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Last the last essay we studied 27:1-44, which was part of Luke’s last “we-passage” (27:1-28:16). In this essay we are studying chapter 28, which will end our study of the book of Acts. The word that correctly is translated “natives” or “islanders” in verse two is the word from which we get our word “barbarians.” However, in those days, the word was used for any people who did not speak Greek or Latin, whether or not they were savages.
As Luke tells us, the natives were unusually kind to the shipwrecked people. It had begun to rain and was cold, so the natives built a fire for them and welcomed them to its warmth. Paul apparently decided to help gather fire wood, and as he was putting an armful on the fire, a viper “driven out by the heat latched onto Paul’s hand. The natives immediately assumed that Paul was a murderer who was being punished. They apparently believed that this was divine justice at work. They expected Paul to swell up and die. But Paul shook off the viper into the fire and suffered no harmful effects. The natives were so impressed with the event that they declared Paul to be a god.
Some scholars today discount this story as untrue, because there are no vipers, or other poisonous snakes, on the island of Malta today. Although that’s an interesting fact, I could not, and would not, dispute the reactions of the Maltese natives. They would have known the wildlife on their island at that time better than anyone, and they obviously knew what a bite from a viper would do to a man.
In verses 7-10 we learn first that the leading man on the island, whose name was Publius, had an estate nearby. Like the other islanders, Publius was gracious. He entertained the shipwrecked company for three days. During those days, it was discovered that Publius’ father was “sick in bed with fever and dysentery.” Paul visited him, laid hands on him and prayed; and he was cured. That resulted in the people of Malta bringing all their sick to Paul, and he healed them. Of course they were exceedingly grateful, and they bestowed “honors” on “us,” says Luke. The word translated “honors” is the same word that was used for the honoraria or professional fees paid to physicians. Therefore, some have suggested that Luke, who was a physician, helped Paul with the healing ministry and received fees for it. Whatever the ‘honors” were, when it came time for the group to leave Malta three months later, the grateful natives provided them with provisions for the trip.
As you can see in verses 11-16, after a three months winter layover on Malta, Julius the Centurion booked passage on another Alexandrian ship that also had wintered at Malta. It was named “The Two [or Twin] Brothers,” because the ship’s figurehead was double and represented the brothers Castor and Pollus of Greco-Roman mythology. The brothers were sons of Jupiter, or Zeus, and they were the gods of navigation and patrons of seafarers.
Their first stop was Syracuse, the capital city and main port of the Island of Sicily. They stayed there three days, and then they sailed to Rhegium, located on the toe of Italy, where they stayed only one day. Next they sailed to Puteoli, the major seaport of the west coast of Italy. It was in the Bay of Naples, and it was the port where the grain ships unloaded their cargos.
It is not known why they remained there for a week. Some suggest that Julius was awaiting orders. At any rate, Paul and the other Christians found some believers in the city and had fellowship with them during those days. It is not surprising that there would be a community of believers in such an important city. Christians had been spreading to all of the major cities of the Mediterranean world.
From Puteoli the travelers set out for Rome by land. In only a few miles they would reach the famous Appian Way that led straight to Rome. Interestingly, the Christian community in Rome had heard about Paul’s coming; and they sent a delegation from Rome to meet him on the way. Some came as far as forty-three miles to a market town called “the Forum of Appius.” And others traveled thirty-three miles to the “Three Taverns.” Paul was much encouraged when he saw them. Once in Rome Paul was given what we would call “house arrest” status. That is he was kept under guard, but he was permitted to rent a house, receive visitors, write letters, etc. Luke’s we passage ends here; but according to references in Paul’s letters, Luke remained in Rome with him (Philemon 24; Col. 4:14).
As you know, Paul’s usual procedure when he arrived in a new city was to go to the local synagogue and preach the gospel to the Jews. In Rome, since he was a prisoner, he could not go to them. So three says after Paul’s arrival, he invited the leaders of the Jews of the city to come to him. As you can see in verses 17-22, he explained to them why he was in Rome under arrest. He made three points that he hoped would convince them that he was a loyal Jew. First, he had done nothing against the Jews or their ancestral customs (v, 17). Second, the Romans found nothing wrong in his actions (v. 18). And third, he had to appeal to Caesar because of Jewish objections to his release, not because he had done anything wrong (v. 19).
The Jewish leaders took his explanation rather well. They had heard nothing about him from the Jews in Judea. They had received no letters about him, nor had anyone visiting from Judea said anything about him. However they were very interested in hearing more about the Christians, whom they described as a sect that is “everywhere spoken against.”
As you can see in verses 23-29, they set a date for all in the Jewish community, who wished to do so, to gather at Paul’s residence so that he could teach them about the Christians. And he did from morning until evening, though it likely was not a monologue. There probably was a great deal of discussion and debate. Paul taught them primarily about two things: the kingdom of God and Jesus. And he taught them from both Moses and the prophets. That is a Bible study I would have enjoyed hearing!
Some of Paul’s listeners were convinced by Paul’s teachings; but others, evidently a large majority, were not convinced. The result was disagreements among them. As the meeting was breaking up, Paul announced as they were leaving, quote, “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah,” and then he quoted Isaiah 6:9-10, which says, “go and tell this people, ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’”
Clearly the Jews of Rome, like the Jews of so many other places where Paul tried to convince them of the gospel of Jesus, rejected his message; and he used Isaiah six to summarize that rejection. You may recall that Jesus himself used Isaiah six against the unbelievers of his day (Mt. 13:14-15), as did the apostle John (Jn. 12:37-43).
The last two verses of Acts tell us that Paul lived as a prisoner in Rome at his own expense for two years while he waited for his case to come up in the imperial court. And he was able to continue his ministry. Apart from the confinement, Paul’s ministry was not hindered in any way. All of this was possible, because as a Roman citizen Paul had the privilege of renting his own house and doing whatever he wanted in it, provided he financially could afford the house, which he could.
In our last essay we studied Acts 25:23-26:32 in which we found Luke’s account of Paul’s hearing before King Agrippa. In this essay we are studying Acts 27:1-44. Luke’s last “we-passage” of Acts begins at 27:1 and runs through 28:16. And the details of the events recorded clearly show that Luke was a participant, though some liberal scholars accuse him of outrageously appropriating the diary or daily log of someone else who had participated in a sea voyage and shipwreck in order to dramatize his account.
The centurion charged with taking Paul to Rome was named Julius. He was a member of the Augustan cohort, which means he was part of the cohort assigned to the emperor. There evidently was no ship available that was bound for Rome, so Julius booked passage on a coastal vessel from Adramyttium, a port on the north Asian coast near Troas that was headed in the direction of Rome. In verse four we learn that Aristarchus (a Thessalonian Christian) like Luke was accompanying Paul. Julius rightly assumed that he could catch a ship bound to Rome at one of the coastal ship’s ports of call. He succeeded in doing that at Myra, a city at the southern most tip of the province of Asia (v. 5). There Julius booked passage on a ship from Alexandria that was carrying wheat (see verse 38). Rome imported most of its wheat from Egypt. From there they sailed to a place on the south side of Crete called Fair Havens.
In verses 9-12 we see that the travelers were facing a dilemma. On the one hand, Fair Havens was not a good place to spend the winter. It was too open to storms. On the other hand, the season for safe sailing was coming to an end. It was dangerous to sail after mid-September and impossible after mid-November. “The Fast” mentioned in verse nine would have been the Day of Atonement, the only fast day on the Jewish religious calendar. In the year AD 59, which may have been the year of this part of the journey, the Day of Atonement would have been on October fifth. So they really did face a difficult decision.
Paul advised against sailing and predicted that they would lose the ship, its cargo, and some lives if they sailed. As we shall see later, the loss of life part of his prediction did not come true because of God’s direct intervention. But the loss of the ship and its cargo did. At any rate, the captain of the ship, its owner, and Julius decided to go for the port of Phoenix, forty miles or so along the coast, where they could more safely spend the winter.
Moving on to verses 13-20 you can see that a moderate south wind encouraged them to set off. But after a period of smooth sailing, “a violent wind” (Greek tuphon, from which we get our word, typhoon) blew down on them from the shore (v. 14). They had no choice but to sail with the wind, which took them out to open sea. They got a brief respite when they entered under the lee of a small island named Cauda. That gave them an opportunity to get the dingy, which normally floated behind the ship, on deck (v. 16), to wrap the ship with cables to hold it together, and to lower the sea anchor to slow it down (v. 17).
The next day, with the storm still raging unchecked, the crew jettisoned part of the cargo (v. 18); and the day after that, they threw their extra gear or tackle overboard (v. 19). This was done to lighten the ship. Nothing changed for another eleven days, and the entire ship’s company, with the exception of Paul, gave up hope of being saved.
At this most desperate moment, verses 20-26 tell us that the Spirit-filled Paul stands among his shipmates and exerts the leadership that eventually would save their lives. First, we see Paul exhort them to take courage (vv. 23 and 25). However, notice that he could not resist telling them, “I told you so” (v. 21, Bruce). As you know, Paul had warned them not to sail from Fair Havens in order to avoid just such a disaster, but they had refused to listen to him (vv. 10-11).
Paul explains his present optimism by telling them that the night before an angel of God had appeared to him and assured him that, though the ship would be lost, he and all of his companions would survive. Speaking as an experienced traveler, he had predicted that lives would be lost. Paul not only was an experienced traveler, he was experienced in dealing with shipwrecks. In 2 Corinthians 11:25, Paul tells us that he was shipwrecked three times and spent a day and a night adrift at sea.
However in this situation, Paul no longer was speaking as an experienced traveler, but as one who had a revelation from God. And due to that revelation, Paul was able to assure them that none of them would die.
Verses 27-32 tell us that about midnight on the fourteenth day of the storm, as they were drifting across the Sea of Adria (an ancient name for the central Mediterranean) the sailors sensed that they were approaching land, probably because they could hear the waves breaking on the shore. Soundings proved that they were heading towards land, so they threw out four anchors off the stern, which kept the ship pointed towards land but stopped it until daybreak when they could see where they were and what was in front of them. Ideally, it would be a beach on which they could run aground. But it could be rocks or a reef that quickly would destroy the ship.
At this point the sailors tried to escape from the ship on the dinghy, but Paul told Julius that all had to remain together for all to be saved. Julius believed Paul, and his soldiers cut the dinghy loose to end any thought of using it to abandon ship.
Moving to verses 33-38 we see that just before daybreak, Paul once again demonstrated his leadership by urging everyone to eat a meal. Apparently no one had eaten anything during the fourteen days of riding out the storm. And Paul knew they would need strength for their survival the next day. He reassured them that all would survive, and then he took some bread, gave thanks to God for it, and began to eat. The others followed his example, and all ate a full meal. After everyone was satisfied, they jettisoned the rest of the wheat. They had disposed of some of it earlier (v. 18), but now, in order to make the ship draw as little water as possible for a run to the shore, they dumped the rest.
Because of the language used, some have suggested that Paul was celebrating the Lord’s Supper, but that was neither the time nor the place, especially since so few of the 276 people on board were Christians. Some Greek manuscripts read “seventy-six” rather than “two hundred seventy-six.” Most scholars accept the larger number for two reasons. First, Josephus describes a similar ship and says that it had 600 people on board. And second, the manuscript support for the larger number is better.
When it was light, the sailors did not recognize where they were, but as 28:1 tells us, it was the island of Malta, which is just south of the boot of Italy. Thus we see that, though the previous 14 days had been extremely scary and uncomfortable for everyone, at least they had been blown in the right direction.
The sailors observed a small bay with a beach, so they cut off the anchors, loosened the steering-oars, or paddles, hoisted the foresail, and headed for the beach, hoping to run aground on it. The steering-oars, or paddles, were two paddles that were located on each side of the stern. They served as rudders to steer the ship.
Unfortunately, there was something they could not see lurking under the surface of the water. It was a reef. The ship’s bow ran aground on the reef, leaving the stern exposed to the surf’s destructive forces. The soldiers immediately wanted to kill the prisoners so that they could not escape. But Julius, who wanted to save Paul, wouldn’t allow them to do it.
Next, Julius ordered those who could swim to jump overboard and swim to shore. The others, meaning those who could not swim, were told to find a plank, or some other piece of the ship or the ship’s gear that would float, to use to make it to the beach. Amazingly, all survived, just as the angel had told Paul.
There are four lessons can we learn from Paul in this situation (Wiersbe). First, Paul was courageous about sharing God’s word when he had the opportunity. An angel came to Paul and gave him a message; and Paul shared that message with his shipmates (vv. 22-26). We also must be courageous when we have such an opportunity.
Second, Paul warned the others. When the sailors sought to escape on the dingy, Paul warned that all must stay together if all were to be saved (v. 31). It isn’t likely that we ever will be in a situation such as Paul was at Malta, but we can envision circumstances in which we might need to warn someone that what they are doing is not approved by God.
Third, Paul set a good example for them (vv. 33-38). He knew that they would need extra strength the next day; and by eating, he encouraged the others to eat.
In addition to the lessons we learn from Paul, there are three practical lessons arising from these verses. First, the storms of life have a way of revealing character. The sailors wanted to escape. Others on board lost hope. But Paul trusted God, and so should we.
Second, even the worst storms cannot hinder the will of God. God saw to it that Paul would make it to Rome as he had promised.
And third, storms give us an opportunity to serve others and witness for Christ.
In our last essay we studied 25:1-22 in which we saw an account of Paul’s trial before Festus in Caesarea. In this essay we are studying 25:23-26:32, in which we find Luke’s account of Paul’s hearing before King Agrippa.
The day after Agrippa and Bernice came to pay their courtesy call on Festus, he convened his court; including his “military tribunes and the prominent men of the city.” Josephus tells us that the “military tribunes” were five chliarchs, or commanders of a thousand. And Luke tells us that Agrippa and Bernice entered the hall “with great pomp.”
The word picture that Luke paints is that of a formal court gathering, with Agrippa and Bernice in royal purple, with crowns on their heads, with Festus in the Roman scarlet that was worn on important occasions, and the tribunes in their dress uniforms. And the “prominent men” would have been wearing their best finery. So it was quite a scene.
Then Paul was brought in. I remind you that, in spite of all the formality and pomp, this was not a formal trial. Paul already had his trial, and he had opted to appeal to Caesar. This was an informal hearing to acquaint Agrippa and Bernice with Paul’s case.
In verses 24-26 we see Festus giving a little summary of the case. Although Festus was required by law to send Paul to the imperial court, he admitted that he didn’t know what to say in his written report to Rome about the case, because he had been unable to establish any wrong that Paul had done. And he was hoping that this hearing before Agrippa would provide him with the information needed for the report.
At this point Agrippa took over the examination of Paul. As you can see in verses 1-3, Agrippa gave Paul permission to speak, and he began his defense. It is quite similar to his defense from the steps of the Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem after his arrest, though adapted to the new situation.
Paul begins by expressing his good fortune to be able to defend himself before Agrippa, because Agrippa knows Judaism so well. For example, Paul knows that Agrippa knows the difference between the beliefs of Pharisees and Sadducees regarding the doctrine of resurrection. And he asks that Agrippa listen to him patiently. Then Paul launches into his defense proper. He begins in verses 4-8 by establishing that he is a strict Pharisee.
He testifies that the Jews who are accusing him know about his “own people,” meaning his family and other Pharisaic Jews from Tarsus, and about people in Jerusalem, meaning primarily Gamaliel, who trained Paul as a Pharisee (22:3). In other words, it was well known in Jerusalem that Paul had been, and still was, a strict Pharisee. It also was well known that Pharisees believed in resurrection of the dead. Therefore, Paul’s main point is that he is an orthodox Pharisee who finds it incredible that he has been put on trial for believing a doctrine that all Pharisaic Jews believe.
Paul’s reference to the “twelve tribes” in verse seven is of special interest. Paul declares that the twelve tribes of Israel are hoping to attain the resurrection. But ten of the twelve tribes disappeared from history after the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom some eight centuries earlier (732 BC). After their conquest, the Assyrians moved many of the northern kingdom Israelites to various parts of their empire; and they moved many non-Israelites into the area of the northern kingdom. Then the Israelites intermarried with the others; and by the time of Jesus, the area just north of Judea was called Samaria. The people group that lived there had become known as Samaritans. But irrespective of that history, Paul seems to be claiming that the Israelites of all twelve tribes, whether dead or alive, were hoping for resurrection. I find that very interesting.
In verses 9-11 Paul moves from his personal theology to his former fanatical zeal for persecuting Christians. We know from Luke’s account of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:1) that Paul, as a young man, participated by guarding the coats of those who did the stoning. From that time on, he dedicated himself to persecuting Christians. He gained official permission to drag them out of their homes and put them in prison (8:1b-3). When they were put on trial, Paul cast his vote against them. In addition Paul went from synagogue to synagogue to punish them there.
John Stott, referencing Ernst Haenchen, says the “punishment” referred to here would have been a synagogue whipping, which I assume meant the standard 40 lashes less one. By this means Paul tried to force the Christians to blaspheme. Presumably that means he tried to make them deny Jesus as the Christ, in which case they would no longer be a threat. Indeed F.F. Bruce points out that Pliny the Younger, a later Christian persecutor, in a report he made to Trajan, declared that is exactly what he did. If he could get Christians to blaspheme Christ, then he would discharge them, because real Christians could not be made to do it.
Then Paul told how he pursued Christians to reign cities to persecute them. We know he was going to Damascus for that purpose when he was converted, but the plural he uses here suggests that he went to other foreign cities as well.
Next, in verses 12-18, Paul tells the story of his conversion and commission to apostleship. Paul tells how he and his companions were on the road to Damascus with authority from the high priests to persecute Christians there, when at midday they encountered a light brighter than the sun; and they all fell down. Then a voice spoke to Paul in Aramaic, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.” A goad is a sharply pointed rod that men have used for centuries to control large animals. You probably have seen elephant trainers on television using goads to get elephants to do what the trainers want. Some animals kicked when goaded, and the idea of kicking against the goads became metaphorically proverbial. Jesus was saying that Paul’s resistance to God’s will was a spiritual kicking against spiritual goads. This is the only place in the three accounts in Acts of Saul’s conversion where these words of Jesus about the goads appear.
Paul, who is stunned by the light and voice, answers, “Who are you, Lord?” And the Lord answered, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” If Paul was stunned before this exchange, he was doubly stunned now. This exchange meant two shocking things for Paul. One, Jesus was alive, rather than dead. The Christian gospel that Jesus had risen from the dead was true. And two, Jesus and the Christians were so closely identified with one another that to persecute Christians was to persecute Jesus.
And then Jesus commissions Paul to be a Christian apostle. Notice that first, he commands Paul to stand up, which reminds us of the commissioning of Ezekiel. When Ezekiel saw “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God,” he “fell face down;” but God told him “stand up on your feet” (Eze. 1:26-2:7). And then God commissioned him. Paul’s experience also reminds us of the call of Jeremiah (Jer. 1:4-10). In other words, it is a classic call to be a spokesman for God. Thus Paul began his journey to Damascus as an apostle of the high priests, but by the time he arrived he was an apostle of Jesus Christ.
Now then, there are several things to be noted in Paul’s commissioning. First, Jesus told him, “I have appeared to you for this purpose,” and the purpose was to be a servant and a witness. Second, Jesus told him, “I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles.” The phrase, “your people,” here means the Jews. As we have studied Paul’s ministry, we have seen that on occasion he needed rescuing from both Jews and Gentiles. Indeed he was in constant danger. And third, Jesus told Paul “I am sending you” to the Gentiles. The ministry to the Gentiles would be fivefold. He would open their eyes, turn them from darkness to light, turn them from the power of Satan to God, offer them forgiveness of sins, and offer them a place among the sanctified by faith.
In verses 19-23 Paul directly addresses Agrippa. He tells Agrippa how he was obedient to the heavenly vision that he experienced on the Damascus road; and then he summarizes his entire post-conversion ministry up until his arrest in Jerusalem. He also declares that his ministry was the reason why the Jews seized him in the temple. In verses 22-23 Paul declares further that God has helped him and that his preaching was in harmony with Moses and the prophets in three ways. First, they prophesied that the Messiah would suffer. Second, they also prophesied that he would be the first to rise from the dead. And third he would proclaim light to both Jews and Gentiles. Thus the resurrection of Jesus fulfills Jewish orthodoxy.
In verses 24-36 we see the reactions of Festus and Agrippa. As you can see, this was enough for Festus. He reacted by suggesting that Paul was out of his mind. Of course Paul denied that to be the case, and turned the conversation towards Agrippa. Agrippa responded by saying, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian? So Agrippa did not deny that he believed the prophets, but he would not accept Paul’s claim that Jesus fulfilled them. Scholars are divided over whether Agrippa was being sarcastic or sincere. Most believe he was being sarcastic. At any rate, Paul replies to Agrippa with one of the most dramatic witnesses in scripture: “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
Verses 30-32 give us the conclusion of the hearing. Agrippa, Bernice and Festus get up and leave the room. Interestingly, on the way out, they say to one another that Paul was not guilty of anything, and he would have been set free if had not appealed to Caesar.
In our last essay we studied Paul’s appearance before Felix found in Acts 24. In this essay we are studying 25:1-22. These verses give an account of Paul’s trial before Festus.
According to Josephus, Felix was recalled to Rome and replaced by Porcius Festus, because he had suppressed a dispute between the Jewish and the Syrian communities in Caesarea in a savage way. It was a kind of “straw that broke the camel’s back” situation. Felix just wasn’t up to the job. Not much is known about his replacement, Festus.
As you can see in verses 1-5, when Festus arrived at Caesarea, his first order of business was to acquaint himself with the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem. So he went up to Jerusalem to meet with them. And he immediately learned that their first order of business was to get their hands on Paul. They asked Festus to transfer Paul to Jerusalem, presumably so that they could try him there. Their actual intent was to assassinate Paul on the way. It is likely that most of the forty men who had pledged to kill Paul two years earlier still were in Jerusalem and still were willing to do it. But Festus refused that request. Instead, since he was planning to go back to Caesarea soon, he offered that they could send a delegation to return with him and make their accusations there.
Verse six tells us that Festus stayed in Jerusalem a little more than a week. Then he went back to Caesarea. A delegation from the Sanhedrin accompanied him; and the day after arriving back in the capital, Festus convened a new trial of Paul.
He took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought in. The Jewish leaders from Jerusalem made what Luke calls “many serious charges.” However, he does not list what the charges were. Based on Paul’s defense in verse eight, the charges appear to have been basically the same as in the earlier trials, and he denied that he had committed any offense against the Jewish law, the temple, or the emperor.
The Jewish leaders would have considered the charges that Paul offended the law and the temple as the most serious, but for Festus, they were unimportant. Religious charges were something that the Romans expected the Jews to settle among themselves. However, the charge that Paul had committed an offense against the emperor would have been very serious in the eyes of Festus, if there were any proof that he had done such a thing. The mention of the emperor placed a political spin on the matter, and the Jews hoped that would help carry their case. But it didn’t seem to help matters from their point of view.
At this point, Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, asked Paul if he was willing to be tried in Jerusalem. It is understandable that Festus would want to do something for the people over whom he was to rule in order to build some good will with them. The trial still would be presided over by Festus, but it would be held in Jerusalem. From Festus’ point of view that location would provide better access to witnesses and the like. From the Jews point of view, it would give them another opportunity to kill Paul. But Paul, apparently knowing that there still were people in Jerusalem who wanted to kill him, refused. Apparently he had that right as a Roman citizen.
Paul expressed his willingness to suffer the consequences, if he did anything worthy of death, but he knew he was innocent. By this time Paul was feeling boxed in. He already had been in jail for two years. He had received no justice from the Sanhedrin. Felix had given him no justice, and now Festus seemed willing to cave in to the Jerusalem Jews. Paul apparently did not trust Festus to give him justice, so he felt that he had only one option left. Any Roman citizen, who was not getting justice in a Roman province, had the right to appeal to the imperial court in Rome. And Paul chose to exercise that right. He appealed to Caesar, which meant he had to be sent to Rome to be tried there.
It seems that Paul’s appeal took Festus completely by surprise, even though it got him out of a rather sticky situation. The whole matter had been taken out of his hands, and he did not have to make any tough decisions. He consulted with his council of advisors and then announced, “You have appealed to the emperor; to the emperor you will go.”
King Agrippa was Agrippa II, son of Agrippa I (ruler of Judea AD 41-44), and grandson of Herod the Great. He ruled as a vassal king over the area northeast of Judea, including Galilee. Bernice was his sister. Verse 13 tells us that they came to Caesarea to welcome, that is, to pay their respects to, Festus the new procurator.
F. F. Bruce suggests that Festus may have sought Agrippa’s opinion on Paul’s case, because he, Festus, would have to supply a detailed written report to Rome on Paul’s case, and there were some aspects of the case that he didn’t understand. Since Agrippa was an expert on the Jews, he could help Festus to better understand what was going on.
At any rate, Festus laid out the whole case before Agrippa. He began with the fact that Felix had left Paul’s case for him to deal with. Then he told how, when he went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders pressed him for a sentence of condemnation against Paul. The NIV translation of verse 15 is much better than the NRSV translation. The word translated “sentence” by the NRSV originally meant “condemnation.” Therefore, as the NIV says, the Jews wanted Paul condemned. But Festus told them that Roman law required that the accused meet his accusers face to face and be given an opportunity to defend himself.
Next Festus explained to Agrippa that he convened Paul’s trial the day after returning to Caesarea. And he was surprised to learn that the charges the Jews brought against Paul had nothing to do with crimes against the state, but only with their religion, and especially about a man named Jesus who had died, but Paul believed to be alive.
Finally, Festus told Agrippa that because he was somewhat at a loss to understand all that was going on, he asked Paul if he wanted to be tried in Jerusalem, but Paul appealed to Caesar instead. And Festus was holding him until he could arrange to send him to Rome. Agrippa was fascinated by the case, and asked to hear Paul himself. Festus agreed and told Agrippa that he would have the opportunity the next day.
Today we are studying Acts 24:1-27. As you can see in verse one, five days after Paul arrived in Caesarea, a delegation representing the Sanhedrin, headed by Ananias the high priest, came to Caesarea to make their case against Paul. They brought with them a lawyer named Tertullus who spoke on their behalf at the trial.
The word translated “attorney” (NRSV) or “lawyer” (NIV) in respect to Tertullus originally meant “orator. It gradually came to mean a lawyer in a secular sense. This is worth pointing out, because in the Gospels, the word “lawyer” usually refers to certain Pharisees who specialized in interpreting the Mosaic Law. They were religious lawyers, theologians, not lawyers in a secular sense. Tertullus was a secular lawyer hired to prosecute Paul.
In verse two Tertullus begins his prosecution with a traditional, expected compliment of the judge, in this case Felix, in order to gain his good will. However Tertullus goes beyond the traditional compliment to unbridled flattery. He credits Felix with producing peace in the region and with instituting reforms that benefited all the people, neither of which were true. In fact, the area had not been at peace, because of the many agitators and messianic pretenders. And Felix had dealt with these in such brutal fashion that no one but a flatterer would call the results peace. In addition, Felix instituted no known reforms that benefited the people. Notice that Tertullus also promises to be brief, which was another aspect of the traditional opening statement of a lawyer.
Then in verses 5-7 Tertullus brings three charges against Paul. First, he accuses Paul of being “a pestilent fellow, an agitator among the Jews all around the world.” Now this was a more serious charge than it might appear to be on the surface. The word “pestilent” wasn’t the problem. It simply was an insult that Tertullus threw at Paul. It metaphorically labeled Paul as a disease carrier. But the word translated “agitator” was a different matter. That term carried political weight, because it placed Paul in the category of an insurrectionist or revolutionary, the very kind of person that Felix had been violently dealing with. And notice that Tertullus charges that Paul has been doing this all around the Roman world.
Second, Tertullus accuses Paul of being “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” This is interesting because it is the only instance in the New Testament where Christians are called Nazarenes. Of course the name would have originated from the fact that Jesus was from Nazareth. And the name would have rubbed off on his followers because of their association with him. Obviously, the name did not catch on, even to the degree that the name, “the Way” did. This charge is a bit of a mystery, because it is not known why Tertullus thought it would have a negative effect on Felix. Paul was a ringleader among the Christians, but there is no evidence that being a Christian leader was a punishable offence under Roman law.
Third, Tertullus accuses Paul of trying to profane the temple. This accusation was based on what happened at the temple the day of Paul’s arrest. We read about it back in 21:27-32. Paul was at the temple undergoing a purification ritual when some Jews from Asia, who earlier had seen Paul in the city with a Gentile from Asia, assumed that he had taken the Gentile into the temple. So they seized Paul and shouted to all within earshot that he done this terrible thing, causing a near riot. That was when Lysias, the Roman tribune, saved Paul’s life by arresting him. Of course Paul had not taken a Gentile into the temple, nor profaned it in any other way. But now, in this trail before Felix, Tertullus brings up the false charge once again.
You will notice in both the NRSV and the NIV that there is no verse seven. Both translations have placed a statement from the so-called Western text in a footnote rather than in the main text. This is because there is a question about the reliability of the Western reading. At any rate, the Western text adds, beginning at the end of verse six, “and we would have judged him according to our law. But the chief captain Lysias came and with great violence took him out of our hands, commanding his accusers to come before you.”
Whether or not this statement originally was part of what Luke wrote, I believe it still helps us to understand what Tertullus wanted to accomplish with the third accusation. Let’s assume for the moment that it was originally part of Acts. To begin, Tertullus was lying about what happened. First of all, Paul was not going to be judged according to Jewish law. They were in the process of beating him to death. Therefore it was not Lysias who was violent, but those who were beating Paul.
I believe Tertullus was making a legal point with this third charge. As we have noted several times in previous lessons, the Romans had given the Jews, via the Sanhedrin, control over their religious matters. So there was a subtle charge here against Claudius Lysias. Tertullus was implying that Lysias had improperly interfered with a Jewish religious matter, and Paul never should have been brought to Felix.
In verses 10-21 we see that as soon as the governor motioned for Paul to speak, he launched into his defense. Paul, like Tertullus, opened with the traditional compliment to the judge, but it was quite simple compared with that of Tertullus. Paul merely acknowledged Felix’s long service as a judge over the area. In Paul’s mind, that experience with Judaism would gave Felix considerable ability to make a fair judgment, and I believe Felix grasped that.
In his defense Paul refutes each charge. In response to the first charge (vv. 11-13), he denies that he is an insurrectionist. He had not disputed with anyone in the temple; he had not stirred anyone up in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city; indeed he had come to Jerusalem to worship at the Feast of Pentecost, only 12 days prior to this trial. In other words he hadn’t been in Jerusalem long enough to foment an insurrection. But more importantly, they have brought no proof of their charges against him.
Paul’s answer to the second charge (vv.14-16) is simple enough. He admits that he is a follower of the Way, but denies that there is anything unusual in that. And then he gives his personal testimony. He declares that he believes the same things that other Jews believe, and he offers four points of proof. One, he believes in the same God as his fellow Jews. Two, he believes what is written in the law and the prophets, as do most Jews. Three, he holds to hope in the resurrection, which most of his fellow Jews did. And four, he lives his life in such a way that he can have a clear conscience.
An interesting and significant part of what Paul said here easily can be missed. Notice in verse 15 that he indicates a belief that there will a resurrection of the unrighteous as well as the righteous. This is the only place that Paul says that, though it is articulated in other places in scripture (cf. Dan. 12:2; Jn. 5:28-29; Rev. 20:12-14).
Paul answers the third charge (vv. 17-21) that he profaned the temple by stating the facts of the situation. He was at the temple offering sacrifices. We learned earlier that he was completing a rite of purification. He was causing no crowd to gather, or any disturbance of any kind, when some Jews from Asia, whom he says parenthetically should be at the trail if they have anything against him, began the trouble. That the Asian Jews were not present was a serious matter. Since they are not present, then those who are present should produce proof of any crimes of which the Sanhedrin convicted him. Of course they could not do that, because the Sanhedrin had not convicted Paul of anything other than speaking inappropriately to the high priest. Paul concludes his testimony by declaring the he was on trial because of his belief in resurrection of the dead.
In verses 22-23 we see that Felix ended the trial with a promise to continue it when Lysias arrived. Apparently he wanted to hear the testimony of Lysias on the matter, which was a wise thing to do. And verse 26 tells us that hat Felix also was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe.
A few days later Felix interviewed Paul informally, and Paul was able to testify to Felix and his wife Drusilla about Jesus. Paul also talked about justice, self-control, and the coming judgment. Felix became frightened by the talk of judgment, and he ended the interview. This state of affairs went on for two years. Felix talked with Paul fairly frequently, but never continued his trial. Finally after two years, Porcius Festus succeeded Felix as governor, and Felix left Paul in prison.