The Trial at Caesarea
[This chapter is based on Acts 24.]
Five days after Paul's arrival at Caesarea his accusers came from
Jerusalem, accompanied by Tertullus, an orator whom they had engaged as
their counsel. The case was granted a speedy hearing. Paul was brought
before the assembly, and Tertullus "began to accuse him."
Judging that flattery would have more influence upon the Roman governor
than the simple statements of truth and justice, the wily orator began his
speech by praising Felix: "Seeing that by thee we enjoy great
quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto his nation by thy
providence, we accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with
Tertullus here descended to barefaced falsehood; for the character of
Felix was base and contemptible. It was said of him,that "in the
practice of all kinds of lust and cruelty, he exercised the power of a
king with the temper of a slave." --Tacitus, History, ch. 5,
par. 9. Those who heard Tertullus knew that his flattering words were
untrue, but their desire to secure the condemnation of Paul was stronger
than their love of truth.
In his speech, Tertullus charged Paul with crimes which, if proved,
would have resulted in his conviction for high treason against the
government. "We have found this man a pestilent fellow,"
declared the orator, "and a mover 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." Tertullus then stated
that Lysias, the commandant of the garrison at Jerusalem, had violently
taken Paul from the Jews when they were about to judge him by their
ecclesiastical law, and had thus forced them to bring the matter before
Felix. These statements were made with the design of inducing the
procurator to deliver Paul over to the Jewish court. All the charges were
vehemently supported by the Jews present, who made no effort to conceal
their hatred of the prisoner.
Felix had sufficient penetration to read the disposition and character
of Paul's accusers. He knew from what motive they had flattered him, and
he saw also that they had failed to substantiate their charges against
Paul. Turning to the accused, he beckoned to him to answer for himself.
Paul wasted no words in compliments, but simply stated that he could the
more cheerfully defend himself before Felix, since the latter had been so
long a procurator, and therefore had so good an understanding of the laws
and customs of the Jews. Referring to the charges brought against him, he
plainly showed that not one of them was true. He declared that he had
caused no disturbance in any part of Jerusalem, nor had he profaned the
sanctuary. "They neither found me in the temple disputing with any
man," he said, "neither raising up the people, neither in the
synagogues, nor in the city: neither can they prove the things whereof
they now accuse me."
While confessing that "after the way which they call heresy"
he had worshiped the God of his fathers, he asserted that he had always
believed "all things which are written in the law and in the
prophets;" and that in harmony with the plain teaching of the
Scriptures, he held the faith of the resurrection of the dead. And he
further declared that the ruling purpose of his life was to "have
always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men."
In a candid, straightforward manner he stated the object of his visit
to Jerusalem, and the circumstances of his arrest and trial: "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
The apostle spoke with earnestness and evident sincerity, and his words
carried with them a weight of conviction. Claudius Lysias, in his letter
to Felix, had borne a similar testimony in regard to Paul's conduct.
Moreover, Felix himself had a better knowledge of the Jewish religion than
many supposed. Paul's plain statement of the facts in the case enabled
Felix to understand still more clearly the motives by which the Jews were
governed in attempting to convict the apostle of sedition and treasonable
conduct. The governor would not gratify them by unjustly condemning a
Roman citizen, neither would he give him up to them to be put to death
without a fair trial. Yet Felix knew no higher motive than self-interest,
and he was controlled by love of praise and a desire for promotion. Fear
of offending the Jews held him back from doing full justice to a man whom
he knew to be innocent. He therefore decided to suspend the trial until
Lysias should be present, saying, "When Lysias the chief captain
shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter."
The apostle remained a prisoner, but Felix commanded the centurion who
had been appointed to keep Paul, "to let him have liberty," and
to "forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto
It was not long after this that Felix and his wife, Drusilla, sent for
Paul in order that in a private interview they might hear from him
"concerning the faith in Christ." They were willing and even
eager to listen to these new truths --truths which they might never hear
again and which, if rejected, would prove a swift witness against them in
the day of God.
Paul regarded this as a God-given opportunity, and faithfully he
improved it. He knew that he stood in the presence of one who had power to
put him to death or to set him free; yet he did not address Felix and
Drusilla with praise or flattery. He knew that his words would be to them
a savour of life or of death, and, forgetting all selfish considerations,
he sought to arouse them to a sense of their peril.
The apostle realised that the gospel had a claim upon whoever might
listen to his words; that one day they would stand either among the pure
and holy around the great white throne, or with those to whom Christ would
say, "Depart from Me, ye that work iniquity." Matthew 7: 23. He
knew that he must meet every one of his hearers before the tribunal of
heaven and must there render an account, not only for all that he had said
and done, but for the motive and spirit of his words and deeds.
So violent and cruel had been the course of Felix that few had ever
before dared even to intimate to him that his character and conduct were
not faultless. But Paul had no fear of man. He plainly declared his faith
in Christ, and the reasons for that faith, and was thus led to speak
particularly of those virtues essential to Christian character, but of
which the haughty pair before him were so strikingly destitute.
He held up before Felix and Drusilla the character of God--His
righteousness, justice, and equity, and the nature of His law. He clearly
showed that it is man's duty to live a life of sobriety and temperance,
keeping the passions under the control of reason, in conformity to God's
law, and preserving the physical and mental powers in a healthy condition.
He declared that there would surely come a day of judgement when all
would be rewarded according to the deeds done in the body, and when it
would be plainly revealed that wealth, position, or titles are powerless
to gain for man the favour of God or to deliver him from the results of
sin. He showed that this life is man's time of preparation for the future
life. Should he neglect present privileges and opportunities he would
suffer an eternal loss; no new probation would be given him.
Paul dwelt especially upon the far-reaching claims of God's law. He
showed how it extends to the deep secrets of man's moral nature and throws
a flood of light upon that which has been concealed from the sight and
knowledge of men. What the hands may do or the tongue may utter --what the
outer life reveals--but imperfectly shows man's moral character. The law
searches his thoughts, motives, and purposes. The dark passions that lie
hidden from the sight of men, the jealousy, hatred, lust, and ambition,
the evil deeds meditated upon in the dark recesses of the soul, yet never
executed for want of opportunity--all these God's law condemns.
Paul endeavoured to direct the minds of his hearers to the one great
Sacrifice for sin. He pointed to the sacrifices that were shadows of good
things to come, and then presented Christ as the antitype of all those
ceremonies--the object to which they pointed as the only source of life
and hope for fallen man. Holy men of old were saved by faith in the blood
of Christ. As they saw the dying agonies of the sacrificial victims they
looked across the gulf of ages to the Lamb of God that was to take away
the sin of the world.
God justly claims the love and obedience of all His creatures. He has
given them in His law a perfect standard of right. But many forget their
Maker and choose to follow their own way in opposition to His will. They
return enmity for love that is as high as heaven and as broad as the
universe. God cannot lower the requirements of His law to meet the
standard of wicked men; neither can man in his own power meet the demands
of the law. Only by faith in Christ can the sinner be cleansed from guilt
and be enabled to render obedience to the law of his Maker.
Thus Paul, the prisoner, urged the claims of the divine law upon Jew
and Gentile, and presented Jesus, the despised Nazarene, as the Son of
God, the world's Redeemer.
The Jewish princess well understood the sacred character of that law
which she had so shamelessly transgressed, but her prejudice against the
Man of Calvary steeled her heart against the word of life. But Felix had
never before listened to the truth, and as the Spirit of God sent
conviction to his soul, he became deeply agitated. Conscience, now
aroused, made her voice heard, and Felix felt that Paul's words were true.
Memory went back over the guilty past. With terrible distinctness there
came up before him the secrets of his early life of profligacy and
bloodshed, and the black record of his later years. He saw himself
licentious, cruel, rapacious. Never before had the truth been thus brought
home to his heart. Never before had his soul been so filled with terror.
The thought that all the secrets of his career of crime were open before
the eye of God, and that he must be judged according to his deeds, caused
him to tremble with dread.
But instead of permitting his convictions to lead him to repentance, he
sought to dismiss these unwelcome reflections. The interview with Paul was
cut short. "Go thy way for this time," he said; "when I
have a convenient season, I will call for thee."
How wide the contrast between the course of Felix and that of the
jailer of Philippi! The servants of the Lord were brought in bonds to the
jailer, as was Paul to Felix. The evidence they gave of being sustained by
a divine power, their rejoicing under suffering and disgrace, their
fearlessness when the earth was reeling with the earthquake shock, and
their spirit of Christlike forgiveness, sent conviction to the jailer's
heart, and with trembling he confessed his sins and found pardon. Felix
trembled, but he did not repent. The jailer joyfully welcomed the Spirit
of God to his heart and to his home; Felix bade the divine Messenger
depart. The one chose to become a child of God and an heir of heaven; the
other cast his lot with the workers of iniquity.
For two years no further action was taken against Paul, yet he remained
a prisoner. Felix visited him several times and listened attentively to
his words. But the real motive for this apparent friendliness was a desire
for gain, and he intimated that by the payment of a large sum of money
Paul might secure his release. The apostle, however, was of too noble a
nature to free himself by a bribe. He was not guilty of any crime, and he
would not stoop to commit a wrong in order to gain freedom. Furthermore,
he was himself too poor to pay such a ransom, had he been disposed to do
so, and he would not, in his own behalf, appeal to the sympathy and
generosity of his converts. He also felt that he was in the hands of God,
and he would not interfere with the divine purposes respecting himself.
Felix was finally summoned to Rome because of gross wrongs committed
against the Jews. Before leaving Caesarea in answer to this summons, he
thought to "show the Jews a pleasure" by allowing Paul to remain
in prison. But Felix was not successful in his attempt to regain the
confidence of the Jews. He was removed from office in disgrace, and
Porcius Festus was appointed to succeed him, with headquarters at
A ray of light from heaven had been permitted to shine upon Felix, when
Paul reasoned with him concerning righteousness, temperance, and a
judgement to come. That was his heaven-sent opportunity to see and to
forsake his sins. But he said to the messenger of God, "Go thy way
for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for
thee." He had slighted his last offer of mercy. Never was he to
receive another call from God.