Paul escapes a plot on his life and makes his defense before Felix
Based on Acts 23:11–24:27
1, 2. Why is Paul not surprised by the persecution he is facing in Jerusalem?
SNATCHED from an angry mob in Jerusalem, Paul is in custody once again. The zealous apostle is not surprised by the persecution he is facing here in Jerusalem. He was told to expect “imprisonment and tribulations” in this city. (Acts 20:22, 23) And while not exactly certain of what may lie ahead, Paul knows that he will continue to suffer for Jesus’ name.—Acts 9:16.
2 Even Christian prophets warned Paul that he would be bound and delivered “into the hands of people of the nations.” (Acts 21:4, 10, 11) Recently, a Jewish crowd sought to kill him, and shortly thereafter, it seemed as if he “would be torn apart” by the members of the Sanhedrin as they argued over him. Now the apostle is a prisoner in the custody of Roman soldiers and facing more trials and accusations. (Acts 21:31; 23:10) Indeed, the apostle Paul needs encouragement!
3. From where do we receive encouragement to press on in our preaching work?
3 In this time of the end, we know that “all those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.” (2 Tim. 3:12) From time to time, we too need encouragement to press on in our preaching work. How grateful we are for the timely, heartening words we receive through the publications and the meetings arranged by “the faithful and discreet slave”! (Matt. 24:45) Jehovah has assured us that no enemies of the good news will succeed. They will neither destroy his servants as a group nor stop their preaching work. (Isa. 54:17; Jer. 1:19) What, though, about the apostle Paul? Did he receive encouragement to continue bearing thorough witness despite opposition? If so, what was it, and how did he respond?
Foiling an “Oath-Bound Conspiracy” (Acts 23:11-34)
4, 5. What encouragement did Paul receive, and why was it timely?
4 The apostle Paul received much-needed encouragement on the night following his rescue from the Sanhedrin. The inspired account tells us: “The Lord stood by him and said: ‘Take courage! For just as you have been giving a thorough witness about me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.’” (Acts 23:11) With those encouraging words from Jesus, Paul was assured of deliverance. He knew that he would survive to reach Rome and have the privilege of bearing witness to Jesus there.
5 The encouragement given Paul was timely. The very next day, over 40 Jewish men “formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul.” This “oath-bound conspiracy” showed just how determined those Jews were to murder the apostle. If they did not succeed in carrying out their plot, the end result, they believed, would be a curse, or an evil, to them. (Acts 23:12-15) Their plan, sanctioned by the chief priests and the elders, was to have Paul brought back to the Sanhedrin for further questioning, as if to ascertain matters concerning him more accurately. But en route, the conspirators would be lying in wait to pounce on Paul and kill him.
6. How was the plot to kill Paul uncovered, and what example may young people today find in this account?
6 Paul’s nephew, however, heard of this plot and reported it to Paul. In turn, Paul had the young man report it to the Roman military commander Claudius Lysias. (Acts 23:16-22) Surely Jehovah loves young ones who, like this unnamed nephew of Paul, courageously put the welfare of God’s people ahead of their own and faithfully do whatever they can to promote Kingdom interests.
7, 8. What arrangements did Claudius Lysias make for Paul’s safety?
7 Immediately on being informed about the plot against Paul, Claudius Lysias, who commanded 1,000 men, ordered that a military guard of 470—soldiers, spearmen, and horsemen—be formed to leave Jerusalem that night and safely conduct Paul to Caesarea. Once there, he was to be turned over to Governor Felix.a Although Caesarea, the Roman administrative capital of Judea, had a substantial number of Jewish residents, it was populated mainly by Gentiles. The orderly conditions existing there contrasted with the situation that prevailed in Jerusalem, where many displayed emotional religious prejudice and were involved in riots. Caesarea was also the main headquarters of the Roman military forces in Judea.
8 Complying with Roman law, Lysias sent a letter to Felix outlining the case. Lysias mentioned that on learning that Paul was a Roman citizen, he had rescued Paul when he “was about to be killed” by the Jews. Lysias stated that he did not find Paul guilty of anything “deserving of death or prison bonds,” but because of a plot against Paul, he was turning him over to Felix so that the governor could hear the accusers and render judgment on the matter.—Acts 23:25-30.
9. (a) How were Paul’s rights as a Roman citizen violated? (b) Why might we take advantage of our rights as citizens of a country?
9 Was Lysias truthful in what he wrote? Not entirely. It seems that he was trying to present himself in the most favorable light. He really had not come to Paul’s rescue because he found out that the apostle was a Roman citizen. Additionally, Lysias failed to mention that he had had Paul “bound with two chains” and had later given the order that he “be interrogated under scourging.” (Acts 21:30-34; 22:24-29) Lysias had thereby violated Paul’s rights as a Roman citizen. Today, Satan uses the religious fanaticism of opposers to fan the flames of persecution, and we may find our civil liberties violated. But like Paul, God’s people can often take advantage of the rights accorded them as citizens of a country and seek protection under the law.
“I Readily Speak in My Own Defense” (Acts 23:35–24:21)
10. What serious accusations were leveled against Paul?
10 In Caesarea, Paul was “kept under guard in Herod’s palace” to await the arrival of the accusers from Jerusalem. (Acts 23:35) Five days later, they came—High Priest Ananias, a public speaker named Tertullus, and a group of elders. Tertullus first praised Felix for what he was doing for the Jews, evidently to flatter him and gain his favor.b Then, getting to the matter at hand, Tertullus referred to Paul as “a pest, stirring up seditions among all the Jews throughout the inhabited earth, and he is a spearhead of the sect of the Nazarenes. He also tried to profane the temple, so we seized him.” The other Jews “joined in the attack, asserting that these things were true.” (Acts 24:5, 6, 9) Stirring up sedition, spearheading a dangerous sect, and profaning the temple—these were serious charges that could result in a sentence of death.
11, 12. How did Paul refute the charges against him?
11 Paul was then allowed to speak. “I readily speak in my own defense,” he began. He flatly denied the accusations. The apostle had not profaned the temple, nor had he tried to stir up sedition. He pointed out that he had actually been absent from Jerusalem for “quite a number of years” and had come with “gifts of mercy”—contributions for Christians whose poverty may have resulted from famine and persecution. Paul insisted that before he entered the temple, he had been “ceremonially cleansed” and that he had striven “to maintain a clear conscience before God and men.”—Acts 24:10-13, 16-18.
12 Paul did admit, however, that he rendered sacred service to the God of his forefathers “according to the way that they call a sect.” But he insisted that he believed “all the things set forth in the Law and written in the Prophets.” And as did his accusers, he held to the hope of “a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” Paul then challenged his accusers: “Let the men here say for themselves what wrong they found as I stood before the Sanhedrin, except for this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘Over the resurrection of the dead I am today being judged before you!’”—Acts 24:14, 15, 20, 21.
13-15. Why can we look to Paul as a good example of giving a bold witness before secular authorities?
13 Paul set a good example for us to follow if we are ever brought before secular authorities because of our worship and are falsely accused of such things as being rabble-rousers, seditionists, or members of a “dangerous sect.” Paul did not fawn over the governor, uttering words of flattery as did Tertullus. Paul stayed calm and respectful. Tactfully, he gave clear and truthful testimony. Paul mentioned that the “Jews from the province of Asia” who had accused him of defiling the temple were not present and that legally, he should be able to face them and hear their accusations.—Acts 24:18, 19.
14 Most strikingly, Paul did not hold back from giving testimony regarding his beliefs. Boldly, the apostle reiterated his belief in the resurrection, the issue that had created such turmoil when he was before the Sanhedrin. (Acts 23:6-10) In his defense, Paul emphasized the resurrection hope. Why? Because Paul was bearing witness to Jesus and to his resurrection from the dead—something those opposers would not accept. (Acts 26:6-8, 22, 23) Yes, it was the issue of the resurrection—and more precisely, belief in Jesus and in his resurrection—on which the controversy was centered.
15 Like Paul, we can give a bold witness and can draw strength from what Jesus told his disciples: “You will be hated by all people on account of my name. But the one who has endured to the end will be saved.” Must we worry about what we should say? No, for Jesus gave this assurance: “When they are taking you to hand you over, do not be anxious beforehand about what to say; but whatever is given you in that hour, say this, for you are not the ones speaking, but the holy spirit is.”—Mark 13:9-13.
“Felix Became Frightened” (Acts 24:22-27)
16, 17. (a) How did Felix handle Paul’s trial? (b) Why may Felix have become frightened, yet for what reason did he continue to see Paul?
16 This was not the first time that Governor Felix had heard about Christian beliefs. The account states: “Felix, knowing quite well the facts concerning this Way [the term used to describe early Christianity], began to put them off and say: ‘Whenever Lysias the military commander comes down, I will decide these matters involving you.’ And he gave orders to the army officer that the man be kept under arrest but given some freedom, and that his people be allowed to attend to his needs.”—Acts 24:22, 23.
17 Some days later, Felix, with his wife Drusilla, a Jewess, sent for Paul and “listened to him speak about the belief in Christ Jesus.” (Acts 24:24) However, when Paul spoke about “righteousness and self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened,” possibly because such things troubled his conscience on account of the wicked course he had pursued in his own life. So he dismissed Paul, saying: “Go away for now, but when I have an opportunity I will send for you again.” Felix did see Paul many times after that, not because he wanted to learn the truth, but because he hoped that Paul would give him a bribe.—Acts 24:25, 26.
18. Why did Paul speak to Felix and his wife about “righteousness and self-control and the judgment to come”?
18 Why did Paul speak to Felix and his wife about “righteousness and self-control and the judgment to come”? Remember, they wanted to know what “belief in Christ Jesus” entailed. Paul, who knew their background of immorality, cruelty, and injustice, was making plain what was required of all who would become Jesus’ followers. What Paul said showed the stark contrast between God’s standards of righteousness and the life course that Felix and his wife pursued. This should have helped them to see that all humans are accountable to God for what they think, say, and do and that more important than the judgment to be rendered with respect to Paul was the judgment that they faced before God. No wonder Felix “became frightened”!
19, 20. (a) In our ministry, how should we deal with people who appear to be interested but who are really seeking their own selfish course? (b) How do we know that Felix was no friend to Paul?
19 In our ministry, we may find people who are like Felix. At first they might appear to show interest in the truth, but they are really seeking their own selfish course. We rightfully remain wary of such ones. Yet, like Paul, we can tactfully tell them of God’s righteous standards. Perhaps the truth will touch their hearts. However, if it becomes evident that they have no intention of abandoning a sinful course, we leave them alone and search out those who really are seeking the truth.
20 In the case of Felix, his true heart condition was revealed in these words: “When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and because Felix desired to gain favor with the Jews, he left Paul in custody.” (Acts 24:27) Felix was no real friend to Paul. Felix knew that followers of “The Way” were neither seditionists nor revolutionaries. (Acts 19:23) He also knew that Paul had not violated any Roman law. Yet, Felix kept the apostle in custody in order to “gain favor with the Jews.”
21. What happened to Paul after Porcius Festus became governor, and from what did Paul no doubt continue to draw strength?
21 As shown in the last verse of Acts chapter 24, Paul was still a prisoner when Porcius Festus succeeded Felix as governor. Thus began a series of hearings, and Paul was handed over from one official to another. Truly, this courageous apostle was “brought before kings and governors.” (Luke 21:12) As we will see, he would later give a witness to the most powerful ruler of his day. Through it all, Paul never wavered in his faith. No doubt he continued to draw strength from Jesus’ words: “Take courage!”
b Tertullus thanked Felix for the “great peace” he brought to the nation. However, the truth was that less peace prevailed in Judea during the time that Felix was governor than during any other administration up until the revolt against Rome. Also far from the truth was the mention of “the greatest thankfulness” of the Jews for reforms that Felix had made. In reality, Felix was despised by most Jews for making their lives miserable and for his brutality in crushing their insurrections.—Acts 24:2, 3.