Take your bible, if you will, and turn to the 24th chapter of Acts; Acts chapter 24. Some passages in the scripture are very theological. I can remember back when we were studying the book of Hebrews in the evenings, and how deep and penetrating – and sometimes very difficult – the book of Hebrews was. And, so much doctrine; so much deep theology.
And other books are very much the opposite. They are very much a historical narrative, and Acts is one of those. The gospels have an amazing way of being doctrinal and historical in a beautiful combination. But, here in the book of Acts you have pretty much a running historical narrative, and doctrine comes rather sporadically, and often is as implied as it is stated.
So, as we come to the conclusion of the book of Acts, what we’re really seeing is the moving of God in the life of one man. And last week, we saw how God’s providence acts, didn’t we? We said that God works today through providence rather than through the miracle.
Now, that is a word we throw around a lot, and I believe there are miracles today, and, the miracles that God performs today primarily are the miracles of the new birth; that is a miracle. But other than that, this is not a day of miracles. This is not a day, I believe, when people are doing miracles. This is a day when God is ordering His will through providence, which means this: “miracle” is when God violates the natural world to accomplish His purpose; “providence” is where God uses all the circumstances other than the natural world to accomplish His purpose. It’s just a different approach.
And, we see today God moving through many ways and doing mighty and wonderful things. But, it is not the day of the apostolic miracles; but nevertheless, God is at work.
As we move through the book of Acts, rather than seeing – at least in the latter part – the great, dramatic miracles, we see God working through providence. And it’s almost as if God is beginning to phase out that apostolic miracle era. It’s almost a different feeling that you get toward the end of Acts.
Boy, in the beginning of Acts, you see miracle after miracle after miracle. And all of a sudden, as you flow toward the end, you begin to see that God starts working more with His providence through the circumstances rather than in direct violation of the circumstances where He just injects Himself and violates what is the normal flow. God begins to kind of work through the circumstances.
You know; remember, early in the book of Acts where Peter and John were in jail? And you know what happened? An angel just reached down and yanked them out. Later in the book of Acts, what happens? Through a series of circumstances and the byplay between the Romans and the Jews, Paul gets out. But it isn’t miraculous; it’s providential, and we begin to see this. And so it becomes more and more a historical narrative.
In the background, what you need to focus on – and I’m telling you this at the beginning because I don’t want to say it all the way through – is you want to be aware that God is moving. And, even though this morning’s discussion – and we’ll only get down to verse 9, when we really need to cover all the way to verse 27 to get the whole story – but, just in these verses, in the back of your mind, somewhere be aware of the fact that through all that is happening, God is moving. And then, of course, you’ll have to come back next week to see what God is moving toward, but that’s good too.
This is really the story of a man, and it is as much the story of a bad man as it is the story of a good man. It is the story of Paul, but it’s also the story of Felix. Felix was a bad man. He was bad in every sense; he was corrupt. He stole his wife. As a 15-year-old girl, she married another man, a king. But – and he lusted after her, and seduced her, and stole her.
Tacitus, the historian, said about Felix, “He had the office of a king and he ruled it with the mind of a slave.” You know something? He had opportunity, and he blew it. He is a great illustration of lost opportunity.
Have you ever thought about opportunity? J.J. Ingalls wrote these words describing opportunity: “Master of human destinies am I; fame, love, and fortune on my footsteps wait. Cities and fields I walk. I penetrate deserts and seas remote, and passing by hovel and mart and palace, soon or late I knock unbidden once at every gate. And they who follow me reach every state mortals desire, and conquer every foe – save death. But, those who doubt or hesitate condemned to failure, your penury, and woe. Seek me in vain and needlessly implore; I answer not. I return no more.”
The greatest story, I think, of opportunity lost in the history of man is Judas. Wouldn’t you agree? Can you imagine living three years in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, seeing all that He is, hearing all that He says, and being a damned a suicide, condemned to Hell for unbelief? Lost opportunity.
What might Judas have been? Have you ever thought about that? Judas might have been one of the 12 Apostles of the Lamb, reigning in the Kingdom; one of the 12 foundations of the heavenly Jerusalem; one of the 12 stones on the breastplate of the Eternal High Priest. He might have been one of the great heroes of all time; he might have been one of the great and glorified saints of all eternity. What was he? Traitor, thief, villain, hypocrite; the darkest of men of whom Jesus Christ Himself said, “Good were it for that man if he had never been born.” Lost opportunity.
Judas lived in the face of the unclouded Son of God and his life set in the night of terrible despair. He blew it. But there is another like Judas, and I don’t think he’s very far behind, and his name is Felix. Felix is kind of a later Judas.
Do you realize that – as we will see in our story today and next Lord’s Day – Felix had the apostle Paul living in his house for two years? You say, “Well, maybe Paul didn’t say anything.” You don’t know Paul. That’s opportunity, friend. There wasn’t a mind like him; there wasn’t a man like him; and, Felix rejected all that Paul stood for and proclaimed.
Formally, his name is Antonius Felix. Formally, he is the procurator of Judea, or the governor of Judea, and he follows in the rather infamous line of Pilate. He ruled in Judea from AD 52-59, and the reason he ruled is because his brother, Pallas, was buddy-buddy with Claudius, and he got the job that way, not because he had any qualities.
His term as procurator was marked by trouble; everything went wrong. The Sicarii – who I told you were professional assassins – were around during his time. He did manage to quell some riots, but he did it in such a dramatic way, and he overdid it to the extent that even when he stopped the riot, he killed so many people he alienated the Jews he was trying to protect. They hated him. He is a figure of infamy. He comes off in this story, not only as indecisive and a procrastinator, but he comes off as a coward.
And you know, when you read about the byplay of the Romans in the land of Judea during the time of Christ and afterwards, you wonder whether there was such a thing as a hero, or as a Roman that really believed in anything. Now, as we look at the passage – and really, we have to take it as a unit from verses 1-27, even though we’ll divide it up – it really is one unit, and it’s the trial of Paul before Felix.
There are three ways to look at it. You can look at what Paul is doing; that’s what we’ll do today. You can look at what God is doing; that’s what we’ll do next week, and, you can look at what Felix is doing; and that’s kind of what we’ll sum up with next time.
You know, like so many passages in Scripture, it’s like a diamond; it has facets, and you can look at it one way or another way and the perspectives are almost unlimited. You can use this passage to teach the attitude of Paul in trial. You could use it, as I am, to teach the tragedy of procrastination. You can use it to teach the providence of God. You can use it to teach the hatred of unbelief and the hardness of men’s hearts when they turn against Christ. You could use it to go a lot of different directions, and I trust the Holy Spirit may just implant these things into your brain as we go through it from the one perspective.
Just to give you the background, the book of Acts records the history of the church from the day of Pentecost until the church had finally spread itself to Rome – those great early years when the church first bloomed and brought its message all the way to the great capital of the world, Rome. Now, during those years, we find in the book of Acts all kinds of exciting things happening, but two people dominate those years. The first few years are dominated by a man named Peter; and, the last are dominated by Paul.
And we’re in the midst of the story of Paul, and Paul is the man who took the Gospel to the Gentiles, and he really took three tours to the Gentiles. And as we come to 24, he has just finished his third one. This is the last of his tours as a free man. He is now a prisoner.
When he arrived in Jerusalem at the conclusion of his third tour, he was really trying to pacify some of the Christian Jews by going to the temple to show them he wasn’t anti-Jewish, even though he was a Christian, and that he still believed in some of the customs of Israel. While he was there, some Jews from Asia Minor – where he had had such a dramatic impact on the Jews, and where he had won so many of them to Christ that the remaining Jews were very upset – saw him there and attacked and tried to kill him. And as we come to chapter 24, Paul has arrived in Caesarea.
His ministry as a prisoner took place in three cities: Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome. He only spent a few days in Jerusalem, a few years in Caesarea, and then he went to Rome. Now we remember what happened; the riot started when he came back to Jerusalem. The tribune, Claudius Lysias, who was responsible for things in Jerusalem, who was the ruler of Fort Antonia, and who was under Felix who was the procurator of the whole territory of Judea.
Well, Claudius Lysias rescued Paul and he assumed that he must have done something terrible for people to be so adamant at trying to assassinate him, so he tried to get an accusation, and he couldn’t. The mob screamed and yelled all kinds of things; a mob never knows what it’s doing anyway, and he couldn’t get any answers. So, he decided he’d torture Paul. He stretched him out on a rack to scourge him, and Paul reminded the soldiers standing by that he was a Roman, and in a panic they cut him loose because to scourge a Roman was a crime, and so there still wasn’t an accusation.
Claudius Lysias then decided: “I’ll take him before the Sanhedrin,” the Jewish Council. Paul went before the council and they started fighting each other, and he still didn’t have an accusation. So he’s kind of in a hard place. As a Roman, he has a sense of justice and a sense of honor toward Rome and he wants to keep his job, so he can’t execute a Roman citizen who is guilty of nothing. But in an area like Jerusalem, and in a hotbed of Judaism, he’s got to be sure that he pacifies the Jewish people or he’ll have a riot on his hands, and an insurrection; maybe lose his life and maybe lose job because he hasn’t been able to keep the politics to the level where there isn’t a revolution.
So he’s caught between a rock and a hard place. He doesn’t want to break his knowledge of Roman justice and violate that, and he doesn’t want to cause problems with the Jews. So, when he can’t accuse Paul of anything; he has no accusation, but he knows the Jews want to kill him – in order to try and get out from under the burden, he shuffles Paul out of town in the middle of the night and he uses 470 Roman soldiers to get him to Caesarea – 470 people escort Paul.
Well, they got Paul to Caesarea, and that’s where he comes to Felix, and he’s turned over to Felix now. And you can imagine Claudius being up there in Jerusalem, saying, “Whew! Am I glad that’s over.” But now Felix is saying, “What do I do? You pushed the whole thing upstairs,” and now Felix has got the same problem. He’s got a sense of Roman justice and an obligation to Rome; he can’t kill a Roman citizen either, without an accusation, and he’s got to pacify the Jews too.
You see, this is the thing that finally destroyed Pilate. Do you remember? This is the thing that destroyed Pilate. He came out and said over and over again, “I find no fault in the man, but he wound up letting the Jews crucify Him because they put pressure on him.” And they said, “We’ll report you to Caesar for allowing a seditionist to exist.” He was trapped.
Now, here we see the same thing happening to Felix. He reacts very much the way that Pilate did.
Now, the passage divides itself into three very simple parts: the prosecution; the defense; and, the verdict. It’s really kind of a hearing, and we’ll see the prosecution. What are they going to accuse him of? They’ve got to have an accusation. Claudius Lysias sent Paul, and a letter with Paul, and he said, “I’m sending this guy, but as far as I can see, it’s only a matter of Jewish theology and he hasn’t really done anything for which he should be put in jail or for which he should killed.” So, he really gives him a stamp of innocence.
Then, Claudius Lysias goes to Paul’s accusers and he says, “Now, if you’re going to pursue your case, you have to go to Caesarea and pursue it; it’s in the hands of Felix.” So off they go.
You know, you would think that maybe these Jewish leaders would be content just having Paul out of town. No; they wanted him dead. He was a tremendous threat to them. Because, you see, he undermined their security. They were smug and content, and they ate up their prestige, and they loved their spiritual prominence.
And Paul came along and just tore the slats out of it. He called them hypocrites, and preached Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Messiah – the very one they had deemed a blasphemer and executed through the Romans. And so Paul was doing the same thing Jesus had done; he was stomping all over their ecclesiastical toes. He was destroying their theology, and they couldn’t tolerate it. They wanted to get rid of him. And besides, he was winning Jews to Christ all over the place to Christ, and this was really creating problems.
So, they march on down to Caesarea. They take the 60-mile trip down there, ready to accuse him. We see the prosecution. Let’s look at verse 1. First of all, we meet the accusers. “After five days, Ananias, the high priest, descended with the elders.” You always “descend” from Jerusalem; anywhere you go is down. “With a certain orator named Tertullus, who informed the governor against Paul,” or who made the indictment.
Now, here are the accusers. There’s an interesting group, frankly. First of all is the high priest, Ananias. Now for a high priest to get in on an accusation is going some. This guy was upset. Of course, Ananias was corrupt; he was as corrupt as you could be corrupt, in every way. We talked about that last time, and won’t go over it again. But he was a corrupt man, and he saw Paul as a threat, so he wanted to get rid of him, so there he goes. He is part of the entourage that comes down to accuse.
Then, in addition to Ananias, you’ve got the elders. That would be key leaders out of the Sanhedrin. So you not only have the ruler of Israel, but you’ve got the Supreme Court there too. So, they’re all down to accuse Paul.
They didn’t want to do it alone, so they hired a smooth-tongued, oily, slick character by the name of Tertullus; a sort of a hired Italian, professional case reader; a guy who could come in there and read this deal off, and figure it all out, and then could go and plead the thing. This is a man who probably was versed in legal procedure as far as Rome went. He probably spoke eloquent Latin; and, he was the guy they were going to have plead the case. It says at the end of verse 1 that, “He informed the governor.” The high priest and the other people from the Sanhedrin just stood there while Tertullus did the talking.
Now, it was very common for orators in those days to do what Tertullus did. In the first two verses, he just lays it on thick. The Latin description of what he did is captatio benevolentiae. Do you know how what captatio benevolentiae translates? Soft-soap job. Now, that’s a free translation.
What he did was butter Felix up with flattery; I mean it was so thick it was ridiculous. In the first place, there wasn’t two minutes worth of good that could be said about the guy, and so what he does is give a lot of generalities; you know, like the politicians who say, “My, that is a baby,” just a whole lot of generalities without any significance. But, it was a very common approach to get a favorable hearing, and even though you know it isn’t true you like to hear it. Right? It’s like Herod. He sat up on his throne and gave his speech, and everyone said, “Oh, he’s not a man; he’s a god,” and Herod loved every bit of it, even though he knew it wasn’t true. We know that about flattery; we know it isn’t so, and we love it.
So he butters him up, even though the man is intelligent enough to know that the Jewish people hated him. They’ve hired a professional to come in there and tell him how wonderful he is. Well, let’s see what he says that’s flattering. Verse 2.
“When he was called forth” – the hearing began; we don’t know if it was very formal or informal; but apparently it was informal because there had to be a later determination of the case according to verse 22. So it was some kind of official but informal hearing. He calls forth Tertullus, and Tertullus began to accuse Paul, and this is how he began his accusation, “Seeing that by thee” – and he refers to Felix – “...we enjoy great quietness.” He says, “Felix, first of all, let me begin by saying we are so happy with the peace that you have brought.”
Now, Felix had nothing to do with peace. Felix had made absolutely no contribution to Roman peace whatsoever. In fact, the only time that Felix had brought peace was when he stomped out a riot that shouldn’t have started in the first place if he had known what he was doing. And when he stomped it out, he did such a lousy job that he alienated everybody else. And so he hadn’t really done anything that really contributed to peace; it was just a flattering statement, “We enjoy much peace.”
Listen, many of the Jews didn’t see the Pax Romana as peace at all. Calgacus said, “The Romans create a desolation and call it peace.” It may have been peace for Rome, but it was oppression for everybody else. And so when he says, “Oh, we enjoy this great quietness,” that’s just not so.
Then he goes on, “And very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy provision.” Oh, you’ve done so much for us, Felix. You know, I checked out 12 different books this week to try to find one thing Felix did, and couldn’t find one. Whatever he was supposed to have done, history never recorded it. But, you notice the generalities; there are no specifics. He doesn’t say, “You did this,” or “You did that other thing.” He just says all of these generalities.
He had driven off the Egyptian impostor, that really potentiated a revolution; he had done that. He had quelled a few riots, but certainly no reforms of any consequence.
He did some bad things. He assassinated Jonathan, the high priest, because he didn’t like him – and one way to be popular with the Jews is not to assassinate the high priest.
Tacitus, the historian, says, “He thought he could do any evil with impunity.” That is; he thought he could do any evil and get away with it. Tacitus went on to say, “He indulged in every kind of barbarity and lust.” Very worthy deeds? I don’t think so. History hasn’t recorded one; but he butters him up.
Verse 3 gets even thicker. “We accept it always. Whatever you do, oh Felix, we accept it. Always and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thanksgiving.” Notice all the ‘alls’: always, all places, all thankfulness – all bologna.
I can just imagine the Jewish leaders standing there, the high priest and those from the Sanhedrin, and just gagging. I mean, now I know why they hired a lawyer. They could never have said that with a straight face – impossible. And I know Felix didn’t believe it, and I think he was there with his tongue in his cheek, and smiling from ear to ear because those Jewish people had to stand there and endure while he said that about Felix. So, he was loving it because he knew they detested it. “Most noble Felix” – nothing noble about him at all.
Verse 4 is interesting. How are you going to turn the corner off of that? Well, this guy was pretty oily; he was pretty smooth. Verse 4, “Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto you,” – why, I don’t want to take your time reciting all the wonderful, wonderful things you’ve done, so I’ll get on with it – “I beseech you that you would hear us of thy clemency” – that means yieldedness; the idea is that one is a willingness to give place to another, to give over your rights – “...that you would be kind enough to yield to us a few words.
I don’t want to continue to recite all these things; that would be tedious to you. The real truth was he didn’t have a thing to say. That was it. That’s like when a preacher says, “I have much more I could say on this subject” that means he’s run out of material.
So, he butters up Felix in order to get a hearing. Incidentally, the idea that “I don’t want to be tedious, that I want to get this over with” was very common. There is historical evidence that orators before judges very often did this. They said, “This is going to be very brief.” The reason they would do that would be to get the concentration of the man at the very beginning. It didn’t always turn out to be brief, but it was a good way to sort of win over an immediate response.
And so Felix is there. I know he’s smiling because these Jewish leaders are having to sit there and acknowledge all this flattery. And I know they’re gagging because of the flattery – and Tertullus is doing his job. So there they are. All the accusers, and their hired mouth, have come down to bring their case against Paul. We meet the accusers now; let’s listen to the accusation.
Verses 5-9 give us the accusation, and I want you to notice that the accusation falls into three categories, and it’s a very clear accusation: sedition; sectarianism; and, sacrilege – and you have that on the little outline that you have. Now it’s easy for you to remember that way. They accuse him of sedition; that’s a violation of Roman law; sectarianism, a violation of Jewish law; sacrilege, a violation of God. So, they get him on his relationship to Rome, to the Jews, and to God. That’s the accusation in total. Let’s look at it in part.
First of all, the accusation of sedition. Sedition could be translated “treason.” And off course, if they could make this stick, they could really get him because if the Romans think for a minute that this man is committing treason, or he is stirring up sedition or insurrection or riot, he is in deep trouble.
So, verse 5 – and this is a generality – “We have found this man a pestilent fellow.” What that really translates is “a nuisance, a plague, or a pest.” In the modern day, this man would be a pain in the neck. You know, that isn’t any accusation; that’s just a statement – a very, very general statement – reflecting their attitude. “He causes us trouble.”
Then they define the three areas in which he is such a pestilence. “He’s a disrupter. He creates problems wherever he goes,” first of all, sedition against the government. He is a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world. The idea is that he is getting Jews to revolt against Rome. This man is gathering Jews and they’re all over the world revolting – treasonous, insurrection. Riots are happening.
Well you know, they could have supported that. Paul didn’t stir up riots, but he sure was in on a lot of them. He would preach, and then someone else would get excited and stir up the riot. But he was usually there when the riot was happening. So, if there had been any weight of evidence at all that this guy could have pulled out of his hat to support this, he could have had Paul in trouble because it was true that Paul had been in riots. But we’ll see, interestingly enough – in a few moments – that even in the midst of those riots, Paul could never justifiably be accused. That is made clear in the book of Acts.
But there was the potential that this could stick if the right twist on the truth could be brought to bear. So they accuse him of being a man of sedition, and one who moves people to riot, and The Romans did not tolerate it. They were paranoid about revolution. They were paranoid about insurrections and riots, because they had managed to conquer; they had placed all their rulers and soldiers in these areas to keep the peace; and this is the one thing they feared.
Now, notice the exaggeration. It says, “He is a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world.” I mean, that is a little broad, but again just great generalities. Now, he doesn’t name any riot. You know why? If he had named a riot in any area, it would have immediately removed the responsibility from Felix because they would have had to transfer Paul into that area to be tried under whoever had the jurisdiction over the area.
Remember back in 23, Paul was asked the question where he was from – in verse 34 – what province? And he said, “Cilicia,” and when he said that, Felix said, “That’s my jurisdiction.” And if they had accused him of something that he had stirred up somewhere else, then they would have had to pass him on to the other person who was responsible for that jurisdiction. So, they don’t even bring that up, if in fact they knew very much about it – they may have been able to get information about it – but they wanted it done now. They didn’t want to push him off somewhere.
So they accuse him, then, of leading sedition among all the Jews throughout the world; an accusation of treason. And it isn’t true. He was accused, of course, of creating dissention everywhere he went, but that was only because people created the dissention in response to what he was preaching.
This particular thing – just to give you an historical note – this particular accusation was very common in ancient times. You know, petty tyrants, tyrannical emperors, used this concept of sedition or treason or riot or insurrection at will to execute anybody who disagreed with them. So, it was a very handy little idea. And so here is Paul accused of this.
Let me just add the note I mentioned I’d add. It is very interesting to me that all through the book of Acts, Christians are on trial for their preaching, and that with great detail the Holy Spirit records all the features of the trial. You know, as you read the end of the book of Acts, you wonder why in the world does the Holy Spirit tells us every detail about every one of these things? Why doesn’t He just say, “Paul went here and they had a little thing with Felix, and then Paul went there,” and then give us a bit of doctrine? I mean, why all this detail?
I mean, we start out at the very beginning, and even in Paul’s ministry, there is a trial before Gallio; you’ve got the Sergius Paulus thing; you’ve got Felix, and Festus, and Agrippa. And you’ve got all of these trials in the book of Acts – even in the early part of the book of Acts with Peter and John before the Sanhedrin – repeatedly.
Why does the Lord feel that all the details of all these trials have to be here? I’ll tell you why I believe the Lord put it here: because throughout history – the early church in particular, in the early years – Christianity was always condemned on the basis of the fact that it was treasonous, that it was an insurrectionist movement, that it was a revolutionary movement. And, the Holy Spirit is careful to record, in the book of Acts, trial after trial after trial after trial of Christians, where in every single case in the book of Acts, it is abundantly clear that they were innocent of any violation of civil law. And I think that is important.
Christianity is not political treason. Why, the Bible is explicit about that. Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” The Apostle Paul said in Romans 13, “The powers that be are ordained of God.” Peter said, “Submit yourselves to the kings and the governors and the police” in I Peter. Christians are not political insurrectionists; Christians should be Class A, number one citizens, law-abiding. Unless you come to the place where you live in a kind of society where they make laws that violate the laws of God – then you have the right to choose whether to obey God or men, and you should choose to obey God. But that’s the abnormal. And so very carefully, competent judges like Gallio, Sergius Paulus, and Felix, really come up exonerating the Christian, and Luke makes this very clear in the book of Acts, for all who would read – particularly in those early centuries – that Christianity was not political revolution.
Now they come, then, and they accuse him of this insurrection. Now, it is interesting that I don’t think Felix believed this, because Claudius Lysias had already written a letter, and in his letter, he had said, “I perceive this to be a question about their law, having nothing to do with death or bonds.” In other words, it isn’t a legal matter for us to consider; it’s strictly a theological issue between them. I think he probably believed his own tribune, his own chiliarch, or he wouldn’t have been in the position that he was in if Felix didn’t think he was capable. And so here, he knows these people would lie to him to get their whims and their wishes, and he probably just accepted it for what it was.
So it starts out, then, with a vague, non-specific charge, which is really inadmissible as any kind of evidence. The second charge – the first sedition against the government; secondly, sectarianism against the Jewish people. And this is most interesting. “A ringleader,” verse 5 says, “of the sect of the Nazarenes.”
Today we still have some people who call themselves Nazarenes; they’re wonderful Christian people. And that name was a name originally given as a term of derision, a mocking term. So was the term “Christian.” But the term “Nazarene” came because Jesus of Nazareth was called The Nazarene. And so the people who identified with Jesus came to be known, in a derisive sense, as Nazarenes – because you remember what they said about it, “Could anything good come out of Nazareth?” I mean, that was really out in the boondocks. I mean, that was an uneducated, hick town. I mean, nobody came from there and amounted to anything, and when Jesus arrived from Nazareth they all laughed and said, “Well, could anything good come out of Nazareth?”
And so when they called these people Nazarenes, it was a slur. And so they say, “This man is a leader of the Nazarenes,” and you can find six times in the book of Acts Jesus called The Nazarene. But, this is the only time that the people who followed Him are called Nazarenes. It was a term of contempt. Apparently, it was a very popular term, because Tertullus does not bother to explain it to Felix; he assumes he understands what that means. And you know what? They probably felt this could be a problem because there were a lot of Messianic groups at the time, and the Messianic groups at this particular time – not that they believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but there were various Messianic factions – and these factions were very troublesome to Rome. And the factions of the Nazarenes would be classified with this other pile of Messianic factions, and so could well have been a threat to Rome, at least an irksome thing. And so by calling Paul a ringleader of this sect of the Nazarenes, he throws him in the bag of a bunch of troublesome, Messianic offshoots of Judaism.
What they are accusing him, from their standpoint of, is heresy. He’s anti-Jewish. He not only violates Roman law; he violates our laws.
The third accusation appears in verse 6, and this really was the thing that got them going in the first place, although it was a lie. It says in verse 6, “Who also has gone about to profane the temple.” Now, the temple to the Jews was a very sacred thing, and the laws of the temple were very binding.
There was an outer court, and the outer court was a court where the Gentiles could come. But, Gentiles could not go past the barricade into the inner part of the temple. In fact, there were signs posted there disallowing them to go in. We have even found archaeological remnants of those signs; so much so, that we even know exactly what they said – from Herod’s temple. But the signs were there that if a Gentile went into the inner part, he would pay with his life.
Now, that was such a serious violation of Jewish law that the Romans allowed the Jews to have the right of capital punishment for that offense, and that offense only. That’s why I just said the Jews had to get the Romans to crucify Christ. In any other area, a violation of their law, they had no right to take the life – except in the violation of the sacredness of the temple because that was such a high priority. Rome gave them the right to take the life of one who violated that.
Now, when Paul was in the temple, these people from Asia Minor – these Jews from Asia Minor who saw him there – accused him of bringing a Gentile in there. He hadn’t done that; they accused him of it, and they were going to kill Paul. Well, as I told you, that was ridiculous. If the Gentile came in there, the Gentile was the one killed, not Paul. The law said, “A Gentile who enters gets killed,” not the one who brings him in. So, they were twisting the whole thing.
But here they back off of that, and they do not say that he brought a Gentile in. They say, “He goes about to profane the temple.” They didn’t say he did it; they said he tried to do it.
You say, “Well, why did they back off? Why wouldn’t they just say that he did it?” Because that would be stupid because it couldn’t be proven. You know why it couldn’t be proven? Because he didn’t do it. They couldn’t find any witnesses. But when they would say “he tried to do it,” there was no way to prove that he didn’t try to do it. So they figured that was the safer accusation; “we’ll just accuse him of trying to profane,” and they put it in words that were vague enough so that maybe the judge would say, “Well wow, if he’s profaning your temple, you know you have your rights. Go execute him.”
You know, it is amazing to me that religious people are often the most immoral and unethical. You know, I go back into some of the things that Christianity has perpetrated and it staggers you. And, throughout the history of civilization you find terrible things done by Christians – you know, things like the Crusades where the “Christians” marched across Europe to take the holy places from the Turks, and while they were marching they slaughtered all the Jews along the way so the Jews wouldn’t hassle them about the holy places – in the name of Christ.
You wonder why Jews have a hard time with Christians? They know their history. They know that Germany was the birthplace of the Reformation of Christianity, the home of Martin Luther. They know all that. And, they don’t see that Christianity had much of an effect on any of the Germans that they’re aware of.
And at that time – even in the time of Hitler – there was a state church, a “Christian church.” You know, religious people – and I don’t mean truly Christian people; I mean religious people – are sometimes the most immoral and unethical of all. I mean, we’re still having religious wars, you know. I mean, it isn’t really that simple, but let’s face it: the Catholics and Protestants are still killing each other, and that’s in the name of Christianity. You understand that that’s not true Christianity, but does the world? Why would they understand that?
You see, it’s a very difficult thing to try to connect any kind of honest morality with religion; it just isn’t there. True ethics and true morality comes with a true relationship with God, and apart from that religious people can be just as criminal as anyone else and maybe more so when get to defend in their little square inch of religion. Here were people who, in the name of God and in zeal for God, wanted to kill a man who was innocent – and they wanted to accuse the man with lies; that’s how bad they wanted him dead, all in the name of religion.
What happened? They came and accused him? Three things. Now, verse 6 poses an interesting thing; I’m just give you a note on it. Some manuscripts do not include the end of verse 6, all of verse 7, and the first part of verse 8.
In other words, when we go to put together the text of the Bible that you hold in your hand, we have to make that text up from the manuscripts that we have from ancient history – from way back, as far as we can go. We find old manuscripts, for example, of the book of Acts, and maybe there’s a variation; one manuscript has these verses in and one manuscript doesn’t have them in. So then we have what’s known as a problem. Wait until I finish! I know you’re saying, “Brilliant, MacArthur, brilliant!” That’s the problem of lower criticism, trying to find out what texts is right. Well, there are certain principles that we use to try to determine which one is right, but in this case it’s very difficult to know whether the end of verse 6, all of verse 7, and the beginning of verse 8 out to be in or ought to be out.
Now, if you have a New American Standard, it’s in the margin, isn’t it? It’s more likely to be out than in. If it’s more likely to be in than out they’ll have it in the text.
Now, I’m not any great expert on this area, but I just – you know, looking at it from a textual standpoint – I kind of lean toward the fact that it out to be in. And the reason I feel that way is: let’s just assume – number one – that God maybe preserved this thing since there’s any doubt at all about it, and it was in some, and we don’t have clear indication that it isn’t out; let’s just accept that it’s not going to hurt anything. Plus, it poses an interesting fact. If in fact, it isn’t there, it would read this way. “Who also,” verse 6. “...hath gone about to profane the temple.” Then you jump to verse 8, “By examining of whom thyself mayest take knowledge of all these things of which we accuse him.”
Now, if that middle section isn’t there, who does the “whom” refer to in verse 8? The examining of whom? Well, it would refer to Paul, wouldn’t it? And so what Tertullus is saying is, “Look, he’s profaned the temple and if you’ll examine him, you’ll find this out.”
Now, I have a problem with that. You know what the problem is? If he examined Paul, he wouldn’t find that out because Paul didn’t do that. So, that’s the problem.
So if you take that out of there, it’s crazy. Why would the lawyer say, “All you’ve got to do to get the truth is ask him?” That doesn’t make any sense because Paul is not going to agree with him. But if you leave those other verses in there, it changes everything. It reads, verse 6, “Whom we took and we would have judged according to our law.” Oh, that’s a lie; they weren’t going to judge him according to their law, they were going to lynch him.
“But the chief captain Lysias came on us and with great violence took him out of our hands!” Sure he did. They were trying to kill him and Claudius rescued him, “Commanding his accusers to come unto thee,” and then “he sent us here to carry out this trial.” Now, “By examining of whom,” now who does the “whom” refer to? Lysias. Now, that makes sense. Now they say it, “And if you want to know what happened, you just ask Claudius Lysias.” You say, “Well, they told lies, though.” Sure, but Claudius Lysias wasn’t going to get in a fight with them.
And, if you look at verse 22, it says, “Felix heard these things,” etc., etc. He deferred them and said, “When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will determine your case.” It seems as though the indication of 22 is that the reference was to hearing from Claudius Lysias.
So Tertullus says, “Look, I’ve given you the accusations. If you want corroboration you can get it from your chief captain. We were trying to carry out justice.” And then he swooped down there and with great violence he hauls Paul away, “commanded us to come to you.” Now, you check with him and see if that isn’t so.” And so later on, in 22, Felix says, “I’ll check with him.” You know something? He never did, and we’ll see that next time.
Well you know, if you’re any kind of a lawyer that’s worth anything you’re going to have some witnesses, right? You’re not just going to stand there and state your case; you’re going to support your case. So what does he do? Verse 9, he hauls in a bunch of witnesses. “And the Jews also assented, saying these things were so.” So, so-and-so took the stand, and then another elder – and whatever else – and they all said, “Oh, everything he says is true.” They just perjured themselves up one side and down the other, lying right through their teeth. In the name of God, “servants of God” they called themselves, “lovers of God,” “lovers of the law,” they called themselves. And here they are, blatantly lying in order to preserve their religion and to execute a man they didn’t want around.
Now listen; this is a very, very clear illustration of what a Christian should expect. How many times have we seen that, if a Christian really lives his life in the face of an ungodly world, he’s going to make waves? Is that right? Second Timothy 3:12 says, “Yea, and all that will live godly in this present age shall suffer persecution.” If you’re going to live a godly life in the midst of an ungodly society, you’re going to get some flack. I mean, that’s expected; that’s how it will be. If you’re not getting any flack, you’re not living a godly life in the midst of an ungodly world. They can’t handle it.
Listen to what Peter said in 1 Peter 3:14. “...if you suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are you. Don’t be afraid of their terror, neither be troubled, but sanctify the Lord God always in your hearts, be ready to give an answer to every man that asks you the reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” In other words, stand up there and give an answer boldly, meekly. Listen, “Having a good conscience,” which means you can stand up there with a clear conscience and give your answer. “Whereas they speak evil of you as evildoers, they may be ashamed to falsely accuse your good manner of life in Christ.”
What is he saying? Two things. One, have a blameless life. Two, have a clear testimony and let happen what happens. If you can’t support your clear testimony with a blameless life, you’re going to get shot down.
Jesus put it this way in Matthew 5. He said, “Blessed are you when men shall revile you...and speak all manner of evil against you falsely. Blessed are you.” What do you mean “blessed”? That I made enemies? Jesus made enemies.
Now let me close with this. Last week I spoke on the Jews’ plot to kill Paul, and there was a Jewish person here in the church listening. I got a letter from this person this week, and the letter said that this person, in effect, was very upset. In fact, the letter just bounced around on the desk before I opened it; it was just short of ticking. I opened the letter up and my heart was grieved; I mean grieved. This person was so upset that they were just near standing up and screaming at me in anger, and accused me of anti-Semitism. And you know, this is not something new to me; this is something that I hear frequently. I heard it when teaching about Jesus Christ and the crucifixion of Christ in regard to the part the Jews played in it. Then, teaching in Acts when we talked about the fact that the Jews were given the guilt for the death of Christ.
And it came again this week. This letter went on for page after page. What grieved me was the fact that this person does not understand that it is my obligation in a clear conscience to teach the word of God and it does not reflect a lack of love for the people of Israel. If I can clearly state that, let me state it at this point.
When I pick up the pages of this 2,000-year-old book and tell you what happened 2,000 years ago with these individuals that day in Caesarea, that nowhere reflects on any living person today. You are what you are before God; this isn’t you, and I don’t know – for the life of me – why Jewish people would feel that they needed to defend something that some evil people did 2,000 years ago any more than I need to run around and get all excited when somebody condemns a Gentile who lived 2,000 years ago. Listen, there have been a whole lot of scruffy, crummy, corrupt Gentiles, and I don’t go around trying to defend them all.
You have to accept this is the revelation of God. This is what these people did in rejection of their own Messiah, in violation of their own law and the word of God given to them. This is what the Bible says. I stand here with a clear conscience, as Paul did, and I proclaim it.
And I couldn’t help but read that letter and think, “I’m in the same shambles that Paul is in. I’m getting the same thing he got.” What was it that the Jews accused him of? Being anti-Semitic, against the law, against our people, profaning the temple. He said, “Now wait a minute! I am not. I’m just telling you the facts of what happened.” Paul turns around with tears running down his face and says, “My heart’s desire and prayer is for Israel, that they might be saved.”
He says in Romans 9, “I could wish myself accursed for my kinsmen.” You know, if you want to see what Paul’s attitude was toward the Jews, you read the whole book of Acts. You’ll see him go in and give his body to stoning, and give his back to rods and beatings, and jail, for the sake of reaching his people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And I do not accept the criticism that I’m anti-Semitic; I don’t accept that. I stand before you with a clear conscience, saying that I love the children of Israel.
I mean, I told somebody not too many weeks ago, when they asked me about that. I said, “Listen, the people I love most in the world are Jews, all of them. I spend more time with Jewish people than I do with any other people.” They said, “What do you mean?” I said, “I spend almost all the time with Paul, Peter, John, Jesus, David, Abraham, Moses.” That’s true, and I love every one of them. There is nobody in the world that I love more than Paul. I love him, and my heart is for Israel.
I can’t go to the land of Israel – like I did this summer – without having just my heart in my throat because I see God’s people and I see what God is beginning to do in the restoration of Israel. I have great hope for Israel, great love for Israel, great concern for Jewish evangelism. But I still must preach the Word of God the way it’s written, and I don’t think that people should become completely oriented to defending those evil people back there; that’s history. And somebody says, “Well, you Christians learned to hate the Jews. You make the people hate the Jews so much they’ll hate all the Jews today.” That’s foolish. That’s foolish. We don’t hate the Jews for what they did. Our hearts grieves.
Do you know what God said through Jeremiah? God said, “You better repent.” “You better repent, and if you don’t, you’ll die.” In the very next verse, in Jeremiah 13, God says, “And if you do, Mine eye will weep tears, bitterly I’ll cry.” See? God’s attitude is, “You have to repent because you’ve sinned. But if you don’t repent, you’ll die. And if you die, I’ll cry.” That’s love, and it’s there.
The apostle Paul loved those people. I’m sure, in his heart, he had compassion for Ananias and the elders, even as we would for Jewish people; just like anyone else. There’s no need to even separate them. You don’t love the Jews as a little glob in the corner as some strange commodity; these are just people that God loves, and yet in God’s wonderful plan have a unique place.
Well, we didn’t get very far, but we got through the prosecution. Come back next week and hear the defense.
Thank You, Father, this morning for giving us the privilege of looking into your Word. Thank You for what it is; the Spirit instructs us as we open our hearts and minds to the truth.
God, give us a love for Israel. Cause us to remember that we’re not to be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone that believes, to the Jew first, then the Greek. Help us to remember that our Lord Christ came through Israel; salvation is of the Jews. We have so much to be thankful for. Help us to be grateful.
At the same time, Father, help us – with a clear conscience – to speak boldly and to realize that there will be reaction. Father, I pray for this woman who wrote the letter, whoever she is, that the initial reaction of anger would turn to conviction. And, that she would truly see her Messiah, fall at His feet, that the Holy Spirit would convict her heart and bring salvation.
Thank You for our fellowship this morning. We praise You for it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.