The third charge against Paul was that he had tried to desecrate the temple. In response to the first charge, that he was a troublemaker, Paul pleaded that he was innocent. He was no troublemaker. In response to the second charge, that he was a ringleader of the Nazarene sect, Paul admitted the accusation but rephrased it. In the case of this third accusation, Paul emphatically denied it.
3. I did not desecrate the temple. “In fact,” said Paul, “that is the last thing on earth I would ever want to do.” Why did he come to Jerusalem then? It was on an errand of mercy. He had been establishing churches in Gentile lands, and these churches had taken an offering for the Jerusalem poor, which he had come to the city to deliver.
“Moreover,” he said, “when they found me in the temple, not only was I not causing trouble, I was submitting to the laws of our religion. I was ceremonially clean. There are people in Jerusalem who know that is true. I had gone through the rites of purification when they fell on me. So it was not I who created the disturbance but themselves.”
This was Paul’s defense against Tertullus’ formal charges.
Felix heard the arguments. What did he do? Well, he did what many men in similar situations have tried to do. Caught between what he knew to be right—he knew Paul was innocent—and pressure from people who were demanding that he do wrong, Felix refused to make a decision. He said, “I just can’t make a decision now. I’ll wait until Commander Lysias comes and can tell me what happened.”
In itself that was perhaps not so bad. The facts seemed clear. Felix should have released Paul. But he had the right to hear what the commander of the Jerusalem garrison had to say. The difficulty, as Luke shows, is that Felix was not merely postponing his decision until the case was presented to him, hoping to make a judgment at the earliest possible moment. Rather, delay and compromise were characteristic of this man. He habitually postponed what he knew he needed to do.
The real tragedy of his life was not that he postponed making a judgment about Paul in regard to the Sanhedrin’s accusations, but that he postponed the far more serious matter of making a decision concerning Jesus Christ.
Which is why Luke ends the story as he does. He tells us that Felix kept Paul in custody and heard him on more than one occasion. He was interested in what he had to say. Paul told him about Jesus, “discoursing on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come” (v. 25). Felix was moved by this testimony. He was afraid. But he did not believe. He said, “That is enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you” (v. 25). But the convenient moment never came.