If we were to sum up chapter 24 we could say this: Tertullus presented a legal case against Paul in a Roman court on behalf of the high priest. Then Paul cheerfully made his defense and defended his faith. The Roman governor adjourned the hearing without making a decision and left Paul in prison for two years. Tertullus began his case with praise and flattery for the Roman governor Felix. The purpose of this was to attract the attention and sympathy of the governor. This would be followed by the statement of charges against the prisoner, Paul. Tertullus charged Paul with being a troublemaker. Some translations say that Paul is a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, a a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple. Troublemaker can also be translated as agitator. This was a charge of political sedition. A Roman court would have taken this charge very seriously. Paul was in good company here. Jesus was accused of similar charges when He stood before Pilate. The term cult or sect here is intended to have a negative connotation in order to put Paul’s religion under a pallor of suspicion if not illegality. Paul was also accused of trying to desecrate the temple by bringing a Gentile farther into the temple than they were allowed. Once Tertullus was finished and the Jews were done accusing Paul, the Roman governor motioned for Paul to speak. Paul made three main points in his response. First, he hadn’t been in Jerusalem long enough to incite a riot. Second, none of his accusers had ever seen him stirring up a riot, and third, Paul worshiped in accord with Jewish law and everything written in the prophets. He also emphasized his common Ground with his Jewish audience, including his worship, belief in the Jewish law, acceptance of the prophets, and hope in the resurrection. Paul readily admitted that he was a follower of the Way but he also followed Mosaic law.
Paul kept his final appointment with God constantly in mind, that is the promise of eternal life after this life is over. He stated that he has the same hope as everybody else in that at the last judgement God will raise both the righteous and the unrighteous. The fear of the coming day of judgement unnerved Felix in another conversation with Paul. He stressed that he acted with a clear conscience. He had not departed from his Jewish heritage and he had no fear of God’s judgement. And his reference to the Jews from Asia indicated to Felix that Paul’s real accusers were not present, creating some suspicion about the charges being brought against him. He spoke of the poor and needy in Jerusalem as his own people, telling Felix that he had come to deliver the offering to them and to offer sacrifices to God. The Jews from Asia were most likely the same ones who had been following him around Asia, stirring up trouble and creating havoc. Felix was quite familiar with the Way, not because he believed but because his wife was a Jewess. She was the great granddaughter of Herod the Great, who had tried to kill the baby Jesus. Felix’s wife, Drusilla, was also the great niece of Herod who killed John the Baptist, and her father was the man who had James put to death. Felix was also familiar with Christianity because he had ruled in Judea for six years.
Felix kept Paul in prison but relaxed some of his restraints. It is quite possible that Felix was hoping that Paul would bribe him. Felix wanted to talk about a bribe but Paul wanted to talk about righteousness. Because Paul was a Roman citizen he was afforded some freedom. His friends could visit him and take care of his needs. Felix was so concerned and frightened about righteousness, self control, and divine judgement that he sent for Paul often. After Paul was in prison for two years Felix was replaced by Festus. Nero appointed Festus in 59-62 AD. He was a conscientious and honest administrator but he couldn’t stem the rising tide of Jewish unrest despite his strong action against the party of the assassins. He resisted the Jewish leaders attempt to have Paul’s trial moved to Jerusalem, but he was not immune to their pressure.
The Jews hated Felix and wrote letters to Rome detailing their outrage over his brutal treatment of them. Festus, his replacement learned from Felix’s mistakes and three days after he arrived, he headed to Jerusalem to meet with the Sanhedrin to try to establish some sort of a working arrangement with the high priest and the Sanhedrin. These Jewish leaders pressured Festus to send Paul back to Jerusalem for trial with their plan being to assassinate him along the way. Festus responded that Paul was at Caesarea and would remain there. If they wanted to come and level charges against Paul they were free to do so. The serious accusations were not new, but the old recycled ones yet again. However, the accusations were not supported by any evidence. Festus also wanted to please the Jews so he delayed Paul’s trial. This was a move not driven by justice but by politics. When Festus suggested that Paul be tried in Jerusalem he shared that he was not afraid of death. And when Festus suggested that Paul return to Jerusalem to stand trial he forced Paul’s hand into appealing to Caesar. Paul was not afraid of death, but he objected to being turned over to a biased court that was intent on murder, not justice. Festus granted Paul request to go to Rome to stand trial there. This fulfilled Paul’s conviction that he must see Rome.
Festus discussed Paul case with king Herod Agrippa II who had come to Caesarea to make a courtesy call on the new governor. Herod ruled from 59-100AD. It was a fundamental principle that Roman law did not convict people without a trial. They must be given an opportunity to confront their accusers and defend themselves. This put Roman judicial procedure in a favorable light for the readers of Acts. Festus also set himself apart from Felix. When he said he didn’t delay we remember that Felix delayed Paul’s case for nearly two years. After listening to the Jews charges, we see Festus was ready to move on this matter. Verses 18-20 give Festus’s official reasons for his actions. There were no criminal accusations against Paul. The objections were about their religion and centered on Paul claim that Jesus…is alive. Paul’s hearing before king Agrippa was a big deal and it was accompanied by all the pomp and circumstance appropriate for an official visit. The main purpose of the hearing was for Agrippa to advise Festus on what he should write in the appeal to Caesar because there was no clear charge against Paul. Festus believe Paul had done nothing deserving death.
All of chapter 26 is Paul’s eloquent defense before King Agrippa. Paul argued that his preaching was consistent with the Jewish faith. The defense began with a courteous acknowledgement of Agrippa’s competence to hear the evidence, outlined the nature of Paul background, Jewish training, and membership in the Pharisees. He also explained that the charges against him are merely for believing the fulfillment of Jewish hopes for the resurrection. Paul then told the story of his conversion from strong opponent of Christianity through a vision on the way to Damascus and his encounter with the risen Christ. He maintained that his preaching was nothing more than obeying this divine vision. Even though he encountered violent opposition from his fellow Jews, God protected him as he taught a message that the Jews should have embraced. This defense is a model for Christians put on trial for their faith. Throughout his defense in this trial for his life, Paul also clearly set out the conditions for receiving new life in Christ. Paul stressed God’s protection as he carried out his witness and then he called on his hearers to believe his message, that Jesus is the Messiah who fulfills the promises of the Old Testament. At that point Festus had had enough and he called Paul crazy. He concluded that Paul must have driven himself mad with too much study. Paul countered with a defense saying he was not crazy. Instead he was telling the whole truth, and Paul brought Agrippa it to the mix, saying that he knew of the things Paul was speaking of. Everything Paul had done, taught, and preached was done in wide open and public spaces. He was not hiding in a corner, meekly sharing Jesus with people. These were historical matters of public record, and there were plenty of witnesses, including the very same Jews who were bringing charges against him. Agrippa could not invalidate Paul statements of fact.
Paul’s question to Agrippa in verse 27 put him in a bind. If he said he believed the prophets he knew Paul would press home the Christian message. But if he said no, then he would offend the devout Jews in his audience. Agrippa also knew that Paul was not crazy and his testimony was historically sound. So instead, Agrippa evaded Paul question and refused to face the claims of Christ, alleging that the statement given by Paul was too brief for him to arrive at a responsible conclusion. Agrippa also asked Paul if he thought Paul could convert him with one teaching. The remark could have been ironic, incredulous, scoffing, or brushing off Paul’s challenge. It might have also been a direct statement of Paul’s persuasiveness, or a direct statement about or genuine question of Paul’s intention. It may be best to take Agrippa’s remark as deliberately evasive. He didn’t want to admit he believed in the prophets because Paul had made a strong case. And, the next step would be to believe in Jesus as the promised Messiah to whom the prophets pointed. Agrippa didn’t want to take that step. On the other hand, he didn’t want to say that he didn’t believe the prophets, for that would alienate the Jewish subjects to whose loyalties he wanted to appeal. His noncommittal response underlies his discomfort with Paul’s testimony.
Paul’s bold answer shows his quickness in repartee. He challenged Agrippa and his whole audience about the value of knowing Christ and making a personal commitment to Him. The consensus of these rulers was that Paul had not done anything to deserve either death or imprisonment. This verdict was given repeatedly by the Roman authorities that considered Paul case. In fact, Paul could have been set free. The legal verdict was clear. But as a practical matter, if Paul had not appealed to Caesar he might not have been alive. As it was, he was fulfilling God’s purposes for him.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W