15. I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.
Paul has stated that though they call him a heretic, yet he still believes all things that are written in the Law and in the Prophets. He has not abandoned these things, so they cannot claim that he has started up his own religion. Moreover, he now insists, he has hope in God which they themselves also accept. The word “hope” means an expectation, or something that you are waiting for that you know will happen, not something you are only wishing will happen. Paul was looking expectantly for the same thing to happen that they were. That is, he was looking for a resurrection of the dead. Of course, when he says this, he must be referring to his fellow Pharisees among the group that was accusing him, for both Ananias and any other Sadducees who were in the group accusing him were not looking for this at all. Yet they had better not argue this, for then their coalition against Paul will quickly fall apart, just as it did in chapter 23.
Paul states his confident expectation of this resurrection of the dead, stating that it will be both of the just and the unjust. Some have tried to argue that only believers will ever be raised, and that the unsaved will never experience resurrection. In this passage therefore they try to make out that the “unjust” are saved people who have done things they shouldn’t have done. There are two obvious problems with this. First of all, it seems almost impossible that Felix would have understood Paul’s words this way. What did Felix know of “being saved”? He would not have divided all men into two groups this way, and then assumed that the “unjust” were only those from the “saved” group. He would have understood this as applying to all.
A second problem with this idea is it does not face up to the meaning of the words “just” and “unjust.” “Just” is the Greek word dikaios. It is usually translated as either “just” or “righteous.” It is the word used in Romans 3:10, when Paul quotes, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” It is the word used in Romans 5:19, when Paul says, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” It is the word used in Romans 3:26, “to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness (dikaiosune,) that He might be just (dikaios) and the justifier (dikaioo) of the one who has faith in Jesus.” The word has to do with both just and righteous.
The word for “unjust” is adikos. Again, it is translated both as “unjust” and “unrighteous.” We know that in Christ we are declared righteous, but without Him there are none righteous. So all who are in Christ are righteous. Yet if the “unjust” is referring to saved people who have done bad things, this would make them the “unjust just” or the “unrighteous righteous,” and this cannot be. No, this is not what Paul is saying. He is telling Felix unequivocally that he believes in a resurrection of all men, whether they are saved or unsaved, righteous or unrighteous. To this, we say “Amen.” We too believe that there will be a resurrection of all men.
16. This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.
In light of his expectation in God and His resurrection, Paul proclaims, he on his part always labors to have his conscience clear, not only toward God but also toward men. In other words, he has neither offended against any of God’s laws, nor against any of men’s laws. He had not, in attempting to please God, broken any laws of the Roman Empire. He was innocent of any such thing.
17. “Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation,
Now, Paul reveals, after many years (he probably means “of being away from Israel”) he came to bring alms and offerings to his nation. The word for “alms” means mercy or pity, especially as it relates to the giving of alms or charity. The word for “offerings” means a gift or present. It is the same word used of the offerings Paul was going to bring at the close of his Nazirite vow in chapter 21. Here, it refers to offerings made to men, not to God, for he was bringing both these alms and these offerings to his nation. This was the gift he had brought to Jerusalem from the many believers he represented throughout Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia.
18. in the midst of which some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult.
In the midst of carrying out his purpose to bring these alms and offerings to his nation, he was discovered by some Jews from Asia in the temple. He reveals many important facts about the way they found him. First of all, he was purified. He had gone through the proper cleansing rituals to enter the temple, and so he was not defiling it in any way. Moreover, no mob or tumult instigated by him was taking place when these Jews of Asia found him. On the contrary, of course, a mob and tumult arose because of their actions against Paul, not the other way around. Paul’s words here are factual and true. His enemies said little and implied much. Paul says many facts plain and simple.
19. They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me.
Paul points out that these Jews from Asia who claimed he was a troublemaker and started all this ought to be here before Felix if they have any matter against Paul. It seems they were very willing to start a mob to murder Paul, but very reluctant to actually appear in court to justify their actions. The fact is that those who are here accusing him are not the ones who had seized him in the first place. How is he to answer for any crimes if those who claim he did these crimes are not willing to appear in court? Those who are actually accusing him have nothing real against him other than that they just don’t like him. This is not a charge that could stand up in a just court of law.
20. Or else let those who are here themselves say if they found any wrongdoing in me while I stood before the council,
Paul points out that his current accusers were only brought into the matter when he went before the council of the Sanhedrin. And what, he asks, can they say as to any wrongdoing they found in him while he stood before the Sanhedrin? For Paul well knows that Felix has Lysias’ letter, stating that no real charge was brought up against Paul in the meeting of the Sanhedrin. If they couldn’t find anything to charge him with in their court, why were they now dragging the matter before Felix’ court and hoping he would find something wrong against Paul?
21. unless it is for this one statement which I cried out, standing among them, ‘Concerning the resurrection of the dead I am being judged by you this day.’”
There is only one thing they can really blame him for from when he stood before the Sanhedrin, Paul reveals. That is for one statement he made when standing among them: that is was concerning the resurrection of the dead that he was being judged by them on that day. Paul had cried this, as we know from chapter 23, and it was what ended the session of the Sanhedrin, for at that point it dissolved into chaos. So Paul makes it clear: it was not for any wrongdoing, but rather for religious differences that these men hated him. Yet religious differences were not a concern of Rome, and certainly did not warrant any penalty against the one who held them.
So Paul closes his defense, and an excellent defense it was. Felix must surely have known after listening to both sides that Paul was indeed innocent. If he had been a righteous judge, he would have let him go. Sadly, that is not the kind of judge he was.
22. But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case.”
Felix hears these things. Moreover, we learn, he had a more accurate knowledge of the Way, that is, of Jesus Christ than simply came out in this trial. He had been ruler there for quite some time, and as such had come to learn about the Lord and His followers and the things that pertained to them, as well as the stubborn opposition to them on the part of some of the people. Thus, he must have realized the truth that it was religious hatred that motivated Paul’s enemies, and so he could have released him as innocent right at this point. However, he does not. Instead, he adjourns the proceedings, and states that when Lysias the commander comes down from Jerusalem to Caesarea, he will make a decision on Paul’s case in his presence. Well, since Lysias was the commander in charge of keeping the peace in volatile Jerusalem, that visit was unlikely to come very soon.
23. So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him.
So Felix sends Paul back to the care of the centurion. He at least treats Paul well, instructing the centurion to let Paul have freedom, and to allow any of his friends who wish to to provide for him or visit him. The needs of prisoners at that time were not provided for by the taxpayer, as they are today. If you were in prison, your friends and family had to provide for your needs, or else you would die. Paul was blessed with plenty of friends in Caesarea who were happy to bring him food and other things, and we can be sure he wanted for nothing during this time.
24. And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.
It seems that Paul had caught Felix’ attention in his trial, and so some days later, when he is joined by his wife Drusilla, herself an Israelite, he sends for Paul and listens to what he has to say concerning faith in Christ. Thus Paul is carrying out the Lord’s word to Ananias that he would bear His name “before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” Felix qualifies as one of the kings, and here he hears the word regarding belief in Christ. Drusilla, on the other hand, is a Jew, and this becomes her opportunity to hear the word and believe. We have no indication here that she took it any more than Felix did, but she is not the focus here, so we only really read of Felix’s response.
Drusilla means “Watered by the Dew.” She was a daughter of Herod Agrippa I. The original Herod had not been Israelite at all, but an Idumean, but by this time they had intermarried with enough Israelites that Drusilla is considered by God a Jewess. She had been married prior to Felix, but was persuaded to leave her husband for Felix in spite of the fact that he was not a Jew. She was reportedly very beautiful, and was about 22 years of age at this time when she came before Paul. She and her son with Felix perished at the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
25. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.”
Paul now reasons with these two regarding three things. First of all is righteousness. This is something neither Felix nor Drusilla had paid much attention to up until this time! Then is self-control. Again, the very fact that these two were married shows their lack of this virtue. Finally, he speaks to them of judgment to come. This is not some great assize at the end of the world, but rather is a reference to the kingdom of God, God’s own government, soon to come on the earth. When this government comes, all rulers, even those like Drusilla and Felix, must submit to it, or be subject to its punishments.
Now the things he is hearing are new to Felix, but apparently he is impressed enough by Paul that he cannot easily discount them. Also, the Holy Spirit is working through Paul, and so Felix, hearing these things, begins to be afraid. Surely Paul’s words made him realize how far short his government, not to mention his lifestyle, came from the righteous standards of God! Therefore, he answers Paul’s reasoning by dismissing him from his presence. He claims that he will call him to hear him again at a more convenient time. The reality is that Felix did not like what he was hearing from God, and his response was to make sure he stopped hearing it. Therefore, he puts off doing anything about what he was hearing from God.
26. Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him.
It seems that, while Felix had been interested in hearing what Paul had to say, he was also interested in seeing if Paul might choose to bribe him in order to secure his own release. This is one of several clues we have in these later chapters of Acts that Paul was far from a penniless street preacher at this time. Being from a wealthy, Pharisaic family (and there is no indication that Paul ever withdrew from that family, though some of them may have disowned him,) it seems quite likely that Paul had come into a considerable inheritance recently. That would explain how he could pay for all the sacrifices of a Nazirite in chapter 21, not just for himself, but also for four other men. It would also explain why Felix thought Paul had money to bribe him with here. It is unlikely that Felix would be foolish enough to look for a bribe from someone who was penniless. At any rate, though Felix wanted this, it seems that Paul was not willing to give it. The Spirit was not interested in “greasing the wheels of justice,” so to speak.
So Felix sends for Paul more often than he would have otherwise, hoping to get a bribe out of him. He conversed with him on these occasions, but apparently did not receive what he sought. No doubt, the second time he heard words from Paul, they were easier to bear than when he heard them the first time. They were no longer new, and he was now prepared for them. So any concern he had about the truth Paul told him quickly passes away from him, and all he is interested in is increasing his wealth with some bribe from Paul. Sad that he thus rejected the Word of God to him, but this is not uncommon. How many others have been affected by the Word when they first heard it, yet ultimately refused to respond to God the same way Felix did here!
27. But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.
Two years go by with things at this impasse. Felix knows that Paul is innocent, but he is unwilling to release him without a bribe. Finally, he is succeeded as governor by a man named Porcius Festus, which means “Swinish Festival.” Festus was governor for about four years, during which time things deteriorated in Judea, as greater hostility arose against Rome, leading at last to the Jewish revolt against Rome some four years after Festus finished his governorship.
Felix knows he is on the way out. He will not get anything from Paul now to free him, he knows, but this does not spur him to do the right thing upon leaving his governorship. Instead, he decides to do the Jewish leaders a favor on his way out, and so he leaves Paul bound. Sad that even when it didn’t matter much, Felix was still unwilling to do the right thing! He might well have listened to Paul’s talk on righteousness, but clearly he did not. In dealing with Paul, as in many things, he was a corrupt and unjust ruler. Someday, however, the judgment Paul spoke of will come, and this Felix will stand before the judgment of God. Then, his unjust actions will certainly tell against him for the way he treated both God and His messenger Paul.