Pastor David B. Curtis


Paul's Defense Before Felix

Acts 24:1-21

Delivered 05/30/2010

In our previous studies we have seen that Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem as a riot was about to break out in the temple courts. He had made two unsuccessful attempts to placate the Jews and to testify to them of Jesus Christ. They refused to listen; and now, after a plot against his life, he has been brought down to the province capital, Caesarea, on the coast. There he will face the governor:

When these had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. (Acts 23:33 NASB)

The delivery of Paul to Caesarea marked the beginning of a two-year imprisonment in that city. During this period he stated his case and also the case for the Christian Gospel to two provincial governors and a king, fulfilling one aspect of the Lord's prediction about his ministry:

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)

The governor referred to in Acts 23:33 is Felix. His full name was Marcus Antonius Felix. He was Roman governor of Judaea (52-58). He is also known as Claudius Felix. He began his life as a slave, but due to the fact that his brother Pallas gained a great deal of favor with Antonia, who was the mother of Claudius, the Roman Emperor, he, also, gained his freedom as well. He was the first slave in history to become a governor of a Roman province.

His behavior in Palestine increased the hatred of Rome. Tacitus says of him that "Practicing every kind of cruelty and lust he wielded royal power with the instinct of a slave" (which of course he had been). His method of exacting his will was by violence and crucifixions. He married three times, and each time into royalty. His first wife was the granddaughter of Anthony and Cleopatra; his present and third wife was Drusilla, a very beautiful Jewess and daughter of Agrippa I. She had been married when young to Azizus, king of Emesa, a petty Syrian king, but Felix saw her shortly after her wedding, desired her, and through the services of a magician from Cyprus prevailed on her to desert her husband and marry him in defiance of the Law. This was typical of the man. Tacitus says, "He believed that he could commit all kinds of enormities with impunity." Tacitus also said that he indulged in every kind of barbarity and lust (Histories 5:9). Sounds like our politicians.

Under his procuratorship hostility against Rome increased enormously, resulting in the expansion of the influence of the zealots, and he then reacted viciously against them by hunting them down ruthlessly and dealing with them with extreme cruelty. This simply produced a further reaction which resulted in general hatred and contempt and a huge increase in the number of "assassins" (men who mingled in crowds with hidden daggers and secretly murdered collaborators) until no one in Jerusalem with political connections could feel safe.

Once Paul arrives in Caesarea, Felix says, "I will give you a hearing after your accusers arrive also." This is where we left off last week.

The first nine verses of chapter 24 are Luke's account of the accusations made against Paul by the Jews, as represented by Tertullus, the lawyer. Verses 10-21 are Luke's account of Paul's defense.

After five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders, with an attorney named Tertullus, and they brought charges to the governor against Paul. (Acts 24:1 NASB)

The importance attached to Paul is seen in that the high priest came in person together with some leading elders and with a trained advocate in order to charge Paul. Ananias was a corrupt high priest. He saw Paul as a threat, so he had traveled over sixty miles to present his charges before a Roman governor, in hopes of having Paul put to death. This whole thing must have been quite an awkward situation for Ananias, because he had to deal with a man who just a few years earlier had been a mere slave.

Tertullus was probably a Hellenistic Jew in view of his Roman name, though he could have been a Roman Gentile. "Attorney" is from the Greek word rhetoros, which means: "a lawyer who was specially skillful in oratory." This is its only time it appears in the New Testament.

"After five days"--this will be calculated from when the trouble first began (see verse 11). After arriving in Jerusalem, Paul had met with the church, immediately spent a few days of purifying, and had five days earlier been initially arrested by the Romans, making "twelve days" in all.

After Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying to the governor, "Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation, 3 we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. 4 "But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing. (Acts 24:2-4 NASB)

Tertullus begins by engaging in a bit of nauseating flattery. He spoke of Felix as a very wise and benevolent leader, who skillfully had brought peace and progress to the Jewish nation. "We have through you attained much peace"--with a knowledge of secular history, we know that these statements were hypocritical and dishonest. Felix was no man of peace, and the Jews did not have a high regard for him. He assassinated Jonathan, the high priest, because he didn't like him (Josephus, Antiquities, 20.8.5). I think that Tertullus praised Felix for being a peacemaker in preparation for his charge that Paul was a disturber of the peace (vv. 5-6).

After the flattery he brings the charges against Paul:

"For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 "And he even tried to desecrate the temple; and then we arrested him. [We wanted to judge him according to our own Law. (Acts 24:5-6 NASB)

The first charge was that Paul was a "real pest." The Greek here is loimos, which means: "a plague (literally the disease) or pestilence." The idea is that he is a revolutionary pest, a troublemaker, stirring up difficulties and riots all through the empire. This lawyer knew that would have an effect upon this Roman judge, because the Romans had a far-flung empire to administer, and the one thing they dared not tolerate was civil disorder. Any uprising could be a spark that would light a fire which would be very difficult to put out, and they knew it. The Romans dealt with a heavy hand with any troublemaker.

Second, Paul was labeled a religious radical,"He's a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." In other words, he is a representative of a group of people who are illegally practicing religion in the Roman Empire. Now, the Romans recognized certain religions as permitted, that is, legal. But others were illegal. They cannot be practiced with the support of the Roman Empire. At this time, Christianity was still under the sanction of the Roman Empire because it was thought to be a sect of Judaism. This sect was seen as a small group of Jews who believed that Jesus from Nazareth was their Messiah.

The third charge leveled against Paul was that he was a sacrilegious fanatic who had tried to profane the temple, to defile it by bringing Gentiles in. This was the religious charge which started the riot, but it was also a political charge because the riot broke the Roman peace. The Romans knew that it was such a sacred precinct to the Jews that anything which happened to their temple was apt to inflame this entire nation.

So basically, Tertullus is saying that Paul is worthy of death three times over! Nevertheless, let the procurator note, fierce fellow that he was, they had managed to "arrest him," Is that what they call it? They tried to kill him on the spot.

Now if you are using the NASB you will notice that the last part of verse 6 thru the beginning of verse 6 are in brackets.

6b [We wanted to judge him according to our own Law. "But Lysias the commander came along, and with much violence took him out of our hands, 8a ordering his accusers to come before you.] " (Acts 24:6-8 NASB)

Some of the old manuscripts have these words, but the oldest manuscripts do not. And, in the light of the principles of texture criticism practiced by most New Testament critics today, these words are judged not to be part of the Book of Acts. But they are certainly true to the story that Luke is telling.

By examining him yourself concerning all these matters you will be able to ascertain the things of which we accuse him." 9 The Jews also joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so. (Acts 24:8-9 NASB)

Tertullus basically says, "Felix, we are so thankful that under your ruling hand we are experiencing this season of peace and the various reforms, but there is a fly in the ointment--Paul, the peace-breaker. Felix, if you will examine him in the right way, you will discover that all this is true. Check this out yourself, and you will agree with us."

Then the words of Tertullus were backed up by "the Jews," that is the Jewish party who had come with him. All of Paul's accusers confirmed Tertullus' charges. They undoubtedly expected Felix to dispatch Paul quickly since Felix had repeatedly crucified the leaders of uprisings for disturbing the peace of Rome.

So here we see Paul before a Roman court being falsely accused. It's difficult to be accused of things you didn't do. You can live a godly life and still be accused of things you haven't done. Scriptures are filled with stories of followers of the Lord who have been falsely accused. For example, Joseph was minding his own business in the house of Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's bodyguards, when Potiphar's wife became sexually attracted to him. When Joseph failed to respond to her advances, she falsely accused him of trying to rape her. Her angry husband had him thrown in jail without a trial.

What about Daniel in Babylon? The prophet was faithfully serving the Persian King Darius when two other leaders became jealous of his wisdom. In order to eliminate Daniel, they enacted a law stating no man could worship any god other than the king. They knew Daniel would pray to God. The innocent prophet was arrested, charged, and thrown into the lion's den.

Then there is Jesus. The Jewish leaders repeatedly tried to set traps to falsely accuse Him of breaking some Mosaic Law in order to have Him killed. Finally, they had Him put to death on false charges.

So being a Christian who lives a godly life doesn't mean that you won't be falsely accused. And if we are, we are to trust in our Lord. He is in control.

Now it's Paul's turn. In verses 10-21 he defends himself:

When the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded: "Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense, (Acts 24:10 NASB)

Paul's introduction was short and truthful: he was grateful to stand trial before Felix because he was a man with considerable experience in dealing with this nation. Felix was no novice, who would be taken in by the fancy words of Tertullus, or by the impassioned words of his opponents. Felix knew these Jews and the issues which were really at stake. Thus, Paul could gladly state his case before this official.

Against the charge of being a "real pest," a revolutionary, a troublemaker, stirring up difficulties and riots all through the empire, Paul says:

since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. (Acts 24:11 NASB)

It had only been twelve days since Paul arrived in the city of Jerusalem, and some of those days have been spent out of Jerusalem in Caesarea. It's obvious the apostle didn't have time to raise sedition against the Roman Empire. So the apostle simply pleads there is insufficient time for this charge of sedition:

"Neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city itself did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot. (Acts 24:12 NASB)

His accusers could not prove that he had even carried on a discussion in the temple, or in the synagogues, or even in the city, much less fomented a riot. There was, therefore, no evidence to support these charges against him:

"Nor can they prove to you the charges of which they now accuse me. (Acts 24:13 NASB)

It was a case of words without evidence. Not a single genuine witness had been produced. Their case was all generalities and accusations and short on facts.

Paul rebutted the second charge of being a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes (v. 5) by explaining that his beliefs harmonized with the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures. This would have helped Felix see that the real conflict between Paul and his accusers was religious and not political.

"But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets; 15 having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. (Acts 24:14-15 NASB)

Paul said he belonged to "the Way," which they scornfully called a sect. But this did not make him a bad Jew for in "the Way" he served the "God of our fathers"-- that was a historic title for "the God of Israel." Paul still worshiped the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He had not forsaken Him.

The Jews seemed to suggest that the reason why Paul's ministry was so volatile and led to such violence was that he was not a true Jew and opposed Judaism. So Paul goes on to say that he believed, "everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets"--so how could anyone call that a heresy? If you speak of the Nazarenes as a sect or a party, you must see that this is a party that accepts the teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures as we know them.

Paul says that he had a "hope in God." What hope? The hope of the resurrection. The traditional hope of the Jew was the resurrection. Did the Hebrew Scriptures teach a resurrection? Yes, they did. It can be found in Isaiah 26:19, Job 19:26, Daniel 12:2, Ezekiel 37:12 and elsewhere. Abraham believed in a resurrection; that's why he was willing to sacrifice Isaac:

He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Hebrews 11:19 NASB)

Paul says that the resurrection was a hope, "which these men cherish themselves." There must have been Pharisees present, because the Sadducees didn't believe in a resurrection. Paul is claiming to be orthodox, while these Sadducees were the heretics. If there was a "sect," it was the Sadducees who were to be seen as in this camp, not Paul, and not Jewish Christians.

How could the Sadducees avoid the teaching of the resurrection if it is in Isaiah, Job, Ezekiel and Daniel? They believed that the only binding truth in the Hebrew Scriptures was what Moses said--the Torah. When Jesus was engaged in an argument about the resurrection with the Sadducees in Matthew 22, He quoted Exodus 3:6 because He knew they would have to acknowledge that Scripture.

"But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: 'I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living." (Matthew 22:31-32 NASB)

"I Am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob"--indicated the reality of the resurrection. The Sadducees denied what the Scripture taught. I'm sure that the majority of Paul's accusers were Sadducees. The high priest was a Sadducee, as probably were some of the elders.

The topic of the resurrection would have immediately caused internal conflict with the Jewish leaders. That's what started the fight in the Sanhedrin in Acts 23:7. Who were the real heretics? The high priests. They had ceased worshiping God because the only way to Him is through Christ. Jesus said:

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:6 NASB)

They had ceased believing in the Law and the Prophets. If they still had believed, they would have had to believe in Christ, because the main topic of the Law and the Prophets is Christ. To deny Jesus as the Messiah is to deny the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus said:

"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; (John 5:39 NASB)

On the road to Emmaus Jesus showed how the Hebrew Scriptures taught of Him:

Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Luke 24:27 NASB)

If you believe the Hebrew Scriptures, you will believe in Jesus. Paul is basically saying that Christianity was true Judaism. They were the heretics because they didn't worship the true God, believe the Scriptures, or believe in the resurrection. Paul wrote to the Romans:

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29 NASB)

The only true Jews in the world are Christian Jews:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; (Romans 9:6 NASB)

A true Jew is one who continues to worship and obey the true God because he came to Him through the Messiah--Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha. (1 Corinthians 16:22 NASB)

As Paul stood before Felix, he was saying that he was the only true Jew in the trial because he had come to the Messiah.

Once again he makes clear that any real disagreement is about what they taught, especially the doctrine of the resurrection, and seeks to win to his side those of the opponents who believe in the resurrection. Paul is here precisely because of the truth of the resurrection. We'll come back to verse 15 in a couple of minutes. I want to finish Paul's defense and then show you something very significant in this verse.

"In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men. (Acts 24:16 NASB)

"This" refers to "the Way"; being a member of "the Way" results in men living conscience controlled lives:

"Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings; 18 in which they found me occupied in the temple, having been purified, without any crowd or uproar. But there were some Jews from Asia 19 who ought to have been present before you and to make accusation, if they should have anything against me. (Acts 24:17-19 NASB)

Paul came to Jerusalem to "bring alms" to his own people and to present offerings. These were not the actions of a revolutionary, an anti-Jew, but were the very things which a true Jew would do on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Noticeably absent were the Asian Jews, who had mistakenly assumed that Paul was seeking to defile the temple. Roman law imposed heavy penalties upon accusers who abandoned their charges, and the disappearance of accusers often meant the withdrawal of a charge. Their absence, therefore, suggested that they had nothing against him that would stand up in a Roman court of law.

"Or else let these men themselves tell what misdeed they found when I stood before the Council, 21 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)

And so he refers back to the time when he stood before Ananias, and he says, "See if any of you can point to anything that I did that was wrong when I stood before the Council, except for this one thing. And that is that in the midst of the Council, I cried out, "For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today." So, in effect, Paul concludes with, The real issue is the resurrection. That is why he was on trial. We could say that Paul was on trial for his eschatology.


Let's talk about the resurrection. Let's go back to verse 15:

having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. (Acts 24:15 NASB)

Do you see the "when" of the resurrection in this verse? No, you don't because the NASB obscures the text. Look at YLT:

having hope toward God, which they themselves also wait for, that there is about to be a rising again of the dead, both of righteous and unrighteous; (Acts 24:15 YLT)

The words "shall certainly" in the NASB is the Greek word mello. Whenever mello in the present active indicative is combined with an infinitive, it is consistently translated "about to." Paul told his first century audience that, "there is about to be a resurrection." The Greek word "mello" means: "is about to," but is never translated in the literal fashion by major translations. I wonder why?

In Vines Expository Dictionary of Greek Words, on page 1038, Vine shows mello's primary meaning as: "to be about (to be or do). It is used of purpose, certainty, compulsion, or necessity."

Thayer's Greek Lexicon, on page 396, defines "mello" as: "to be about to do anything," and "to be on the point of doing or suffering something." The Arndt, Gingrich, Bauer Greek-English Lexicon defines "mello" as: "Be on the point of, be about to."

There are 110 places where "mello" is used in the Greek New Testament. In many places, by context, it can be seen to mean something about to take place.

Biblically, the resurrection is to take place at the Parousia of Christ. So if the resurrection was "about to" take place, then so was the Parousia:

"For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and WILL THEN RECOMPENSE EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. (Matthew 16:27 NASB)

Vine translates mello here as: "The Son of Man is about to come." This verse is talking about the Second Coming and the judgment. At His coming He will "recompense every man"--that's judgment. And it says He is "about to come." How soon is about to? Look at the next verse:

"Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." (Matthew 16:28 NASB)

The "you" here are His disciples. He says that His coming will be before they all die.

If we are going to understand what Paul is saying about the resurrection, we must understand "audience relevance." Who is Paul talking to? Felix, Ananias, Tertullus and the elders. Paul told them, not us, that there was about to be a resurrection. So if the timing of the resurrection was "soon," what does this tell us about the nature of the resurrection? It must be spiritual! Time defines nature.

What exactly did Paul mean by "the resurrection"? The traditional view that is held by most of the Church is this: When a believer dies, their body goes into the grave and their spirit goes to heaven to be with the Lord. They are in a disembodied state awaiting the resurrection at the end of time. Then at the end of time the Lord returns, resurrects all the decayed bodies of the dead saints, puts them back together, then changes the physically resurrected bodies into spiritual immortal bodies like Christ's. Does that sound like what you have been taught? That is basically what the Church teaches about the resurrection, but is it what the Bible teaches? Paul clearly taught that the resurrection was the hope of Israel.

"And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. "Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead? (Acts 26:6-8 NASB)

The hope of Israel was the resurrection from the dead. The word "resurrection" does not appear in the Hebrew Scriptures, but the concept does:

"Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2 NASB)
"But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age." (Daniel 12:13 NASB)

Here we see a resurrection at the end of the age. This is what the Jews believe, as is seen in Martha's response to Jesus:

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." (John 11:23-24 NASB)

How did she know that? It was taught throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. <


It is interesting to note that the Bible never uses the terms "resurrected body," "resurrection of the body," or "physical resurrection." Does that surprise you? The Church uses those terms quite often, but the Bible never does. The phrases that the Bible does use are "the resurrection of the dead" and "the resurrection from the dead."

So, in order to understand "resurrection." we must understand death. Resurrection is "resurrection from the dead." To understand death, we need to go back to the book of beginnings, Genesis. In the book of Genesis we see God creating man:

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. (Genesis 2:7-8 NASB)

After creating man, God placed him in the garden of Eden and gave him a command:

Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." (Genesis 2:15-17 NASB)

God warned Adam regarding the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: "In the day that you eat from it you will surely die." Adam disobeyed God and ate of the tree:

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6 NASB)

Did Adam die that day? Not physically! Adam lived at least 800 years beyond the day he ate the fruit. But, God said he would die the day he ate, and we know that God cannot lie. Adam did not die physically that day, but he did die spiritually. He died spiritually the moment he disobeyed. Spiritual death is separation from God. And that is man's problem. Our problem is spiritual, and the solution is spiritual, not physical.

For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:21 NASB)

Because of Adam's sin, we are all born dead, separated from God. But through Jesus Christ came spiritual life, the resurrection from the dead.

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