In our ongoing study of Acts we have seen Paul end his third missionary journey and head to Jerusalem with a love offering from the Gentile churches. Once at Jerusalem he met with James and the elders of the church, who gladly received his report of God's work through the Gospel in the lives of the Gentiles (21:17-20). They urged Paul to correct some misconceptions about his ministry and message by demonstrating that in coming to faith in Christ he had not completely rejected Judaism, and especially its ceremonial worship. In other words, they asked Paul to prove that he was still, as a Christian, "zealous for the Law" (21:17-25).
Paul took their advice and went to the temple, along with the four men whom the elders had recommended, to purify himself and to make sacrifices, paying their expenses, and thus identifying himself with all that they did. At the end of seven days, some Asian Jews spotted Paul in the temple, and they jumped to the conclusion that Paul had brought a Gentile into the temple and defiled it. These Asian Jews called upon the Jerusalem Jews to help them be rid of Paul once and for all. It was their intention to put Paul to death. A riot broke out as men gathered in the frenzy of the moment, all attempting to kill Paul.
News of this riot reached the ears of Claudius Lysias, the Roman commander whose prompt arrival cut short the Jew's efforts to kill Paul. When the commander learned that Paul was not the Egyptian revolutionary, he allowed Paul to address the crowd. Paul spoke to the crowd in Hebrew, and they listened quietly until Paul told of his vision in which the Lord commanded him to flee Jerusalem and go to the Gentiles (22:17-21ff). At this point the crowd erupted, and Lysias took Paul into the barracks.
The commander, who didn't really understand what all the commotion was about, planned to learn the truth by examining Paul by scourging. In the course of preparing him for this "interrogation" Paul indicated to the centurions that he was a Roman citizen, which quickly changed the commander's mind about beating him without a trial. The commander released Paul and arranged for his trial by the Sanhedrin the following day. After offending the high priest, Ananias, Paul turned the Council into a chaotic free for all by taking his stand with the Pharisees in believing in the resurrection of the dead (23:1-10). The commander, once again, had to intervene to save Paul. He placed him in custody once again.
The Jewish opponents of Paul concluded that there was no legal way of disposing of him, and so they became party to a conspiracy in which Paul was to be assassinated (23:12-15). When Paul learned of this plot through his nephew, he sent the young lad to the commander, who took prompt and decisive action, sending Paul to Felix in Caesarea that night, under heavy guard. With Paul, Claudius Lysias sent a letter which explained the situation.
In the first 21 verses of chapter 24 we looked at Paul's trial before Felix. Paul's defense was brilliant, he refuted ever charge against him. When Paul finished his defense, they didn't have anything to say. Paul concluded by saying:
other than for this one statement which I shouted out while standing among them, 'For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today.'" (Acts 24:21 NASB)
Paul ended his testimony by throwing the case into the area of theology. Paul knew from experience that a Roman judge could not make a determination in a case regarding Jewish theology.
So Felix had a problem, he was trying a Roman citizen, and a Roman citizen had certain rights. If those rights were not met, Paul could make trouble for Felix. But he had an even worse problem: There were many angry Jews in his court--and angry Jews had been known to start revolutions in the past.
But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way, put them off, saying, "When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case." (Acts 24:22 NASB)
Having listened to all this, and having more exact knowledge about the Way (so that he knew that the accusations were lies), Felix knew that Paul was right, he was not guilty, because he had not done any crime. But Felix did not want to offend the Jews, so he made an excuse. He said that he must wait for Lysias, the chief captain, to come to Caesarea. But he really didn't need to have Lysias come down. He had already received from him a letter exonerating Paul. But he uses this as an excuse to delay. So he retains Paul in custody, even though he had every legal right to set him free.
Felilx had no intention of bringing Lysias to Caesarea, otherwise he could have been there within a couple of days or so. There is no record that he ever called Claudius Lysias, or that he ever came. Felix postponed the case permanently. He did this to protect himself from further civil unrest sparked by Paul's being at large, and did the Sanhedrin a favor. And providentially, in protective custody Paul is kept from the hands of Jews intent on his death.
Notice that no one is able to bring any charge against Paul. Lysias could find nothing wrong with Paul, so he sent him off to Felix. After hearing the charges against Paul and hearing Paul's defense, Felix realizes that there is no evidence of any reason whatsoever for the apostle to be delivered over to the Jews.
How did Felix have a more perfect knowledge of Christianity than Paul's Jewish accusers did? He lived in Caesarea. Philip the evangelist lived there, as did many Christians. Felix also spent nine years in Judea, and tens of thousands of Christians lived throughout Judea.
Then he gave orders to the centurion for him to be kept in custody and yet have some freedom, and not to prevent any of his friends from ministering to him. (Acts 24:23 NASB)
These details serve as silent witness to Paul's innocence, for he is being treated as a Roman citizen simply detained for trial. Paul is under what we might call "house-arrest," with access to friends and with some liberty. It was normal for prisoners to be fed and provided for by their friends, so Luke clearly saw the courtesy extended to Paul as something extra, as giving him considerable leeway.
This would mean that under the protection of Rome Paul could see any brethren who wished to come to see him and could teach them to his heart's content. He was still in a position in complete safety to proclaim the Word. People could have been popping in and out to see Paul all day. We can imagine that Philip probably came around quite often.
But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. (Acts 24:24 NASB)
Felix and his third wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish, sent for Paul and listened to him speak. Drusilla, according to the historians, was supposed to be a raving beauty. When she was still only sixteen, Felix, with the help (it is said) of a Cypriot magician called Atomos, persuaded her to leave her husband and come to be his wife, promising her (with a play on his name) every "felicity" if she did so. So their relationship was immoral from the beginning.
At this time Drusilla was 19 years old. She was one of the three daughters of Herod Agrippa I. Her father murdered James--the murder is recorded in the Book of Acts. Her great uncle, Herod Antipas, slew John the Baptist. And her great grandfather, Herod the Great, killed the babes in Jerusalem. So you can see, she comes from a long line of Christ haters.
Here is Paul, a prisoner who is innocent of the false charges against him, coming before the man who had the power to release him or execute him. Maybe he should present the Gospel in a user-friendly fashion, showing them how Jesus could help them have a happier life. He could bring out his best stories to warm their hearts, and maybe Felix would even let Paul out of prison.
If you were Paul, and you were summoned to Felix, a Roman governor, and his wife, a Jewess, and were asked about your message, what would you have said?
When asked to expound the truth about "the faith of Jesus Christ," Paul did not dampen his message down so as not to cause offence. He knew the facts about Felix and about his wife. He knew them for what they were. Felix possibly expected an interesting discourse on the resurrection, but he got more than he bargained for. Paul didn't give Felix and Drusilla an inspiring message that left them feeling good about themselves:
But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you." (Acts 24:25 NASB)
The verb translated "discussing" means: "to reason with." The couple needed to understand God's standards, their accountability, and the reality of a final reckoning. In brief, they must face the bad news of their lost spiritual condition before they can grasp and embrace the Good News.
Now, what Paul said about righteousness is not said here, but he must have exalted the principles of righteousness before a right, holy, and just God. If I know Paul, I think that he also spoke about how we may obtain the righteousness of God. And he pointed out that while we have no righteousness ourselves, and God demands righteousness, the only way by which we may be "right" before God is to receive righteousness as a gift, through the blood that was shed on Calvary's Cross.
So Paul starts by reasoning with them about "Righteousness"--this is from the Greek word dikaiosune, which means: "to be right with God and to conform perfectly to God's standard." The definitive passage of righteousness in the First Testament is Deuteronomy 25 where Moses exhorts the children of Israel to use honest weights in their homes and in business transactions. In their culture, goods for sale were weighed to determine the value. A dishonest seller would use a fifteen ounce weight, but charge for a pound. A dishonest buyer would use a seventeen ounce weight and only pay for a pound. Moses told them to have right weights to make sure they conformed to the standard. Righteousness is perfect conformity to a standard; our standard is the holy God.
According to the Bible, our spiritual condition as humans is one of unrighteousness:
as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; (Romans 3:10 NASB)
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23 NASB)
Our standing with God is not right--neither judicially nor morally. He is the Judge of the universe. It is to Him, who created us, before whom we must answer and be judged. With God's righteousness expressed in the moral law being the standard, none of us has enough personal righteousness to commend ourselves to God. Our nature as sinners keeps us at enmity with God. Our practice of sin continues to offend the holiness of God. We are in need of being put into a right standing with God. Righteousness is God's divine ideal--His absolute standard. What does God demand? Absolute righteousness. Jesus said:
"Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48 NASB)
Throughout the Bible, the basic idea conveyed in the word "righteousness" is that of a legally right standing with God. The word is heavily weighted on the side of the forensic, though it does carry some ethical connotations too. But the ethical follows the forensic (legal), not vice versa.
We find this to be a vital matter when we consider the character of God. Whether we look in the First or New Testaments, we always find God consistently righteous. "The Lord is righteous..." (2 Chronicles 12:6; Lamentations 1:18). "O Lord God of Israel, Thou art righteous..." (Ezra 9:15). The Psalmist explains that even the legal decisions of God, those based upon His written Law or the law expressed by the righteousness within His nature, are always righteous:
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. (Psalms 19:9 NASB)
If we could somehow measure infinity, then we could begin to explain the extent of God's righteousness, goodness, holiness, and justice. He is altogether pure; He is holy, holy, holy; He is light without even the least trace of darkness.
As a righteous God, the Lord has responsibilities that go along with His perfect righteousness. One of those is to deal justly with those who break His Law or those who have any rebellion in their natures against His authority. He cannot not be just. He cannot overlook sin without dealing with it judicially or legally. It is part of His whole nature as God to apply justice to His creation.
We sometime bemoan the crooks and criminals who seem to get away with all manner of lawbreaking. They violate every standard of law and order, yet they seem to never be held accountable for their actions. We are reminded, when we consider the nature of God, that He will not allow any injustice to ultimately survive His creation. We may not personally see the justice take place, but we are assured it will:
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. (Romans 12:19 NASB)
The nature of God demands that each sin and each sinner be dealt with legally. The law of God that is bound up in His nature requires that each offense be paid accordingly.
The nature of our offense against the righteous standard of God demands nothing less than the eternal measure of His wrath. You ask, "Why so severe? Is God not a loving, kind God?" Absolutely, we must rejoice that He is a loving, kind God or there would be no chance for mercy! But the severity is found in the nature of our offense. We are not breaking a human law and thus offending only mortal creatures. We have broken divine laws and have infinitely offended the nature and character of God!
With our lives laid bare before Him, what we deserve, what His justice requires, is all too clear. Condemned! Divine judgment! Wrath! The Judge exercises His office with perfect wisdom and justice. He will not condemn the innocent nor overlook the guilty, for His judgment is carried out according to the perfections of His nature. Mistakes in judgment are impossible for Him.
How can a sinful man justify himself before God? Paul's position is that he cannot. The Jews of the first century had inherited a teaching of self-justification through adherence to the Law. For several hundred years the rabbinical scholars had taught the Jewish population that they could acquire merit in God's eyes by certain works of righteousness. They had essentially created a balancing scale model of righteousness. The works that were accounted as righteous would be added to the merit of a person's life, while their failures would become demerits. In the end, the weight of the balance would determine the person's standing before the judgment of God. There was no assurance for a man that he had more merit than demerits. If there was a tie between a man's merits and demerits, then God would show mercy and press on the merit side of the scale.
This is not far from the thinking of most people in our own day. Most view their standing with God based upon the positive addition of merit by good works outweighing their demerits. Normally, people have elevated views of their merits! They cannot even begin to fathom that they have enough flaws to sink the balance of the scale out of their favor. But the apostle states categorically:
because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20 NASB)
We stand before God condemned; our only hope is in Jesus Christ.
nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (Galatians 2:16 NASB)
In his writings Paul unfolds for us this wonderful, central message of the Bible. It is the fact that guilty sinners are brought into a right standing with God through faith in Christ Jesus.
Because He is gracious, full of mercy, and out of the abundance of His love, God has provided two important things: (1) the solitary way for sinners to be declared righteous before Him, and (2) the solitary way for God to be just in declaring sinners righteous.
How can God be just in declaring sinners righteous? God would be unjust to grant forgiveness to anyone of us apart from His divine justice being satisfied. This is where some well-meaning people err in seeking forgiveness. They appeal to God's mercy and love for forgiveness. But they do not do this on the basis of the justice of God at the cross. They believe that they are sinners, and they believe that God is indeed merciful and loving; so they appeal to God to grant them forgiveness without reference to the work of Christ. They ignore the need for divine justice. They ignore the fact that God is righteous and just; that forgiveness is not granted simply on the basis of God's love. The most-quoted verse in the New Testament attests to this fact:
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NASB)
Because of God's love, He gave His Son as a satisfaction for sin, so that all of the judicial (forensic) requirements for righteousness might be provided for undeserving sinners. His love does not forgive apart from His justice being fully satisfied.
Because God is merciful, gracious, and loving, He provided the means to satisfy His own righteousness and, at the same time, declare undeserving sinners to be "Not guilty" for all eternity. The way our gracious God accomplished this was by transferring our guilt to His own Son. Our sin was imputed to Him at the cross. As Paul expressed it in:
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB)
The things that I have done are placed upon Christ's responsibility sheet, and the things that Christ has done have been placed upon my responsibility sheet. Thus, He assumes the responsibility for my sin--and pays the debt I owe; and I am attributed with His righteousness--though, in real life, I am not righteous.
The sinless Son of God took on the weight of our sin and guilt before God. He stood between us and the full measure of the divine wrath as our Mediator.
All that the Judge of the universe requires for you to have a right standing with Him, He has provided through Jesus Christ. All of the merits of Christ to justify you before a righteous God are not obtained by the works of the Law, but only through faith in Jesus Christ. Are you trusting fully in Jesus Christ and His merits for your standing with God?
Is it important that Christians live a righteous life? Absolutely!
If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. (1 John 2:29 NASB)
instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, (Titus 2:12 NASB)
To me nothing is more important than the doctrine of "Free Grace." We are saved by God on the basis of faith alone. We are not saved or kept by our works. But as Christians if we live unrighteously, we will pay for it in this life. Sin has consequences.
He also spoke about self-control--this is the Greek word egkrateia. It implies a "restraining (of the) passions and appetites," particularly in a moral sense. The word indicates especially self-control with regard to sexual matters. It has been translated: "chastity."
Remember here that Paul is talking about self-control before two people who had not exercised self-control: Drusilla, in leaving her husband, and Felix in using a sorcerer in order to seduce her to becoming his wife. Self-control, whether in regard to sex, money, or power, is foreign to them. In other words, he went right to the heart of their own relationship and the sin that had been involved. He pulled no punches and no doubt informed them what Jesus had taught on the matter:
But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you." (Acts 24:25 NASB)
Again, we need to look at this is the YLT:
and he reasoning concerning righteousness, and temperance, and the judgment that is about to be, Felix, having become afraid, answered, `For the present be going, and having got time, I will call for thee;' (Acts 24:25 YLT)
Paul also talked to them about the "judgment that is about to be." "To come" here in the NASB is mello, which as we have said over and over means: "about to be."
So Paul tells Felix and Drusilla that judgment is "about to come," he says this to Timothy also:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: (2 Timothy 4:1 NASB)
Here "who is to" is mello. Paul again is telling his first century readers that Jesus is about to judge the living and the dead. This is to happen at His appearing! Christ's Second Coming was a coming in judgment.
If this universal judgment was in A.D. 70, what about believers today, when do we get judged?:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1 NASB)
The word "condemnation" is the Greek word katakrima, which means: judgment." Christ boar our judgment, there is no judgment for us. We share Christ's righteousness.
What about unbelievers today, when do they get judged?:
"He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18 NASB)
Unbelievers are already under wrath, they are separated from God, at physical death they will forever and always be separated from God, Who is life.
Drusilla would know of the judgment to come from her Jewish upbringing, and Felix would have heard about it because he had an "exact knowledge about the Way."
Paul here lays out the Gospel to these two: He tells them what God's standard is, he shows them that they are not living up to it, and he tells them that they will be judged if they don't live up to it. Then he tells them that since they can't live up to it, Jesus Christ took their sin, paid their penalty of judgment, and offers them His righteousness by faith.
Notice Felix's response, "Felix became frightened and said, 'Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.'" The Greek word indicates that he shuddered. But there is no indication that either of them trusted Christ.
Felix basically says to go away, when he finds time he'll hear more. What a sad excuse! Here Felix was, talking with none other than the apostle Paul, who could have answered any spiritual question that Felix had asked. But he wasn't interested.
Before we are too hard on Felix, think about our own missed opportunities. Every week we all face opportunities for spiritual advance. There is the opportunity to set your alarm a few minutes early to get up and spend time with the Lord. Or, you can sack in and miss that opportunity. There is the opportunity to read some spiritually enriching Christian books that will change your life. Or, you can sit mesmerized in front of TV or video games. There is the opportunity to meet with other believers to grow in your faith. Or, you can forsake assembling together with the saints.
In an age when the majority view all moral values as relative, the Christian witness needs to find a way to speak of God's righteousness again in such a way that it raises a standard for all.
What if you had the opportunity to give testimony before a homosexual leader? Would you speak of righteousness? Would you be as bold as Paul?
Paul's preaching to Felix and Drusilla was a fulfillment of prophecy:
But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; (Acts 9:15 NASB)
Felix did have Paul brought before him many times, but not because he was interested in the Gospel:
At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him. (Acts 24:26 NASB)
Felix was a wicked man, guilty of lust and greed. History records that he urged certain bandits to do certain things in order that they may pay him bribes from the rewards that they gained from their wickedness; but, still, he continued to converse with the apostle. According to Josephus, it was common provincial administrative practice to seek a bribe in exchange for a prisoner's release (Josephus' Jewish Antiquities 20.215; Jewish Wars 2.273).
What would make Felix think Paul had money? Having learned, from Paul's own lips, that he had been up to Jerusalem to bear alms from distant churches to the poor, and knowing something, perhaps of the general liberality of the disciples toward one another, he could have thought that they would be willing to purchase Paul's freedom at a high price. He may have been impressed by the numbers of visitors who came to see Paul and thought that they would be able to raise a sufficient bribe.
But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned. (Acts 24:27 NASB)
Tradition tells us that Felix was removed from his governorship when there was a big riot in Caesarea, about A.D. 59. He put it down with such violence that the Jews were outraged and managed to obtain his recall from Rome. But he still was afraid that the Jews would pursue him even when he was out of office. He had already lost his job and he was afraid he might lose his life. So he attempted to pacify the Jewish leaders by leaving Paul a prisoner. For two years Paul had to remain a prisoner. The case was never closed and a final testimony was never given.
The Western text of the Book of Acts says that when he wanted to show the Jews a pleasure, he left Paul bound on account of Drusilla. So, evidently, it's possible that it was at her desire that Paul was left bound by Felix.
The two years which Paul spent in his Caesarean imprisonment would have been a source of great irritation and frustration to many of us. To be imprisoned on charges which were totally unfounded, and all because of a politician who would not risk offending some of his constituency might have us quite frustrated. But Paul knew that this delay was a part of God's divine design. Many good things must have resulted from this two year period, but Luke chose to tell us only of one of Paul's ministries.
Do you feel like you are in prison this morning? Have you found yourself locked into circumstances which you are helpless to change? Are you in a situation you cannot get out of? It may be ill health, or a bad job. It may be a poor marriage, or low finances, or something else. Remember, God has given that to you in order that you might learn the secret which Paul learned:
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13 NASB)
Many scholars believe that Luke did the research for the Gospel of Luke while based here. He could have written Acts to this point, also.
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