Paul Before Felix: Part 3 of 4 (series: Lessons on Acts)
by John Lowe
11 Because that thou mayest understand, that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship.
Paul’s first point was that he was only a visitor to Jerusalem. His coming to Jerusalem, he said, was “to worship.” In fact, this may be seen as his answer to all three charges—“reverence, not insurrection; conformity, not heresy; worship, not profanity.” It was less than two weeks since he had arrived in the city to participate in the festivities of Pentecost, and some of that time he had been in custody. It was absurd to accuse him of hatching plots. He had not had time to incite riot and insurrection in Jerusalem. Moreover, the fact that he had come to Jerusalem “to worship” would defuse the charge that he deliberately committed sacrilege in the Temple. There were other reasons for his coming besides this, as he himself stated and in verse 17, but naturally, he mentioned first the one that represented his best defense.
It’s obvious, from the text that Paul had not preached in the temple or the synagogues, nor had he preached anywhere in the city. (Years before, Paul had made an agreement with Peter and the Jerusalem elders that he would not evangelize the Jews in Jerusalem. See Galatians 2:7-10.) Nobody could prove that he was guilty of leading any kind of rebellion against the Jews or the Romans.
12 And they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city:
13 Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me.
There it was. Paul gave the bold and unequivocal answer to the charges brought against him—they were lies. Truth was on his side. Anyone could make accusations. It was the proof that mattered. His accusers had no proof because there was no proof.
Again we cannot help but wonder where Paul’s friends and fellow-believers were at this time, the hour of his trial. James, where are you? We have no doubt that Luke and Titus and Paul’s Gentile friends would be glad to help if they could, but their testimony might be twisted by this court, as the Sanhedrin would certainly use the presence of Paul’s Gentile friends as “proof” he had admitted Gentiles into the temple courts. But James! James, though a Christian, had a good reputation with all the Jews. Where are you, James? Come forward and explain why Paul was in the Temple in the first place. And you others—you four men with the vow. Come and tell how Paul paid your expenses so that you could properly terminate your vow. What are you? Come and bear witness to the fact he was with you, not with any Gentiles, and that, far from committing a sacrilege, he was offering sacrifice.
For his second answer to the charge, Paul stated that he had not stirred up any crowds—not in the temple area, not in the Jewish synagogues, not anywhere in the city. There had been quite a crowd in the temple area, but it was the Asian Jews—not Paul—who incited it: “some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple; they stirred up the whole crowd and seized him” (21:27). If the Romans wanted to charge someone with disturbing the peace, they had best look elsewhere, not to Paul.
Finally, Paul replied with his third response, the Jews simply could not give any proof for their accusations that would stand up in court.
14 But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:
Next, he dealt with the charge of “heresy.” It was true that he was a follower of “the Way,” which they call a “sect”; a party within Judaism. Actually “sect” became a common designation for the Pharisees. It is obvious that Tertullus was using “sect” in a derogatory sense. As a member of “the Way” the apostle was careful to point out that it was no more an illegal sect of Judaism than those sects to which his accusers belonged.
There had been a time when Paul had shared his accuser’s estimate of “the Way,” but he regarded it now, not as a deviation from the Jewish religion, but as its fulfillment (13:32); the true, the only way of the Lord for His people. His claim was that his religion was their religion; carried to its ultimate conclusion. Being a Christian, he said, did not make him an apostate. He was still a loyal Jew. He still worshipped “the God of my fathers.”
Paul did have something to confess. He confessed his absolute faith in divine revelation, in the Law and the Prophets (OT), in the Hebrew Bible. And also that he differed from his accusers in the way he handled the Bible. He took it at its face value, as the Word of God to be believed unreservedly, interpreted literally, and obeyed utterly.
Paul had no doubt that the Lord Jesus fulfilled all the revealed Biblical criteria of the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. The rabbinical Jews in the seminaries of his day were already elevating the traditions of the elders above the revelation of Scripture. The Talmud was already in process of evolution, and the coming fall of Jerusalem would give it added emphasis. It would cement the Jews in their unbelief by ultimately replacing divine revelation altogether as the source of authority
Paul’s “believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets” was a thrust at both Pharisees and Sadducees in the Sanhedrin. It was a familiar maxim in the Scriptures, but perhaps, it was chosen deliberately for the sake of his argument, to make the point that the Scriptures included prophecy and they must look beyond themselves for fulfillment. But the Sadducees rejected much of the Old Testament, while both they and the Pharisees rejected the Old Testament’s witness to Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27). In contrast, Paul viewed the entire Old Testament as the inspired Word of God and believed everything it taught.
Paul was already sorry for the trick he played back in Jerusalem where he had pitted one against the other—Pharisees verses Sadducees—over the resurrection. “I take my stand on the Bible,” he said to Felix.
15 And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow (‘look for’), that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the 6just and unjust.
This was a poke at both the high priest and the governor. That there was to be a resurrection to life and a resurrection to judgment was a well-founded and well-established Jewish belief. However, it is not necessary to conclude that Paul is suggesting here that the resurrection of all men will occur at a single time. 1 Corinthians 15:23, 24 suggests that the resurrection of those who are in Christ occurs before “the end,” when the final resurrection will occur. Paul had not deviated from orthodoxy in proclaiming the resurrection. If anyone had abandoned orthodoxy, it was Ananias and the Sadducees. The preaching of the resurrection was the triumphant message of the early church. The memory of Christ’s resurrection was still fresh in men’s minds. It could not be refuted by facts, as he himself knew well enough—that was why he had resorted, in his unconverted days, to force. But have you ever notice that the Resurrection is the very center of Christianity? It has been from the very beginning, friend. “What think thee of Christ?” is always the test. Did He die for your sins? How was He raised from the dead? Paul immediately comes to the core issue of Christianity: the Resurrection.
Paul’s words had a certain ominous tone. To mention the resurrection of the unjust could only imply one thing—the coming judgment. Paul was not about to miss the opportunity for witnessing. Even the Gentiles present, who might not comprehend the idea of the resurrection, would have some understanding of judgment (24:25). Paul’s reference to the resurrection is the high point of his witness in all the speeches of Acts 23-26. This was not by accident. Paul’s confidence in the 5resurrection constituted the real point of contention with the other Jews
Let the unjust beware, whether Jew or Roman, priest or procurator. There would be a resurrection. There was a higher court. Men were accountable to God for their behavior. “I believe in resurrection,” said Paul. Paul shared this hope with the Pharisees—“Brothers, I am a Pharisee, as were my ancestors! And I am on trial because my hope is in the resurrection of the dead!” (23:6; NLT)—though it must be questioned whether they subscribed to his precise expectation that all would be raised. He said this in 24:16 (NLT): “Because of this, I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people.” And then in 23:1 (NLT) he said this: “Brothers, I have always lived before God with a clear conscience!”