I had to look back and be reminded where Paul was being held prisoner. This is especially true when it states that he was held there for well over 2 years (vs.27). He had to be taken away from Jerusalem which would have been problematic with the high number of Jews that wanted his life in that town. So they took him first to Antipatris and then on to Caesarea. Below you can find a picture of Caesarea that John Faltin took when we made the trip to Israel. It is the same location where Herod died some years back and we already read about it in Acts 12:23 (go back there to refresh your memory). It was a very Roman city with very little Jewish presence. Paul was safe here and no mobs of Jews would come after Paul, not even the 40 from the previous chapter who had sworn to kill Paul.
Now that we know where this all took place, let’s go back to the beginning of the chapter. The high priest comes to see Paul and brings along his lawyer, just to make sure that Paul doesn’t get away with this, and to ensure that Paul would no longer cause any trouble. They needed him gone once and for all. The nitty gritty of this chapter is that the high priest makes an accusation and Paul defends himself. It ends there.
But does it? Felix is said to know something about the Way. He knows something about Jesus. We don’t know who planted the seed or why he knows about the Way, but he is curious. He lets Paul live as normal as possible allowing Paul’s family members to meet his needs. He had a smattering of freedom which was far more than most prisoners under Roman care. After all, look what happens to Jesus when he is imprisoned under Roman rule. Not quite the same outcome, nor the same treatment while under arrest. So Felix doesn’t make a decision regarding Paul, but rather invites his own wife, who was Jewish, to come along and to listen to Paul. Paul speaks about, and this has always been a curious triumvirate to preach about to people in power and authority, “justice, self-control, and the coming judgment”. When I think of Pontius Pilate and how frightened he was of Jesus and the possibility that he represented one who could bring about the coming judgment, it seems to me that there is a theme. All those in leadership recognize that their power is limited. There will come a day when their lives will be demanded. So if you talk to Felix about justice, it makes sense, because they have the justice of the land, and the future justice of Paul, in their hands. Why talk about self-control? Because all people want some advice from people who are considered experts on life changing opportunities on how to live our lives better. But speaking about coming judgment put fear in their hearts. I’m guessing it is at that point that Felix says: “Go away.”
Felix leaves Paul in the prison because he was expecting a kick back. It didn’t happen so Paul stayed for two years. I’ll never forget our trip to St. Petersburg from Moscow. We drove, big mistake. When we got to Tver, and I was speeding, the police pulled us over. It was our first year there and my mother was with us. I didn’t speak much Russian, and so I called the driver of the president of our church council. The driver spoke to the policeman and it didn’t go well. When the policeman gave me back the phone the driver said: Bob, you are in big trouble. The policeman is going to have you follow him to the station. We got to the police station and in we walked, my three girls, Stacy, my mom, and I. The head officer in the station saw the procession and chewed out the officer who had brought us in. Then the officer told me to call the driver again. After a while the officer was laughing and handed me back the phone. He said to me: “Bob, give the police officer 1,000 rubles ($30) and go, go, go.” I went into the police car, the officer went into the police car, I left a 1,000 ruble note on the back seat (I knew enough not to hand him the money), and I went, went, went.
I think many Americans would be surprised by the commonality of “expediting fees” (read bribes) in most countries. When we served in Italy to a lesser extent there was some pervasiveness of this as well. In Russia I lost count of how many times I sat in the back of a police car and left money on the seat. I was at least able to write it off on the church account. The denomination was not happy about this until my boss came and visited and we were stopped. I made him come in the back seat with me. He understood. Paul didn’t pay the expediting fee simply because, I think, he wanted more time with Felix. He wanted more opportunities to teach him about Jesus.