The speech of Tertullus against Paul. (1-9) Paul's defence before Felix. (10-21) Felix trembles at the reasoning of Paul. (22-27)
Verses 1-9 See here the unhappiness of great men, and a great unhappiness it is, to have their services praised beyond measure, and never to be faithfully told of their faults; hereby they are hardened and encouraged in evil, like Felix. God's prophets were charged with being troublers of the land, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that he perverted the nation; the very same charges were brought against Paul. The selfish and evil passions of men urge them forward, and the graces and power of speech, too often have been used to mislead and prejudice men against the truth. How different will the characters of Paul and Felix appear at the day of judgement, from what they are represented in the speech of Tertullus! Let not Christians value the applause, or be troubled at the revilings of ungodly men, who represent the vilest of the human race almost as gods, and the excellent of the earth as pestilences and movers of sedition.
Verses 10-21 Paul gives a just account of himself, which clears him from crime, and likewise shows the true reason of the violence against him. Let us never be driven from any good way by its having an ill name. It is very comfortable, in worshipping God, to look to him as the God of our fathers, and to set up no other rule of faith or practice but the Scriptures. This shows there will be a resurrection to a final judgment. Prophets and their doctrines were to be tried by their fruits. Paul's aim was to have a conscience void of offence. His care and endeavour was to abstain from many things, and to abound in the exercises of religion at all times; both towards God. and towards man. If blamed for being more earnest in the things of God than our neighbours, what is our reply? Do we shrink from the accusation? How many in the world would rather be accused of any weakness, nay, even of wickedness, than of an earnest, fervent feeling of love to the Lord Jesus Christ, and of devotedness to his service! Can such think that He will confess them when he comes in his glory, and before the angels of God? If there is any sight pleasing to the God of our salvation, and a sight at which the angels rejoice, it is, to behold a devoted follower of the Lord, here upon earth, acknowledging that he is guilty, if it be a crime, of loving the Lord who died for him, with all his heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. And that he will not in silence see God's word despised, or hear his name profaned; he will rather risk the ridicule and the hatred of the world, than one frown from that gracious Being whose love is better than life.
Verses 22-27 The apostle reasoned concerning the nature and obligations of righteousness, temperance, and of a judgment to come; thus showing the oppressive judge and his profligate mistress, their need of repentance, forgiveness, and of the grace of the gospel. Justice respects our conduct in life, particularly in reference to others; temperance, the state and government of our souls, in reference to God. He who does not exercise himself in these, has neither the form nor the power of godliness, and must be overwhelmed with the Divine wrath in the day of God's appearing. A prospect of the judgment to come, is enough to make the stoutest heart to tremble. Felix trembled, but that was all. Many are startled by the word of God, who are not changed by it. Many fear the consequences of sin, yet continue in the love and practice of sin. In the affairs of our souls, delays are dangerous. Felix put off this matter to a more convenient season, but we do not find that the more convenient season ever came. Behold now is the accepted time; hear the voice of the Lord to-day. He was in haste to turn from hearing the truth. Was any business more urgent than for him to reform his conduct, or more important than the salvation of his soul! Sinners often start up like a man roused from his sleep by a loud noise, but soon sink again into their usual drowsiness. Be not deceived by occasional appearances of religion in ourselves or in others. Above all, let us not trifle with the word of God. Do we expect that as we advance in life our hearts will grow softer, or that the influence of the world will decline? Are we not at this moment in danger of being lost for ever? Now is the day of salvation; tomorrow may be too late.
Acts 24:1-27 . PAUL, ACCUSED BY A PROFESSIONAL PLEADER BEFORE FELIX, MAKES HIS DEFENSE, AND IS REMANDED FOR A FURTHER HEARING. AT A PRIVATE INTERVIEW FELIX TREMBLES UNDER PAUL'S PREACHING, BUT KEEPS HIM PRISONER FOR TWO YEARS, WHEN HE WAS SUCCEEDED BY FESTUS.
1. after five days--or, on the fifth day from their departure from Jerusalem.
Ananias . . . with the elders--a deputation of the Sanhedrim.
a certain orator--one of those Roman advocates who trained themselves for the higher practice of the metropolis by practicing in the provinces, where the Latin language, employed in the courts, was but imperfectly understood and Roman forms were not familiar.
informed . . . against Paul--"laid information," that is, put in the charges.
2-4. Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, &c.--In this fulsome flattery there was a semblance of truth: nothing more. Felix acted with a degree of vigor and success in suppressing lawless violence [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 20.8.4; confirmed by TACITUS, Annals, 12.54].
by thy providence--a phrase applied to the administration of the emperors.
5-8. a pestilent fellow--a plague, or pest.
and a mover of sedition among all the Jews--by exciting disturbances among them.
throughout the This was the first charge; and true only in the sense explained on Acts 16:20 .
a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes--the second charge; and true enough.
6. hath gone about--attempted.
to profane the temple--the third charge; and entirely false.
we . . . would have judged according to our law.
7. But . . . Lysias came upon us, and with great violence took him out of our hands--a wilful falsehood and calumnious charge against a public officer. He had commanded the Sanhedrim to meet for no other purpose than to "judge him according to their law"; and only when, instead of doing so, they fell to disputing among themselves, and the prisoner was in danger of being "pulled in pieces of them" ( Acts 23:10 )--or as his own letter says "killed of them" ( Acts 23:27 )--did he rescue him, as was his duty, "by force" out of their hands.
8. Commanding his accusers to come unto thee--Here they insinuate that, instead of troubling Felix with the case, he ought to have left it to be dealt with by the Jewish tribunal; in which case his life would soon have been taken.
by examining whom--Lysias, as would seem ( Acts 24:22 ).
thyself mayest, &c.--referring all, as if with confidence, to Felix.
9. the Jews assented,
10. thou hast been many years a judge to this nation--He had been in this province for six or seven years, and in Galilee for a longer period. Paul uses no flattery, but simply expresses his satisfaction at having to plead before one whose long official experience of Jewish matters would enable him the better to understand and appreciate what he had to say.
11. thou mayest understand--canst easily learn.
that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem--namely, 1. The day of his arrival in Jerusalem ( Acts 21:15-17 ); 2. The interview with James ( Acts 21:18-26 ); 3. The assumption of the vow ( Acts 21:26 ); 4, 5, 6. Continuance of the vow, interrupted by the arrest ( Acts 21:27 , &c.); 7. Arrest of Paul ( Acts 21:27 ); 8. Paul before the Sanhedrim ( Acts 22:30 , 23:1-10 ); 9. Conspiracy of the Jews and defeat of it ( Acts 23:12-24 ), and despatch of Paul from Jerusalem on the evening of the same day ( Acts 23:23 Acts 23:31 ); 10, 11, 12, 13. The remaining period referred to ( Acts 24:1 ) [MEYER]. This short period is mentioned to show how unlikely it was that he should have had time to do what was charged against him.
for to worship--a very different purpose from that imputed to him.
12, 13. they neither found me . . . Neither can they prove the things, &c.--After specifying several particulars, he challenges proof of any one of the charges brought against him. So much for the charge of sedition.
14, 15. But this I confess to thee--in which Felix would see no crime.
that after the way they call heresy--literally, and better, "a sect."
so worship I the God of my fathers--the ancestral God. Two arguments are contained here: (1) Our nation is divided into what they call sects--the sect of the Pharisees, and that of the Sadducees--all the difference between them and me is, that I belong to neither of these, but to another sect, or religious section of the nation, which from its Head they call Nazarenes: for this reason, and this alone, am I hated. (2) The Roman law allows every nation to worship its own deities; I claim protection under that law, worshipping the God of my ancestors, even as they, only of a different sect of the common religion.
believing all, &c.--Here, disowning all opinions at variance with the Old Testament Scriptures, he challenges for the Gospel which he preached the authority of the God of their fathers. So much for the charge of heresy.
15. And have hope . . . as they themselves . . . allow, that there shall be a resurrection, &c.--This appeal to the faith of his accusers shows that they were chiefly of the Pharisees, and that the favor of that party, to which he owed in some measure his safety at the recent council ( Acts 23:6-9 ), had been quite momentary.
16. And herein--On this account, accordingly; that is, looking forward to that awful day (compare 2 Corinthians 5:10 ).
I exercise myself--The "I" here is emphatic; "Whatever they do, this is my study."
to have always a conscience void of offence, &c.--See Acts 23:1 , 2 Corinthians 1:12 , 2:17 , &c.; that is, "These are the great principles of my life and conduct--how different from turbulence and sectarianism!"
17. Now after many--several
years absence from Jerusalem--I came to bring alms to my of Macedonia and Greece, which he had taken such pains to gather. This only allusion in the Acts to what is dwelt upon so frequently in his own Epistles ( Romans 15:25 Romans 15:26 , 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 , 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 ), throws a beautiful light on the truth of this History. (See PALEY'S Horæ Paulinæ).
and offerings--connected with his Jewish vow: see Acts 24:18 .
18-21. found me purified in the temple--not polluting it, therefore, by my own presence, and neither gathering a crowd nor raising a stir: If then these Asiatic Jews have any charge to bring against me in justification of their arrest of me, why are they not here to substantiate it?
20. Or else let these . . . here say--"Or, passing from all that preceded my trial, let those of the Sanhedrim here present say if I was guilty of aught there." No doubt his hasty speech to the high priest might occur to them, but the provocation to it on his own part was more than they would be willing to recall.
21. Except . . . this one voice . . . Touching the resurrection, &c.--This would recall to the Pharisees present their own inconsistency, in befriending him then and now accusing him.
22, 23. having more perfect knowledge of that--"the"
When Lysias . . . shall come . . . I will how, &c.--Felix might have dismissed the case as a tissue of unsupported charges. But if from his interest in the matter he really wished to have the presence of Lysias and others involved, a brief delay was not unworthy of him as a judge. Certainly, so far as recorded, neither Lysias nor any other parties appeared again in the case. Acts 24:23 , however, seems to show that at that time his prepossessions in favor of Paul were strong.
24, 25. Felix . . . with his wife Drusilla . . . a Jewess--This beautiful but infamous woman was the third daughter of Herod Agrippa I, who was eaten of worms Agrippa II, before whom Paul pleaded, Acts 26:1 , &c. She was "given in marriage to Azizus, king of the Emesenes, who had consented to be circumcised for the sake of the alliance. But this marriage was soon dissolved, after this manner: When Festus was procurator of Judea, he saw her, and being captivated with her beauty, persuaded her to desert her husband, transgress the laws of her country, and marry himself" [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 20.7.1,2]. Such was this "wife" of Felix.
he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ--Perceiving from what he had heard on the trial that the new sect which was creating such a stir was represented by its own advocates as but a particular development of the Jewish faith, he probably wished to gratify the curiosity of his Jewish wife, as well as his own, by a more particular account of it from this distinguished champion. And no doubt Paul would so far humor this desire as to present to them the great leading features of the Gospel. But from Acts 24:25 it is evident that his discourse took an entirely practical turn, suited to the life which his two auditors were notoriously leading.
25. And as he reasoned of righteousness--with reference to the public character of Felix.
temperance--with reference to his immoral life.
and judgment to come--when he would be called to an awful account for both.
Felix trembled--and no wonder. For, on the testimony of TACITUS, the Roman Annalist [Annals, 9; 12.54], he ruled with a mixture of cruelty, lust, and servility, and relying on the influence of his brother Pallas at court, he thought himself at liberty to commit every sort of crime with impunity. How noble the fidelity and courage which dared to treat of such topics in such a presence, and what withering power must have been in those appeals which made even a Felix to tremble!
Go thy way for this time; and when I have a convenient season I will call for thee--Alas for Felix! This was his golden opportunity, but--like multitudes still--he missed it. Convenient seasons in abundance he found to call for Paul, but never again to "hear him concerning the faith in Christ," and writhe under the terrors of the wrath to come. Even in those moments of terror he had no thought of submission to the Cross or a change of life. The Word discerned the thoughts and intents of his heart, but that heart even then clung to its idols; even as Herod, who "did many things and heard John gladly," but in his best moments was enslaved to his lusts. How many Felixes have appeared from age to age!
26. He hoped . . . that money should have been given him . . . wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him--Bribery in a judge was punishable by the Roman law, but the spirit of a slave (to use the words of TACITUS) was in all his acts, and his communing with Paul"--as if he cared for either him or his message--simply added hypocrisy to meanness. The position in life of Paul's Christian visitors might beget the hope of extracting something from them for the release of their champion; but the apostle would rather lie in prison than stoop to this!
27. after two years--What a trial to this burning missionary of Christ, to suffer such a tedious period of inaction! How mysterious it would seem! But this repose would be medicine to his spirit; he would not, and could not, be entirely inactive, so long as he was able by pen and message to communicate with the churches; and he would doubtless learn the salutary truth that even he was not essential to his Master's cause. That Luke wrote his Gospel during this period, under the apostle's superintendence, is the not unlikely conjecture of able critics.
Porcius Festus--Little is known of him. He died a few years after this [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 20.8.9-9.1].
came into Felix' room--He was recalled, on accusations against him by the Jews of Cæsarea, and only acquitted through the intercession of his brother at court [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 20.8,10].
Felix, willing to show the Jews a pleasure--"to earn the thanks of the Jews," which he did not.
left Paul bound--( Acts 26:29 )--which does not seem to have been till then.