Lesson 49: Paul's Imprisonment in Caesarea/Before Felix and Festus/Appeal Unto Caesar
Acts, Lesson #49. Paul's trip from Philippi until his imprisonment in Caesarea was less than three months. O.K., we are ready to read about Paul's hearing before the governor. Lefs read 24:1. "And after five days Ananias the high priest descended with a certain orator named Tertullus, who informed the governor against Paul." It seems the high priest and elders were more or less subpoenaed to appear before governor Felix. Five days seems reasonably prompt considering there are 50 miles between Jerusalem and Caesarea. This man Ananias was the man who presided over the Sanhedrin in Acts. 23:2. The elders here mentioned are members of that tribunal, likely, a few of the more capable of that body. Terrullus is their lawyer, called an orator here - not mentioned before, nor mentioned again.
O.K., so they were assembled. Try to imagine, there's the governor in his big chair. And, I would assume he has that letter in his hand sent by the chief captain, Claudius Lysias, along with any other documents that have been collected by the authorities. Paul is brought in by the guards: seated or placed where he can see the others. The hearing is declared in session. Tertullus stood and began to state the charges they were bringing against Paul. Obviously, they had trumped-it-up, and would do their best to present a better case before the governor than the informal hearing before Claudius Lysias. Let's tune in on the charges v.2-9. "And when he was called forth, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying, '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, notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto thee, I pray thee that thou wouldest hear us of thy clemency a few words. For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a move of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes: who also hath gone about to profane the temple: whom we took, and would have judged according to our law. but the chief captain Lysias came upon us, and with great violence took him away out of our hands, commanding his accusers to come unto thee: by examining of whom thyself mayest take knowledge of all these things, whereof we accuse him. And the Jews also assented, saying that these things were so.'" O.K., Tertullus went through the usual formality of introductory remarks. That's v.2-3-4. Then in v.5 he began to state the charges. 1) "pestilent fellow," that's a little subjective, and a little vague by next, 2) "He's a mover of sedition among the Jews," everywhere. By that, I assume he means: he caused riots everywhere he went. Possibly the governor at this point made a mental note: how does he cause riots? 3) Tertullus said he is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. Now a good question is: what does Felix know about the Nazarenes, i.e., Christians. The Jews equated that to criminal conduct. But, Felix of pagan background, probably made very little distinction. To him, it was just another sect of the Jews. 4) He "profanes the temple." And that again is probably just so much rhetoric to the governor. The point is they wanted it to appear that the Roman garrison had infringed upon their rights to conduct their own religious affairs. That was about all the rights the Romans granted. Of course, you know, the attempt on Paul's life, as well as, the forty-man-plot (that failed) did not come under that freedom they were claiming. Tertullas said (v.6), "We...would have judged according to our law." Can you see how distorted that is? It really had been a criminal assault out of pure bias, (no judging to it). Dig into v.7. Tertullus said that captain Lysias took Paul with great violence. See that? The implication is: the Jews were very calm and peaceful but the captain and his men were very violent. Chapter 21:35 said the soldiers had to carry Paul on their shoulders for the violence of the people. They were going to kill Paul, 21:31 said. Yet, Tertullus said, in effect, those violent cops kept us from doing our job.
Let's review: a pestilent fellow; a mover of sedition; a Nazarene that profanes the temple. That's it? Now the high priest and the elders "assented," according to v.9 "saying that these things were so." It seems to me Felix must have seen the wisdom in Claudius Lysias' statement (v.29 in the previous chapter). "I perceive...to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds." The governor was then ready to hear Paul's side of the story. Can you imagine being in Paul's shoes? No time to organize your defense. No witnesses as far as we know. No Lawyer! Just, speak up boy! Let's hear it! V. 10-21 - Lefs read it. "Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered, 'Forasmuch as I know that thou has been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself: because that thou mayest understand, that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship. And they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city: neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me. 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 kw and in the prophets: and have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shah1 be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men. Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings. Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult. Who ought to have been here before thee, and object, if they had aught against me. Or else let these same here say, if they have found any evil doing in me, while I stood before the council, except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them. Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day."
O.K., I would assume from Paul's first statement: a judge of many years, would imply Felix was an older man. It had been twelve days since Paul came to Jerusalem. Now, v. 12-13 is a flat denial of the charge; about profaning the temple. They can't prove that. In v.14-16 Paul pleaded quilty to their charge of being a Christian. But, the hope that he had; their bible allowed. He said his conscience was good toward God. Ananias had ordered Paul to be slapped when he made that statement in Jerusalem; but of course, Ananias kept his cool here before the governor. Finally, Paul gets down to that: "pestilent fellow...and causing sedition" charge, which he lumped together and flatly denied. It was not so in the temple (v.18), it was not so in the council (v.20). It didn't happen in die synagogue or the city (v.12). Except, he admits, in v.21, he cried out that he was a Pharisee. But that was not a criminal charge! Possibly some of those elders, sitting right there were Pharisees, too. Now, obviously Felix had no reason to hold Paul. But we must admit, Felix had somewhat of a political dilemma. He wanted to please those Jewish leaders of the Sanhedrin; but obviously they had brought no charges against Paul that warranted holding the man. Yet, if Felix turned Paul lose, the man might be killed out of prejudice and bias, according to Claudius Lysias. Now, you've seen it before, when doing the honest thing turns out to be right square and counter to what a politician wants; what does he do? You've got it! Conjure up some excuse to get around it. That's the way Pilate did it. He gave in to the crowd. Oh! He protested a little. He washed his hands symbolically, but he did what it took to please the crowd. Now how will Felix compromise this mess?
Lefs read v.22-23. "And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter. And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him." That's the ground rules of pure politics. Felix knew the rules and Felix played by the rules. Postpone until the captain came down. Why? He had the captain's official letter. His conclusion was confirmed. Why wait? You know why. Felix knew why. And, Paul knew why. Justice? Well, that comes right after politics. That was Felix' priority. "Be of good cheer, Paul!" You are going to make it to Rome. The Lord had promised that. Notice, Paul gave the reason why he came to Jerusalem: "to bring amis and offerings," he said, "to my nation" (v.17). Now, you know it came from the Gentile churches. This puzzle has a lot of pieces. But, all the pieces are there, if you keep looking.
O.K., v.24-27 covers more time than the last four chapters. Lefs read. "And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife, Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he 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 thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee. He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him. But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix' room: and Felix, willing to show the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound." It is said, Felix was a slave boy who rose through the ranks of the military to become a territorial governor. But the elastic had been broken in his moral conscience. He was living in open adultery with this Jewish girl who was about 20 years old. Drusilla was a Herod, apparently the daughter of King Herod that had beheaded James (Acts 1). They came to Paul to hear him concerning faith in Christ (v.24). Did you notice Paul's selection of sermon topics (v.25)? - ...righteousness, temperance and judgment to come. That would not be apple-polishing sermons. Paul did not preach a social gospel. Felix trembled!! Paul got to him. But, Felix used that old postponement tactic again - a more convenient season, he said Nothing is said about Drusilla, apparently she was not affected by Paul's preaching. Felix wanted a bribe to release Paul. I'm not sure I understand that. Did he think Paul might raise a large sum of money because of the bounty Paul brought from Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia? Paul did mention alms in his defense before Felix.
After two whole years, Felix was replaced by another governor, Porcius Festus. But, Felix played his politics to the end. He left Paul bound to show the Jews a favor. Can you imagine that? Some think the Jews complained to Nero and that had something to do with Felix being recalled to Rome. But, whatever the case, the new governor, Porcius Festus, inherited Paul's case, keys, chains and all. A change in administration would naturally renew an interest in the case. Those Jews who had bound themselves together two years before and vowed not to eat nor drink until they killed Paul were undoubtedly getting a little hungry and bit thirsty by that time. So a new governor, looking for all the support he could get might be more receptive to their plea. And, Paul couldn't fare any worse; unless a politics-happy governor would just turn an innocent man over to a mob. Surely not!
O.K., what are the headlines? Let's get our briefing, v.l, ch.25...let's read, "Now when Festus was come into the province, after three days he ascended from Caesarea to Jerusalem." Although Caesarea was the capital of the province, the governor had two palaces, one at Caesarea and one at Jerusalem. So it was natural the new governor would quickly visit that traditional city, Jerusalem. And, that would be the natural time for those hungry and thirsty Jews to renew their grievances against Paul (if they were going to). V.2-6, let's read: "Then the high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul, and besought him, and desired favor against him that he would send for him to Jerusalem, laying wait in the way to kill him. But Festus answered, that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself would depart shortly thither. Let them therefore, said he, which among you are able, go down with me, and accuse this man, if there be any wickedness in him. And when he had tarried among them more than ten days, he went down unto Caesarea; and the next day sitting on the judgment seat commanded Paul to be brought." There is no anger quite like anger that has matured and gone to seed against your own conscience. You know better! Yet prejudice, pride, superiority, arrogance and conceit override your better judgment. Then, you must fight against both conscience and anger. That is exactly what happened to those Jews discussed in v.2. It had become an obsession with them.
Two whole years has passed, 730 days, and those "chief of the Jews" were still seething in their anger, blinded by their pride, hell bent on vindicating their grudge. V.3 simply means there was nothing hi their program but blood. Notice in v.5, Festus refused their request to bring Paul to Jerusalem. And, that was a very prudent decision. Then, Festus made them a proposition. If, they would come down to Caesarea Festus would try Paul immediately when he got home. Notice in v.6, it was the next day! Festus wanted them to know he was efficient. It had to be done his way, but he would take care of it. I sense from the urgency he attached to it, there must have been many who made die request and Festus must have considered it political frontburner stuff. A new governor needs to make a good first-impression. And most likely Festus had heard of the case before since action on the case was pending for two years. Since Festus had inherited the case, he most likely wanted to dispose of it quickly; giving the impression he didn't fiddle around like Felix had done. But, Festus miscalculated the gravity of the case. He didn't realize how politically sticky this case really was. So the day after getting back to Caesarea, Festus got upon his big judgment seat to meet out justice and harvest all that political clout. The Jews were there. And, he commanded Paul to be brought.
Let's read v.7. "And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood around about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove." Notice, Luke doesn't even take up the space to get into the nuts and bolts of the complaints the Jews made. That was covered at the beginning of Acts 24, when Felix first heard the case. We've been through that. Festus must have heard just a refined replay of the same thing. A pestilent fellow, a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes, who profaned the temple! So what? Festus couldn't have cared less, even if it had been true, which it wasn't. V.8 is the crux and summary of Paul's defense. Let's read. "While he answered for himself, neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended anything at all." It just was not so! They couldn't prove it! And Festus caught on real fast. The governor was disappointed, it really didn't get into Roman law at all as Festus had anticipated. He could see real quickly the whole thing boiled down to prejudice, vengeance and semantics. The Jews must have emphasized and re-emphasized Paul should have been tried at Jerusalem. Of course, that didn't have anything to do with the decision of the court. But, you know why they wanted that. Murder and blood is what they wanted. Caesarea was too secure a place, too many guards and soldiers to carry out their plot. Take him to Jerusalem! Festus, apparently searching for what he could do to appease his constituents and to get as much political mileage out of this as possible must have thought: well, I could take the case to Jerusalem, if that would make them feel better. Like I said, it should not affect the judgment of the case. So, Festus asked Paul the question. Let's read Festus' question and Paul's answer (v.9-11). "But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me? Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar's Judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest. For if I be an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar." O.K., Ping!!
Festus most likely didn't expect that sudden turn of events. Festus was thinking in terms of political hay. But Paul knew that agreeing to that Jerusalem bit could be suicide for himself. So, Paul was not about to volunteer for that exposure. And, Paul could see: Festus was willing to do the Jews a pleasure, as v.9 says. Paul could see; he must do something to prevent going to Jerusalem. And, the only alternative he had was to exert his Roman citizenship. But, when that appeal was formally made, it could not be reversed or denied. Which meant: the present proceedings must come to an abrupt end and Paul must be sent with all reasonable speed to Rome to be heard by the highest tribunal of the Roman empire. That would probably take many months, but, it was by far the safer route for Paul. Did you notice how Paul responded to Festus' question? Let me paraphrase it like this. Mr. Governor, you are not doing your job. The purpose of this judgment seat is to give a fair trial. I have not wronged the Jews and you know it. If, I am an offender worthy of death, O.K. put me to death. But, you know none of these accusations are true and therefore you are not going to deliver me into their wicked hands. Send me to Caesar! I have the right to make that demand and I'm making it. Now, v. 12, "Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shall thou go." So, when Festus had conferred with his cabinet officers he made the formal announcement. Some think Festus was implying that Paul had not bettered his lot any by the appeal. The emperor was Nero. And, Nero is remembered most for his mistreatment of Christians. Nero was a musician, who had his mother and wife both put to death. So, you can see what Paul was up against. But, he would be going to Rome. That was Paul's plans two years before and the Lord himself appeared to Paul and told him he would get there. Of course, this is not the way Paul wanted to go. But, it does fulfill that prophecy. Finally, after two years at Caesarea, Paul would soon be headed for that big capital city.