ACTS CHAPTER 25.
Paul Appeals to Caesar. Acts 25, 1-12.
The hearing before Festus arranged: V.1. Now when Festus was come into the province, after three days he ascended from Caesarea to Jerusalem. V.2. Then the high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul, and besought him, v.3. and desired favor against him, that he would send for him to Jerusalem, .laying wait in the way to kill him. V.4. But Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself would depart shortly thither. V.5. Let 'them therefore, said he, which among you are able go down with me and accuse this man, if there be any wickedness in him. Porcius Festus, the new procurator of Palestine, is spoken of in terms of praise by Josephus, because he succeeded in dispersing the bands of robbers and in putting to death many of the assassins that infested the country. He entered upon the province, upon his duties as governor, in the year 60 A.D., landing at Caesarea and taking possession of the administrative buildings. But very soon, after three days, he made the journey from Caesarea to Jerusalem, which was still the capital of the Jewish nation. Evidently the Jewish leaders had not forgotten their hatred of Paul during the latter's long imprisonment; if anything, they were more vindictive than ever, since their plans had failed of success. For they took this opportunity of informing Festus against Paul, of laying formal and legal information against him as a criminal. The high priest Ananias had been deposed, and Ishmael, the son of Phabi, was acting high priest; but on this occasion all the high priests, past and present, were united, together with the foremost men of the Jewish nation, determined at all costs to put Paul out of the way. They earnestly begged Festus, requesting it as a special favor, that he should send Paul up to Jerusalem, having made an ambush to kill him along the way. Here is a combination of hypocrisy and hatred seldom equaled, rarely even approached. With their murderous designs fully matured and the assassins engaged, they act as though their only concern was a new trial, with both Festus and the chief complainants present in Jerusalem. Now Festus, anxious to gain and keep the favor of the Jews, nevertheless thought it inexpedient to hare the prisoner brought to Jerusalem. Paul was then in custody at Caesarea, and his own stay at Jerusalem would be very short, since he intended to leave shortly. Thus, by the providence of God, Festus was obliged to return with speed to Caesarea that the life of Paul might be spared according to His plans. The governor added that those among the Jews that had authority to act, on account of their rank or office, those that were competent to represent the Jews in this matter, should make the journey down to Caesarea with him, and then they might lay their charges against Paul, whether there were really anything criminal in him, whether he were the malefactor which their accusations represented him to he. Note: Instead of speaking of chance and fortune, Christians should substitute the dispensation and government of God, for many matters which seem to us of very minor importance are of the greatest consequence, as the sequel proves.
The beginning of the trial: V.6. And when he had tarried among them more than ten days, he went down unto Caesarea; and the next day, sitting on the judgment-seat, commanded Paul to be brought. V.7. And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove. V.8. While he answered for himself, Neither against the Law of the Jews, neither against the Temple, nor yet against Caesar have I offended anything at all. After the interview with the Jews, Festus remained in Jerusalem not more than eight or ten days, busy all the while in trying to get acquainted with the church government and with the various customs and usages of the Jews as they were acknowledged by the Roman government. Having journeyed down to Caesarea after that, he kept his promise to the Jews by setting the trial for the very next day. The narrative implies that the Jews had come down with Festus, and also indicates his promptness. When he had taken the judgeís chair, when he had sat down on the tribunal in the judgment-hall, he commanded that Paul be brought before him. When the prisoner had entered and taken the place indicated to him, the Jews that had come down from Jerusalem crowded as near as they dared and stood round about him, their attitude being intended to intimidate him. Since any reference to their own Law and to disputes concerning their own customs would have been useless, they molded their charges to fit the occasion, bringing forth many and serious complaints. From the answer of Paul it seems that they tried to make his being a Christian a sin against their own Law, his supposed profanation of the Temple a sin against the Holy Place, and the alleged incitement of seditions a sin against Caesar. But all their assertions, with all their show of certainty, did not go for proof before the Roman tribunal, and proof the accusers were unable to bring. As for Paul, the threatening aspect, the dark scowls of the Jews, had no effect on him whatever, for with reference to every charge he was able to defend himself without the slightest difficulty. He maintained that he had committed a crime neither against the Law of the Jews, nor against the Holy Place, nor against the emperor. Thus was truth and right vindicated against falsehood and evil; thus was the truss of Paul in his Lord rewarded with the Lordís protection.
Paulís appeal: V.9. But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul and said, Wilt Thou Go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me? V.10. Then said Paul, I stand at Caesarís judgment-seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest. V.11. For if I be an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die; but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar. V.12. Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? Unto Caesar shalt thou go. Evidently the Jews, with the persistence that characterizes them, had not quite given up their project of having Paul brought to Jerusalem. at any rate, the idea that he might gain popularity by the suggestion caused Festus to ask Paul whether he wanted to go up to Jerusalem, there to be tried before him concerning these things. The real favor which Festus intended to show the Jews seems to have consisted in this, that the members of the Sanhedrin would conduct the trial in his presence. It was a most unusual suggestion, altogether at variance with Roman proceedings at law, and seems to have come as a surprise to Paul. But his answer came without hesitation. He wanted to be tried by no Jewish court; standing before the tribunal of Caesar, he was where right and justice demanded that he be tried. The court of the Roman procurator was a lower court, removed but one step from the imperial court, and the governor held court as a representative of Caesar. Paul adds that he had not harmed the Jews, that he had done them no wrong, ďas thou also understandest very well,Ē he boldly says. Festus was finding out for himself better with each minute that the charges of the Jews were mere pretense and had no basis of fact. So far as he himself was concerned, Paul was ready to face any just trial. If he was a wrong-doer, guilty of some crime, if he had done anything that merited death according to Roman law, he would not refuse, literally, he would not beg off from, death. But if there were no matters concerning which the Jews accused him, if they were unable to substantiate their charges against him, no man had the right to deliver him up to them, to make them a present of the prisoner, to do with as they chose. And Paul closed his ringing defense of his innocence with the words: I appeal to Caesar. A Roman citizen, tried for a crime and sentenced, had the right to appeal to the emperor if he believed the ruling of the court to be unjust; but in criminal cases he might resort to this appeal at any time, if he thought that the judge was exceeding his authority and acting at variance with the laws. Such an appeal instantly suspended proceedings in the case, its effect being to condemn all magistrates and persons in authority as violators of the public peace who had put to death, tortured, scourged, imprisoned, or condemned any Roman citizen who had appealed to Caesar in Paulís case, therefore, the trial stopped at once. Festus merely had a short consultation with the assessors of the court, counselors or officials that were consulted in the administration of the law, the question in this instance probably being whether the appeal should be accepted, since Paul had not yet been formally tried. But the outcome of the discussion was stated by Festus: To Caesar hast thou appealed; to Caesar shalt thou go! There seems to be something of a sneer in the words, occasioned, no doubt, by the fact that the appeal at this time indicated the prisonerís mistrust of the judgeís impartiality But this expedient may, incidentally, have proved a relief to Festus; for now the Jews would not be able to say that he had not been willing to grant them their boon, and he was rid of the whole disagreeable matter. Thus the unbelief, the hatred of Christ on the part of the Jews and the injustice on the part of the Roman governor combined in enabling Paul to preach the Gospel also in Rome, the capital of the world. Even to-day the wickedness and enmity of the world often serve to spread the kingdom of Christ on earth.
Agrippa and Bernice in Caesarea. Acts 25, 13-27.
Festus lays the matter before Agrippa: V.13. and after certain days King Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea to salute Festus. V.14. And when they had been there many days, Festus declared Paulís cause unto the king, saying, There is a certain man left in bonds by Felix, v.15. about whom, when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, desiring to have judgment against him. V.16. To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have license to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him. V.17. Therefore, when they were come hither, without any delay on the morrow I sat on the judgement-seat and commanded the man to be brought forth. V.18. Against whom, when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed, v.19. but had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. V.20. And because I doubted of such manner of questions, I asked him whether he would go to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these matters. V.21. But when Paul had appealed to be reserved unto the hearing of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I might send him to Caesar. After a few days had passed, some time after the trial or preliminary hearing which was destined to have such far-reaching consequences, King Agrippa and his sister Bernice came to Caesarea to offer congratulations to Festus upon his entry on his office. Agrippa II was the son of Herod Agrippa I, chap. 12. Since he was only seventeen years old at the time of his father's death, he was not given the kingdom, but was made ruler of Chalcis, a small city and district near the Antilebanon, after the death of his uncle, and also the government of the Temple was given him, with the right of appointing the high priest. Later the tetrarchies of Philip and Lysanias were added to his dominions, and he bore the title of king, though not king of Judea. Bernice, his oldest sister, had been betrothed to Marcus of Alexandria, had then married her uncle, Herod of Chalcis, a few years later, was left a widow, lived with her brother, was again married, to Polemon, king of Cilicia, whom: however, she soon left. The history of her life is that of a wanton woman with only one redeeming feature, when she tried to dissuade the procurator Florus from cutting down the Jews. The two royal visitors had been in the city for some time when Festus laid the case of Paul before the king, feeling sure that the latter's more intimate knowledge of Jewish affairs would enable him to form a correct idea of the situation. So he explained matters as he understood them. A certain man had been left in custody by Felix, concerning whom the Jews had laid information before him when he was in Jerusalem, earnestly requesting a sentence of condemnation against him. The Jews thus appear to have tried other schemes as well as that of haying the hearing transferred to Jerusalem. Festus had told the Jews that it was not the custom of the Romans to condemn one man to oblige another, before the accused have his accusers face to face and hare a chance to defend himself concerning the accusation which was made against him. And when they had then come together at Caesarea, he had made no delay, he had not put off the matter another day, but on the very next day had taken his seat on the tribunal and commanded the man to be arraigned. But when the accusers stood up in court, they brought no accusation of evil concerning him as Festus had suspected. The bitterness of feeling which the chief priests and members of the Sanhedrin had exhibited in Jerusalem had led the governor to expect the charge of a very serious crime. Instead of that, as the speaker contemptuously remarks, they had certain questions about their own religion against him and concerning a certain Jesus who had died, of whom Paul insisted that he was living. During the court proceedings much must have been said on both sides which Luke did not record, since he was interested only in offering a summary of the history. in several sentences the Roman's skepticism is revealed, as when he refers to the Jewish belief as literally demon-worship, a foolish religion, cp. chap. 17, 22, and when he refers to Paul's earnest statement as a mere assertion. The upshot of the matter had been that Festus had been in doubt, had been at a loss as to the manner of proceeding, of making his inquiry regarding these questions and had therefore asked whether Paul desired to go to Jerusalem and there be tried concerning them. But since Paul had made an appeal that his case be reserved for the decision of Augustus, the Roman emperor, the governor had given command to keep him in custody until he could send him to Caesar, to the highest court in the Roman empire. The report of Festus is fairly correct, though colored by his understanding of the case. But he was evidently still perplexed and counted upon Agrippa, his acquaintance with whom had reached that stage, to help him out with good advice.
Paul presented before Agrippa: V.22, Then Agrippa said unto Festus, I would also hear the man myself. To-morrow, said he, thou shalt hear him. V.23. And on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and was entered into the place of hearing, with the chief captains and principal men of the city, at Festus' commandment Paul was brought forth. V.24. And Festus said, King Agrippa, and all men which are here present with us, ye see this man about whom all them multitude of the Jews have dealt with me, both at Jerusalem, and also here, crying that he ought not to live any longer. V.25. But when I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and that he himself hath appealed to Augustus, I have determined to send him. V.26. Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my lord. Wherefore I have brought him forth before you, and specially before thee, O King Agrippa, that, after examination had, I might have somewhat to write. V.27. For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him. Agrippa was naturally interested in Paul, the great teacher of Christianity, just as his relative, some thirty years before, had been desirous of seeing Jesus, Luke 23, 8. His family had always held the same relation to Christ and the Gospel. His grandfather had attempted to kill Jesus at Bethlehem in the slaughter of the innocents, his uncle had murdered John the Baptist and mocked Jesus, his father had slain James the apostle and oppressed the Church. Agrippa would probably not have gone one step out of his way to see or hear Paul, but at this unexpected opportunity to, become acquainted with the doctrine of the Nazarenes he was truly pleased. So he expressed his wish that he might hear the man himself, with the understanding that he would then be enabled to render a proper opinion; and he received the promise of Festus that this opportunity would be given him the next day. At the appointed time, therefore, Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, with an extraordinary, Oriental show of splendor, very likely attired in all their regal finery and attended by a full retinue of servants, all this in the same city in which their father, upon a similar occasion, had been stricken by God and had been eaten by worms. The distinguished visitors were received and conducted, and thus entered into the hall appointed for this informal hearing, hardly the judgment-hall, since a formal trial was out of the question. The brilliancy of the occasion, which was in the nature of a reception, was enhanced by the presence of chiliarchs and of the most distinguished men of the city, surely the most brilliant audience which Paul, whom Festus now ordered to be brought in, had ever faced. Although Agrippa knew the purpose of the assembly, the governor now made a formal speech, addressed to him and to all men that were present, presenting to them the man who was causing all this excitement among the Jews. They saw before them this man, concerning whom the entire multitude of the Jews had had a conference with him, had made complaint to him, both in Jerusalem and in Caesarea. They had loudly voiced their opinion that he should no longer live. But Festus had come to the conclusion that Paul had done nothing worthy of death, and now the prisoner himself had appealed to Caesar, the Roman emperor, to the name that was given divine honor by the Romans. And so Festus had judged that he would send him. It was a solemn, impressive occasion, and the governor made the most of it by stressing its importance and exaggerating his part in the drama. But the difficulty confronting him, as he further explained, one that placed him in a bad predicament, was this, that he had nothing definite to write to his lord, the emperor, concerning Paul. For this reason he had brought him forth before this illustrious assembly and especially before King Agrippa, in order that he might, after some sort of an examination had been held, have something precise to write. For since the charge of treason had been contradicted by Paul with great emphasis, the question still remaining seemed partly obscure and partly absurd. And all this was done since it seemed unreasonable, senseless, to the governor that any one sending a man bound as a prisoner should not indicate, in the accompanying letter, what reasons he had for this step. The situation surely was awkward. He was about to send Paul to Rome, to appear in the emperorís court, though he had not one charge against him; and at the same time he must be sent, since he had appealed to Caesar. Agrippa would therefore probably be able to help him, that he might draw up such letters in the case as not to appear a fool in Neroís eyes. Thus Paul obtained the chance to testify of Christ before this great and magnificent assembly. And thus in many other cases sinners of all classes have the opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which alone will save their souls. O that every one of them would but hear!
Summary. Paul, arraigned before Festus, finds it necessary to appeal to Caesar, after which his case is laid before the visiting Agrippa.