A Christian Guide to Acts by R. David Pogge

Chapter 12

Paul's Ministry in Caesarea

Acts 24 - 26

Section 12.1 - Paul’s Testimony to Felix

In Caesarea, the accusation against Paul was:

“We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. [Acts 24:5-6]

That was partially true. He was a Christian leader, and his words did occasionally provoke some violent reactions by some Jews; but he did not try to desecrate the temple.

Notice, Paul’s accusers did not say, “He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect which has been worshipping on Sunday and ignoring the Sabbath Commandment for the last 30 years,” because (contrary to what is taught in many Sunday-keeping churches today) the apostles did not worship on Sunday. If Paul was leading the Nazarene sect on Sunday mornings, Paul would have been stoned long before this.

Here’s how Paul defended himself:

When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man. [Acts 24:10-16]

Paul’s first point was that Felix could see that Paul only had as much hair on his head as could grow in 12 days. Clearly, he had taken a vow when worshipping in Jerusalem. Nobody saw him stirring up trouble in the temple because he didn’t stir up any trouble there. The charges were baseless, so he didn’t need to say any more—but Paul would not pass up the opportunity to witness before Felix.

Section 12.2 - The Resurrection Controversy

Paul said he believed in "everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets," including both resurrections. The traditional Jewish beliefs about the Law, Prophets, Messiah, the Day of the Lord, and two resurrections of the dead, were orthodox Christian beliefs preached by the apostles before the Roman Catholic Church modified or eliminated them.

Because the Roman Catholic Church introduced a heretical doctrine about the state of the dead (which allowed them to sell indulgences) many Christians today don’t know about the two resurrections; so let’s digress and address that subject now.

Briefly, the Jews believed (and Jesus confirmed) that when people die they enter a state of unconsciousness which is so much like dreamless sleep that Jesus actually referred to it as sleep.1 On the Day of the Lord (the Second Coming of Jesus) the righteous dead will be resurrected and go to Heaven for 1,000 years. At the end of the 1,000 years, New Jerusalem will come down from Heaven with all the righteous people inside. Then the wicked will be resurrected at the second resurrection, and will be destroyed. The righteous people will live on Earth (not in Heaven) forever after.

Long after Paul testified to Felix, the Roman Catholic Church adopted the Roman mythology about death (which actually came from Greek mythology). The Church taught that when people die they go immediately to Purgatory for a while, then spend eternity in Heaven or Hell. Protestants got rid of Purgatory, but most Protestant denominations have kept the pagan notion of going to Heaven or Hell immediately at death.

Many modern Christians think the idea of going to Heaven when you die comes from the Bible—but it doesn't. For a complete explanation of what the Bible says about the state of the dead, and how it was corrupted by the Roman Catholic Church, including scripture verses and historical references, please see the Appendix B.

For now, the important point is that Paul argued that he (like Jesus and all the other apostles) accepted all the traditional Jewish beliefs, including the two resurrections. He was a good, conservative Jew. Let’s get back to his defense.

Section 12.3 - The Rest of Paul's Defense

“So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man. After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin— unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’” [Acts 24:16-21]

Again, Paul pointed out that there are no witnesses, and no evidence that Paul committed any crime. Then he teased a little bit about the resurrection, hoping that Felix would take the bait and ask him to explain.

Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.” He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.

Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him. [Acts 24:22-26]

What Paul said about “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come” made Felix “afraid.” There is no indication that Paul said anything comforting about love, or about having a relationship with God, or about how easy it is to be saved. Those are some of the main things preached in churches today which Paul apparently didn't mention to Felix.

When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison. [Acts 24:27]

Even after Paul witnessed to Felix frequently for two years, Felix was not converted. Even good preachers sometimes fail.

When Festus arrived, he asked King Agrippa for advice about what to do with Paul. In order to do this, he had Paul testify before King Agrippa.

Section 12.4 - A Gripping Testimony

Although Paul was under arrest because of bogus charges against him, Paul was not as interested in defending himself as he was in defending Christ.

“King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.

“The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?" [Acts 26:2-8]

Paul began by establishing his Jewish credentials. Paul was a conservative Pharisee who believed in resurrection, unlike the liberal Sadducees. Some people might have expected Paul to reject his conservative Jewish faith, or be more liberal, because they erroneously think Jesus was a liberal. On the contrary, Paul considered himself to be a better Jew than he had ever been before because he had a fuller understanding of the Old Testament.

Paul told King Agrippa that he had previously opposed Christ. Then Paul gave Agrippa a vivid account of his personal encounter with the risen Lord, including the fact that Jesus had given him the commission to preach.

So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles. [Acts 26:19-23]

Festus, who was not a Jew, thought the notion of resurrection was insane. Agrippa, on the other hand, recognized that what Paul was saying was in perfect agreement with the Hebrew scriptures. Paul was not preaching anything heretical. So,

Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” [Acts 26:32]

Paul’s message was not a call to reject Judaism—it was a call to reform Judaism by recognizing that Jesus had fulfilled the Messianic prophecies, and Jesus urged everyone to obey God’s laws. Paul sought to reform Judaism—not replace it.

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Footnotes:

1 John 11:11-15