The Apostle Paul had been rescued from the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem, and taken by night to Caesarea, a Roman stronghold. The Roman Commander (Tribune) in Jerusalem sent him with a letter to the governor Felix. Marcus Antonius Felix was appointed as procurator of Judaea, probably from about AD 52. Apparently he was a bit of a tyrant. According to Tacitus, “with savagery and lust he exercised the powers of a king,” and was “utterly merciless in crushing opposition” (The New Bible Dictionary). So imagine how Paul felt, knowing he was going to be interrogated by such a man. The Jewish leaders were no doubt also in fear and dread as they prepared their brief! They hired a ‘professional’ named Tertullus to introduce the case for the Jewish leaders against Paul. This is how he started:
“Seeing that through you we enjoy great peace, and prosperity id being brought to this nation by your foresight, we accept in everything and everywhere, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness. Nevertheless, not to be tedious to you any further, I beseech you to hear, by your courtesy, a few words from us.” (Verses 2 – 4).
He then continued by making inaccurate and inflammatory remarks about Paul, which the Jewish leaders endorsed.
Felix then nodded to Paul, who then gave his defence
- These accusations are not true.
- I worship God according to “the Way”.
- I believe “the law and the prophets”.
- There will be a resurrection of the dead.
- I strive always to have a clear conscience.
- Those who claim to have seen me in the temple should be here to testify.
- Those who are here should say what I have done wrong.
- Is it because I spoke about the resurrection?
Felix was not prepared to make a decision about Paul. He must have known that Paul was innocent, but as always he was out to use any situation for his own advantage. He would wait until he could have a meeting with Tribune Lycias. He did make a concession! He commanded the centurion to give Paul some freedom and to allow visitors.
Paul had further opportunities to talk to Felix. Because Felix’s wife was Jewish, he invited Paul to speak to them both. This time, after Paul had spoken to them about righteousness, self-control and judgement to come, Felix was fearful! The Holy Spirit was bringing conviction! But Felix dismissed Paul, saying he would call for him again when it would be convenient. He did not want to respond to God’s call! In fact, his own sinful nature revealed itself. He would keep Paul in prison, hoping that Paul would give him a healthy bribe for his freedom!
In fact Paul was in prison there for a further two years, until Felix was recalled by the emperor Nero. He then left Paul in prison because he wanted to do the Jews a favour, and (according to some Greek texts) to please his wife Drusilla.
We read in Acts 9 v 15 that God had said Saul (who later became Paul) would bear the name of Jesus before “Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel”. The following verse says “For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” In the chapter we are looking at we see that God is doing just that. As Saul of Tarsus he seemed to have some influence and power to arrest and send to prison those who believed in Jesus, and he was able to get letters from the authorities in Jerusalem to go to Damascus to arrest the Christians there. Now Paul the Apostle had come to the attention of not just the Jewish leadership, but also the Roman authorities! Felix was probably the most powerful man in the Middle East at the time, as was Festus after him. God’s purposes were being fulfilled in Paul. Not only was Paul able to witness to Tribunes, Procurators and later King Herod Agrippa, but also he endured suffering and hardship for the sake of the gospel. Paul describes some of his sufferings in 2 Corinthians 4 vs 8 – 11 and in 2 Corinthians 11 vs 24 – 28. Paul was faithful to his calling and God was able to use him in amazing ways. Are we faithful to God’s calling on our lives? As Isaac Watts asks:
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follow’r of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flow’ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?