GOVERNOR FELIX. Marcus Antonius Felix was not the typical Roman provincial governor. He was a freedman, who had once been a slave in the household of Antonia, daughter of Mark Antony and Octavia, widow of Drusus (Tiberius’ brother) and mother of the Emperor Claudius. His brother Pallas, who was likewise one of Antonia’s emancipated slaves, rose to a position of high responsibility and opportunity under Claudius, as chief accountant of the public treasury. Pallas may have influenced Claudius to procure for Felix the governorship of Judea in A.D. 52. Pallas fell from favor in the imperial household in A.D. 55, shortly after Nero’s accession, but Felix remained in office in Judea for four more
Felix was noted for his evil deeds. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote: “. . . Antonius Felix, indulging in every kind of barbarity and lust, exercised the power of a king in the spirit of a slave.”
Felix had considerable natural ability, coupled with personal qualities that won for him the entrance into the most exalted families. Each of his three successive wives was of royal birth. One was a granddaughter of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, and his third wife, whom he had married by the time his path crossed Paul’s was Drusilla, a Jewess, the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa and elder sister of Agrippa II and Bernice.
PAUL’S TRIAL BEFORE FELIX (ACTS 24:1-22). Paul knew that his ministry to the Jews was ending, and he at last became reconciled to it all. The events of the unfulfilled promise of the Lord of speaking to Gentile kings were set in motion. His apostle, the prisoner, would testify of Christ to a king, queen, governor and the Emperor.
Five days after his arrival in Caesarea, Ananias came with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. The first person in Roman law was the citizen. It was the responsibility of the court to protect the citizen from the state, but Paul was about to discover how corrupt a Roman governor could be.
Tertullus accused Paul of treason, heresy, and desecration in the personal, political and religious realms. The Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true. The first charge that Paul was a troublemaker appeared to be true for everywhere he went there seemed to be either a riot or a revival. He was turning the world upside down. But being a “troublemaker” depends on one’s point of view.
The political charge was more serious, because no Roman official wanted to be guilty of permitting illegal activities that would upset the “Pax Romana.” Paul preached that Jesus Christ is King and Lord. To the Romans and the unbelieving Jews, Paul’s message sounded like treason against Caesar.
The third charge had to be softened because a Roman commander was involved. “He tried to desecrate the temple, so we seized him.” The original charge (bringing a Gentile into the Court of Men) could never be substantiated if the facts were investigated.
Compare Luke’s account of Paul’s arrest (21:27-40) with the commander’s account (23:25-30) and the lawyer’s account (24:6-8), and you will understand why judges and juries can get confused.
Felix did not interrogate Paul; he simply motioned for him to speak. The prisoner answered the false accusations with faithful answers. His defense addressed the charges of Tertullus (verses 10-16), the Asian Jews (verses 17-19) and the Jewish council (verses 20-21).
Paul did not flatter Felix as Tertullus had done, but reminded the governor of his awesome responsibility as judge over this nation. He admitted several things. He worships the God of his fathers, being a follower of the Way, his faithfulness to the Law and Prophets, and his belief in the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.