Paul’s Trial Before Festus
25 Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, 2 where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul.3 They 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. 4 Festus answered, “Paul is being held at Caesarea,and I myself am going there soon. 5 Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there.”
6 After spending eight or ten days with them, Festus went down to Caesarea. The next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him. 7 When Paul came in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him. They brought many serious charges against him,but they could not prove them.
8 Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”
9 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?”
10 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. 11 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!”
12 After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”
Festus Consults King Agrippa
13 A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus.14 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. 15 When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.
16 “I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges. 17 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. 18 When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 19 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. 20 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. 21 But 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.”
22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear this man myself.”
He replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him.”
Paul Before Agrippa
23 The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 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. 25 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. 26 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. 27 For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him.”
New governor in Jerusalem to take the place of Felix. “Hey, hey, here’s a new guy – let’s try to get Paul in trouble again.” So, they asked him to bring Paul to Caesarea to try him again. They wanted this to happen as a favor. The favor was probably loaded.
Festus knew Felix had been recalled for doing a bad job. Festus thought, hmmm, if I DON’T do this, maybe they’ll “report” me to Rome. The Jews pretty much pressured him to do so.
Later, James the half brother of Jesus would be killed by the then present high priest, it would be when Festus had released his office and there was a gap between governmental leaders. That would be when Jesus’ brother James was killed – between leaders.
Now, the Jews’ plot was to ambush and kill Paul. Now, they’re trying again. This is probably why Paul appeals to Caesar – he knew he would never survive a trip to Jerusalem.
The Jews now had given up on getting the Romans to convict him. They were trying to murder him – but wanted to get Festus to allow them to charge him for profaining the temple.
It would be in Festus’s best interests to get the trust of the Jews – but he foiled their attempt to ambush Paul by inviting the leaders to come to Caesarea with him to charge Paul there. That’s where he was going and where Paul already was – so he figured, “hey guys, just come with me.”
Paul was brought in, and the Jewish leaders ganged up around him – but couldn’t prove their false charges. Luke, the author of Acts summarizes Paul’s defense in one sentence: “I’ve done nothing wrong against the Jews, against the temple, nor against Caesar.” Festus was probably confused by the charges, just as Felix had been. There were no criminal charges here at all. But he wanted to please the people (crowd pleaser).
Now, he thought that he had a way out by asking him to come back to Jerusalem to be charged. But Paul knew he’d pretty much been cleared of any political charges – he knew he wouldn’t get justice in Jerusalem and probably suspected there was a plot to kill him. Festus couldn’t turn him over to the Jews because he was a Roman citizen. So, Paul decided to appeal to Caesar.
So the right of a Roman citizen was an old, ancient right “provocati ….” (an appeal to the Emperor). It was granted to him. The ironic thing was that the Emperor at that time was the infamous Nero (until AD 68). Why would he put his life in Nero’s hands? He needed to stay away from the Jews. And he likely remembered his vision in Acts 23 that he would testify in Rome. Maybe this way his idea to get to Rome.
Another thing, at this time, Nero had not yet become the evil ruler we know. He was under the influence of a Stoic philosopher in his early reign – so these years were considered almost a Golden Age. It was only later (AD 62) that the Imperial policy toward the Christians became malicious. (At that time, his mentors from earlier were dead or retired). “There was little evidence to say in AD 60 why he would change so drastically against the Christians.” He blamed the fire of Rome (AD 65?) on the Christians.
Now, Paul is appealing to Caesar, and Festus breathes a sigh of relief to release him to Caesar and say “It’s out of my hands.”
But, the charade wasn’t yet over. A few days later, King Herod Agrippa and Bernice arrived to see the new governor – Festus and Agrippa (the great grandson of Herod the Great) had been brought up in the court of the Emperor Claudius. Both Claudius and Nero had appointed him the ruler of a number of places in the Holy Land. At this time, he was King over some areas in the northeast. He was the custodian of the Treasury – he was from a Jewish-kind of family and knew about Jewish affairs. He was seen as a balance between the Jews and the Romans. He was an authority on the Jews – an expert.
So, Festus, talks with the expert about this case and wanted to get a letter written about this. Bernice was a Jewish Cleopatra – Agrippa’s sister – but she was probably living incest with her brother.
Because of Agrippa’s role in Judaism, he’s been described as the secular “head” of the Jewish faith. So, Festus was eager to get his insights on Paul’s case.
Now, they are working on Paul’s case – one an expert on Judaism, one an expert on Rome. Festus admitted, “They didn’t charge him on anything normal – just some MINOR differences in their religion and a dead dude named Jesus. What should I do?” He hoped Agrippa would help. So, Agrippa wanted to talk to Paul himself.
Now, Paul could witness to both a governor and king at once (as Jesus had said in Matt 10:18). This meeting with Herod had parallels with the life of Jesus and his meeting before another Herod (Luke 23:6-12). Both Jesus and Paul were tried before a Roman governor and witnessed before a king.
Luke begins to narrate Paul’s longest and final major speech. But, first he explains how Agrippa and Bernice came with a parade, basically. So, now Paul’s testimony of the gospel would be heard before the VIPs of the land. This wasn’t a trial, not an inquiry – he would go before Caesar anyway – this was like a “drama” and Paul as the star performer.
“One can hardly avoid the impression that Paul should provide entertainment to this crowd.”
Festus made a general declaration of Paul’s innocence before the crowd, saying, “The Jews’ petitioned me and shouted, ‘Kill him! Kill him!’ But I found him innocent.” (Hmm, sounds JUST like the crowd before Jesus and Pilate). There will even be one more declaration of his innocence in Acts 26 – cleared of blame THREE times. Wow – that shows that the Jews really mean business when they try to get someone killed – persistent.
Festus wants something to write to Rome “specifying the charges against him.” So…….. why not set Paul free. There was no crime – but he’d been in prison for two years…
He was a prisoner only because the Jews (the crowd) had been able to intimidate the governors. They weren’t courageous enough to do the right thing.
Even if Festus couldn’t figure this all out, at least he could write on the note, “Well, Agrippa, the Jewish-expert, helped me out with this and…”
In the next chapter, we’ll see the continuation of Paul’s “trial.”
Paul has maintained his innocence MANY times and wouldn’t allow unjust condemnation to affect him (this is the point).
Sometimes we also feel unjustly condemned by the Enemy. Satan tries to condemn us. Paul wrote against this: Romans 8:1 “There is now no longer any condemnation for those in Christ…” We should learn like Paul not to accept false condemnation from the Enemy or others.
Have you accepted Christ into your life? To experience the freedom from false condemnation?
Jesus is the way to God (the one way) – he restores relationship with Man and God.
When I was lost in sin (personally), someone told me about Jesus and I was able to be freed from sin and shame and false condemnation.
Let’s pray together.