by John Lowe
34 And when the governor had read the letter, he asked of what province he was. And when he understood that he was of Cilicia;
At this point in the narrative, Luke gave no hint about Felix’s shortcomings. Everything is related in formal, official language to emphasize that Paul’s transfer to Caesarea was very much a protective move on the part of the Roman officials. Felix’s question about Paul’s native province was aimed at determining whether he had legal jurisdiction over Paul in his role as Judean procurator. The rules of procedure required that this should be the first question asked. This little interchange between Felix and Paul reflects criminal law at that time. The practice had been to try criminals in the province in which their crime was committed, but by the beginning of the second century A.D., and almost certainly earlier, the possibility existed of sending the accused for trial to his own province. “The point,” then, “of the question put to Paul, in mid-first century, was not to protect the rights of the accused . . . but to enable the procurator . . . to avoid a tiresome affair altogether, if he felt inclined, either by expelling an accused person from a province to which he did not belong, or by a refusal of jurisdiction.”
During the reign of Claudius, both Judea and Cilicia were under the single provincial administration of the imperial legate of Syria.
35 I will hear thee, said he, when thine accusers are also come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod's judgment hall.
As an official within that administrative unit, Felix determined that it was within his authority to give Paul a formal hearing—“Iwillhearthee,” saidFelix—he would have a full hearing. In the meantime Paul was confined to the praetorium; a former palace built by Herod the Great which now served as the Roman headquarters. This was his real “handing over to the Gentiles” that Agabus had foretold (21:11). In the storyline, “thine accusers” should be the Diaspora Jews from Asia who because of a misunderstanding had charged Paul with defiling the temple by bringing Gentiles into its inner courts which were reserved for Jews (21:27-30).
The apostle now appears in the role of one who has presented an appeal for an official “hearing.” This would seem to suggest that he had asserted his Roman citizenship, not merely to escape scourging, but to evade the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin and place himself under the immediate jurisdiction of Rome; and that his transfer to Caesarea may have taken place, not merely to safeguard him from the Jewish plot, but at his own request as a privilege he had the right to claim.
Thus Paul arrived back in Caesarea. Little did he know at the time that he was to stay for two years as a prisoner, his case in limbo and his patience tried to the limit. His detention was lenient, and he could communicate with his friends. It is to be hoped that the saints at Caesarea were more hospitable than those at Jerusalem. We do not know. We can only see this caged lion impatiently pacing up and down, fretting because of his distressing circumstances, until at last he settled down to dignify his captivity by regarding himself as “a prisoner of Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1).
We will find that his accusers were quick to come down to Caesarea. They didn’t hesitate to follow Paul. As we move along, I think you will detect that Paul is not defending himself as much as he is witnessing for Christ. The Lord Jesus had said he would witness before governors and rulers and Kings. He is being brought before them. This is God’s method. Paul is in the will of God, and God is carrying out His purpose.
Are you as impressed as I am with the amazing providence of God in caring for His servant? “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them (Psalm 34:7). “Let us trust in God, and be very courageous for the Gospel,” wrote Charles Spurgeon, “and the Lord Himself will screen us from all harm.”
God’s people can afford to be daring, in the will of God, because they know their Savior will be dependable and work out His perfect will. Paul was alone—but not alone! His Lord was with him and he had nothing to fear.
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