalem to worship and that he was not found even disputing in the temple much less raising up people to revolt against the government. So he declares, “Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me” (Acts 24:13).
After declaring his innocence of the charges, he makes an admission: “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets” (Acts 24:14).
Although Tertullus had referred to Christians as Nazarenes in a derisive way, Paul declares He worships the God of his fathers.
He is saying my accusers may call this way heresy but I believe the things written in the law and the prophets and consequently have hope toward God.
Paul obviously believed the Old Testament scriptures were inspired and that the many references to the coming Messiah were pointing to Jesus Christ. In becoming a follower of Jesus he had not departed from the faith but embraced what the prophets had written while the Jews who accused him rejected their testimony.
According to Jesus’ own words those who reject him could not be honoring the Father: “All men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father which hath sent him” (John 5:23).
There are those today who argue that one may faithfully worship God but at the same time reject Jesus Christ. Jesus says that is impossible.
He declares that the one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father. A popular view is that there are many roads to heaven. It has been described like spokes on a wheel, they all lead to the same hub. It is said there are many ways in which a person may approach God and reach heaven and that if they are sincere they will reach the desired destination. Jesus, however, said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”(John 14:6). The Jews hated Jesus for declaring his deity and claiming to be “the way,” and they hated Paul for preaching the same truth.
While the gospel is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews, “… unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24).
If you are one who sees great wisdom in the gospel and by faith embrace Jesus Christ as your Savior, you have reason to give thanks for the amazing grace of God by which you have been called.
The Response of Felix
When Felix heard Paul’s defense he still refused to release him. His excuse was that he would wait for Lysias, the chief captain, to come and they he will provide more information. But the real reason is evident, he wanted to appease the Jews and he hoped that money would be given to him for the release of Paul.
He was obviously a self-centered and greedy man.
He was more interested in pleasing the people than he was in upholding the law and although bribes were forbidden under Roman law, he hoped to gain a material advantage.
Felix, along with his wife Drusilla who was a Jewess, sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ: “And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go they way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." As Paul spoke of righteousness and judgment before this ungodly man, Felix trembled and then sent Paul away.
How many times when the truth of God is presented and there is some conviction; the response is, “I will consider this at a more convenient time.”
Felix did call Paul back for other meetings but there is no mention that he trembled again. His motive now was to receive money for Paul’s release. How sad to see one become hardened against the truth!
What an opportunity he had to sit under the teaching of the Apostle Paul, but rather than give attention to his message, his focus was on material gain.
May we learn from this account that if there is opposition from enemies to be always faithful in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. And may we learn from the sad example of Felix never to put off to a “more convenient season” what needs to be acted on today, for today is the day of salvation.