Acts 25
Acts 25 Kingcomments Bible Studies

Paul Charged Before Festus

The scene around Paul has undergone a change. Festus, who succeeded Felix as governor over Judea, has come to live in Caesarea. Caesarea was the political capital, while Jerusalem was the religious capital of Judea, the heart of Judaism. Good relations with Jerusalem were of the utmost importance for the keeping of peace in his area. That is why, soon after moving into his official residence in Caesarea, Festus goes up to Jerusalem to meet the leaders there.

There he is immediately confronted with Paul’s cause. After two years the Jews have not forgotten Paul and have not lost their hatred. Since his arrival in Jerusalem, the Jews have always had his death as their goal (Acts 21:27-31; Acts 22:22; Acts 23:10-15; Acts 25:3). Their murderousness has not diminished. A new governor offers a new chance to get rid of their archenemy.

A delegation of chief priests and distinguished Jews lodge an accusation against Paul during his visit. The nobility of the group of prosecutors makes it clear how Paul’s case still bothers them. In addition to their accusation, they also submit a request. Paul is still imprisoned in Caesarea and their request is to have him come to Jerusalem. Now that Festus is here and so are they, the case could be settled.

Their dirty plan is to ambush Paul on the way and kill him. They also have no confidence that Festus will condemn Paul. If they can arrange it in such a way that they would kill Paul themselves, they are definitely rid of their enemy.

But that doesn’t work. Festus may have heard of the earlier plans or read them in reports, but he does not grant the request of the Jews. Paul remained in Caesarea, where he himself would soon return. Here we see the hand of God. Festus wants to oblige the Jews in so far as he gives them the opportunity for the influential men to travel with him and prosecute Paul in Caesarea.

Paul Appeals to the Emperor

After eight or ten days, Festus returns to Caesarea. The day after his return, he took his seat on the tribunal or judgment seat and ordered Paul to be brought to him there. By taking place on the tribunal, the handling of ’the case of Paul’ takes on an official character. But what kind of judge takes his seat? It is a person who is solely out for his own interests.

This also happened to Pilate at the time, of whom we also read that he sat down “on the judgment seat” (Jn 19:13) and that to judge the Judge of the whole earth (Gen 18:25) Who stood before him. The justice he spoke is the greatest and most gross form of injustice ever committed.

It is a great encouragement to know that in front of all the earthly judgment seats there is a heavenly judgment seat. On earthly judgment seats sat and sits people who are incapable of impartial judgment. On the heavenly judgment seat sits Someone Who will judge perfectly (Rom 14:10; 2Cor 5:10).

Before Festus, the Jews who came along at his invitation also appear. Luke mentions of them that they stand “around him”, which presumably refers to Paul. Like bloodhounds they surrounded him. Then their torrent of “many and serious charges” breaks loose. Luke does not go into detail about their contents. From Paul’s defense, we can deduce what points they accused him of.

Because the Jews have still not achieved a result in their accusation, they will have made the accusations very severe, and extended them as much as possible. In doing so, they have violated the truth in a terrible way. It is therefore not surprising that they are unable to prove a single accusation. It is precisely their exaggeration in the charges that makes it easy for Paul to defend himself.

In addition, what is important to the Jews does not interest Festus at all. What does he have to do with the law of the Jews? When the Jews accuse Paul of teaching the nations that they do not have to keep the law, that means nothing to him. The same goes for the accusation that he desecrated the temple.

The accusation that he would have done something against the emperor could be something important. This accusation was based on the preaching of another king than the emperor, namely Jesus (Acts 17:7). But no call was made by Paul to rebel against the emperor. On the contrary, he taught that one must submit to the government (Rom 13:1).

This is not a matter for Festus. No, it is clear to him that he is not dealing with someone dangerous to the state, someone who is endangering the widely acclaimed ‘Pax Romana’, the Roman peace. While Festus has so far acted correctly and should now have released Paul, he is making a proposal that is completely contrary to Roman law. He proposes that Paul should go to Jerusalem and stand trial there before him.

Luke mentions the motive of the proposal: Festus wants to do the Jews a favor. The main concern of Festus is to gain the favor of the Jews, as was the case with Felix (Acts 24:27) and Pilate (Mk 15:15). He wants to be in good standing with them. A good relationship with the Jews is more important to him than doing justice to a prisoner who causes trouble, or at least is accused of doing so. He foresees that his release will only cause him great problems.

Paul sees through his intentions. Earlier he wanted to go to Jerusalem, but now he no longer wants to. He does not want to appear before a Jewish court, but before the court of the emperor. By appealing to the emperor, he recognizes the way of the Lord with him, that He led him out of Jerusalem. He also recognizes the judgment seat of the emperor and appeals to him. The judgment seat on which Festus sits is that of the emperor. Festus, as his representative, exercises his authority.

The first Christians suffered many injustices, but the charges were always unfounded. They obeyed the laws issued by the government, so they could not be accused on that basis. What they suffered was due to the fact that they were Christians (1Pet 4:15-16).

Paul also speaks to the conscience of Festus by saying to him that he knows well that he, Paul, did not do any wrong to the Jews. By his statement he disqualifies Festus as a judge. Paul expresses his surrender to the law. If he had done something worthy of death, he would not refuse to die.

In veiled terms he even accuses Festus of wanting to surrender him to the Jews as a favor. He cannot simply accept this. That is why he appeals to the emperor. If we were to ask ourselves whether he would not have done better to place his cause in the hand of God, it would in any case become clear that God controls the circumstances in such a way that Paul comes to Rome, as the Lord told him earlier (Acts 23:11). There he would testify before the emperor himself.

It is also questionable whether we should ask ourselves if Paul should not have better placed his cause in God’s hand. Is it not rather our duty to remind people of their responsibility and that this also applies, in some cases, to what the government asks of us?

It is not about opposing all the wrong decisions that a government makes or wrong laws that a government enacts. As mentioned earlier, Paul has never called for an attack on the government for everything that is wrong. He even says that we should submit to the government without question. As soon as the government says something we should do or not do in which our testimony before the Lord is at stake, we can go the paths that are provided for that purpose. That is why Paul appeals to the emperor here.

It seems that Festus did not count on this. What should he do now? He cannot release Paul, because then the Jews will explode. Paul does not want to go to Jerusalem and he cannot force him to do so, because Paul is a Roman citizen. Before he decides, he first confers with his council about what is best. He uses consultation with them to prevent a quarrel with them.

Luke does not tell us what has been discussed. That is not important, because the outcome is that Festus confirms Paul’s appeal. The Lord has determined that Paul will go to Rome. With the words “you have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go”, Festus assures Paul that he will go to the emperor in Rome.

Festus Brings the Case Before Agrippa

The decision that Paul shall go to the emperor in Rome has been made. That does not mean that he will be put on transport immediately. There are still the necessary preparations to be made. The greatest concern for Festus, it turns out, is to make up a plausible reason that justifies the transport of this prisoner for the emperor.

To his joy King Agrippa and Bernice appear after a few days. They come to congratulate Festus with his new job. Their arrival was a relief because Agrippa knows the Jewish customs well. King Agrippa is accompanied by Bernice, his sister, with whom he lives.

Festus presents ‘the case of Paul’ to Agrippa. He tells how things went. Like everyone else in the world, Festus presents the case in the manner most favorable to him. He presents himself as the sincere upholder of justice, as if that must have its course and he is committed to it. The facts are as he knows them. He says that his predecessor Felix left behind a man in prison about whom he received an accusation in Jerusalem from the Jews who asked for his conviction.

With a straight face he also tells how he responded to the Jews that the Romans are not in the habit of delivering a man by way of favor. He forgets that he himself acted with Paul only by granting favor to the Jews (Acts 25:9) and that Paul accused him of this in veiled terms (Acts 25:11).

He mentions how he made “the man” come to his judgment seat without delay and listened to the accusers. The suspicions he had about what Paul might have misbehaved turned out to be unfounded. The accusations concerned only some points of disagreement with him about their own religion. He had also picked up something “about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive”.

The way in which Festus speaks about the Lord Jesus is immensely disinterested. Festus has heard the core of the gospel, of which he passes on the summary to Agrippa: that the Lord Jesus died and rose (1Cor 15:3-4). To Festus, the story of the resurrection is only Jewish superstition. Festus does not say ‘alive again’ nor does he talk about the ‘resurrection’. All in all, Festus expresses Paul’s innocence. Once again, the testimony of Paul’s innocence sounds from the mouth of a pagan government servant.

Because he no longer knew what else he could do about this case, he suggested that Paul go to Jerusalem to be tried there. He concealed the motivation for his proposal from Agrippa. He immediately goes on to mention that Paul’s reaction was that he appealed to the emperor. He accepted that appeal, ordering him to be held prisoner until the moment he was sent to the emperor.

Through this report, Agrippa has become so much interested in Paul that he indicates that he wants to hear “the man” himself. Festus promises him that he will give him the opportunity to do so tomorrow.

Paul Brought Before Agrippa

The next day the remarkable meeting takes place between the distinguished of life and the scum of the world (1Cor 4:13b). Agrippa and Bernice entered the auditorium with great pomp and ceremony, having within their entourage the commanders and other prominent people of the city. When they have taken their seats, Festus causes Paul to be brought before them. In the midst of worldly splendor, a little man appears, shackled.

Thus the Lord led it to fulfill His word which He spoke when He said that Paul would bear His Name before kings (Acts 9:15). Therefore, the accused Paul is facing wicked people with depraved morals. Never before has he had such an audience.

When Paul is about to open his mouth, the scene changes. Then the judges become the accused and the accused becomes the judge. Pity may have filled the hearts of the dignitaries present when they saw the poor prisoner, but even more pity must have filled Paul’s heart when he saw all the emptiness of these lost souls.

Festus opens the session. With the words “you see” he points to Paul as a curiosity. This is the man who succeeds in antagonizing the whole crowd of Jews to such an extent that they only wish for one thing: his death. But, Festus continues, I have not been able to discover what he would have done to deserve the death penalty.

Once again, Festus testifies to Agrippa of Paul’s innocence, but now he does so in front of all the city’s dignitaries (Acts 25:18; 25). However, he could not release him because the prisoner appealed to the emperor. The prisoner has appealed to the emperor and he will therefore send him to the emperor.

Then Festus comes up with the problem with which he now is confronted. He must send Paul to the emperor, but he has not yet been able to formulate a concrete accusation. Festus has put his hopes in Agrippa that he will be able to help him put something on paper so that he would not lose face if he sent Paul to Rome.

Festus speaks in this context of the emperor as “my lord”. “My lord” is an indication for the emperor in the divine sense of the word. It is the recognition of the divine status of the emperor. Therefore, it is also offensive to the Romans that Christians do not recognize any other Lord but Jesus.

© 2023 Author G. de Koning

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