The Book of Acts: Chapter 21 (pt 8 of 21)

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Ananias (the high priest), along with some of the Jewish elders, arrived in Caesarea to make their case before Felix, the governor of Judea. You can be reasonably certain that the Jews who accompanied the high priest were those most committed to the death of Paul. This would suggest that they were likely Sadducees, and not Pharisees. These Jewish leaders were determined not to look bad when they presented their case against Paul. This time they were represented by a high-powered lawyer named Tertullus. They were confident that he would present their case in the best possible light. We know very little about this man, but he must have been familiar with the procedures required when prosecuting a case before a Roman governor. Not only that, Tertullus would also have been familiar with Judaism, in order to represent their point of view. His task was a daunting one. Think of the challenges that faced him.

“The high priest Ananias came north to Caeserea five days later, accompanied by some elders and an attorney named Tertullus. They explained  their case to Felix without Paul present. When Paul was brought in, Tertullus launched into an accusation.

“Tertullus  said, ‘Most Ecellent Felix, through your esteemed leadership we have enjoyed  a long and happy peace. Your foresight in governance has brought many reforms for the people I represent. We always and everywhere welcome every thought of your with high and deep gratitude. But, knowing how busy you are and how limited your time must be, I beg you to hear us briefly present our case to you with the legendary graciousness for which you are know every where.

‘Here are the facts: this man is a disease to the body politic. He agitates trouble in Jewish communities throughout our empire as a ringleader of the heretical sect know as the Nazarenes. He even tried to desecrate the temple, so we seized him. [Our aim was to try him by the Jewish law. But Commander Lysias interfered and removed this man from our control. Because of his meddling, you are now forced to hear those making the accusation]. You will find, through your own examination, that everything we say of Paul is true.’

The Jewish opponents present added their vigorous testimony n support of the lawyer’s opening statement. The governor didn’t say anything, but he motioned for Paul to speak.” —Act 24:1-9

Tertullus was hired to prosecute Paul based on false charges. Paul had never taken Gentiles into the temple. He was there with four Jewish men. Paul had never incited a riot in Jerusalem; his Jewish adversaries started the fracas. Furthermore, the “witnesses” who bore false testimony against Paul were not there. How do you conduct a trial without witnesses? To make matters even worse for Tertullus, Paul’s previous trial before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem ended in a kind of mistrial (or the equivalent of a hung jury), with the Pharisees declaring Paul innocent of all charges.

You have to give him credit; Tertullus did as well as anyone could, given all these limitations. He attempted to win the favor of Felix by his introduction, where he showered him with complements on his leadership. He credited Felix for a lengthy period of peace and for reforms, he initiated. Both Felix and who listened to his diatribe probably rolled their eyes because they would have known that Tertullus’ praise was empty. When I read about Felix, I remember the proverb that says,:

Under three things the earth trembles,
and under four things it cannot bear up:
under a servant who becomes king,
under a fool who is stuffed with food,
under an unloved woman who is married,
and under a female servant who dispossesses her mistress
—Proverbs 30:21-23

What history tells us, is that Felix was a slave who had become a king, and he illustrated the truth of that proverb as well as any slave-king could. F. F. Bruce paints a very different picture of Felix:

“Marcus Antonius Felix (as his full name is usually taken to have been) was a man of servile birth, who owed his unprecedented advancement to a post of honor usually reserved for the equestrian order to the influence which his brother Pallas exercised at the imperial court under Claudius. Pallas was a freedman of Claudius’s mother Antonia, and was for a number of years head of the imperial civil service. Felix succeeded Ventidius Cumanus as procurator of Judaea in A.D. 52, but before that he may have occupied a subordinate post in Samaria under Cumanus. His term of office as procurator was marked by increasing insurgency throughout the province, and by the emergence of the sicarii. The ruthlessness with which he put down these risings alienated many of the more moderate Jews, and led to further risings. Tacitus sums up his character and career in one of his biting epigrams: “he exercised the power of a king with the mind of a slave.” Despite his lowly origins, he was remarkably successful in marriage (from a social point of view, that is); his three successive wives were all of royal birth, according to Suetonius. The first of the three was a grand-daughter of Antony and Cleopatra; the third was Drusilla, youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I, who figures in the following narrative.” —F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts

Obviously it wasn’t easy for Tertullus to find a way to praise Felix, so generally hated by the Jews for his cruel use of power. It reminds me of some women I used to work with. They were talking about babies and how cute they always were . . . suddenly they stopped when they remembered the baby of another co-worker. I guess that baby was flat out . . . hmm, not cute. Well these women saw that baby and were trying so hard to say something sweet about the baby and the best they could come up with was, “Oh, he looks to healthy . . .” Well, that’s the challenge Tertullus was having. But . . . he was a professional, and he was very good at what he did. He was certainly worth everything the Jewish leaders paid him.

Finished with his flattery, Tertullus moves on with his prosecution of the case against Paul. He had three charges against Paul.

If interested, you can download the entire study of The Story of Acts

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