After returning to Jerusalem after years of missionary travel Paul was persecuted by Jewish leaders and accused of sedition (Acts 21- 23). He was taken into custody and taken to the Caesarea to be brought before Felix, the Roman Governor. Felix agreed to listen to Paul and listened as he defended himself against the Jewish accusations (Acts 24: 1-20). After hearing Paul Felix was interested in him and kept him under his protection for several more days. Then… “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.” (Acts 24:24)
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Facts About Her:
Usually I only post facts that can be found in the scriptures, but Drusilla is a well documented historical figure and so I am including those in the facts even though they are not stated in the scripture.
- She was the wife of Felix, the Roman governor of Judea (Acts 24:24);
- She was a Jewess (Acts 24:24);
- She was with Felix when he sent for Paul and “heard him concerning the faith in Christ” but (Acts 24:24);
- She was the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa and the granddaughter of Herod the Great;
- She had two older sisters, Mariamne and Bernice. Bernice also listened to Paul and rejected his teachings (Acts 25: 13-14, 23).
Speculations About Her:
- She was only 6-years-old when her father, Herod Agrippa died. Before he died he betrothed her to to Gaius Epiphanes, heir of Commagene, on the condition that he embrace the Jewish faith and be circumcised. This marriage did not take place because the groom wouldn’t consent to circumcision and so when she was about 14 or 15 Drusilla was married Gaius Aziz, the king of Emessa. Who, in order to obtain her hand, was circumcised. (Source)
- According to the Jewish historian Josephus not long after her marriage Felix, the Roman governor of Judea, saw Druislla and, being attracted by her famed beauty, convinced her to leave her husband for him. Josephus wrote:
“While Felix was procurator of Judea, he saw this Drusilla, and fell in
love with her; for she did indeed exceed all other women in beauty; and
he sent to her a person whose name was Simon, a Jewish friend of his, by birth a Cypriot,
who pretended to be a magician. Simon endeavored to persuade her to
forsake her present husband, and marry Felix; and promised, that if she
would not refuse Felix, he would make her a happy woman. Accordingly she
acted unwisely and, because she longed to avoid her sister Berenice’s
envy (for Drusilla was very ill-treated by Berenice because of
Drusilla’s beauty) was prevailed upon to transgress the laws of her
forefathers, and to marry Felix.” (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, xx.7.2)
- Drusilla left her first husband, to whom she was never legally divorced from, and went to live as Felix’s wife.
- She was probably around 20 years of age when she accompanied Felix to listen to Paul’s testimony.
- She and Felix had a son named Marcus Antonius Agrippa and a
daughter Antonia Clementiana.
- Drusilla and her son Agrippa are several of the few historical figures documented as perishing in Pompeii during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. ( Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, xx.7.2)
It appears that Felix and Drusilla called Paul into them because they were intrigued by his story. They had heard of Jesus and were curious to know more about his followers and their beliefs. Mostly likely they viewed Paul as an interesting character and were prepared to be educated and even entertained by his message. What they weren’t prepared for though was the way in which Paul’s testimony would shake them because as Acts 24:25 says, ” … as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgement to come, Felix trembled…”
It appears that Paul’s message struck a chord within Felix’s heart (and perhaps Drusilla’s as well) that made him fear and tremble. It was a well known fact that Felix had seduced Drusilla and that she had left her first husband (to whom she was still legally married) in order to marry Felix. It is likely that as Paul spoke to them the weight of their sins fell upon them and they trembled to think of the consequences that would befall them if what Paul was saying was true.
Yet despite the that came over Felix it was not enough to induce him to change. He told Paul, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season I will call for thee.” Basically, “Wow, what you are saying hits home for me, but I am not ready or willing to change. Maybe later when it is more convenient.”
It is sad for me to think about Felix and Drusilla going on with their lives, having heard the truth and feeling of its power, but being too proud (or lazy) to make the changes needed to receive the blessings Christ had to offer. They exchanged worldly pleasures and physical gratifications for eternal glory and joy… and that is sad.
But how many of us are doing exactly the same thing?
A while ago my friend and I had a conversation about the book “The Peacegiver” by James L. Ferrell. My friend had recently read it for a book club she was a part of and the book had touched her powerfully. In the book the author explains how the Savior can heal any hurt, disappointment or mistreatment in this life, but that it requires that we stop focusing on others sins and focus on our own; learning to perfect our hearts and let Christ’s love fill us. In the book Ferrell writes:
“The predicament of sin… is much bigger than the fact that we commit
sinful acts. It is that by doing, we corrupt our hearts and become
sinful ourselves– hard-hearted, stiff-necked, dark. We no longer see clearly but, as Paul warned ‘through a glass, darkly,’ which is according
to Satan’s plan to ‘blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the
children of men.’… Once sinful in our hearts, acts and thoughts that
were formerly reprehsnible to us become desirable. We come to desire to
do what we shouldn’t and lose our desire to do what we should…Precisely when we are most sinful and therefore most in need of repentance we least feel the desire or need to repent. This is the
predicament of sin. And this is why the Lord himself declared, ‘ I
require the hearts of the children of men,’ and why the prophets have
uniformly declare that what is required is not just a cessation of
sinful acts, but a mighty change in our hearts… Unfortunately,
knowledge for the mind is never enough to break from the chains of sin.”
The message is simple, but powerful. Yet my friend was frustrated that the general consensus at her book club meeting had been that even though they believed what they had read, actually implementing it in their own lives– repenting and forgiving– was too hard.
“How could they have the beautiful message of Christ’s healing power laid out right in front of them, and reject it?,” my friend asked me, “Why would they hold on to their sins when they could let them go and be free?”
Just like Felix and Drusilla, too often many of us hear the message of the gospel– we may even go to church every week, read our scriptures, and listen to the prophets– but we don’t allow the message to get past our minds and into our hearts. The gospel of
Jesus Christ requires that we forsake all our sins, large and small, to know Him. It
requires that we change and become different than we were before. Such changes are
never easy and they are never convient, but they are really what matters
most in this life.
It is also interesting to think that one of the reasons the Drusilla and her son (and most of the inhabitants of Pompeii) perished in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius was because they were not aware of the warning signs. Historical and geological evidence shows that leading up to the eruption there were signs of an impending eruption (earthquakes, plumes of gas and smokes, etc..) but that the people of the day did not recognize them for what they really were. As a result the vast majority of the population was taken by surprise and perished in the eruption.
In a similar way Drusilla also failed to act upon the warning signs given to her by Paul. She heard his message of repentance and forgiveness but she failed to understand it for what it was and make the changes needed in her life. As a result her soul underwent its own “Mount Vesuvius” and instead of allowing Christ to free her from the burden of the sins she had committed, she was buried by them.
Drusilla and Felix heard, but they didn’t let Christ message go any further than their ears, and in the end they passed up what truly matters.
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Questions to Think About:
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- What is it in your life that is keeping you from coming closer to Christ? Are you allowing the message of the gospel to change your very nature, or is it merely stuck in your head?
- In what ways was Drusilla’s beauty a curse rather than a blessing?
- How would history be different if Felix and Drusilla had accepted Paul’s message and repented?
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- Is there anyone in your life who has heard the truth and felt the power of its message and still rejected it? What can you do to help them make the changes they need to make in their lives?