Acts: Chapter 24
Let’s begin by reading (Acts 24:1-9).
(Verse 1)(NKJV) “Now after five days Ananias the high priest came down with the elders and a certain orator named Tertullus. These gave evidence to the governor against Paul.”
“after five days” – Remembering back to Acts chapter 23, Paul was sent from Jerusalem to Caesarea by the commander named Lysias. Lysias sent Paul to Governor Felix so that he could stand trial before him (a note was also sent, explaining the situation: see Acts 23:27-30). Nearly 500 troops protected Paul on this journey, as there was a plot by the Jews to kill him: (Acts 23:11-22). After Paul was delivered, “Ananias (the High Priest), the elders, and an orator named Tertullus” arrived “five days” later to bring charges against Paul.
“Ananias” – See verse 1 of the Acts Chapter 23 study for a description of this evil High Priest.
“the elders” – These were likely Sadducees, and members of the Sanhedrin. (An explanation of who the Sanhedrin were can also be found in verse 1 of the Acts Chapter 23 study.)
“a certain orator” – A prosecuting attorney
“Tertullus” – We know nothing about him. He was likely either a Roman, or a Hellenistic Jew.
(Verses 2-3)(NKJV) “And when he was called upon, Tertullus began his accusation, saying: “Seeing that through you we enjoy great peace, and prosperity is being brought to this nation by your foresight, (3) we accept it always and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness.”
Before “Tertullus” begins his “accusations” against Paul, he pours out flattery upon Governor Felix for bringing “great peace and prosperity” to the nation. While this was “somewhat” true, the means by which Felix had done so was overly brutal, and cruel. Some of this is described by Josephus in his work called “Antiquities” (xx. chapter 8, verses 5-9). This brutality, as well as his relative lack of effectiveness while in office, led to Emperor Nero replacing him with Porcius Festus about 2 years after this trial (see: verse 27).
***Note: After “Ananias” was deposed by Agrippa II, a man named Jonathan replaced him as High Priest. Josephus tells us in (Antiquities xx. Chapter 8, verse 5) that Felix arranged for Jonathan to be murdered (by one of his best friends) because he criticized him.
“most noble Felix” – See the Acts Chapter 23 study, verses 25-26 for a description of Felix.
(Verses 4-6)(NASB) “But, that I may not weary you further, I beg you to grant us a brief hearing, by your kindness. (5) For we have found this man a public menace and one who stirs up dissensions among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. (6) And he even tried to desecrate the temple, so indeed we arrested (“took”) him.”
In these verses, Tertullus (and the elders) brings 4 charges against Paul:
1. He is a “public menace” (KJV: “a pestilent fellow,” NKJV: “a plague”).
2. He “stirs up dissention” (among the Jews).
3. He is a “ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.”
4. He “tried to desecrate (“profane”) the Temple.”
#1. This was not technically a charge, but simply showed their hatred of Paul. (From the “Barnes Commentary”) – “Tertullus did not say that he was a pestilent fellow, but that he was the very pestilence itself.”
#2 “Stirring up dissention” was a violation of Roman law, which if convicted, Paul could have been sentenced to death.
#3. In addition, it was also against Roman law to be the “ringleader” of a “sect” that Rome had not approved. It appears that Tertullus wanted to convince Felix that this “sect” was a threat to Rome.
The “Barnes Commentary” explains the 3 key things in this phrase very well:
(1) “ringleader” – “protostaten. This word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is properly a military word, and denotes “one who stands first in an army, a standard-bearer, a leader, a commander.” The meaning is, that Paul had been so active, and so prominent in preaching the gospel, that he had been a leader, or the principal person in extending the sect of the Nazarenes.
(2) “of the sect” – The original word here haireseos is the word from which we have derived the term “heresy.” It is, however, properly translated “sect, or party,” and should have been translated so in Acts 24:14.”
(3) “of the Nazarenes” – “This was the name usually given to Christians by way of contempt. They were so called because Jesus was of Nazareth.” (***My note: Remember when Nathanael [soon to be a disciple of Jesus] was told by Philip that Jesus was from Nazareth, and he replied, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46).)
A paragraph from the “Liberty Bible Commentary” is also very helpful in explaining #3.
“The term “sect” was used by Josephus to designate the various parties and divisions within Judaism, indicating that the opposition still considered the Christians as an unorthodox break within Judaism. This is the only place in the New Testament where the followers of Jesus are called Nazarenes. The term continued to be used as a derisive designation for Christians in Hebrew and Arabic. It is certainly not wrong to call the followers of Jesus “Nazarenes,” but there is no precedent within Scriptures for churches ever to call themselves by this term. “Nazarene” was at times a term of derision used by Judaeans against Galileans within the Jewish nation and, therefore, did not necessarily carry any spiritual connotation.”
#4. What Paul was accused of doing here was not a violation of Roman law (nor of Jewish law), but of Jewish “tradition.” As we discussed in our study of Chapter 21, the Jews had placed a wall / barrier within the Temple that Gentiles were not allowed to pass, with the penalty for doing so being death. However, God had never ordered this wall to be built. The wall was a sign of racism, and the Jews hatred for the Gentiles. Paul was accused of taking the Gentile Trophimus past this wall / barrier (see: Acts 21:27-29).
***Note: Notice here that Tertullus says Paul “tried” to profane the Temple by taking Trophimus past the wall, whereas earlier in (Acts 21:27-29) we see the Jews saying Paul “did” profane the Temple by taking Trophimus past the wall.
***IMPORTANT NOTE: The best manuscript copies we have today show us that in the KJV Bible (and NKJV), the ending of verse 6 (“and would have judged according to our law”), all of verse 7, and the beginning of verse 8 (“commanding his accusers to come you”), most likely were not a part of the original manuscripts.
(Verses 6-9)(NKJV) “…and wanted to judge him according to our law. (7) But the commander Lysias came by and with great violence took him out of our hands, (8) commanding his accusers to come to you. By examining him yourself you may ascertain all these things of which we accuse him.” (9) And the Jews also assented, maintaining that these things were so.”
(From the “MacArthur Study Bible”) – “Many ancient manuscripts omit this passage, raising the question of whom Tertullus was urging Felix to examine. If the passage is omitted, Tertullus would be asking Felix to examine Paul, but the apostle would merely have denied Tertullus’ false accusations. If the passage is genuine, Tertullus would be falsely accusing Lysias of overstepping his authority by meddling in a proper Jewish legal proceeding. He would then be claiming that an examination of Lysias would confirm the Jewish leaders’ false interpretation of the events. This would help explain Felix’s decision to adjourn the hearing until he sent for Lysias (v. 22).”
***Note: We will continue as though these verses should be in our Bible today.***
“and wanted to judge him according to our law” – When Lysias arrived, the Jews were NOT “arresting (or “taking”)” Paul to “judge him,” but instead, they were in the process of “killing” him (see: Acts 21:31), and Lysias stepped in to save Paul’s life (Acts 21:32-36)!
“our law” – Saying this seems to indicate that Tertullus was also a Jew.
“Lysias came by and with great violence took him out of our hands” – Lysias is not shown to have “taken Paul out of their hands with great violence” (See: Acts 21:32-36).
“Commanding his accusers to come to you” – (From the Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary”) – “Here they insinuate that, instead of troubling Felix with the case, he (“Lysias”) ought to have left it to be dealt with by the Jewish tribunal; in which case his (“Paul’s”) life would soon have been taken.”
“And the Jews also assented, maintaining these things were so.” – The “Jews” here would be the “elders” mentioned in (verse 1). They offered themselves as witnesses to what Tertullus was saying.
Next, let’s read (Acts 24:10-21).
*** Note: In these verses, Paul begins the 3rd of his 6 defenses in the Book of Acts. (See: Acts 22:1-2 for a list of the 6 defenses)
(Verses 10-12)(NASB) “And when the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded: “Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense, (11) since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. (12) And neither in the temple did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city itself.”
“for many years you have been a judge to this nation” – (From the “Believer’s Bible Commentary”) – “Paul expressed satisfaction at being permitted to appear before a man who, because of many years of experience, had familiarity with the customs and manners of the Jewish people. This might sound like flattery, but actually it was merely a courteous statement of the truth.”
“no more than twelve days ago I went to Jerusalem to worship” – There is a LOT of debate about how to number these days. However, in my studying of this subject, I believe that these “12 days” would be from the time Paul left Caesarea to go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:15-17 [ending his 3rd missionary journey]), until this present time in which he is on trial. And, based upon this view, I believe John Gill (in his commentary) gives us the correct timeline for these “12 days.”
(Day 1) He (Paul) came in one day from Caesarea to Jerusalem, Acts 21:16
(Day 2) The next day he visited James and the elders, Acts 21:18
(Day 3) On the third day he purified himself in the temple, Acts 21:26 where he was taken and used ill by the Jews
(Day 4) On the fourth day, he was brought before the sanhedrim, and defended himself, Acts 22:30
(Day 5) On the fifth day forty Jews conspire to take away his life, Acts 23:11
(Day 6) On the sixth day he came to Caesarea, being sent there by Lysias, Acts 23:32
And five days after this (me – see verse 1), which make eleven, Ananias, and the elders, with Tertullus, came down to accuse him; and this day was the twelfth, on which his trial came on.
“I went to Jerusalem to worship” – As we have mentioned previously, Paul had come to Jerusalem for two primary reasons: (1.) To celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Acts 20:16), (2.) To deliver the offering to the Jerusalem church from the Gentile churches (Rom 15:25-26)(1 Cor 16:1-4)(verse 17). This is what Paul means by “worship.”
So, why does Paul bring up the fact that he came to Jerusalem to worship “no more than twelve days ago?”
Based on the timeline above, Paul had been in Jerusalem for less than a week. Paul is asking how he could have organized a revolt in Jerusalem when he had been there for such a short time. Paul accusers hadn’t even seen him “carrying on a discussion” with anyone, let alone with a group of people (to organize a riot). In fact, they had no evidence that he had caused a “riot” at all.
(Verses 13-16)(NKJV) “Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me. (14) But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. (15) I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. (16) This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.”
“Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me” – Speaking of the 4 charges brought against Paul in (verses 5-6).
“according to the Way which they call a sect” – As we have mentioned previously, the term “the Way” is used in several places in Acts as a description of Christians (Acts 9:2)(Acts 19:9,23)(Acts 22:4)(here. and in verse 22). “Which they call a sect” is referring back to the 3rd of the 4 charges which Tertullus (and the elders) brought against Paul in (verse 4). Paul is called the “ringleader” of this Christian “sect.”
Paul “confesses” to them that he is a member (not “ringleader”) of the “Way,” and as such, he:
(1) “worships the God of my fathers” – The “Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary” says the following about this phrase: “so worship I the God of my fathers – the ancestral God. Two arguments are contained here: (1) Our nation is divided into what they call sects – the sect of the Pharisees, and that of the Sadducees – all the difference between them and me is, that I belong to neither of these, but to another sect, or religious section of the nation, which from its Head they call Nazarenes: for this reason, and this alone, am I hated. (2) The Roman law allows every nation to worship its own deities; I claim protection under that law, worshipping the God of my ancestors, even as they, only of a different sect of the common religion.”
(2) “believes all things written in the Law and in the Prophets” – “In the Law and in the Prophets” is referring to the books of the Old Testament (also see: Mt 7:12, Mt 11:13, Mt 22:40, Lk 16:16, Jn 1:45). Paul is making the point that in contrast to his accusers, the High Priest and the Sadducees, who believed that only the books of the Torah were given by God, Paul, as a member of the Way (as a Christian), believed that ALL of the Old Testament was given by God. (See: Acts 23:6-8 study for more things the Sadducees denied.)
“hope in God” – (From the “MacArthur Study Bible”) – “The great hope of the Jewish people was the resurrection (Job 19:25-27; Dan. 12:2). It was Paul, not the skeptical Sadducees, who stood in the mainstream of traditional Jewish theology.” (***Note: The Sadducees denied a bodily resurrection: Mt 22:23, Acts 4:1-2.)
John Gill says this, “The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is one of their (the Jews) thirteen articles of faith, and is a fundamental one, which he that does not believe, cannot be said to be of the Jewish religion.”
“a resurrection of the dead, both of the just, and the unjust” – Why does Paul mention “both of the just, and the unjust?” Among “most” Jews was (is) a believe that “only” the “just” (the “righteous”) would be raised from the dead (many Jews don’t believe in Hell). Paul says what he says here to combat this false belief. Several places in Scripture back what Paul is saying (Dan 12:2)(Mt 25:46)(Jn 5:28-29).
“conscience” – In light of the resurrection, Paul “strived to have a conscience without offence toward God and men.” He wanted to be blameless at the Judgment Seat of Christ (see: 1 Cor 15:29-34). This does not sound like a man who would be trying to start a revolt, lead a riot, or desecrate God’s Temple!
This is one of several times that Paul mentions the importance of having a “good conscience” (Acts 23:1)(here)(Rom 9:1)(2 Cor 1:12)(2 Tim 1:3).
(Verses 17-18)(NKJV) “Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation, (18) in the midst of which some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult.”
Again, dealing with the 4th charge of Tertullus (in verse 6), that he “tried to desecrate (“profane”) the Temple,” Paul restates what he says in (verses 11-12), that he had come to Jerusalem to “worship,” and part of this “worship” included bringing “alms and offerings.”
“after many years I came” – This is speaking of the period of time between when Paul was last in Jerusalem, at the conclusion of his 2nd Missionary Journey (Acts 18:22), until the time he returned at the conclusion of his 3rd Missionary Journey (Acts 21:17) (a period of 4 years: 53 – 57 A.D.).
“alms and offerings” – “Alms,” as we mentioned in (verse 11), is likely referring to the offering collected by the Gentile churches that Paul brought to Jerusalem to give to the church there. “Offerings” is likely referring when Paul paid the expenses for the 4 men who had taken a vow (Acts 21:24,26).
In conjunction with this act of “worship,” we also see in (Acts 21:23-26) that Paul was in the Temple fulfilling the “days of purification,” from a vow he had taken. He was “alone” while doing this, “not with a mob nor with tumult.” (Acts 21:27-29) tells us that while Paul was, “alone, purified, and worshipping in the Temple,” that the “Jews from Asia” came and accused him of “desecrating the Temple.”
(Verses 19-21)(NKJV) “They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me. (20) Or else let those who are here themselves say if they found any wrongdoing in me while I stood before the council, (21) unless it is for this one statement which I cried out, standing among them, ‘Concerning the resurrection of the dead I am being judged by you this day.’ “”
Paul notes in (verse 19) that the “Jews from Asia” who accused him of “desecrating the Temple” are not at this trial, and if they really “had anything against (him),” they should have come “in person” (man to man) to bring their accusations against him.
Paul then jumps from where the “Jews from Asia” accused him in Acts chapter 21, to his trial before the Sanhedrin (“the council”) in (Acts 22:30 – 23:1-10). It is members of the Sanhedrin (the High Priest and the elders – see: verse 1) that are now here bringing the charges against Paul. Going back to this trial, Paul points out that while he stood before them (the “council”) in Jerusalem, they did not “find any wrongdoing in (him)” (no charges were brought), but suddenly, after he has left Jerusalem, and is in now in Caesarea, they have “4” charges against him!
As Paul mentioned in (verse 13), they cannot prove “any of these 4 charges.” Earlier, I read to you a quote from the “MacArthur Study Bible,” which I will now print, “Tertullus carefully avoided naming any specific incidents, since Felix could then have transferred Paul’s case to the governor in whose jurisdiction the incident took place.” When you look again at the 4 charges, notice that NONE of them give any “specific” details. If Paul’s accusers “honestly” shared the details, Paul knew he would be found innocent by Felix.
Paul then points out that since they didn’t bring these charges against him when he appeared before them previously in Jerusalem, perhaps the charges are made up, and the “real” reason he is trial is for ONE thing, because of his “statement… concerning the resurrection of the dead.”
Finally, let’s read (Acts 24:22-27).
(Verses 22-23)(NKJV) “But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case.” (23) So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him.”
“having more accurate knowledge of the Way” – (From the “Zondervan NIV Study Bible”) – “Felix could not have governed Judea and Samaria for six years without becoming familiar with the place and activities of the Christians.” In addition, Felix’s 3rd wife Drusilla (v. 24) was Jewish, and probably aware of what “the Way” believed, informing Felix.
“he adjourned the proceedings” – It seems very likely that based upon his “knowledge of the Way,” and the evidence presented, Felix realized that Paul was not guilty of any wrongdoing. However, rendering a “not-guilty” verdict would likely have led to a riot by the Jews. By saying he would wait to render a “decision (“verdict”)” until Lysias came, he would avoid this riot. (One of the primary jobs of Felix was to prevent uprisings.)
***Note: Keep in mind that in the note Lysias sent with Paul when he sent him to Felix (Acts 23:26-30), he had already told Felix that he did not find Paul guilty of breaking any Roman law, but instead the accusation against him involved “Jewish law” (Acts 23:29).
“When Lysias… comes… I will make a decision” – There is no evidence that Felix ever sent for Lysias, or that he ever came.
“let him have liberty” – The fact that Felix allowed Paul this much “liberty” pretty clearly shows that he did not consider Paul to be any kind of threat. In addition, Paul being an unconvicted “Roman citizen” likely played a part in this decision.
***Note: An interesting historical fact is that unlike today, those who imprisoned people in ancient times rarely, if ever, provided “food” or “clothing” to those they imprisoned. Instead, family and friends were expected to take care of this.
(Verses 24-25) “And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. (25) And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance (self-control), and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.”
“Drusilla” – (From the Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary”) – “This beautiful but infamous woman was the third (and youngest) daughter of Herod Agrippa I, who was eaten of worms (see Acts 12:23), and a sister of Agrippa II, before whom Paul pleaded (Acts 26:1). She was “given in marriage to Azizus, king of the Emesenes, who had consented to be circumcised for the sake of the alliance. But this marriage was soon dissolved, after this manner: When Felix (JFB uses “Festus here??”) was procurator of Judea, he saw her, and being captivated with her beauty, persuaded her to desert her husband, transgress the laws of her country, and marry himself” [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 20.7.1,2]. Such was this “wife” of Felix.” (***Note: All of this occurred before Drusilla was even 20!)
“as he (Paul) reasoned of righteous, temperance (self-control), and judgment to come” – As we have already spoken of concerning Felix, he was a cruel despot, a murderer, an adulterer, a polygamist, a tyrant, covetous, and more. Paul speaking of “judgment” for sin caused him to “tremble.”
If only more evangelists and pastors today preached a message that people without Christ will face “judgment” for their sins!
Looking closely at (verse 25), what important things can we take from this verse today?
(Verses 26-27)(NASB) “At the same time he was also hoping that money would be given to him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and talk with him. (27) But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul imprisoned.
“hoping that money would be given to him by Paul” – Again, showing the character of Felix. While bribes were illegal under Roman law, they were commonplace nonetheless. As we know, Paul was not a “wealthy” man. He earned a living by making tents (a leather-worker) (Acts 18:3), and receiving some support from churches (2 Cor 11:9)(Phil 4:15-18). However, Felix must have believed that Paul had access to money so he could bribe him. Perhaps he thought this because Paul told him he had given “alms” (verse 17), or because Tertullus said he was the “ringleader of a sect” (verse 5). Or, perhaps he was counting on Paul having wealthy friends who would visit him in confinement.
“therefore he used to send for him quite often to talk with him” – Tying this to the previous words in this verse means that Felix did this primarily to give Paul many chances to bribe him.
It is interesting to note similarities in the relationship of Felix / Paul, and Herod Antipas / John the Baptist in (Mk 6:17-20). Just as with Felix, Herod had taken another man’s wife (Mk 6:17), John confronted his sin (Mk 6:18), and Herod often met with John (Mk 6:20).
“after two years had passed” – What happened during these two years?? What did Paul do during this time? All we know is that Felix met with him from time to time. The “Cambridge Commentary” shares this lengthy paragraph:
“It would be very interesting to know what St Paul did during the two years that he was kept at Cæsarea. Various conjectures have been ventured on, but none with any ground of certainty. Some, accepting St Paul as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, point to this period as the time of its composition. Others assign to this imprisonment those letters of the Apostle which speak so much of his bonds, viz. to the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians and Philemon, but the evidence in favour of Rome as the place whence they were written seems far to outweigh all that can be said on behalf of Cæsarea. Our only reflection on such a gap as this in the history of St Paul’s work must be that the Acts was not intended to be a narrative of any man’s labours, but how God employed now this servant, now that, for the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ. The remembrance of this will prevent us seeking from the book what it was not meant to give.”
“Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus” – (From the “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible”) – After two years, another riot broke out in Caesarea. Felix crushed it with such force that he was removed as governor around A.D. 60.”
“Porcius Festus” – We know little about Festus. “MacArthur” says he was “a member of Roman nobility.” Several accounts say that Festus was a much better leader than Felix. Josephus says that he died about 2 years after this succession (Ant. xx. 8.9 to 9.1).
“Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul imprisoned” – “Cambridge” says “wanting to do the Jews a favor” literally means “to store up for himself favour with the Jews.”
Over the years, Felix had continually oppressed the Jews. In conjunction with his removal as governor, he was recalled to Rome to stand trial before Emperor Nero. A big part of this trial involved his treatment of the Jews, who had complained to Nero. In “doing the Jews a favor,” Felix hoped that they would not appear at his trial and bring charges against him. However, they did, and Josephus (reference above) tells us that if not for the intervention of his brother Pallas, who was close friends with Nero, he would have been severely punished (maybe killed).
***Note: (From the “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible”) – “after two years: – It may be that this was the time Luke wrote most of the Book of Acts, considering that he had access to people in Jerusalem and Caesarea for information about the early church.