Paul Imprisoned: Part 1 of 3 (series: Lessons on Acts)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe


Lesson: IV.F.3: Paul Imprisoned (24:22-27)


Acts 24:22-27 (KJV)

22 And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter.
23 And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.
24 And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.
25 And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.
26 He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him.
27 But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix' room: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.


Commentary
22 And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter.

Felix immediately perceived that there was no case against Paul. The only count in the indictment with any truth to it was the one naming Paul “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” The procurator knew that the Christian movement had not been declared an illegal religion by the Romans. Therefore, he had no right to force Paul to justify himself for having embraced the Christian faith or to explain its doctrines.

When Paul gave his rebuttal to the charges against him his main point was that the only issue between him and his accusers was a theological one that should never have come to this court. The governor (Felix) may well have agreed with him on this point but the case had come to court and for various reasons he was unwilling to give an early verdict. Instead, he simply adjourned the case. One reason for delaying the verdict appears later in verse 26, but here Luke mentions that Felix had “more perfect knowledge of 1that way”; that is to say, “He had complete and accurate knowledge of the facts about the Way”: somewhere, somehow, Felix (means “happy”) had acquired accurate knowledge about Christianity. This statement gives the impression that he was sympathetic toward the Christians—or at least had no desire to see them treated unjustly by the Jews—without wanting, to offend the Jews by setting Paul free. In any event, it shows that this Roman, with a good grasp of the facts, found himself unable to condemn the apostle, and he didn’t want to pass a verdict, for the verdict would surely have been one of acquittal. Felix then, knew the facts about Christianity and Jesus, but it is not enough for a person to know the facts about Christ, or to have an emotional response to a message. He or she must willingly repent of sin and trust the Savior. “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:40; NKJV).

Moreover, Paul’s testimony rang true. Felix had no illusions about Ananias and his crowd. He knew what a scoundrel Ananias was. He had no trouble deciding Paul was innocent of the charges leveled against him. However, he had no intention of stirring up the powerful Sanhedrin against himself. He took the easy way out. He deferred the case until such time as he could bring down the tribune for a firsthand report. That sounded all right, but in reality, it was a cowardly compromise.

23 And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.

Paul calmly accepted Felix’s decision simply because he had no other options open to him in this court, all he could do is wait and hope for release. He remained a prisoner, though he was granted the privilege of what the Romans called 2“free custody” as befitting his status of Roman citizen. This meant that his friends could visit him and tend to his needs.

When Felix instructs a centurion “to let him have 8liberty, and

that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him,” he is addressing a problem within their prisons at that time. Ancient prisons were places where accused people were held for trial, at which time they were released, executed, punished by fine, had their property confiscated, or received corporal punishment. Imprisonment was not itself a means of punishment for condemned criminals. Thus there were no provisions for feeding and caring for prisoners on a long-term basis, and it was important for friends of those accused to have access to them. This access could be granted or denied. Paul is pictured as being treated favorably by Rome, as the facts will show.

Now then James, here’s your opportunity. You Christian Jews of Jerusalem and all Judea can now beat a path to the great warrior’s door. Ease his suffering; show him the right hand of fellowship. Let him know he does not stand alone. How sad is the silence of Scripture regarding any such fellowship on the part of the Jerusalem church. Abraham Lincoln said something interesting about the kind of situation we have here: “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards out of men.” James and the other apostles would soon flee Jerusalem due to persecution by the Roman government.

If the saying “silence gives consent” contains any truth, the Christians in Jerusalem and Caesarea must have agreed wholeheartedly to the imprisonment of Paul. Their silence is amply prevalent throughout the whole affair. Shall we attribute this conspiracy of silence to Luke’s negligence in recording an example of concern shared by these Christians? This is a possibility. If so, the church which was so bold in the face of the early dangers and threats did not defy the religious authorities for Paul; the church which prayed for Peter and the other apostles when they were put in prison did not pray in Paul’s behalf. Fear could not have been an excuse in refraining from visiting Paul at Caesarea because Felix permitted visitors. While many of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were bitterly opposed to Paul’s doctrine, a few did support him on previous occasions. We cannot believe that the minority was indifferent to what happened to the apostle. We conclude that the author of Acts failed to mention their concern because he considered it irrelevant for his narrative.

What Paul’s ministry was during those two years in Caesarea, we do not know, but we can be sure he gave a faithful witness for the Lord.

24 And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.

During the long months of imprisonment that ensued, Felix sent for Paul frequently and talked with him (24:26). One such occasion is singled out for our interest on which 5“Drusilla” (“a Jewess,” and still in her teens), Felix’s wife, was also present. She was born about a.d. 38, the youngest of the three daughters of 3Herod Agrippa I. She had formerly been married to 7Azizus, king of Emesa, but Felix had enticed her to leave her husband and become his third wife. She lived as though God had never given the Ten Commandments at Sinai.

It was probably from “Drusilla” that Felix obtained his own information about Christianity, and she may have been the driving force behind the desire to speak with Paul in private. However, it was probably no more than superficial curiosity that drew the couple to hear what Paul had to say; curiosity mostly on the part of Drusilla. She wanted to hear Paul; after all, her family had been involved with “the Way” on several occasions. Her great grandfather tried to kill Jesus in Bethlehem (Matthew 2); her great-uncle killed John the Baptist and mocked Jesus (Luke 23:6-12); and Acts 12:1-2 tells of her father killing the Apostle James. I would equate this family to modern-day Mafia.

The apostles theme on this, as on most occasions, was “faith in Christ Jesus.” The addition of Jesus to this statement is important. He was not merely urging belief in the Christ, but belief that Jesus was the Christ to whom they should trust themselves for salvation. How his great heart yearned to win Priscilla and Felix to Christ. Here is one obvious reason for Paul’s chains. How else could he ever have been able to present “the faith in Christ” (“the doctrine of Christ”) to such a needy pair?




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