Much space is given in the book of Acts to Paul’s unjust imprisonment, and his eventual arrival in Rome. In this chapter we read of Paul’s trial in Caesarea before the Roman governor Antonius Felix. If you think politics is dirty today, read early historical records about Felix. We are blessed, and we must pray for our leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-4).
A few days after Paul arrived to stand before Felix, a Jewish entourage arrived from Jerusalem to prosecute Paul. In the opening remarks by the prosecutor Tertullus, we see a fine display of flattering the judge. Tertullus then accused Paul of being a troublemaker, inciter of riots, and a ringleader of the sect of Nazarenes. The latter term was an early derogatory way of referring to those who followed the man of Nazareth, Jesus Christ. Remember that Nathaniel had said, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46). Prejudice is unfair and inaccurate. A person is defined by his character and conduct, not by hateful characterization of his hometown or his race. Prejudice says far more about the hater than the hated. But Paul most certainly was a leader among those who followed Jesus Christ.
As the Jews piled on to enforce Tertullus’ accusations, the governor told Paul to speak. Paul’s reply is a masterpiece of apologetic work. Not apologizing for wrongdoing but explaining the truth of the matter (1 Pet. 3:15). Paul agreed with the Law, including its prophecies of the Messiah. He gladly admitted to being a follower of the Way, a simple description of the Christian movement. And once more Paul said, “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (24:16). Can we say the same? Is our conscience properly trained, and do we heed its warnings when we think of violating what we know to be right? The conscience is a valuable blessing, and we must not override it. The conscience can be damaged, seared by constant violation (1 Tim. 4:2). If we violate our conscience, we lose sensitivity to right and wrong (Eph. 4:18-19). Our heart may become hardened against the warnings of Scripture. Beware.
Paul carefully explained that after years of collecting relief, he had come back to Jerusalem to bring gifts to the poor. Seeing that no clear charge was being brought against Paul, Felix adjourned the proceedings and commanded Paul to be kept under guard. Paul was in a precarious position, but still guarded by the benefits of Roman citizenship.
Later, Felix brought his wife and listened to Paul speak about the Christian faith. Paul stressed that God demands righteousness and self-control, neither of which Felix practiced. Paul also emphasized that judgment is coming. Felix was genuinely afraid as he pondered whether there might be a living God, and whether he might be the judge of all men. Felix was a man who filled every worldly appetite without reservation. Thus Felix ended the session without changing.
Felix kept Paul in custody for two years, hoping that Paul might offer a bribe for release. He also wished to keep the Jews happy. Then Felix was replaced as governor by Porcius Festus.
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.