A Study of Acts 24
Introduction: When I was growing up, our church had revival meetings—evangelistic campaigns. Evangelists would come for the week and preach every night. I recall the church being full, and many nights when the invitation was given, people would be saved. Usually, one of the sermons would be from Acts 24:25. In the King James, the verse said: “Felix trembled and answered, ‘Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.’”
It’s been a long time since I heard a sermon on that verse, which is a shame. It’s one of the best examples in all of history of the dangers of procrastination. In today’s blog, we’ll revisit this famous story.
Background: The story of Paul occupies Acts, chapter 13 to the last chapter of the book. It’s told in terms of his three missionary tours, followed by his arrest in Jerusalem. In chapter 23, the Roman Commander in Jerusalem, fearing Paul’s safety and wanting to get him out of town, had him taken under heavy escort to Caesarea.
Caesarea was the Roman city on the Israeli coast, built by Herod the Great as the military headquarters for the Roman forces in Palestine. Paul was evidently kept in the palace in a secure location. If you visit the ruins of Caesarea now, you’ll see the foundations of a room in which the archaeologists claim Paul was kept. And there he stayed for two years, as his legal case was pending.
I’m fascinated by this two-year period because Luke doesn’t tell us of very much going on with Paul except, as we’ll see, occasional appearances before Roman officials. We don’t have any letters Paul wrote from Caesarea, although I’m sure he wrote many. Most scholars think the Prison Epistles of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon were written from his house arrest in Rome at the end of the book, not from Caesarea. As far as the pages of the book of Acts tell the story, this was a rather quiet period in Paul’s ministry.
I do have one theory about it, and I ran it by the renowned New Testament scholar, Dr. Craig Evans, and he agreed with me. I believe Luke used this time to do the final research and writing of his Gospel of Luke. So Luke was preoccupied with that, and Paul undoubtedly saw visitors and wrote letters and rested and prayed and studied. But little of that is recorded for us.
What we do have is the account of Paul’s three appearances before Roman officials, as his legal case lumbered along. All that essentially takes us through chapter 23 of Acts. So let’s start today with Acts 24. Let me give you the names of the three men before whom Paul made his case: Felix, Festus, and Agrippa.
24 Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor.
Antonius Felix was the younger brother of a powerful Roman politician who was leader of the treasury during the reign of Emperor Claudius. The brother’s name was Pallas, and evidently he secured for Felix the governorship of Palestine or Judea.
Felix was frustrated in Judea, and he had clashes with the high priest in Jerusalem, whose name was Jonathan, who criticized him. Felix had someone hire a group of assassins who surrounded high priest Jonathan in the temple and plunged daggers into him during one of the festivals.
We know that Felix was married three times. His first wife was Drusilla from Africa. She is thought to have been the granddaughter of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. While he was governor of Judea, Felix divorced Drusilla and married another woman named Drusilla, whom he seduced from her husband. Here’s how Josephus puts it:
While Felix was procurator of Judea, he saw this Drusilla and fell in love with her, for she did indeed exceed all other women in beauty; and he sent to her a person whose name was Simon, a Jewish friend of his…who pretended to be a magician. Simon endeavored to persuade her to forsake her present husband and marry Felix, and he promised that if she would (marry) Felix that (she would be) a happy woman.
She was only sixteen years old at the time, and in this passage she would have been in her early twenties. Let’s continue reading verse 2:
2 When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: “We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. 3 Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. 4 But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.
5 “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 6 and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. 8 By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.”
9 The other Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.
10 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. 11 You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 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. 13 And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14 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, 15 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. 16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.
17 “After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. 18 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. 19 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. 20 Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin— 21 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.’”
22 Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.” 23 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.
24 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. 25 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.” 26 At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.
Drusilla would have been about twenty-two at the time of this story. Notice how this ruler was drawn to Paul and to his message. I believe in his heart he knew that what Paul believed was true. The name Felix in the Latin means “Happy,” but this man was not happy. I believe he was under conviction. He called for Paul frequently and talked with him. According to this passage, Paul kept four subjects on the table.
First, Paul spoke about his faith in Christ. Verse 24 says, 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.
Knowing as we do Paul’s message and ministry, we can infer what he said. He undoubtedly shared his own testimony, how he had been converted on the Damascus Road. And he certainly would have told Felix and Drusilla something of what he had written in the book of Romans, when he said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”
He must have described the incredible life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our Lord had been crucified under the authority of one of Felix’s predecessors, Pontius Pilate. All that had happened only about 25 years before. I’m sure Paul explained the importance of the crucifixion of Christ and the impressive evidence for the resurrection. He may have even said exactly what he wrote to the Romans: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ the Lord.”
I know Paul tried as hard as he could to present the Gospel clearly and with boldness.
Second, Paul spoke about righteousness. Let’s go back to the passage: 24 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. 25 As Paul talked about righteousness….
This has to do with God’s expectations on the human race. His nature is holy, and no one can enter His presence, live in fellowship with Him, or have the eternal life He gives without perfection of righteousness. Since we are failures in that regard, God became a man who died for us and rose again to impute His righteousness to us.
This word occurs nearly forty times in the book of Romans. For example:
- Romans 3:10 says: There is no one righteous, not even one.
- Romans 3:20 says: Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law.
- Romans 4:13 talks about the righteousness that comes by faith.
- Romans 4:23 says that “God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”
- Romans 5:17 says that “those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness” will “reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
I’m certain these are the truths Paul explained to Felix and Drusilla.
Third, Paul spoke about self-control. Verse 25 says: As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control… This almost seems like a strange way to evangelize. Paul didn’t say, “God loves you….” Well, of course, he might have done so at some point. But there’s an old saying that you have to get someone lost before you get them saved. In other words, until they see their sinfulness it’s hard for them to see their need of a Savior.
Felix wasn’t known for his self-control. He was apparently quick-tempered, and he could be ruthless. As we’ve already seen, he was eager to throw his first wife overboard for a sixteen-year-old married girl, whom he found beautiful. I have to believe Paul was gracious and earnest in what he said, but he didn’t beat around the bush. He must have something like, “The kind of life God expects and the kind of life He wants to give you is one in which you live with greater self-control. You have to control your reactions, your habits, your moral decisions.”
Fourth, Paul spoke about the future day of judgment. Verse 25 says: Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come….
Revival preaching, evangelistic preaching never bypasses the coming day of judgment, which is the most frightening event facing the human race. All unsaved humanity will stand before the Great White Throne of God to hear their eternal sentence and to receive their eternal condemnation.
Now, verse 24 is very interesting. It says: As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid… And the Greek word here is very strong. Felix was terrified. But what did he say:
That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.
I don’t know if there are any words in the Bible more tragic than that. This is probably the clearest case of condemnation by procrastination in all the Scripture. Felix put it off. He wanted to wait until a more convenient time. How many people have said that?
I know that I need help with my spiritual life, but I’m not ready. I’ll do it later. I’ll call for you at a more convenient time. When a person says that, they are very likely pronouncing their own death sentence. They’re like a man with a cancerous tumor telling the doctor, “I don’t want to deal with it now. I’ll come back at a more convenient time.”
They’re like a woman in a car wreck telling an emergency responder, “Come back later, when it’s more convenient.”
They’re like the crew of a sinking ship telling the coast guard, “We’re not ready to be saved yet. Come back later.”
Verse 27 says: 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.
As I said, we know very little of what Paul did during these two years. Perhaps he was resting, studying, praying, counseling friends who came to see him, evangelizing the soldiers in the palace, writing letters we no longer have, and encouraging Luke, who was almost certainly using the time to research and write the Gospel of Luke.
Felix was recalled to Rome because of his mismanagement of his governorship in Judea and his brutality toward the Jews, and many historians believe he died of tuberculosis.
Conclusion: One of the sorrows of my life is the number of people who have reacted as Felix did when I shared Christ with them. One man more than any other is on my mind. I tried to talk with him on his deathbed about the Lord Jesus, but he simply shook his head and waved me away.
The Bible says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”
I had a good friend named Jonathan Yandell, a third-generation preacher, who gave me a book by his father, Pastor Larkin Yandell. Larkin’s father had been an old-time evangelist. His name was Elzie Yandell. One week he had a series of evangelistic meetings beneath a bush arbor in eastern Oklahoma. It was outdoors under this arbor, and the people sat on crude wooden benches. On Thursday night, a family came in a wagon pulled by mules. The woman and her children found a place to sit, but her husband refused to come into the meeting. He stayed outside. The woman was gloriously saved, and they came every night. Each night she came to the altar to pray for her husband, but he stayed outside.
On Sunday night, Mr. Yandell went out and talked to the man during the invitation, begging him to give his life to Christ. The man was rude. He said, “Preacher, you got my woman up there and made a fool out of her, and you are not going to make a fool out of me!”
“My dear sir,” said Yandell, “I will be praying for you.” The went back to the altar to pray with those who had come forward. But soon a man was tapping him on the shoulder. “Brother Yandell,” he was told, “the man you were talking with has fallen to the ground.” The man was dead.
We never know when our days and hours and minutes will be up.
If you are reading this without knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior, I want to remind you of the Gospel, and of the importance of righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come. The Bible says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”
I urge you to receive the Lord Jesus Christ now, while there is still time and while you still can. There will never be a more convenient time.