THE FIVE TRIALS OF PAUL
Part III - Governor Felix
1 And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertullus. They laid before the governor their case against Paul. 2 And when he had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying: “Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, 3 in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. 4 But, to detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. 5 For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. 8 By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.”9 The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so. 10 And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied: “Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. 11 You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, 12 and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. 14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. 17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. 18 While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia— 19 they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me. 20 Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, 21 other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.’” 22 But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs. 24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. 27 When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.
— Acts 24:1-27, ESV
The three men we are about to meet in Paul’s third, fourth, and fifth trials are the middle men. They stand between Jerusalem and Rome, in Caesarea. They stand between imprisonment and freedom, for the Apostle Paul. And, they stand between belief and unbelief, in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This third trial is far more formal and deliberate than the first two (the mob, the Jewish Council). It includes a presiding official from the Roman Empire, prosecutors from the Jerusalem religious establishment, and a defendant who serves as his own attorney.
Legal professionals will generally tell you, one who represents himself has a fool for a client. However, in this case, Paul proves to be the only one in the room who is not.
Here Comes the Judge
The judge in the third trial of Paul is Governor Marcus Antonius Felix. He represented Roman rule over Israel from AD 52-60, bringing a semblance of stability to an office with a revolving door since the ten year reign of Pontius Pilate in AD 26-36. You remember Pilate, he was a man caught in the middle, too.
Felix married into power and place. His Jewish wife, Drusilla, was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I. The Herods and the Agrippas were forever lording Roman power over the Jews. This particular encounter with the Apostle Paul came at the end of Felix’ governorship and, unbeknownst to him at the time, near the end of his life.
For the Prosecution
As in modern juris prudence, the prosecution put forth its case first. Slithering into this spot were two from a “brood of vipers,” as John the Baptist and Jesus used to call the religious rulers in Israel. Ananias was the chief priest and Tertullus was the chief spokesman. Ananias was a religious leader so liberal I doubt he even believed in God. Tertullus was a lawyer so unscrupulous he would twist any truth to make things turn out his way. And so the hissing began.
After hypocritically sucking up to the judge, Tertullus pressed four charges against Paul. He accused him of being a plague, stirring up riots, being a Christian leader, and profaning the Jewish Temple, the last charge of which would bring the death penalty if convicted. He called witnesses to testify against Paul from among their same bunch of snakes.
If you notice, one of the four charges was true. That’s the way slanderers, liars, and other devilish people work. That’s the way prosperity gospel preachers and other heretics work. That’s the way Satan works, mixing truths, half-truths, and whole lies to destroy a person’s character and life. Such snakes are rattlesnakes, so if you walk through life wisely, you ought to be able to recognize their sound and stay away from them before they bite.
For the Defense
Paul defends himself from the three false charges by proving true the other one. He is a Christian, a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, and a leader among them at that. His testimony in this case is a case study in true Christianity.
Paul does not rail against his accusers. Calling the high priest a whitewashed wall did not work very well in his previous trial, so he left name-calling and counter-accusations alone in this one. I think Paul, as all Christians do as they mature, is learning to love his enemies.
Paul shows respect for authority. He knew Felix was a pagan, a prototypically corrupt Roman official, a three-time husband who had been faithful to no wife. But he also knew that no one comes to power except by the sovereign will of God, who uses even the bad to bring about the good.
Paul tells the truth. Unlike his accusers, everything Paul said was the absolute truth, personally, historically, factually. There are not three sides to every story, only one, the cold, hard truth, and Christian should be truth-tellers in every aspect of life.
Paul preaches the gospel. You knew this was coming. Put a Christian on the spot and Christ comes out. Paul took advantage of every opportunity, every adversity, every free moment, every imprisoned hour, to live and tell the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He got in only a partial witness here, about the resurrection, but it opened the door to follow up with the full gospel.
Can you imagine what kind of world it would be, if those of us who profess faith in Jesus Christ would be kind to our adversaries, respectful of authority, always tell the truth, and share the gospel at every opportunity?
I must have played in over a hundred football games, only one of which ended in a tie, and that was in little league. I remember the coach said it was like kissing your sister. I had two little sisters, so that sounded gross. Even worse, when it comes to ties, no one wins.
No one won this third trial of Paul, either. Paul would remain in jail, and face a fourth and fifth trial. The snakes slithered back to Jerusalem to be heard from no more, except for a weak, failed motion to extradite Paul back to Jerusalem, so they could have him kill killed. Felix will leave the scene soon enough, too, but not before calling Paul back for another talk about Christ and Christianity.
The Trouble with the Middle
Remember Felix, like Pilate before him and Festus and Agrippa II after him, as a middle man. He knew the gospel, intellectually, for he governed Judea where the gospel was born. He traveled in Asia and Europe where the gospel spread. And, he had the greatest gospel preacher who ever lived, save of course for Jesus and perhaps John the Baptist, right in front of him.
Felix experienced the gospel, emotionally, for he became “alarmed.” This is one word in our English translation, but two peculiar words in Greek. One means afraid, the other means to become or to be born. As Paul preached the full gospel of justification by faith, sanctification which leads to self-control, and glorification for only those saved before the final judgement, Felix flinched. He feared being born again, becoming a Christian, starting a new life in Christ, for all of the old life he would have to give away.
Lost people can intellectually know the gospel and remain lost. Lost people can even know they need the gospel, emotionally, and still remain lost. But only Christians surrender to the gospel, volitionally, totally, giving up their will for God’s.
Felix flinched and remained in the middle. He did not hurt Paul, by allowing him to be killed by the Jews. But he did not help him, either, leaving him in jail. He did not deny the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But he did not surrender to it, either, leaving him lost and unprepared to meet God. Felix was the middle man, and you know what happens to people who stand in the middle of the road.
Shortly after leaving Paul in jail, Felix left office. He returned to Rome in the year AD 60, and in that very year he died. He never saw Paul again. He never heard the gospel again. He left Paul in jail, but it is Felix who lives in prison, forever, with no way out.