ACTS - CHAPTER 24
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2001 James Melough
“And after five days Ananias the high priest descended with the elders, and
with a certain orator (advocate or attorney) named Tertullus, who informed the
governor against Paul.”
This also continues to
demonstrate the character of this age in which the gospel is being offered to the
Gentiles - the incitement to persecution comes from organized religion.
Left to itself, the world’s attitude is one of indifference, but as
organized religion used the political power to secure the death of Christ; and here
would use it to secure the death of Paul, so has it been throughout the history of
the Church: her bitterest persecution has come from what professes to be of God -
organized godless religion masquerading often as Christianity.
Since five is the
number of responsibility, these five days serve to remind us that Israel, having
rejected mercy, was now responsible for her conduct, each act of rebellion against
grace compounding her guilt. So is it
with men today. There is no pardon for
those who reject grace. Having failed to
meet their responsibility to trust in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, they
are then responsible to receive the wages of sin - death.
The incongruity between the
office and the conduct of these religious rulers is displayed in their choice of
Tertullus to be their spokesman, for his name means triple-hardened. No more appropriate individual could have been chosen, for his
name reflected the condition of their rebellious hearts.
The use of his oratorical
skill against Paul reminds us that little has changed since that distant day. Organized godless religion continues that same evil work: its
learning and ingenuity are employed to oppose God, and those who seek to serve Him.
Paul needed no such
advocate. God stood with him, as He does with all who do His will.
“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
The hypocrisy of this is
patent. Felix was anything but noble.
A former slave, he was notorious for his vicious temper, immorality, and
ruthlessness, as a result of which Israel, so far from enjoying rest, had been
provoked into several insurrections, which Felix quelled mercilessly, thereby fueling
the embers of discontent still further. Tacitus writes of him, “with all manner of cruelty and lust he
exercised the functions of a prince with the mind of a slave.”
There is nothing to indicate
his reaction to this servile flattery, but there can be little doubt that he saw it
for what it was: an attempt to win his favor.
“Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto thee, I pray thee that
thou wouldest hear us of thy clemency a few words.”
It is probably safe to
assume that he was motivated as much by the desire to hasten to his work of accusing
Paul, as he was to avoid the risk of
boring or irritating Felix.
“For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition
among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the
His ploy was to shift the
focus from Paul’s offence as being against the Jews, to one of inciting sedition
against Rome, and it isn’t difficult to trace the pattern back to the tactic used
to induce Pilate to hand Christ over for crucifixion.
To release the Lord, they argued, would make Pilate an enemy of Rome.
There is the same subtle implication here in connection with Paul.
If his offence can be made to appear against Rome, then any leniency on the
part of Felix will also appear like disloyalty to Rome.
Relative to “the sect of
the Nazarenes,” the Wycliffe Bible Commentary notes that “The term
continued to be a designation for Christians in Semitic speech, and it is used today
in Hebrew and Arabic. Sect is the
word used by Josephus to designate the various parties within Judaism, such as the
Pharisees and Sadducees. The Christians
were not yet recognized as a separate group but were regarded as a party within
Judaism.” This confirms what has been
noted already: the character of the early Church was Jewish, there being one
legitimate order (the Levitical plus the two Christian ordinances of baptism and the
Lord’s Supper) for Jewish Christians, and another, which excluded the Levitical
ritual, for their Gentile brethren until the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70
“Who also hath gone about to profane the temple: whom we took, and would
have judged according to our law.”
This continues the subtle
ploy to make Paul appear doubly guilty: of crime, not only against Israel, but also
against Rome. And their willingness to
deal with the matter themselves is emphasized by the assurance that they had been
willing to judge him according to Jewish law.
“But the chief captain Lysias came upon us, and with great violence took him
away out of our hands,”
This attack on Lysias would
indicate that relations between him and the Jews were less than cordial, either
because he had always refused to bow to their wishes, or because they were enraged at
his having delivered Paul out of their hand, or both.
“Commanding his accusers to come unto thee: by examining of whom thyself
mayest take knowledge of all these things, whereof we accuse him.”
Deprived of the opportunity
to kill Paul without a trial, they are now compelled to present the strongest
possible case against him, nor do they hesitate to lie to achieve that end.
“And the Jews also assented, saying that these things were so.”
Their affirmation didn’t
transmute Tertullus’ lie into truth, but then the successful promotion of many a
wrong cause has been accomplished simply by having enough people say it was good.
The voice of reason is very effectively drowned out in the clamor of
“Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak,
answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this
nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself:”
There is no reason to
question that Paul was happy to have as his judge one who was familiar with Jewish
religion and customs.
“Because that thou mayest understand, that there are yet but twelve days
since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship.”
This was the strongest
possible argument against the false charges. Twelve
days, some of which had been spent in Roman custody, didn’t afford enough time for
the alleged unlawful activity!
Twelve, however is
the number of Divine government on display, and, as noted already, those twelve days
testified to the activity of God in the affairs of men in a fashion unperceived by
the blinded eyes of Jew and Gentile alike. Grace
was being taken from the Jew and given to the Gentile.
“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.”
Paul knew that Claudius
Lysias could verify his words. The Jews
would have considerable difficulty finding anyone except themselves to verify theirs.
“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 law
and in the prophets:”
It is generally agreed that
the correct rendering of “heresy” here is “sect,” that is, what was referred
to at that time as “the Way,” was regarded as simply another sect within Judaism,
along with the sect of the Pharisees or the Sadducees.
This further confirms the Jewish character of early Christianity.
Paul didn’t waste any time
in declaring that the charge had nothing to do with either incitement to insurrection
against Rome, or desecration of the Jewish temple, but with his having believed in
the Messiah, the Jesus Whom the Jews had crucified, and still refused to acknowledge.
Nor was his faith in this same Jesus an unreasonable thing.
It was the result of believing the very same Scriptures which his accusers
also professed to believe. There was one
great difference, however: he was reading with spiritually enlightened eyes; they,
with darkened minds.
“And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there
shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.”
As noted already, the
resurrection is central to the truth of the gospel.
Apart from the resurrection of Christ, there is no gospel to preach, for it
declares, not only the resurrection of the believer out of spiritual death, but in a
coming day, resurrection from physical death also, for believer and unbeliever alike;
the great difference being that the believer’s body will be raised a spiritual body
in which he will enjoy heaven eternally; but the body of the unbeliever will be
raised a thousand years later for consignment to eternal torment in the lake of fire.
“And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of
offence toward God, and toward men.”
This is not only the
declaration of Paul’s endeavor to live a life that was above reproach by either God
or man: it is the statement of the truth that this is to be the aim of every
believer. Paul’s clear conscience,
however, didn’t deliver him from the hatred of men, nor will it deliver any
believer. The maintenance of a clear
conscience before God very often evokes the hatred of man.
“Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings.”
The reference here is to the
gift which he brought from the believers in Achaian and Macedonia for the relief of
the needy saints in Jerusalem, his long absence from the city being itself the
refutation of the claim that he was a public nuisance.
He hadn’t been in Jerusalem long enough to qualify for that title.
This could be verified, as could be also his having been in the temple as a
worshiper, having himself borne the charges in connection with his own vow, and that
of the four men mentioned in 21:23.
“Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither
with multitude, nor with tumult.”
All of this rebutted the
charge that he had profaned the temple. The
profanation of which he was accused was not the act of one who had so sedulously
obeyed the requirements of the Levitical law.
“Who ought to have been here before thee, and object, if they had ought
The absence of those Asian
Jews weakened the case of his accusers. They
ought, as Paul asserted, to have been there, otherwise the charge was simply hearsay.
“Or else let these same here say, if they have found any evil doing in me,
when I stood before the council,”
In the absence of the Asian
Jews who had brought the original charge against him, Paul urged that those present
testify whether any wrong had been found in him when he had stood before the
Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, for the truth is that they had been able to find nothing.
“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.”
This was indeed the cause of
their hatred, not the fact of resurrection itself, but Paul’s assertion that the
Lord Jesus Christ had been raised, for this was proof that He was Who He claimed to
be: He was the Son of God. That very
fact, however, proclaimed their guilt, something they refused to acknowledge. Had they been willing to admit their guilt, and then trust in that
same Jesus, they would have been saved, as is every man who takes the same guilty
position. Their refusal to take that
position sealed their doom, as will similar refusal seal the doom of all the
As noted already, the
resurrection of Christ is the very foundation of the gospel.
Apart from His resurrection, there is no hope for any man.
“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.”
With his fuller knowledge of
Christianity, or “the Way” as it was called, he could have easily settled the
matter right there, but postponement of a decision served his purpose better: it
prevented offending the Jews, and as one whose position was precarious, he could ill
afford to offend them. It might have
pleased him and the Jews much better had he found Paul guilty, but he couldn’t
afford to risk such blatant injustice in view of Paul’s Roman citizenship.
Postponement of a decision was the only expedient under the circumstances; and
as for having Lysias come down to testify, Felix could always keep postponing that
also, as in fact apparently he did, for it does not appear that the captain ever
“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 to him.”
“...let him have
liberty” means not that he was to be set free, but that he was to be allowed more
freedom than would have been accorded other prisoners, his friends being allowed to
visit him and take care of his needs. This
mark of favor may indicate that Felix had little regard for Paul’s accusers.
“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.”
Verse 26 makes it clear that
Felix was hoping to receive money from Paul to procure his release; but in view of
his own evil lifestyle, and his knowledge of Jewish religion, he may have had some
measure of concern about the hereafter, and of the teaching of this new sect called
“the Way.” His decision to have his
wife Drusilla present during the interview, may have been prompted by his reasoning
that she, being Jewish, would be able to understand better than he any references
Paul might make to Scripture.
“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 (succeeded him
as governor): and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.”
As countless others have
noted, there is nothing in Scripture to indicate that Felix, in spite of his having
been made to tremble, ever repented and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ. He never, it seems, had another “convenient season,” so that
for twenty centuries in the torment of hell he has had ample opportunity to bewail
with unavailing bitter regret, his wicked life, and that lost opportunity to save his
soul. If he has any knowledge of affairs
on earth, his remorse must surely be all the more bitter from knowing the multitudes
who have been led to repentance and saving faith just as a result of sermons preached
on his folly.