Acts Wednesday: Chapter 24, Felix and Drusilla


Felix had reassured Paul he’d make a judgment as soon as the Roman tribune Claudius Lysias had arrived to give his full report. So, how long did the high priest Ananias stay, and Tertullus, and all the elders? After Paul had been taken back into custody, and escorted to the rooms he would now occupy for the next two years, what happened next?

There is no record of the tribune ever delivering his testimony, nor of any other court proceedings, nor even of the temple delegation finally leaving Caesarea to return to Jerusalem. It’s as though they all sort of just . . . drifted away.

In fact, Luke wrote, it was some days before Governor Felix again sent for Paul, to hear more from him about The Way, and his faith in Jesus Christ. This time, Felix had invited his wife who, Luke added, was Jewish.

[Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589) / Public domain]

It is an interesting piece of background biography on Governor Claudius Felix that he had been born enslaved and had been freed during Emperor Claudius’ reign (hence his first name “Claudius”). The ancient Roman historian Tacitus traced Felix’s heritage through the Greek kings of Arcadia, and through his mother’s side, a somewhat distant relation to the emperor Augustus. [Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589) / Public domain]

Once freed, Felix’ older brother Marcus Antonius Pallas petitioned and won for Felix to become the procurator of Samaria, the northern part of the province of Judea. According to Josephus, Felix was able to suppress the messianic movement the Egyptian prophet Tribune Lysias had been so concerned about.

Felix was well-known for the corruption and cruelty in his administration. His penchant for bribes led to an increase in crime during his rule, yet his response to ensuing feuds and uprisings was swift and tyrannical.  

His wife Drusilla was the daughter of Herod Agrippa, making her the sister of both Herod Agrippa II and to Bernice (about whom many intimated were in an incestuous relationship). Renowned for her beauty, when Drusilla’s father died, her brother Agrippa became her steward, and he married her off at a young age to Gaius Julius Azizus.

Not long after, Felix, now procurator of Judea, visited Agrippa, and met the lovely sixteen-year-old Drusilla. Though thirty years her senior, he was instantly entranced, and Felix soon put away his own first wife while managing to persuade the young beauty to divorce her husband as well, and marry him.

Drusilla, with her Jewish background, had become an asset to her husband, helping him to understand how to navigate in the Judean culture, and interact with the religious ruling council. What’s more, both Felix and Drusilla, it seems, were familiar with Christianity, perhaps learning of The Way firsthand.

One of the original seven deacons, Phillip, known as the evangelists, had established a thriving Christian community in Caesarea twenty-five years earlier, where his four unmarried daughters were raised as prophets. Members included Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, and his entire household, as well as many other Roman soldiers. It seems likely servants or soldiers with whom Felix was regularly connected, would have acted as his primary source of knowledge.

Evidently, they both liked to listen to Paul, but grew increasingly uneasy and self-conscious when Paul taught about living a holy life, about purity, righteousness, self-control, about judgment to come. During that first meeting alone together (Luke later recorded), Felix had become frightened. Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, he said, “Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will send for you.”

Felix started backing away.

If they really were to receive Christ, it would mean confession of what they knew they had done wrong, before God. It would mean facing humbly and squarely the ways in which they had offended God, dishonored others, and harmed others. It would mean embracing not only Jesus as Savior and Redeemer, but also Jesus as Lord.

What a mighty turmoil there must have been, struggling within him.

On the one hand, we know “he hoped that money would be given him by Paul, and for that reason he used to send for him very often and converse with him.” Felix’s greed, his addiction to power and money, surely coming at least in part from his own childhood story of enslavement, was deeply entrenched.

Yet, on the other hand, Felix did keep talking with Paul. And Paul, without doubt, would circle around to the Gospel, to Jesus, to grace and forgiveness, to the great victory and freedom believers have in Christ.

Two years.

For as long as Felix was Procurator of Judea, he spoke with Paul “very often.” Maybe, after a while, it felt like new normal to Felix. Paul had become, as it were, a member of the household, a part of Felix’s every day life. Maybe the urgency to make a decision wore off, after a time, and Felix was able to blunt his conscience against the convicting power of Paul’s message.

It made me wonder about the important decisions I’ve made in my own life, and the decisions I’ve put off making. It’s one of the procrastinator’s strategies, to make piles of delayed decisions, then move the piles from surface to surface, farther away every time from the regular paths of life.

Sometime it works. If you wait long enough, it will be Easter, and the need to send Christmas cards goes away.

But what about the times God is clearly calling you and me? We know He is, but we are hesitant, it would mean sacrifice, big changes in our lives, it would mean an overhaul of thoughts and emotions. What spiritual issues might you and I be procrastinating on? We tell ourselves. I want to think about it some more. Or, I want to decide at a better time, not now. Or, a little later maybe, when things are more settled. . .

Paul was always ready to teach the gospel to Felix, but Felix never received Christ. Nero finally recalled Felix, the procurator of Judea, under threat to execute him for his brutal intervention in a riot between Judeans and Gentiles in the City of Caesarea. And then, the thread of his story is lost.


[1st Century Roman couple, funerary relief| Egisto Sani flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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