Acts Lesson Fifty-two: Acts 25:1-22 – Paul Appeals to Caesar
Three days after Festus arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. 2 Then the chief priests and the leaders of the Jews presented their case against Paul to him; and they appealed, 3 asking him to do them a favor against Paul, that he might summon him to Jerusalem. They were preparing an ambush along the road to kill him. 4 However, Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was about to go there shortly. 5 “Therefore,” he said, “let the men of authority among you go down with me and accuse him, if there is any wrong in this man.”
6 When he had spent not more than eight or 10 days among them, he went down to Caesarea. The next day, seated at the judge’s bench, he commanded Paul to be brought in. 7 When he arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him and brought many serious charges that they were not able to prove, 8 while Paul made the defense that, “Neither against the Jewish law, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I sinned at all.”
9 Then Festus, wanting to do a favor for the Jews, replied to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem, there to be tried before me on these charges?”
10 But Paul said: “I am standing at Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as even you can see very well. 11 If then I am doing wrong, or have done anything deserving of death, I do not refuse to die, but if there is nothing to what these men accuse me of, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar!”
12 After Festus conferred with his council, he replied, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go!”
13 After some days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea and paid a courtesy call on Festus. 14 Since they stayed there many days, Festus presented Paul’s case to the king, saying, “There’s a man who was left as a prisoner by Felix. 15 When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews presented their case and asked for a judgment against him. 16 I answered them that it’s not the Romans’ custom to give any man up before the accused confronts the accusers face to face and has an opportunity to give a defense concerning the charges. 17 Therefore, when they had assembled here, I did not delay. The next day I sat at the judge’s bench and ordered the man to be brought in. 18 Concerning him, the accusers stood up and brought no charge of the sort I was expecting. 19 Instead they had some disagreements with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, a dead man Paul claimed to be alive. 20 Since I was at a loss in a dispute over such things, I asked him if he wished to go to Jerusalem and be tried there concerning these matters. 21 But when Paul appealed to be held for trial by the Emperor, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I could send him to Caesar.”
22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.”
“Tomorrow you will hear him,” he replied. (HCSB)
I will split this lesson into two parts.
- Paul before Festus – verses 1-12.
- King Agrippa visits Festus – verses 13-22.
Paul Before Festus
As we get ready to dig into this section, we need to remember that about two years have passed since the events in chapter 24 occurred. Luke didn’t record what Paul did during that time. Although Paul was restricted in his activities, one can hardly imagine he was idle during the two years.
Let’s look at some information regarding Festus before we proceed.
- Admittedly, very little is known about the administration of Porcius Festus as the procurator of Judea.
- We have the details recorded in Acts 25-26.
- Josephus’ writings contain two brief references.
- He took office in a.d. 58/59.
- He died suddenly from an illness in a.d. 62.
- Josephus gives him high marks. He was successful in suppressing the revolutionaries who plagued the countryside during Felix’s administration.
- Luke also portrays him as fair-minded and concerned with preserving Roman justice.
- However, Luke records that Festus was also swayed by the pressure exerted by the Jewish power structure and compromised his sense of justice regarding Paul’s situation.
- In a way, Festus behaved much like Pilate during Jesus’ trial. There are parallels between Paul’s experience in Acts 25-26 and Jesus’ trial in Luke 23:1-25.
The opening of chapter 25 has Festus arriving in Judea and almost immediately making a trip to Jerusalem.
- Since Jerusalem was the religious and cultural center of the people now under his jurisdiction, it was only natural for Festus to make a trip as quickly as possible.
- One gets the impression the religious leaders were waiting for Festus to visit them.
- The religious group included the high priest and the leaders of the Jews. The second group is almost certainly the ruling elders of the Sanhedrin.
- They presented their case against Paul, which would have been biased in their favor.
- Likely they wanted Festus to transfer jurisdiction from Rome to them.
- We see one significant difference from Acts 23. Here, the leaders are the ones who were plotting to kill Paul and not a group of zealots. We see here the chief Jewish power structure was now determined to kill Paul.
- Festus would have been unaware of the Jewish plot to kill Paul and was likely not aware of the plot two years prior.
- Regardless, Festus was not going to hand Paul over to the Jews before he knew more about the situation.
- Paul was under the jurisdiction of Festus as the Judean procurator.
- Festus would be returning to Caesarea in a few days.
- Any proceedings regarding Paul would take place in Caesarea before a Roman tribunal.
- This was a sensible decision. It was more convenient to hear the case in Caesarea.
- Once again, Paul receives divine protection from an unlikely source.
Just over a week later, Festus returns to Caesarea and convenes the tribunal to hear the charges against Paul.
- Since their previous attempt, using a lawyer, was unsuccessful, they brought the charges against Paul themselves.
- It also appears they attempted to intimidate Paul physically. The narrative says they “stood around him.”
- They also brought up “many serious charges.” Luke doesn’t specify what they were, likely the same ones as before based upon Paul’s response in verse eight, although we can’t be certain.
- However, just as in the tribunal over two years prior, the Jewish religious leaders had no proof to back up their words.
- Paul refutes each of their claims.
- He didn’t violate Jewish law.
- He didn’t violate the temple.
- He didn’t violate any Roman law.
- The third charge was the one that kept Paul in Roman custody.
- Obviously, Festus isn’t impressed by the lack of evidence to support the claims against Paul.
- It’s possible Festus believed there were be some proof brought forth if they continued the proceedings in Jerusalem.
- Festus then asks Paul if he’s willing to continue in Jerusalem but still under the jurisdiction of Festus and Roman law.
- Festus wasn’t willing to turn the trial over to the Jews, but he was willing to change the venue.
- It’s not certain what Festus had in mind with this offer.
- It may have been similar to Paul’s initial apprehension when Claudius Lysias oversaw the hearing in Jerusalem.
- It may have been a formal trial with some of the Jewish religious leaders on the advisory council.
- We can’t conclude that Festus’ motives were innocent, as he wanted to “do a favor for the Jews.”
- At the beginning of the chapter, Festus resisted doing a favor for the Jews.
- Now Festus was being swayed by the pressure.
- Festus was now showing favoritism to the Jews, to the detriment of Paul.
- Favoritism never goes together with fair justice, and Paul knew this.
- Paul had previously escaped a plot against his life.
- Paul knew that if Festus showed favoritism to the Jews in this matter, his life would be in danger.
- Paul’s response was immediate and, to a certain degree, somewhat defiant.
- Paul rebukes Festus with his response. Paul tells him, “even you can see very well.”
- He had done no wrong to the Jews.
- Paul understood Festus wanted to grant the Jews a favor, and in verse eleven, he is basically saying, “You want to give the Jews a favor by giving me to them.”
- Paul knew his only chance of a fair trial was under Roman law.
- If Paul was given over to the Jews and tried under their jurisdiction, he was as good as dead.
- Paul then invoked the only thing that would prevent Festus from handing him over to the Jews, an appeal to Caesar.
- In one sense, this was the fastest and surest way for Paul to go to Rome.
- The appeal would also grant him the highest level of Roman protection during his journey.
- Let’s look at what is known about the appeal process.
- Paul makes use of an ancient right of Roman citizens that goes back to at least the fifth-century b.c.
- It gave the right of a citizen to appeal a magistrate’s verdict to a jury of fellow citizens.
- Under the Roman empire structure, the emperor became the court of appeals, replacing the jury of citizens.
- In cases where precedent was already established, governors had the authority to pronounce sentences, even to the point of execution.
- In cases where precedent wasn’t established, such as this case, the right of appeal was absolute.
- Festus was in no position to deny the appeal.
- Normally, the appeal was made after the sentence was announced. However, based on this situation, it appears that an appeal could be made before the verdict was announced.
- It is not clear if the magistrate could revoke the appeal if the defendant was proven innocent.
- In this case, it was probably a relief to Festus when Paul made his appeal. The Jews couldn’t blame Festus for following Roman law and sending Paul away to Rome.
- The procurator had an advisory council who would be consulted when necessary. Although the final decision was with Festus, he sought advice from his council.
- Festus then announces that Paul will go to Caesar.
- The Caesar in question was Nero, who ruled from a.d. 54-68.
- It would be easy to think that Paul was in trouble immediately.
- However, this was towards the beginning of Nero’s reign, a period marked by stability.
- Nero’s dark side had not yet manifested itself.
- In any case, Paul was headed to Rome to witness to the emperor himself.
King Agrippa Visits Festus
It would be normal to expect the Jewish king to visit and establish cordial relations with the new procurator after his arrival. Let’s take a closer look at Agrippa II.
- He was the son of Agrippa I, Acts 12, and the great-grandson of Herod the Great.
- He was born in a.d. 27 and grew up in Rome.
- In a.d. 48, after the death of an uncle, he was given rule over the small kingdom of Chalcis.
- In a.d. 53, he left that role to rule over the territories formerly under the rule of Philip and Lysanias. These territories included Abilene, Batanea, Traconitis, and Gaulinitis.
- In a.d. 56, his rule was further expanded when Nero placed him over several other villages in the vicinity of the Sea of Galilee, including Caesarea Philippi.
- The regions under his rule were mainly Gentile, and he never ruled over the main Jewish territory in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee.
- The Romans gave him custody of the ceremonial clothes worn by the high priest on the Day of Atonement.
- He held the authority to appoint the high priest.
Let’s take a closer look at Bernice.
- She was the sister of Agrippa II and was one year younger.
- She was known as a Jewish Cleopatra.
- At the age of thirteen, she married her uncle, Herod of Chalcis.
- When Herod of Chalcis died in a.d. 48 and her brother was granted rule over Chalcis, she moved in with him and remained his constant companion for many years.
- There were widespread rumors they were involved in an incestuous relationship.
- In a.d. 63, she married King Polemon of Cilicia, apparently in an attempt to turn aside those rumors. However, she didn’t remain with King Polemon very long.
- She then accompanied Agrippa to Rome in the early 70s and became the mistress of Titus, emperor Vespasian’s son.
- Their relationship created a major scandal in the Roman upper circles.
- Titus wanted to marry her, but marrying a Jewish woman was not acceptable for someone of his stature. When Titus became emperor in a.d. 79, he abandoned his relationship with her.
Since Agrippa was king, Festus felt he was in a position to assist in the situation involving Paul. Festus was required to have a written report describing why Paul was being sent to Rome for his appeal. Because the matter was initiated by the Jews and involved Jewish religious customs, Festus felt unqualified to communicate the matter accurately. Let’s take a closer look at the conversation between the two men.
- Festus doesn’t present any new information on the situation from the reader’s standpoint.
- However, Festus gives his version of the events covered in Acts 25:1-12.
- Festus tries to paint himself in a positive light while embellishing what occurred.
- He says the Jews wanted a judgment against Paul, while in the actual conversation, the Jews only relayed the charges and asked for Paul to be transferred to their jurisdiction.
- Festus was showing himself as Paul’s protector.
- Festus then implies the Jews wanted Paul handed over without a fair trial, and he informed them that it wasn’t permitted under Roman customs.
- The Jews would have to confront Paul face-to-face, and Paul would be given an opportunity to defend himself against the charges.
- There is no question that was standard Roman legal protocol.
- However, looking back at Acts 25:1-12, the main question was where the legal proceedings would occur and not the fairness of the trial.
- It was the question of fairness that prompted Paul to make his appeal to Caesar.
- Festus ensured a speedy trial occurred, which was true. The following day Paul had faced his accusers.
- Apparently, Festus was expecting the Jews to charge Paul with treason or some crime covered by Roman law.
- Instead, the Jews were arguing about religious matters. The main point is Jesus and the resurrection.
- It was this matter which convinced Festus he was in over his head. The pagan world couldn’t grasp the idea of resurrection.
- The entire argument was over Jewish religious matters and not Roman law.
- The question is, why would Festus want to continue the trial under Roman jurisdiction but in Jerusalem if Paul was innocent of breaking any Roman law?
- Festus desired to curry favor with the Jewish power brokers.
- When Paul made his appeal, the entire legal process in Judea came to a screeching halt.
- Festus then placed Paul into custody until the transfer to Rome could be started.
- Agrippa then asked to hear from Paul, and Festus granted that request on the following day.
- When we are in a position of leadership, we must make sure our conduct is above reproach. In this passage, Festus allowed the influence of the Jewish religious leaders to sway his judgment. As followers of Christ, our allegiance should be towards Jesus and the instructions contained within Scripture. When we let the world influence our decisions, we are no longer walking in the light.
- When we are in a situation where we are accused of wrongdoing, we must speak the truth. When we are threatened or intimidated, we must remain strong. Paul did both as he appeared before Festus and the Jewish accusers. He spoke the truth and was not intimidated by their physical proximity.
- If we don’t have the knowledge or background to make a critical decision, we need to consult experts who can assist us. If at all possible, those experts should be faithful Christians who can guide us in the decision process.
- We need to remember that each of us will need to make an account of our actions and words as we stand before the judgment seat of Christ. We may have been faithful Christians with our salvation assured, but our works and words may be burned in the fire, and we’ll lose our eternal rewards, crowns, because of our behavior.