Festus knows that Felix, his predecessor, was removed from office because of complaints against him from the Jews. Although he is a fairer man than Felix and would like to settle this justly, he has no wish to meet the same fate that Felix met. He hesitates, trying to decide the best course of action. The Jews’ accusations seem baseless, and more than that, seem to be matters that have nothing to do with Roman law. But still…He turns to Paul and asks, “Would you be willing to return to Jerusalem with me to stand trial there?” Paul appraises him for a moment, and replies, “There is no reason for me to go and stand trial in Jerusalem. I have done nothing against the Jews, as you can easily ascertain for yourself. These people who accuse me cannot produce credible witnesses to prove any of their accusations, whereas I can produce many witnesses to testify on my behalf. Therefore, I should not be given over to those whose only desire is to kill me in order to silence me. If I had done what these men are accusing me of doing, I would not object to a penalty of death, because it would be deserved. But I have done nothing wrong. I am a Roman citizen, and I claim my rights as such. If you insist upon sending me to my death unjustly, I must appeal to Caesar.” Festus is offended. He speaks with his council briefly, then turns back to Paul. “So you want to appeal to Caesar? Then I shall send you there and be done with you.” Festus knows that the wheels of justice turn very slowly in Rome, and even before Caesar, there is no guarantee that Paul will be given a fair trial. But Paul has provoked his anger, so Festus has no qualms about getting the man out of his hair.
After a ten day stay in Jerusalem, Festus feels that he has seen enough and prepares to return to Caesarea. A large delegation of Jews accompanies him, determined to see this through. The day after they arrive at the Praetorium, Festus goes to the examination room and, sitting on the judgment seat, orders his soldiers to bring Paul in for questioning. The Jews who have come from Jerusalem to make their case against Paul seem to surround him. This would be intimidating to most people, but Paul knows that he is in God’s hands. Festus allows the Jews to speak first, and they jump in eagerly, letting accusations fly. But Paul, knowing that there is no truth in any of their accusations, and that there is no way for them to prove any of them, waits calmly and patiently for them to finish speaking. Finally, the new governor nods to him, giving him permission to speak for himself. “I have done nothing contrary to Jewish Law. Nothing to dishonor the Temple. Nothing against Caesar,” he simply states.”
Festus spends a few days getting his affairs settled at the Praetorium in Caesarea, then makes the trip to Jerusalem to assess things there. High Priest Ananias hears that the new governor is on his way to the city and assembles the Sanhedrin for an emergency meeting. “We have another opportunity to get rid of Paul!” he announces. “When the governor arrives, we must be ready.” They decide to stick with the same plot they attempted two years ago – requesting that Paul be brought to Jerusalem to be questioned by the Sanhedrin, and attacking and killing Paul while he’s on his way to the city. But Festus has read some of the reports of his predecessor, and he is ready for them. “The prisoner Paul will remain in our custody in Caesarea,” he tells the Jews. “I will be here in Jerusalem for about ten days, then I will return to Caesarea. If there is anyone among you who has the authority to present your case against Paul, they may accompany me back to Caesarea. I will hear both sides there and judge between you.”
Felix and Drusilla discuss Paul and the Way after Felix has dismissed Paul. They agree that this Way will not work for them, although the judgment to come that Paul spoke of is troubling. But they are unwilling to change, even to escape punishment from Paul’s God. Perhaps one of the Roman gods will save them from this punishment to come. “I will keep him here, even though I don’t believe he is guilty of any wrongdoing. Perhaps if I keep him here long enough, he will offer me a bribe for his release. I know that he has many wealthy friends.” So Paul remains in Felix’s custody, living in Herod’s Praetorium in Caesarea, for the next two years. Whenever Felix feels like being amused, he calls for Paul to come and speak to him about Jesus. And Paul, hoping each time that this will be the day that God calls Felix to be His own, speaks with all the conviction in his heart whenever the governor calls for him. During this time, the Jews send report after report to Rome of Governor Felix’s misdeeds, because they are incensed with him for siding with Paul against them, among other things. Finally, Emperor Nero removes Felix from his office and installs a new governor, Porcius Festus, in his place. Nero is inclined to mete out further punishment to Felix, but Felix’s brother Pallas speaks up on his behalf and spares Felix. As his final act as governor, Felix decides to keep Paul imprisoned, hoping that this will appease the Jews.
When Paul is summoned to come before Felix and Drusilla, he has no idea what to expect. Does the governor wish to examine him again? Is there another group of people who are accusing him? Is he ready to render his judgment? He wishes he had some time to pray first, but the centurion is waiting for him. So he prays as they walk, asking God for His favor, and to give him the right words to say, thanking Him for His grace. When Felix sits before Paul and says, “I want you to tell us about this Way,” Paul is shocked. He offers up a quick silent prayer of thanks for this opportunity and asks God to open the hearts of the governor and his wife to the truth of Jesus’ message. Then he begins to tell them about Jesus’ life and death and the grace and forgiveness He gives to all who will put their trust in Him. He speaks of the changes that come when the Holy Spirit enters someone’s heart – a desire for goodness instead of living for sin, self-control, discipline, a hunger and thirst for God and His Word. And finally, he talked about God’s judgment of sin and how everyone who has not put their faith in Jesus to save them from the punishment for their sins will be found guilty for the sins in their lives and will be required to give their lives as payment for those sins. Felix and Drusilla grow more and more disappointed as Paul goes on. They realize that this is much bigger and more real than they thought, and a cold hand of fear grabs hold of their hearts. “Leave us,” Felix says abruptly, interrupting Paul. “I will send for you again when I have time for you.”
Though not his first choice of residences, Paul begins to settle into his new home. He has no idea how long he will have to stay, so he makes the most of his time there. He speaks to anyone who is willing to listen, telling them about Jesus and His message. Several days later, Felix brings his wife, Drusilla, to see Paul. He is curious about this man and wishes to hear what he has to say when he is not standing trial for his life. Drusilla is the daughter of Herod Agrippa, and while she is technically a Jewess, she has not behaved as one who fears God should. She married Felix after committing adultery with him while she was still married to her first husband. Neither Felix nor Drusilla has a wholesome reputation, nor do they wish to change that. But still, they are curious. They have heard people speak of the freedom this religion of the Way gives. Maybe they can still live licentiously and be religious at the same time! Felix calls Paul to come before him and asks Paul to tell him about this Way.
Governor Felix is familiar with the Way, or Christianity, that Paul is talking about. One of his centurions, Cornelius, is a follower of the Way, as are several others he has come into contact with. Felix knows that the Way is not a cult, as the Sanhedrin is claiming, and that its members are peaceful and loving people. And besides all of this, Paul’s statements ring with truth, whereas his accusers are obviously seeking to use flattery to get the governor to look favorably at their side. So he declares, “This case is adjourned until such time as I may hear from Commander Lysias in person. After this, I will render my judgment. He dismisses the Jews, who depart Caesarea in disappointment, and commands a centurion to take charge of Paul. “I believe that this man has spoken the truth, and that he is trustworthy. Let him have free roam of the Praetorium, and of Caesarea if he should choose to leave the building, as long as he is escorted. His friends may come at their leisure to visit and attend to him. But he is not to leave the city, and his activity is to be monitored, if only for his own safety.”
Paul continues in his defense before Governor Felix, “It has been several years since I have been in Jerusalem last. I came twelve days ago in order to bring gifts and monetary offerings to my Jewish brothers and sisters on behalf of other believers in the Way across Asia. When I arrived, I entered into a Nazirite vow with a few Jerusalem brothers. When the Asian Jews who first accused me found me in the Temple, I was there to perform the purification rite in accordance with my vow. I was not there with a crowd of people, and I was not stirring up any trouble. You will notice, Governor, that those Asian Jews who accused me are not present now to make their case against me. But even so, those who are here to accuse me cannot in truth tell you that they discovered me doing anything wrong, and they would not be able to find any reliable witnesses to corroborate their case. The only thing that they can say against me is what I myself uttered in their presence when I stood before the council, ‘I am standing here being judged because of my belief in the resurrection of the dead!’”
Tertullus, satisfied with his opening speech, steps back, and Governor Felix nods to Paul, giving him the floor. Paul steps forward and addresses the governor. “Since I know that you have been the governor of this nation for several years, and so you know of our traditions and our laws, I now present my defense, confident in your ability to judge rightfully in this matter. Firstly, it is a simple matter to prove that I came to Jerusalem twelve days ago, and my purpose in coming to the city was to worship, not to dishonor the Temple. No one found me surrounded by crowds of people, or stirring up rebellion, in the synagogues, in the Temple, or in the city in general. They cannot prove any of those things that they are accusing me of. I will confess to you that I am a worshipper of the God of my forefathers, and that I adhere to what is written in our Holy Scriptures, in the Law of Moses and the books of the prophets, as a follower of the Way, that group that those who accuse me refer to as a cult. As a Pharisee, I believe in the resurrection of the dead, both those who are good and those who are evil, as do many of my accusers. Because of the strength of this belief in my heart, I always try to live in such a way that I please God and keep from offending people.”
Shortly after the Jews arrive, the governor orders Paul to be brought out. He calls Tertullus forward, inviting him to speak first. “Most excellent Governor Felix, we thank you for allowing us to be heard. You have done great service for the Jews, bringing peace and prosperity to the nation, and we are ever thankful for all that you do. We know that you are very busy, and we do not wish to be a burden to you, so if you please, we wish to present our case against this man briefly. This man is a disease on our land. He stirs up the people to rebellion wherever he goes, as the leader and spokesman for the cult of the Nazarenes. We caught him dishonoring the temple, and we took him into our custody so that he could stand trial in accordance with our Law. But before we had the chance to try him, Commander Lysias came with his soldiers and violently seized him, dragging him away to the barracks. When we came to the barracks to question the prisoner, the commander informed us that he had sent the prisoner to you, most excellent Governor Felix, and that we would need to come here if we wanted to question him. You may question the prisoner yourself to see if these accusations are true.” Tertullus steps back and looks to the Jews, who all nod their agreement with his words.