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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–9
Verses 1–9

We must suppose that Lysias, the chief captain, when he had sent away Paul to Caesarea, gave notice to the chief priests, and others that had appeared against Paul, that if they had any thing to accuse him of they must follow him to Caesarea, and there they would find him, and a judge ready to hear them-thinking, perhaps, they would not have given themselves so much trouble; but what will not malice do?

I. We have here the cause followed against Paul, and it is vigorously carried on. 1. Here is no time lost, for they are ready for a hearing after five days; all other business is laid aside immediately, to prosecute Paul; so intent are evil men to do evil! Some reckon these five days from Paul’s being first seized, and with most probability, for he says here (Acts 24:11) that it was but twelve days since he came up to Jerusalem, and he had spent seven in his purifying the temple, so that these five must be reckoned from the last of those. 2. Those who had been his judges do themselves appear here as his prosecutors. Ananias himself the high priest, who had sat to judge him, now stands to inform against him. One would wonder, (1.) That he should thus disparage himself, and forget the dignity of his place. She the high priest turn informer, and leave all his business in the temple at Jerusalem, to go to be called as a prosecutor in Herod’s judgment-hall? Justly did God make the priests contemptible and base, when they made themselves so, Mal. 2:9. (2.) That he should thus discover himself and his enmity against Paul!. If men of the first rank have a malice against any, they think it policy to employ others against them, and to play least in sight themselves, because of the odium that commonly attends it; but Ananias is not shamed to own himself a sworn enemy to Paul. The elders attended him, to signify their concurrence with him, and to invigorate the prosecution; for they could not find any attorneys or solicitors that would follow it with so much violence as they desired. The pains that evil men take in an evil matter, their contrivances, their condescensions, and their unwearied industry, should shame us out of our coldness and backwardness, and out indifference in that which is good.

II. We have here the cause pleaded against Paul. The prosecutors brought with them a certain orator named Tertullus, a Roman, skilled in the Roman law and language, and therefore fittest to be employed in a cause before the Roman governor, and most likely to gain favour. The high priest, and elders, though they had their own hearts spiteful enough, did not think their own tongues sharp enough, and therefore retained Tertullus, who probably was noted for a satirical wit, to be of counsel for them; and, no doubt, they gave him a good fee, probably out of the treasury of the temple, which they had the command of, it being a cause wherein the church was concerned and which therefore must not be starved. Paul is set to the bar before Felix the governor: He was called forth, Acts 24:2. Tertullus’s business is, on the behalf of the prosecutors, to open the information against him, and he is a man that will say any thing for his fee; mercenary tongues will do so. No cause so unjust but can find advocates to plead it; and yet we hope many advocates are so just as not knowingly to patronise an unrighteous cause, but Tertullus was none of these: his speech (or at least an abstract of it, for it appears, by Tully’s orations, that the Roman lawyers, on such occasions, used to make long harangues) is here reported, and it is made up of flattery and falsehood; it calls evil good, and good evil.

1. One of the worst of men is here applauded as one of the best of benefactors, only because he was the judge. Felix is represented by the historians of his own nation, as well as by Josephus the Jew, as a very bad man, who, depending upon his interest in the court, allowed himself in all manner of wickedness, was a great oppressor, very cruel, and very covetous, patronising and protecting assassins.—Joseph. Antiq. 20. 162-165. And yet Tertullus here, in the name of the high priest and elders, and probably by particular directions from them and according to the instructions of his breviate, compliments him, and extols him to the sky, as if he were so good a magistrate as never was the like: and this comes the worse from the high priest and the elders, because he had given a late instance of his enmity to their order; for Jonathan the high priest, or one of the chief priests, having offended him by too free an invective against the tyranny of his government, he had him murdered by some villains whom he hired for that purpose who afterwards did the like for others, as they were hired: Cujus facinoris quia nemo ultor extitit, invitati hac licentia sicarii multos confodiebant, alios propter privatas inimicitias, alios conducti pecunia, etiam in ipso templo—No one being found to punish such enormous wickedness, the assassins, encouraged by this impunity, stabbed several persons, some from personal malice, some for hire, and that even in the temple itself. An yet, to engage him to gratify their malice against Paul, and to return them that kindness for their kindness in overlooking all this, they magnify him as the greatest blessing to their church and nation that ever came among them.

(1.) They are very ready to own it (Acts 24:2): “By thee we, of the church, enjoy great quietness, and we look upon thee as our patron and protector, and very worthy deeds are done, from time to time, to the whole nation of the Jews, by thy providence—thy wisdom, and care, and vigilance.” To give him his due, he had been instrumental to suppress the insurrection of that Egyptian of whom the chief captain spoke (Acts 21:38); but will the praise of that screen him from the just reproach of his tyranny and oppression afterwards? See here, [1.] The unhappiness of great men, and a great unhappiness it is, to have their services magnified beyond measure, and never to be faithfully told of their faults; and hereby they are hardened and encouraged in evil. [2.] The policy of bad men, by flattering princes in what they do amiss to draw them in to do worse. The bishops of Rome got themselves confirmed in their exorbitant church power, and have been assisted in persecuting the servants of Christ, by flattering and caressing usurpers and tyrants, and so making them the tools of their malice, as the high priest, by his compliments, designed to make Felix here.

(2.) They promise to retain a grateful sense of it (Acts 24:3): “We accept it always, and in all places, every where and at all times we embrace it, we admire it, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness. We will be ready, upon any occasion, to witness for thee, that thou art a wise and good governor, and very serviceable to the country.” And, if it had been true that he was such a governor, it had been just that they should thus accept his good offices with all thankfulness. The benefits which we enjoy by government, especially by the administration of wise and good governors, are what we ought to be thankful for, both to God and man. This is part of the honour due to magistrates, to acknowledge the quietness we enjoy under their protection, and the worthy deeds done by their prudence.

(3.) They therefore expect his favour in this cause, Acts 24:4. They pretend a great care not to intrench upon his time: We will not be further tedious to thee; and yet to be very confident of his patience: I pray thee that thou wouldest hear us of thy clemency a few words. All this address is only ad captandam benefolentiam—to induce him to give countenance to their cause; and they were so conscious to themselves that it would soon appear to have more malice than matter in it that they found it necessary thus to insinuate themselves into his favour. Every body knew that the high priest and the elders were enemies to the Roman government, and were uneasy under all the marks of that yoke, and therefore, in their hearts, hated Felix; and yet, to gain their ends against Paul, they, by their counsel, show him all this respect, as they did to Pilate and Caesar when they were persecuting our Saviour. Princes cannot always judge of the affections of their people by their applauses; flattery is one thing, and true loyalty is another.

2. One of the best of men is here accused as one of the worst of malefactors, only because he was the prisoner. After a flourish of flattery, in which you cannot see matter for words, he comes to his business, and it is to inform his excellency concerning the prisoner at the bar; and this part of his discourse is as nauseous for its raillery as the former part is for its flattery. I pity the man, and believe he has no malice against Paul, nor does he think as he speaks in calumniating him, any more than he did in courting Felix; but, a I cannot but be sorry that a man of wit and sense should have such a saleable tongue (as one calls it), so I cannot but be angry at those dignified men that had such malicious hearts as to put such words into his mouth. Two things Tertullus here complains of to Felix, in the name of the high priest and the elders:—

(1.) That the peace of the nation was disturbed by Paul. They could not have baited Christ’s disciples if they had not first dressed them up in the skins of wild beasts, nor have given them as they did the vilest of treatment if they had not first represented them as the vilest of men, though the characters they gave of them were absolutely false and there was not the least colour nor foundation for them. Innocence, may excellence and usefulness, are no fence against calumny, no, nor against the impressions of calumny upon the minds both of magistrates and multitudes to excite their fury and jealousy; for, be the representation ever so unjust, when it is enforced, as here it was, with gravity and pretence of sanctity, and with assurance and noise, something will stick. The old charge against God’s prophets was that they were the troublers of the land, and against God’s Jerusalem that it was a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces (Ezra 4:15, 19), and against our Lord Jesus that he perverted the nation, and forbade to give tribute to Caesar. It is the very same against Paul here; and, though utterly false, is averred with all the confidence imaginable. They do not say, “We suspect him to be a dangerous man, and have taken him up upon that suspicion;” but, as if the thing were past dispute, “We have found him to be so; we have often and long found him so;” as if he were a traitor and rebel already convicted. And yet, after all, there is not a word of truth in this representation; but, if Paul’s just character be enquired into, it will be found directly the reverse of this.

[1.] Paul was a useful man, and a great blessing to his country, a man of exemplary candour and goodness, blessing to all, and provoking to none; and yet he is here called a pestilent fellow (Acts 24:5): “We have found him, loimonpestem—the plague of the nation, a walking pestilence, which supposes him to be a man of a turbulent spirit, malicious and ill-natured, and one that threw all things in disorder wherever he came.” They would have it thought that he had dome a more mischief in his time than a plague could do,—that the mischief he did was spreading and infectious, and that he made others as mischievous as himself,—that it was of as fatal consequence as the plague is, killing and destroying, and laying all waste,—that it was as much to be dreaded and guarded against as a plague is. Many a good sermon he had preached, and many a good work he had done, and for these he is called a pestilent fellow.

[2.] Paul was a peace-maker, was a preacher of that gospel which has a direct tendency to slay all enmities, and to establish true and lasting peace; he lived peaceably and quietly himself, and taught others to do so too, and yet is here represented as a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout all the world. The Jews were disaffected to the Roman government; those of them that were most bigoted were the most so. This Felix knew, and had therefore a watchful eye upon them. Now they would fain make him believe that this Paul was the man that made them so, whereas they themselves were the men that sowed the seeds of faction and sedition among them: and they knew it; and the reason why they hated Christ and his religion was because he did not go about to head them in a opposition to the Romans. The Jews were every where much set against Paul, and stirred up the people to clamour against him; they moved sedition in all places where he came, and then cast the blame unjustly upon him as if he had been the mover of the sedition; as Nero not long after set Rome on fire, and then said the Christians did it.

[3.] Paul was a man of catholic charity, who did not affect to be singular, but made himself the servant of all for their good; and yet he is here charged as being a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes, a standard-bearer of that sect, so the word signifies. When Cyprian was condemned to die for being a Christian, this was inserted in hi sentence, that he was auctor iniqui nominis et signifer—The author and standard-bearer of a wicked cause. Now it was true that Paul was an active leading man in propagating Christianity. But, First, It was utterly false that this was a sect; he did not draw people to a party or private opinion, nor did he make his own opinions their rule. True Christianity establishes that which is of common concern to all mankind, publishes good-will to men, and shows us God in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and therefore cannot be thought to take its rise from such narrow opinions and private interests as sects owe their origin to. True Christianity has a direct tendency to the uniting of the children of men, and the gathering of them together in one; and, as far as it obtains its just power and influence upon the minds of men, will make them meek and quiet, and peaceable and loving, and every way easy, acceptable, and profitable one to another, and therefore is far from being a sect, which is supposed to lead to division and to sow discord. True Christianity aims at no worldly benefit or advantage, and therefore must by no means be called a sect. Those that espouse a sect are governed in it by their secular interest, they aim at wealth and honour; but the professors of Christianity are so far from this that they expose themselves thereby to the loss and ruin of all that is dear to them in this world. Secondly, It is invidiously called the sect of the Nazarenes, by which Christ was represented as of Nazareth, whence no good thing was expected to arise; whereas he was of Bethlehem, where the Messiah was to be born. Yet he was pleased to call himself, Jesus of Nazareth, Acts 22:8. And the scripture has put an honour on the name, Matt. 2:23. And therefore, though intended for a reproach, the Christians had not reason to be ashamed of sharing with their Master in it. Thirdly, It was false that Paul was the author of standard-bearer of this sect; for he did not draw people to himself, but to Christ-did not preach himself, but Christ Jesus.

[4.] Paul had a veneration for the temple, as it was the place which God had chosen to put his name there, and had lately himself with reverence attended the temple-service; and yet it is here charged upon him that he went about to profane the temple, and that he designedly put contempt upon it, and violated the laws of it, Acts 24:6. Their proof of this failed; for that they alleged as matter of act was utterly false, and they knew it, Acts 21:29.

(2.) That the course of justice against Paul was obstructed by the chief captain. [1.] They pleaded that they took him, and would have judged him according to their law. This was false; they did not go about to judge him according to their law, but, contrary to all law and equity, went about to beat him to death or to pull him to pieces, without hearing what he had to say for himself-went about, under pretence of having him into their court, to throw him into the hands of ruffians that lay in wait to destroy him. Was this judging him according to their law? It is easy for men, when they know what they should have done, to say, this they would have done, when they meant nothing less. [2.] They reflected upon the chief captain as having done them an injury in rescuing Paul out of their hands; whereas he therein not only did him justice, but them the greatest kindness that could be, in preventing the guilt they were bringing upon themselves: The chief captain Lysias came upon us and with great violence (but really no more than was necessary) took him out of our hands, Acts 24:7. See how persecutors are enraged at their disappointments, which they ought to e thankful for. When David in a heat of passion was going upon a bloody enterprise, he thanked Abigail for stopping him, and God for sending her to do it, so soon did he correct and recover himself. But these cruel men justify themselves, and reckon him their enemy who kept them (as David there speaks) from shedding blood with their own hands. [3.] They referred the matter to Felix and his judgment, yet seeming uneasy that they were under a necessity of doing so, the chief captain having obliged them to it (Acts 24:8): “It was he that forced us to give your excellency this trouble, and ourselves too; for,” First, “He commanded his accusers to come to thee, that though mightest hear the charge, when it might as well have been ended in the inferior court.” Secondly, “He has left it to thee to examine him, and try what thou canst get out of him, and whether thou canst by his confession come to the knowledge of those things which we lay to his charge.”

III. The assent of the Jews to this charge which Tertullus exhibited (Acts 24:9): They confirmed it, saying that those things were so. 1. Some think this expresses the proof of their charge by witnesses upon oath, that were examined as to the particulars of it, and attested them. And no wonder if, when they had found an orator that would say it, they found witnesses that would swear it, for money. 2. It rather seems to intimate the approbation which the high priest and the elders gave to what Tertullus said. Felix asked them, “Isa. this your sense, and is it all that you have to say?” And they answered, “Yes it is;” and so they made themselves guilty of all the falsehood that was in his speech. Those that have not the wit and parts to do mischief with that some others have, that cannot make speeches and hold disputes against religion, yet make themselves guilty of the mischiefs others do, by assenting to that which others do, and saying, These things are so, repeating and standing by what is said, to pervert the right ways of the Lord. Many that have not learning enough to plead for Baal yet have wickedness enough to vote for Baal.