Summary: In this last message for this "Go thy way" series, Felix a Roman governor, talked with Paul about the Christian faith several times. He listened but told Paul "go thy way and I'll talk to you about this when I have the time". Sadly, he never found the time.
Background: Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem, then taken to the Roman barracks (castle, KJV: Acts 21:34, 37, e.g.). Later Paul was sent to the seat of Roman government in Caesarea. He had been tried and accused of charges, serious at the time, but was declared neither guilty nor innocent. Paul made the most of his (enforced) period of inactivity, even having conversations with Felix, the Roman governor during this era.
Even though Felix knew something of the Jewish faith (his wife was Jewish) and the Christian faith, he didn’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior, apparently. In this final message in the “go thy way” series, we can notice a few things: one, this is the last time the phrase appears in Scripture; second, it’s the only time Paul ever heard the phrase, and finally it’s the only time a pagan used the term in the New Testament (Pharaoh had said this to Abram in Genesis).
The text comes from Acts chapter 24, beginning at verse 22:
22 And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them, and said , When Lysias the chief captain shall come down , I will know the uttermost of your matter. 23 And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him. 24 And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. 25 And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered , Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee. 26 He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him. 27 But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix' room: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.
In the context, which stretches from Acts 21 through this chapter, Paul had returned to Jerusalem after a missionary journey. Certain Jews found him in the Temple, then accused him of bringing a Gentile into the Temple grounds (see Acts 21). The Romans rescued Paul and brought him into their barracks (KJV, “castle”, Acts 22:24), after Paul spoke to the Jewish mob and gave them part of his testimony (Acts 23). One of Paul’s nephews heard about a plot to kill Paul, and informed him about it. Paul then asked him to share this with the commander. The commander then sent him on to Caesarea (Acts 23) with 470 soldiers for protection. Then Paul stood trial before Felix, with Tertullus (a lawyer) and other officials bringing charges against him (Acts 24).
I Paul’s situation
Seldom has any trial been left undecided! Either the accused was declared guilty of the crimes or was declared not guilty. Logically, there is no other choice unless, perhaps, the case was dismissed. That didn’t happen here: Felix made no decision, except to delay his judgment. Suppose a baseball umpire sees a play but doesn’t make a call. What happens then? Is the player safe, or out? The umpire is supposed to make a judgment but the umpire calls, “Time out!”
What kind of judgment was that?
So, Paul is now being held in some kind of protective custody—imagine that!—in Caesarea, he’s proved he did nothing wrong or worthy of punishment, the opponents couldn’t prove their case, but he isn’t set free. Yet, Felix did allow him to have (some) liberty and he had the privilege of open access. His friends (acquaintances, verse 23) could also come and minister to him, but one wonders what kind of true comfort that was for Paul. I don’t read where he had ever been in a situation like this one in any of his journeys before.
And yet, even when Paul was in an oddball situation, not guilty but not free, having liberty but still supervised by a Roman centurion, the Lord still had a plan for Paul. There were people who had never, perhaps, heard the message of the Gospel clearly.
The Lord had just that person, in just that situation.
II Felix’s search
Luke tells us in verse 24 that “after certain days”—we’re not told how many days—Felix himself sent for Paul! Even more interesting, he was married to a Jewish woman, Drusilla, whose ancestry included King Herod, of all people. Josephus in his “Antiquities of the Jews”, and several commentaries, give her pedigree. That she wanted to hear Paul, at all, is something I’ve wondered about for some time.
So what happened?
Felix and Drusilla, at least once, spoke with Paul about the “faith in Christ (verse 24):” That would have been something to observe, with Paul explaining his journey from a persecutor of the believers to a preacher or proclaimer of the Gospel! He could have told them about his background at Jerusalem, his education under Gamaliel’s training, and how he had met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. He could have explained his time alone with God, it seems, when he was in Arabia (Galatians 1) and any number of things he had experienced.