25 And he wrote a letter to this effect:
26 “Claudius Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. 28 And desiring to know the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their council. 29 I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. 30 And when it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.”
31 So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32 And on the next day they returned to the barracks, letting the horsemen go on with him. 33 When they had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. 34 On reading the letter, he asked what province he was from. And when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium.
1 And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertullus. – Acts 23:25-24:1 ESV
Paul’s dream of going to Rome was finally taking place, but not the way he had most likely envisioned it. He was being accompanied by nearly 500 Roman soldiers, whose sole responsibility was to protect Paul from a plot on his life and ensure that he arrive safely in Caesarea. The Roman tribune was sending Paul to Caesarea in order for him to be tried before Felix, the Roman governor of the Roman province of Syria, which included Judea. In the letter he sent to Felix, the Roman tribune, who had been anonymous up to this point in the story, reveals his name: Claudius Lysius. We know, by his own confession, that this man had bought his Roman citizenship, so Lysius was likely his Greek name, and he had added the name of the emperor, Claudius, in recognition of his newly acquired and costly citizenship.
His letter bears the marks of a man who is addressing his more powerful superior. He seems to know that his sending of Paul to Felix could easily be seen as a shirking of his duty, as if he was passing the buck to the governor. In a sense, he was handing the governor more work and what could be a potential time bomb. He knew how incensed the Jews were over this man named Paul, and he had failed to arrive at a solution. So, in his letter, Claudius Lysius painted himself in the most positive of lights. He falsely claims to have rescued Paul from his beating at the hands of the Jews because he knew him to be a Roman citizen. But the truth was that he had been prepared to have Paul severely flogged, until Paul informed him of his Roman citizenship. That would have been a political disaster and an oversight that could have ended in his own death. So, he conveniently left that part out of his letter.
The only real facts he could provide the governor were in regards to the so-called charges against Paul. He really didn’t have any. There had been a lot of accusations hurled against Paul by the Jews, but they had contradicted themselves, and there had been some in the Jewish council, the Pharisees, who had claimed that Paul was innocent. The tribune’s conclusion had been that Paul was guilty of nothing that concerned the Roman government. This was a simply another internal dispute among the Jews. But because Paul was a Roman citizen, Claudius Lysius had determined to send him to Felix for a fair hearing.
I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. – Acts 23:29 ESV
This was not the first time Paul had been accused by the Jews and found himself standing before Roman authorities. Back in chapter 18, Luke records an incident that had occurred in Corinth. Paul had been dragged before the Roman governor of the province of Achaia. They accused Paul of “persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to our law” (Acts 18:13 NLT). But before Paul had even had a chance to speak a word in his own defense, the governor, Gallio, stopped him, and delivered the following bombshell to the Jews.
14 “Listen, you Jews, if this were a case involving some wrongdoing or a serious crime, I would have a reason to accept your case. 15 But since it is merely a question of words and names and your Jewish law, take care of it yourselves. I refuse to judge such matters.” 16 And he threw them out of the courtroom. – Acts 18:14-16 NLT
It would appear that Claudius Lysius had reached the same conclusion, but he did not have the same level of authority as a Roman governor, so he had chosen to let Felix decide the matter. In his letter, he also informed the governor that the Jews would be sending a contingent to Caesarea in order to state their case against Paul. In essence, the tribune had effectively passed this hot potato of an issue off to Felix. He could get back to managing affairs in Jerusalem, free from the distraction of Paul’s incendiary presence.
Paul made it all the way to Antipatris, without incident, so a portion of the Roman soldiers returned to Jerusalem and Paul was escorted the rest of the way to Caesarea by a smaller, yet heavily armed force. When he finally arrived in Caesarea, Paul was presented to the governor, along with the letter from Claudius Lysius. Paul found himself standing before one of the most powerful men in the Roman empire. Once again, we can’t afford to overlook the words Jesus spoke to Ananias, commanding him to meet the newly converted Saul in Damascus: “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings…” (Acts 9:15 NLT). The Greek word for king is basileus, and it refers to “the leader of the people, prince, commander, lord of the land, king.” Felix most certainly fit that description. The words of Jesus concerning Paul were being fulfilled in an amazing and unexpected way. Paul’s presence before Felix was not the result of chance or bad luck. It was meant to be. It was all part of God’s divine plan for Paul’s life and, more importantly, for the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Paul was about to go further than any of the apostles had been before. His trial before Felix was just the beginning of an incredible journey that would end up in the capital city of Rome, the political and social epicenter of the Gentile world at that time.
After having established Paul’s citizenship and provincial birthplace, Felix informed Paul that he would hear his case as soon as his accusers arrived. In the meantime, Paul was placed in Herod’s praetorium for safe keeping. He would remain there for five days, waiting for the representatives of the Jewish council to show up. During that time, Paul would have been under house arrest. As a Roman citizen, he probably enjoyed relative freedom during his stay, and the Romans were prohibited from placing him in chains or treating him poorly. Later on, in chapter 24, Luke confirms that Paul was treated with respect and afforded the right to have visitors while he remained in custody.
23 Then he [Felix] gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs. – Acts 24:23 ESV
The Jews that arrived from Jerusalem had come fully prepared to do Paul in. They were loaded for bear. They saw this as their opportunity to rid themselves of yet another menace to their way of life and a threat to their authority. To them, Paul was another thorn in their side, much as Jesus had been. They had successfully convinced the Romans to kill Jesus, and they saw no reason why they could not accomplish the same objective with Paul. As they saw it, they had been able to convince Pilate, the governor at the time, to put Jesus to death, so why shouldn’t they be able to do the same with Felix? It is likely that they believed they had God on their side. But their efforts, while done in the name of God and, from their perspective, with the full blessing of God, would fail to accomplish their goal.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.