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Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 24:22-27

Paul Kept in Custody

22 But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that (C)none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs.

24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. 27 When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.

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Last week’s entry covered Paul’s defence in Caesarea before Felix the Roman governor and the Apostle’s Jewish accusers.

Paul clearly demonstrated that not only was he innocent of any crime against the Roman government, but also that the accusations against him were of a theological nature, something on which the Romans would not pass judgement.

Felix, having lived in Caesarea — home to Cornelius, the first Roman convert, and to Philip the Evangelist — knew the tenets of Christianity, ‘the Way’, well (verse 22). He placated everyone by saying that when Claudius Lysias, the Roman tribune of Jerusalem, next went to Caesarea, Felix would decide the case then.

John MacArthur says there is no historical evidence the Felix ever called for Claudius Lysias or that the tribune went of his own accord (emphases mine):

You know that there is no record, ever, that he ever called Claudius Lysias down there? And there’s no record that Claudius Lysias ever came. He just permanently postponed the thing. That’s a coward’s act. Now, he had a knowledge of Christianity. You say, “Where did he get it?” Well, he lived in Caesarea, and Philip lived there, and Philip was an evangelist.

And there were a lot of other Christians, and he was in Judea for nine years, eight or nine years, and so there were tens of thousands of Christians all over the place. He had been very, very familiar with Christianity. Some say he was a friend and an acquaintance of Simon Magus, Simon the Sorcerer, who had been exposed to Christianity, and that Simon Magus had first communicated to him. That’s somewhere in ancient history; we don’t know. But he knew enough, and he knew enough to make a right evaluation that this was not a criminal issue, but a theological one.

He knew enough about Christianity to be responsible; he was like Pilate. He was convinced of the testimony of the accused, but he was afraid of the Jews. So, he postponed the decision until Claudius Lysias could come and add information, and he never called Claudius Lysias. It was a convenient non-decision. It was a nothing. It was a postponement.

Felix wanted to placate the Jews:

He had a lot of Jews on his hands who were very angry, and when you have a lot of very angry Jews uptight, it caused revolutions. And when you were the governor and you had revolutions, you were in real trouble with Rome. Remember Pilate? The ultimate reason that Pilate finally allowed Jesus to be crucified was just because he wanted to pacify the Jews, because he was afraid he’d lose his job if he couldn’t rule well. And Felix is trapped in the same thing. On one hand, his relationship to Roman law and to Rome is at stake …

Luke is telling us that Felix knew what the right answer was; that Felix, having a more perfect knowledge of the Way, knew what he should have done.

Felix did not send Paul to the cells with common criminals but ordered his centurion to allow the Apostle some freedom while in custody (verse 23). No doubt, he returned Paul to the apartment in the palace where he was held before his trial.

Felix also allowed Paul’s friends to visit and attend to his needs. Among those friends were Luke, the author of Acts, and Philip the Evangelist.

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out:

a man’s prison is as it were his own house if he has but his friends about him.

MacArthur says that Paul had just lived through a judgement similar to that which Jesus experienced, albeit without the death penalty of crucifixion:

It’s the record of a man before a pagan judge, being accused by Jewish accusers, who comes off innocent. I mean, let’s face it, folks, it’s just like the case of Christ.

Now we get to Felix and Drusilla, a true human interest story.

Felix sent for Paul so that he and Drusilla, who was Jewish, could hear him speak about ‘faith in Christ Jesus’ (verse 24).

Drusilla was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I, the one who was eaten alive by worms — a divine judgement. She left her husband, the King of Emesa (Syria), for Felix. MacArthur tells us:

Felix saw her when she was married to the king of Emesa, a part of Syria, and he liked her. She was real young, 15 or so, and she was supposed to be this raving beauty, according to the historians. And Felix saw her, and said, you know, “That’s for me,” and seduced her, and stole her away. And so the whole thing was a rotten, immoral, disgusting thing from the beginning. So, there they come, the two of them.

Henry has more about the meeting — and Drusilla:

he desired to have an account of it from Paul, who was so celebrated a preacher of that faith, above the rest. Those that would enlarge their knowledge must discourse with men of their own profession, and those that would be acquainted with any profession should consult those that excel in the knowledge of it; and therefore Felix had a mind to talk with Paul more freely than he could in open court, where he observed Paul upon his guard, concerning the faith of Christ; and this only to satisfy his curiosity, or rather the curiosity of his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess, daughter of Herod Agrippa, that was eaten of worms. Being educated in the Jewish religion, she was more inquisitive concerning the Christian religion, which pretended to be the perfection of that, and desired to hear Paul discourse of it. But it was no great matter what religion she was of; for, whatever it was, she was a reproach and scandal to it-a Jewess, but an adulteress; she was another man’s wife when Felix took her to be his wife, and she lived with him in whoredom and was noted for an impudent woman, yet she desires to hear concerning the faith of Christ. Many are fond of new notions and speculations in religion, and can hear and speak of them with pleasure, who yet hate to come under the power and influence of religion, can be content to have their judgments informed but not their lives reformed.

Paul preached the Good News to the couple, including the Final Judgement, when Felix became alarmed and dismissed Paul, telling him he would send for him again another time (verse 25).

Henry posits that Felix expected to be intrigued, perhaps entertained, by Paul’s discourse, which the Apostle might have personalised for them:

What the account was which Paul gave him of the Christian religion; by the idea he had of it, he expected to be amused with a mystical divinity, but, as Paul represents it to him, he is alarmed with a practical divinity. Paul, being asked concerning the faith in Christ, reasoned (for Paul was always a rational preacher) concerning righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come. It is probable that he mentioned the peculiar doctrines of Christianity concerning the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and his being the Mediator between God and man; but he hastened to his application, in which he designed to come home to the consciences of his hearers

Paul reasoned of righteousness and temperance, to convince Felix of his unrighteousness and intemperance, of which he had been notoriously guilty, that, seeing the odiousness of them, and his obnoxiousness to the wrath of God for them (Ephesians 5:6), he might enquire concerning the faith of Christ, with a resolution to embrace it. [2.] That by the doctrine of Christ is discovered to us the judgment to come, by the sentence of which the everlasting state of all the children of men will be finally and irreversibly determined. Men have their day now, Felix hath his; but God’s day is coming, when everyone shall give account of himself to God, the Judge of all. Paul reasoned concerning this; that is, he showed what reason we have to believe that there is a judgment to come, and what reason we have, in consideration thereof, to be religious.

MacArthur thinks that Paul gave Felix and Drusilla the whole story of Christ’s life as well as the standards of living for believers:

He gave him all the gospel. He told him Jesus was God. He told him Jesus was born of a virgin. He told him Jesus lived a miraculous life. He told him Jesus died on the cross for the deliverance of sin. He told him Jesus rose the third day from the dead. He told him all the facts of the gospel. That’s the content, that’s the faith. That’s what Jude meant when he said, “Contend for the faith,” the embodiment of truth, the content of the gospel. So, Paul detailed the gospel.

Now, that’s exciting. Paul sat down, and Felix heard; Felix and Drusilla listened. And Paul talked about who Christ was, why He came, what He accomplished, the whole gospel. Then he also gave them the back side of it; look at verse 25. “And as he reasoned” – dialogued – he didn’t preach at him, he talked to him, he discussed with him – “of righteousness, self-control, and judgment to come, Felix” – what? – “trembled.” Now, part of the faith, part of the content of the faith, is righteousness, self-control, judgment to come.

Now watch: those three areas must be included in the presentation of the gospel. Righteousness is this: that’s God’s divine ideal, that’s God’s absolute standard. What does God demand? Absolute righteousness. Jesus says, “Be ye holy.” You say, “How holy?” “Even as your Father in Heaven is holy. Be perfect even as God is perfect.” God’s absolute demand is righteousness. The second word is self-control; that’s man’s required response. God has an absolute ideal; you better control yourself to come into conformity to that standard.

So, he told Felix, “Here’s God’s standard, and God demands that you conform to it.” And if you don’t, that’s the third word: judgment to come. That’s the gospel. God’s absolute ideal; you must conform to it or be judged. I’m telling you, this could get very personal to Felix. After Paul presented the ideal of righteousness, and then Paul started shooting down Felix, because Felix had no self-control at all. He was sitting there with a woman that he’d stolen and seduced. His life was a debauchery.

Henry has an excellent analysis of how Felix and Drusilla received Paul’s discourse, referring to the meaning of ‘Felix’ — ‘happy’:

That Paul was willing to take pains, and run hazards, in his work, even where there was little probability of doing good. Felix and Drusilla were such hardened sinners that it was not at all likely they should be brought to repentance by Paul’s preaching, especially under such disadvantages; and yet Paul deals with them as one that did not despair of them. Let the watchman give fair warning, and then they have delivered their own souls, though they should not prevail to deliver the souls they watch for.

3. What impressions Paul’s discourse made upon this great but wicked man: Felix trembled, emphobos genomenos–being put into a fright, or made a terror to himself, a magor-missabib, as Pashur, Jeremiah 20:3,4. Paul never trembled before him, but he was made to tremble before Paul. “If this be so, as Paul says, what will become of me in another world? If the unrighteous and intemperate will be condemned in the judgment to come, I am undone, for ever undone, unless I lead a new course of life.” We do not find that Drusilla trembled, though she was equally guilty, for she was a Jewess, and depended upon the ceremonial law, which she adhered to the observance of, to justify her; but Felix for the present could fasten upon nothing to pacify his conscience, and therefore trembled. See here, (1.) The power of the word of God, when it comes with commission; it is searching, it is startling, it can strike a terror into the heart of the most proud and daring sinner, by setting his sins in order before him, and showing him the terrors of the Lord. (2.) The workings of natural conscience; when it is startled and awakened, it fills the soul with horror and amazement at its own deformity and danger. Those that are themselves the terror of the mighty in the land of the living have hereby been made a terror to themselves. A prospect of the judgment to come is enough to make the stoutest heart to tremble, as when it comes indeed it will make the mighty men and the chief captains to call in vain to rocks and mountains to shelter them.

4. How Felix struggled to get clear of these impressions, and to shake off the terror of his convictions; he did by them as he did by Paul’s prosecutors (Acts 24:25), he deferred them; he said, Go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient season I will call for thee. (1.) He trembled and that was all. Paul’s trembling (Acts 9:6), and the jailer’s (Acts 16:29), ended in their conversion, but this of Felix did not. Many are startled by the word of God who are not effectually changed by it. Many are in fear of the consequences of sin, and yet continue in love and league with sin. (2.) He did not fight against his convictions, nor fly in the face of the word or of the preacher of it, to be revenged on them for making his conscience fly in his face; he did not say to Paul, as Amaziah to the prophet, Forbear, why shouldst thou be smitten? He did not threaten him with a closer confinement, or with death, for touching him (as John Baptist did Herod) in the sore place. But, (3.) He artfully shifted off his convictions by putting off the prosecution of them to another time. He has nothing to object against what Paul has said; it is weighty and worth considering. But, like a sorry debtor, he begs a day; Paul has spent himself, and has tired him and his lady, and therefore, “Go thy way for this time–break off here, business calls me away; but when I have a convenient season, and have nothing else to do, I will call for thee, and hear what thou hast further to say.” Note, [1.] Many lose all the benefit of their convictions for want of striking while the iron is hot. If Felix, now that he trembled, had but asked, as Paul and the jailer did when they trembled, What shall I do? he might have been brought to the faith of Christ, and have been a Felix indeed, happy for ever; but, by dropping his convictions now, he lost them for ever, and himself with them. [2.] In the affairs of our souls, delays are dangerous; nothing is of more fatal consequence than men’s putting off their conversion from time to time. They will repent, and turn to God, but not yet; the matter is adjourned to some more convenient season, when such a business or affair is compassed, when they are so much older; and then convictions cool and wear off, good purposes prove to no purpose, and they are more hardened than ever in their evil way. Felix put off this matter to a more convenient season, but we do not find that this more convenient season ever came; for the devil cozens us of all our time by cozening us of the present time. The present season is, without doubt, the most convenient season. Behold, now is the accepted time. To-day if you will hear his voice.

Note that Felix did not offer to have Paul released on bond. This is because he hoped that Paul would eventually offer him money for his release. Interestingly, Luke tells us that Felix sent for Paul often for private conversations (verse 26).

Felix knew that Paul had brought with him to Jerusalem a financial offering for the church there. He might have thought that Paul kept some aside for himself. Alternatively, perhaps he thought that Paul’s friends in Caesarea might appeal for his release by offering Felix money. Henry posits that this is why Felix sent for him time and time again. Luke does not say that Felix ever trembled again, so it seems that Felix was testing the waters about money.

Quite rightly, Henry takes issue with the Christians in Caesarea for not having purchased Paul’s freedom. They had two years in which to do so:

Though Paul is to be commended that he would not offer money to Felix, nor beg money of the churches (his great and generous soul disdained both), yet I know not whether his friends are to be commended, nay, whether they can be justified, in not doing it for him. They ought to have solicited the governor as pressingly for him as his enemies did against him: and if a gift was necessary to make room for them (as Solomon speaks) and to bring them before great men, they might lawfully have done it. I ought not to bribe a man to do an unjust thing, but, if he will not do me justice without a fee, it is but doing myself justice to give it to him; and, if they might do it, it was a shame they did not do it. I blush for them, that they would let such an eminent and useful man as Paul lie in the jail, when a little money would have fetched him out, and restored him to his usefulness again. The Christians here at Cæsarea, where he now was, had parted with their tears to prevent his going to the prison (Acts 21:13), and could they not find in their hearts to part with their money to help him out?

Then, Henry says that, perhaps it was divine providence that prevented them from doing so:

Yet there might be a providence of God in it; Paul’s bonds must be for the furtherance of the gospel of Christ, and therefore he must continue in bonds. However, this will not excuse Felix, who ought to have released an innocent man, without demanding or accepting any thing for it: the judge that will not do right without a bribe will no doubt do wrong for a bribe.

Perhaps Paul converted some Romans working for Felix during those two years. We do not know.

In any event, Luke tells us that Felix left Paul in prison, even when his successor Porcius Festus arrived (verse 27). This was likely because Felix wanted to placate the Jews.

However, history tells us that Felix’s plan did not prevent his ouster.

It is interesting that history gives us an insight into Felix’s downfall. Felix did not retire quietly to Rome. It was likely that the Jews had forced him out and complained to the Roman emperor, as Henry tells us:

The Jews … accused him to the emperor, and some historians say he was sent bound to Rome by Festus; and, if so, surely his remembering how light he had made of Paul’s bonds would help to make his own chain heavy.

We have seen that God was accomplishing His will through Romans — pagans — allowing Paul to escape a brutal death at the hands of angry Jews in Jerusalem. Many will wonder how He could allow Paul to remain a prisoner for two years in Caesarea, with no letters to write to the Christians in the churches he had established.

MacArthur offers this explanation:

The whole time he’s there, we don’t know of any sermon that he ever preached, or of anything that he ever wrote. Can you imagine the apostle Paul, two years and he doesn’t write something and he doesn’t preach? Now, there may have been times when he wrote something, there may have been times when he preached; we don’t have record of it. You say, “Well, what’s going on here?” Well, you know what I believe? And this is just me; this isn’t anything that’s obvious in the text. It’s just what I think may be a possibility.

I really think this may have been furlough. You know what I mean? He had been chased all over the world long enough. I mean, he needed a rest. Besides, he had so much to accomplish in his lifetime, and he worked so fast. he probably had a few years left over. So, the Lord just said, “Well, you might as well take a couple off.” He’d been all over the Roman world, and it all kind of climaxed in Jerusalem. He was nearly beaten to death, he was slugged in the face, he was clamored after and yanked apart, he was thrown into custody, he was hustled to Caesarea by 470 Roman soldiers, and he went through this trial.

I mean, I just think the guy comes to a place in the service of the Lord where he’s got to stop. And a little key thought just kind of bounces out in verse 23 that made me think this. “He commanded a centurion to keep Paul, let him have liberty, that he should forbid none of his acquaintances to” – what? – “to minister.” Now, the implication is there that they came to minister to him. Well, that’s a nice idea for a change, isn’t it? I’m sure that Luke and Aristarchus were with him, too, so he had some good fellowship, and Philip probably hung around a lot.

And there were probably a lot of believers in the local area of Caesarea who came down during the two years and spent some time with him, and I’m sure he was discipling some people. And I’m also sure that when I get to heaven, I’m going to meet some of Felix’s soldiers. And maybe that centurion’s there. But I’ll tell you, I think it’s a time when God just kind of let him rest. Well, resting from what he’d been through, and getting ready for the worst, which was to come, that finally ended in his execution. God knows.

Whatever the thing is, God knew that Paul needed two years there. And whatever God accomplished, He accomplished within His purpose, not outside of it.

Next time — Acts 25:1-5

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Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (here and here).

Acts 24:10-21

10 And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied:

“Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. 11 You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, 12 and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. 14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. 17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. 18 While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia— 19 they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me. 20 Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, 21 other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.’”

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Paul was on trial before Felix, the Roman governor, in Caesarea.

Last week’s entry discussed Tertullus’s attempt to smear Paul’s reputation for his clients, the Sanhedrin. He made outrageous accusations.

Now it was Paul’s turn to speak. He addressed Felix not with flattery, as Tertullus had, but by simply acknowledging Felix’s authority and that he had confidence the governor would hear him favourably. Therefore, he would make his defence ‘cheerfully’ (verse 10).

Although it seems an odd thing to say, given Felix’s corrupt nature as a governor, Paul was effectively telling him, ‘When you hear what I have to say, you will know this is a religious matter, not one of sedition against the Roman government. You have been in this region long enough to know what this dispute is about.’

Matthew Henry’s commentary offers this analysis of the message Paul conveyed to Felix (emphases mine):

1. He could say of his own knowledge that there had not formerly been any complaints against Paul. Such clamours as they raised are generally against old offenders; but, though he had long say judge there, he never had Paul brought before him till now; and therefore he was not so dangerous a criminal as he was represented to be. 2. He was well acquainted with the Jewish nation, and with their temper and spirit. He knew how bigoted they were to their own way, what furious zealots they were against all that did not comply with them, how peevish and perverse they generally were, and therefore would make allowances for that in their accusation of him, and not regard that which he had reason to think came so much from part-malice. Though he did not know him, he knew his prosecutors, and by this might guess what manner of man he was.

Paul wisely ignored Tertullus’s accusations and went on to restate his case, as he had done in Jerusalem.

He began by saying that he had arrived in Jerusalem only 12 days earlier, ‘to worship’ (verse 11). Paul stated that he did not start any disputes either in the synagogues or in the city (verse 12) — therefore, nothing of either a religious or a secular nature.

Of those 12 days, Paul had been a prisoner for six, which Felix would have known. He was saying that he would not have had a chance to organise an uprising against Jew or Roman.

Paul added that neither Tertullus or the Sanhedrin could prove any of their accusations against him (verse 13).

St Luke, the author of Acts, gave us much detail about Paul’s time in Jerusalem. Looking back in the previous chapters, when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, the Church leaders there told him that he should complete his Nazirite vow with four other men and pay for all the animal sacrifices involved. This, the elders said, was necessary to placate local Jews.

When he attempted to complete the Nazirite vow with the men, a group of Jews falsely accused him of stirring up trouble in Asia Minor, probably Ephesus. This resulted in a mob physically and verbally attacking Paul.

Then, the Romans took Paul prisoner. The Roman tribune in Jerusalem, Claudius Lysias, could not get a reasoned set of accusations from the Jews, at least 40 of whom vowed to murder Paul, so he had the Apostle escorted from Jerusalem to Caesarea and effectively escalated the Apostle’s case to Felix.

Now back to Paul’s self-defence. Paul responded to Tertullus’s accusation that he was a member of a sect of Nazarenes (who did not have a good reputation) by saying that he belonged to the Way, the commonly used term for Christianity in that era. He rightly described the Way as the true worship of the Jewish God of our Fathers (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and correct interpretation of Scripture (verse 14).

Paul went on to say that, because he truly hoped in God, he knew there would be a final resurrection of the both the ‘just and the unjust’, Judgement Day (verse 15). For that reason, Paul said, he made sure that his conscience was clear before God and man (verse 16).

John MacArthur tells us that Paul was not only explaining the Way but was also pointing a finger at his accusers for falsely worshipping God by denying the Messiah:

“The Way” is the title of Christianity; the unsaved people used to slur the Christians by calling them “Nazarenes” or slur them by calling them “Christians,” “little Christs,” but the Christians called themselves “The Way,” members of The Way. That’s good, isn’t it?

We say, “Where did they get that name?” Well, it’s pretty obvious; there is no other way. Jesus said, “I am the way.” Peter preached, “There is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” Peter even uses it in II Peter 2:2. He says that “False teachers, by their pernicious ways, cause the way of truth to be evil spoken of.” So this was a title for Christianity used by Christians: The Way.

Yes, he says, “I confess to you that after the Way which they call heresy” – yeah, they call it heresy – “…so worshiped I the God of my fathers, believing all things written in the Law and in the Prophets and have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust.” You can see the High Priest saying, “Yuck! Here we go again on the resurrection,” because the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, right? That’s what started the fight in the Sanhedrin.

So you know what Paul says? “I would just like to say that it is true that I am a believer in the Way and consequently, I truly worship my God; I believe all of His revelation, including the part about resurrection,” as if to say “take that.” Who’s the real heretics? The high priests who have ceased worshiping God because there is only one way to God; Jesus said, “No man comes to the Father but by Me,” who have ceased believing all the Law and the Prophets because if you believed all the law and the prophets, you are going to have to believe in Christ because all the Law and the prophets talked about was Christ. “And who have ceased believing in the great hope of Israel, the hope of a resurrection.” They’re the heretics. It’s a pretty strong argument.

Henry makes this point about the resurrection of the dead. It was fundamental to the Jewish faith, too:

The resurrection of the dead is a fundamental article of our creed, as it was also of that of the Jewish church. It is what they themselves also allow; nay, it was the expectation of the ancient patriarchs, witness Job’s confession of his faith; but it is more clearly revealed and more fully confirmed by the gospel, and therefore those who believed it should have been thankful to the preachers of the gospel for their explications and proofs of it, instead of opposing them.

MacArthur provides scriptural citations:

The traditional hope of the Jew was the resurrection. You say, “Did the Old Testament teach a resurrection?” Of course it did! Isaiah 26:19, Job 19:26, Daniel 12:2, and elsewhere the Old Testament taught a resurrection.

I believe in my heart that Abraham believed in a resurrection, that’s why he was willing to sacrifice Isaac. I think that was ultimate faith.

Over time, MacArthur explains, the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) became the only ones that were legally binding on the Jews:

the Sadducees standing there didn’t believe in a resurrection. You say, “How did they get around it if it’s in Isaiah, Job, Daniel, etc.?” They got around it because they said this, “The only binding truth in the Old Testament is what Moses said out of the first five books. That’s it.” That’s why, when Jesus was having an argument about resurrection, He quoted Exodus 3, because He knew that was the only thing that they would adhere to. He used it by implication; the name of God being the indication of resurrection.

The Sadducees were not traditional; they were heretics. They denied that which the Old Testament taught. They were modernists. They were the aristocratic family and they were the modernists theologically. They were not traditional Jews, and I’m sure the accusers here are mostly Sadducees. The high priest was a Sadducee, and most likely the other elders were as well. So Paul says “boy, I’m the guy that believes in the truth, the resurrection of the dead, the just and the unjust.” Yes, there will be a resurrection of both. Unsaved people? Yes, they will be resurrected physically, in some form.

Then Paul moved on to discuss his purpose in going to Jerusalem. He said that he was coming with alms and offerings for his ‘nation’, meaning the Christians of that city (verse 17). Paul had collected offerings from the various Gentile churches he visited elsewhere to bring to the poor congregation in Jerusalem.

MacArthur explains the difference between alms and offerings as well as why Paul said ‘my nation’. The recipients were the Jews who believed that Christ Jesus fulfilled Holy Scripture:

And so, he said, “I came to bring alms to my nation, even offerings.” And the idea of offerings – you say, “What’s the difference between alms and offerings?” Alms is the definition of what he brought; offering is the source of what he brought.

It was the money for the needy given by the Gentiles. “They were offerings,” he said, “that I brought to give to the needy. That’s why I came.” Now, I want you to notice something interesting. He says, “After many years I came to bring alms to my nation.” You say, “Well, wait a minute. He didn’t give them to the nation. He gave them to the Christian Jews.” … The only true Jew in existence is what? The Christian Jew, the one who is a Jew not outwardly, but inwardly. And so, there’s no reason to qualify that.

You say, “Well, maybe Paul is kind of getting himself off the hook by using a generality.” Not really. Paul did not distinguish the Christian Jew from the rest, because, in his mind, a true Jew was one who believed in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and he was right. And so, he did bring to his nation these things. “I came here,” he says, “To bring alms to my nation, offerings. And there I was in the temple, minding my own business” – that’s in the white spaces between 17 and 18.

Paul went on to say that he was completing his Nazirite vow quietly in the temple when ‘Jews from Asia’ (verse 18) began shouting false accusations about him. He left that bit unspoken, but covered it by saying they are the ones who should be before Felix, not the Sanhedrin, defending their accusations (verse 19).

However, Paul said, as the Jews from Asia are not present, then the Sanhedrin should say what they think he is guilty of (verse 19), other than a robust defence of the resurrection of the dead (verse 20). That pointed the finger straight back at the Sadducees.

Henry clarifies Paul’s message:

When I was there, they could not take offence at any thing I said; for all I said was, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day (Acts 24:21), which gave no offence to any one but the Sadducees. This I hope was no crime, that I stuck to that which is the faith of the whole Jewish church, excepting those whom they themselves call heretics.”

MacArthur says that, with his statement, Paul had exonerated himself from any civil charges. In other words, this was a purely theological matter, which a Roman court did not handle:

Paul knows that that’s no criminal issue at all. That’s a theological discussion. These guys were standing right there; they had been in the council. They had nothing to say. There was no accusation given. The only thing they could say was that he had said something about the resurrection and everybody got uptight about it. That’s all. It was theological; no issue for a court. And incidentally, Felix knew this. He knew it even before Paul’s testimony, because in chapter 23:29, he got a letter from the tribune of Jerusalem, who explained it.

“Whom I perceived,” he said, “to be accused of questions of their law but having nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or bonds.” In other words, Claudius Lysias, when he sent Paul to Felix, sent this letter along, and said, “Hey Felix, this guy hasn’t done one thing to break the law. It’s a whole theological issue between the Jews.” And so, what Paul does in the last of his testimony is in verse 21. What he does is, he throws the whole case back into theology, and it’s a very wise move. Here he is as wise as a serpent.

He just throws the whole case into the theological area, and he knows from experience that a Roman judge cannot make a determination in a case or regarding Jewish theology. There is no crime, there’s no criminal act, there’s no civil crime; there’s nothing. Felix knew that, he knew the real issue. Paul just gave him the responsibility. He says, “The only thing they’ve got that hassles them is that I made a statement concerning the resurrection of the dead, and I said that’s probably the issue, that that’s the only thing that they could bring up.”

The story continues next week, turning to Felix’s spiritual health.

Next time — Acts 24:22-27

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 24:1-9

Paul Before Felix at Caesarea

24 And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertullus. They laid before the governor their case against Paul. And when he had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying:

“Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. But, to detain[a] you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him.[b] By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.”

The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so.

———————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s safe arrival in Caesarea, thanks to an impressive Roman military escort. There he lodged in an apartment in Herod’s praetorium, which Felix the Roman governor used. God achieved His goal for Paul by working through unbelievers.

Jerusalem’s Roman tribune, Claudius Lysias, had escalated Paul’s case upwards to Felix the governor, who wanted to convene members of the Sanhedrin to hear their complaint against Paul.

Five days after Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem, the high priest Ananias, accompanied by religious elders — akin to religious Supreme Court justices — and a spokesman, Tertullus, appeared before Felix in Caesarea to state their case (verse 1).

Tertullus was a slick orator for hire, a go-between between non-Romans and Roman authorities. He would charge a fee to help plead a case or to butter up Roman authorities. He could twist the truth convincingly.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

his speech (or at least an abstract of it, for it appears, by Tully’s orations, that the Roman lawyers, on such occasions, used to make long harangues) is here reported, and it is made up of flattery and falsehood; it calls evil good, and good evil.

John MacArthur tells us Tertullus was a (emphases mine):

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.

BibleHub says we should not make too many assumptions about Tertullus’s religious identity or nationality:

Although he bore a Roman name, he was not necessarily a Roman; Roman names were common both among Greeks and Jews, and most orators were at this time of eastern extraction. Nor is it definitely to be concluded from the manner of his speech (Acts 24:2-8) that he was a Jew; it has always been customary for lawyers to identify themselves in their pleading with their clients.

Tertullus began presenting the Sanhedrin’s case by first flattering Felix, lauding his peaceful rule, his foresight and his reforms (verses 2, 3).

In reality, that was untrue. Even Roman historians and the Jewish historian Josephus attested that Felix’s tenure was characterised by disordered violence, which he put down with too much force at times, resulting in more revolt. The Jewish Encyclopedia states:

Felix exercised, as Tacitus says, “the royal prerogative in a slavish sense, with all manner of cruelties and excesses”; it was he who excited the bitter feelings of the Jewish patriots to the highest pitch, and for this even his patron Jonathan reproached him in the end.

When Paul was there:

A fierce contest arose at that time between the Jewish and Syrian citizens of Cæsarea, and as Felix acted unjustly toward the Jews, he was recalled by Nero about 60 C. E. (“Ant.” xx. 8, §§ 7-9; “B. J.” ii. 12, § 7). At the intercession of Pallas he escaped punishment (“Ant.” l.c.).

Pallas was Felix’s brother. Both were Greek freedmen. By rights, Felix could have been severely punished for not only allowing, but possibly contributing, to local unrest. Romans in positions of authority, from governors down to prison guards, were expected to maintain order at all times. Depending on the offence, the death penalty was also in force for those who did not do their jobs properly.

He lured his second wife, Drusilla (Herod Agrippa I’s daughter), away from her then-husband:

Related to Claudius by a former marriage, Felix, immediately on entering office, alienated the affections of the Jewish princess Drusilla, sister of Agrippa II., from her husband, King Azizus of Emesa (Josephus, “Ant.” xx. 7, § 2; comp. Acts xxiv. 24).

Felix, Drusilla, their son Marcus Antonius Agrippa and daughter Antonia Clementiana returned to Rome in 58 AD. (Therefore, this episode with Paul took place around two years earlier.) His wife and son died when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. He married for a third time, although details are scarce.

Back now to Tertullus, who went on to make the Sanhedrin’s case ‘briefly’ against Paul (verse 4). He truly put himself in the Sanhedrin’s shoes rhetorically, by calling Paul ‘a plague’, one who ‘stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world‘ and a ‘ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes’ (verse 5). Well, one couldn’t get much stronger verbiage than that. Remember that Tertullus might not have believed what he was saying but that he was paid handsomely to make his clients’ case.

As Henry says, Tertullus had:

a saleable tongue (as one calls it) …

Therefore, we should not be angry with him but rather angry with the Sanhedrin:

those dignified men that had such malicious hearts as to put such words into his mouth.

Note Tertullus’s half-truths. Paul did not stir up riots; Jews were angry at his preaching the truths of the Good News. He was not a ringleader; he was a preacher and a teacher who came in peace and love wherever he went.

MacArthur explains that, even though Tertullus was talking about matters religious, he was simultaneously trying to make a case that Paul was a seditionist — a potential civil charge which might have swayed Roman opinion against the Apostle:

… 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.

This is why Tertullus made the Sanhedrin’s claims carefully in order to keep the case under Felix:

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

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.

Then, Tertullus returned to the religious aspect of the argument: the Sanhedrin prevented Paul from trying to profane the temple (verse 6), which was a bald-faced lie. Paul was completing his Nazirite vow, but the Jews were so incensed, they couldn’t think straight (Acts 21:28-29):

28 … “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.

By the way, if Trophimus had been with him, the Jews were allowed under Roman law to kill him, because he was a Gentile. Paul, a Jew, would have lived.

Eagle-eyed readers will have observed that the ESV goes from verse 6 to verse 8. Some translations have the following, which makes the narrative much clearer:

and we would have judged him according to our law. 7But the chief captain Lysias came and with great violence took him out of our hands, 8commanding his accusers to come before you.

Tertullus concluded, saying that, ‘by examining him’, Felix would find out that the Sanhedrin was telling the truth (verse 8). I thought that Tertullus meant examining Paul, but MacArthur posits that ‘him’ referred to Claudius Lysias, as we will find out later in Acts 24:

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

And so later on, in 22, Felix says, “I’ll check with him.” You know something? He never did

The Jews present affirmed what Tertullus had said (verse 9). MacArthur says that each accuser probably presented a short statement of assent:

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.

Paul was experiencing the same type of false accusations that Jesus had. Through the ages, especially today, Christians are going through the same persecution.

MacArthur says that if believers aren’t persecuted in some way, they’re not living a godly enough life:

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? 2 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 …

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.

MacArthur isn’t advocating provoking hostile arguments with people about faith — not at all — but, in life, some unscrupulous people will naturally take issue with us. That might well include fellow church members — possibly even the clergy! Look at how the Jewish leaders took against Jesus and Paul.

Next week, we’ll look at Paul’s response.

Next time — Acts 24:10-21

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 23:31-35

31 So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32 And on the next day they returned to the barracks, letting the horsemen go on with him. 33 When they had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. 34 On reading the letter, he asked what province he was from. And when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium.

————————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry discussed the letter that Jerusalem’s Roman tribune Claudius Lysias — whom St Luke referred to by name in Acts 23:26 — sent to the Roman governor Felix.

Claudius Lysias had moved Paul’s case up the management chain, therefore, the Apostle was no longer his responsibility.

As we read last week, the tribune ordered two of his centurions — each in charge of 100 troops — to provide Paul with horses. It is quite possible that Luke, the author of Acts, accompanied Paul on this journey to Caesarea.

Paul had a huge military escort. The full phalanx of men took him during the night to Antipatris (verse 31). BibleHub’s atlas page tells us more about Antipatris, which was halfway between Jerusalem and Caesarea (emphases mine):

It was a town built by Herod the Great, and called after his father Antipater. It is probably identical with the modern Ras el-`Ain, “fountain head,” a large mound with ruins at the source of Nahr el`Aujeh, in the plain to the Northeast of Jaffa. There are remains of a crusading castle which may be the Mirabel of those times …

It is 28 ms. n. w. of Jerusalem, has ruins, a fine spring and is on the ancient Roman road: 27 ms. a little w. of n. are the ruins of Cesarea, on the coast. Another site has been suggested at Kefr Saba, 4 ms. n. of the first mentioned place.

The following day, no doubt after a short rest period, the main body of troops returned to the barracks in Jerusalem (verse 32). Antipatris was in a calmer region characterised by the lack of tension between Romans and Jews, as it was mostly Gentile. The more armed Roman troops were needed back in the city, hence their return. Therefore, the horsemen continued escorting Paul from Antipatris to Caesarea.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

Thence the two hundred foot-soldiers, and the two hundred spearmen, returned back to Jerusalem, to their quarters in the castle; for, having conducted Paul out of danger, there needed not strong a guard, but the horsemen might serve to bring him to Cæsarea, and would do it with more expedition

John MacArthur says:

Once they got him down to Antipatris, they were in Gentile territory – pretty much. And, they felt that the 70 horsemen could handle him, so the other 400 came back to Jerusalem. And that was wise, too, because he had to have his forces where they needed to be, back in the city.

Upon arrival, the cavalry presented Paul and the letter from Claudius Lysias to the governor, Felix (verse 33). They duly returned to Jerusalem.

Felix read the brief letter and asked Paul where he was from. Paul told him he was from Cilicia (verse 34), where Tarsus was.

Felix asked Paul that question, because he wanted to be sure that he was authorised to hear the case. MacArthur explains:

he had to determine who had jurisdiction. The Romans had divided their conquered world into various provinces over which there were procurators, or governors. Cilicia and Judea were considered to be in the domain of Felix, and that’s what he wanted to determine so that he would know that he had jurisdiction. When Paul replied that he was from Cilicia, which is just north of the Judea area, he agreed that that was his jurisdiction. He says, “I will try the case,” verse 35, “…when your accusers arrive.”

Having told Paul that he would hear his case, he commanded his men to put Paul up in one of Herod Agrippa I’s apartments (verse 35). That was the Herod who suffered a divine judgement of death by worms in Acts 12. He was eaten alive. His palace — praetorium — became the governor’s residence. So, Paul was lodging in the same building as Felix.

At the beginning of Acts 23, MacArthur said that there were four themes to the chapter: the confrontation, the conflict, the conquest and the consolation.

Clearly, this was a time of consolation for Paul, to be accommodated in such grandeur — even if he was a prisoner.

Throughout this chapter, MacArthur — and Henry — have pointed out that God was working through unbelievers, the Romans, to deliver Paul to safety. Luke did not write of divine intervention, but it is apparent. MacArthur says:

You talk about first class; he’d had been escorted by 470 soldiers, and now he is going to room in the palace. God is taking care of him.

You can just imagine that Paul is there in the palace just praising the Lord for a promise given only a night before, and fulfilled already – the care of the Lord for His children. Do you see a miracle in the passage? Did you see a miracle anywhere? No miracle. No signs, no wonders, and no mighty deeds. Did you see God at work in His providence, ordering the circumstances, ordering the lives of the people, moving all the scenes and the characters on the stage to accomplish His will?

Beloved, this passage tells me things about God even though God isn’t mentioned. One, it tells me God is faithful. He keeps His word. Do you believe that? Peter said this in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise.” I see a faithful God. He makes a promise in verse 11, and right in the morning He carries out the fulfillment of it. Paul is 60 miles closer to the promised destination the first day, and God confirmed that promise in his heart. God is faithful.

Second, God is caring. Did you see the care of God? Did you see how He takes care of His servant? He knows how much Paul can handle. He knew that it wasn’t time now for Paul to sneak out of town, or to be dragged out of town, or to be hustled through the Judean hillsides between the robbers and all of the people that were lurking there, and the seditionists; by two or three men, sort of scared and huddled in the corner. He knew how much Paul had endured, and He knew it was time for Paul to go first class, and that’s how he went.

Henry’s commentary points out another aspect, the fact that Paul’s stay in the governor’s palace brought him in contact with many great men with whom he could share the Good News:

Paul had never affected acquaintance or society with great men, but with the disciples, wherever he came; yet Providence overrules his sufferings so as by them to give him an opportunity of witnessing to Christ before great men; and so Christ had foretold concerning his disciples, that they should be brought before rulers and kings for his sake, for a testimony against them, Mark 13:9 … There he had opportunity of acquainting himself with great men that attended the governor’s court, and, no doubt, he improved what acquaintance he got there to the best purposes.

There is a concept popular in some Protestant denominations, that of common grace. Catholics would call it natural law. Jewish people understand it as the Noahide laws. Whatever the case, divinely oriented common decency prevents our world from completely falling apart through violence and depravity. Even though we all sin, most of us — wherever we are in the world and regardless of belief or unbelief — recognise the difference between right and wrong.

How the Romans treated Paul in Acts 23 is one good biblical example of divine intervention at work in unbelievers.

Next time — Acts 24:1-9

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