In our study of Acts chapter twenty five, we continue to follow Paul on his way to testify about Jesus in Rome. In this chapter, we see his third trial and the fulfillment of the prophecy concerning him. He had been told that he would carry the gospel to kings and rulers and this chapter finds him in front of a king.
Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where the chief priests and Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul.
In chapter 24, we watched as the old governor (Felix) left Paul in prison for two years and he was then replaced by Festus as governor. Festus then went up to Jerusalem where the Jewish leaders presented the charges against Paul. The governors were politicians and so they wanted to keep the people happy but he could not legally have a trial there without Paul being present to defend himself. Once again, we are reminded that throughout the Bible the number three is associated with the display of God's will and God is using even this to fulfill His purpose for Paul.
They urgently requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way.
The leaders had not given up on their plot to ambush and kill Paul so they tried to get the new governor to bring him to Jerusalem. They didn't expect that he would know about the plot as Felix had before him. Just as the religious authorities were "urgently" trying to do away with Paul, we can expect that in the future, for all Christians. In Revelation 13, we see that there is coming a time when there will be a worldwide religious system that will not tolerate those who follow Jesus Christ. Just as they were trying to use the political system (Festus) against Paul, they will also do the same thing to us.
Festus answered, 'Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me and press charges against the man there, if he has done anything wrong.'
Once again, their plot has been derailed as Festus tells them to come and press charges in Caesarea. This is not what they wanted but they still held out hope that they could convince this new governor that Paul deserved to die.
After spending eight or ten days with them, he went down to Caesarea, and the next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him.
In chapter 9, we saw God tell Ananias that Saul (Paul) would "carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings". This is coming to pass as Festus opens the trial in Caesarea. God has also decreed things about each and every one of us (see Ephesians 2:10) and, just as God called Paul to appear before kings, He has things for you and I to do as well.
When Paul appeared, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many serious charges against him, which they could not prove.
For the third time, the Jews made charges against Paul without any proof that he did anything wrong. It seems that some people do not let the facts get in the way of their opinion. Jesus and Paul were both persecuted and we can look forward to that as we serve the Lord. In order to face these struggles, we should prepare as Paul taught in Ephesians 6.
Then Paul made his defense: 'I have done nothing wrong against the law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.'
Paul's answer to the charges was a simple statement of the fact that he had done nothing wrong. He did not argue with them as most of us would probably do. If your heart is clean, then you do not have to argue with those that oppose you.
Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, 'Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?'
Festus was a politician and so wanted to make the Jews happy by giving them what they wanted which was a chance to ambush and kill Paul. We do not know if Festus knew about their plan but he probably did not care. He had all of the interested people assembled and could have simply had the trial then and there.
Paul answered, 'I am now standing before Caesar's court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well.'
Paul knew that God had told him he would be going to Rome and he also realized that Festus was just another politician. He expected Festus to do what was best for Festus and not always what was in the interest of justice. Therefore, he refuses to go to Jerusalem for trial by reminding them that it was not necessary.
If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!
Some have used this verse to describe Paul as being afraid but we can clearly see that fear was not his motivation. He was not afraid to die as he knew that he would then be with Jesus forever. We must remember that Paul had known for quite some time that he was going to have the opportunity to tell rulers about Jesus Christ. He knew that God wanted him to go to Rome and he was willing to obey. As a Roman citizen, he had the right to appeal to Caesar and in so doing he was in the center of God's will for his life.
After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: 'You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!'
After consideration, Festus realized that he could get rid of the problem of Paul and not have any blame with the Jews. Therefore, he agreed to send Paul to Rome for trial.
A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul's case with the king. He said, 'There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.
In this passage, we see that Festus was just another politician. His boss (King Agrippa) showed up and he explained that it was Felix's fault for the situation with Paul. It did not matter how Paul had been delivered to him for justice in that he could have still done the right thing. Instead, he shifts the blame to the governor before him. He also blames the Jews because they had brought the charges even though he could have simply dismissed them. As Christians, this is the opposite of what we are told to do in preparation for the attacks of the enemy (see Ephesians 6).
'I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over any man before he has faced his accusers and has had an opportunity to defend himself against their charges. When they came here with me, I did not delay the case, but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in.'
Festus continues to justify his actions by saying that he had given Paul a speedy trial. Most of the legal systems of the world are based on these Roman principles and it is a good fair system. The system was not the problem, it was the lack of courage of the politicians to do the right thing. As we see in our training as a soldier of God (see Ephesians 6), we are called to do the right thing all the time.
'When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges.'
The politician continues to give excuses for not doing the right thing. He admitted that Paul had not broken any laws but, instead of releasing him, he had asked him to go to Jerusalem for trial. It is much the same way today in that many people want to disguise the truth with a bunch of words.
'When Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor's decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.'
Now, Festus even blames Paul for his being imprisoned. In effect, he is saying that Paul had to be held because he had appealed his case to Caesar. The politician has pointed the finger at everyone but himself and that is the popular thing to do among most people today. Many will blame their parents, government, etc for the situation that they are in instead of accepting the fact that, many times, the problem is with ourselves and is rooted in our sin. The only answer to these problems is to turn to Jesus Christ and, through Him, we have the power to overcome the world. That is what John was talking about when he told us that faith is the victory that overcomes the world (see 1 John 5:4).
Then Agrippa said to Festus, 'I would like to hear this man myself.' He replied, 'Tomorrow you will hear him.'
And so, Paul is set to testify before a king just as He had been told. It may seem like a long winding process but, even so, we see that God has been in control. The same is true for our lives as well in that God has a plan and a purpose for each of us and He is able to carry it out.
The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.
Festus put on a big show for the king and Paul appeared before him fulfilling the prophesy about him. This can strengthen us in our faith if we remember that we, like Paul, have things that God has prepared for us to do and He will protect us as we go about His work. (see Ephesians 2:10)
Festus said: 'King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome.'
Festus repeats his blame game as he blames everyone except himself. He is ever the politician and, although he did not have to worry about votes, he wanted to keep the majority happy so that he could keep his job.
'But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. For I think it is unreasonable to send on a prisoner without specifying the charges against him.'
A politician often uses many words to confuse the issue and that is what Festus is doing here. By the time he is done, you would think that it was his idea for Paul to be sent to the emperor. The man was obviously not a follower of Jesus Christ and so he cannot understand that it was God working to fulfill His plan for Paul.