Paul ended his third missionary journey by going to Jerusalem to bring an offering to the church there from the churches he’d founded on his missionary journeys. Some Jews from Asia, thinking he’d taken a Gentile into the temple, stirred up a crowd against him. He was rescued by Roman soldiers stationed near the temple and taken to their barracks. The next day the tribune commanding the soldiers had them take Paul before the Jewish Sanhedrin so that he could find out why the Jews were angry with him and decide what to do with him. However a dispute arose there that threatened Paul’s safety and he was returned to the barracks. Then, hearing of a plot by some fanatical Jews to assassinate Paul, the tribune sent Paul under military escort to Caesarea, where the governor (Felix) had his headquarters.
In my last post in this series of articles on the life of Paul I described Paul’s appearance before Felix, which resulted in his being kept in prison but allowed some liberty. Two years later Felix was replaced by Festus. In this post I’ll describe Paul’s appearance before Festus as it is narrated in Acts 25. I’ll divide my account into three parts: the Jews’ request to Festus, Paul’s appearance before Festus, and Paul’s appearance before King Agrippa.
The Jews’ Request to Festus
Only three days after arriving in Caesarea, Festus went up to Jerusalem to meet with the leaders of the Jews. They laid out before him their case against Paul and requested him to transfer Paul to Jerusalem, their planning an ambush to kill Paul on the way, perhaps by the forty men who had planned an ambush against Paul in Acts 23:12-15. Richard N. Longenecker suggests that they may also have hoped that if the ambush failed they could arrange to have Paul tried before the Sanhedrin on the charge of profaning the temple, for which they could impose the death penalty (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing Company, “Acts,” page 545).
Festus turned down their request, explaining that Paul was being held in Caesarea and that he intended to return there shortly. He invited them to send “the men of authority among [them]” along with him and “if there is anything wrong about the man, let them bring charges against him” (Acts 25:5, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).
Paul’s Appearance Before Festus
The day after Festus arrived back in Caesarea, he convened court and had Paul brought before him. The Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around Paul, making against him serious charges which they couldn’t prove. Luke doesn’t specify what the charges were, but Paul’s arguing in his defence, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense” (25:8), indicates that they were similar to those which their spokesman had accused him of in his initial appearance before Felix (24:5-8): being leader of a new religious sect, profaning the temple, and stirring up riots among the Jews.
Festus didn’t know what to make of the Jews’ charges and Paul’s denials and, wanting to do the Jews a favour, asked Paul if he’d be willing to go up to Jerusalem to be tried on the charges. Although Festus specified that the trial would be before him, Paul was naturally afraid that once in Jerusalem Festus would give in to Jewish pressure to turn him over to the Sanhedrin to be tried on the charge of profaning the temple. Thus to remove the case from Festus’s hands, he exercised his right as a Roman citizen to have his case heard by the emperor by proclaiming, “I appeal to Caesar” (25:12).
Probably relieved at being provided a way to be freed of responsibility for a case which he didn’t know what to make of, Festus consulted his advisors and told Paul, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go” (25:12).
Paul’s Appearance Before King Agrippa
Some days later Agrippa II, ruler of an adjoining kingdom to the north, came to pay his respects to the new governor of Judea. With him was his sister, Bernice, who lived with him. Although Agrippa didn’t rule over Judea, the emperor had appointed him curator over the temple and Rome looked on him as an authority on the Jewish religion. Thus during his visit Festus laid Paul’s case before him. It was a straightforward explanation (25:14-21). After hearing it, Agrippa told Festus that he would like to hear Paul himself, to which Festus replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him” (25:22).
The next day Paul appeared before appeared before Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice (and the military tribunes and the important men of the city) in “the audience hall” in the palace built by Herod the Great. Festus introduced Paul to Agrippa and the others present thus:
King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him. (25:24-27)
Agrippa then told Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself” (26:1). In response Paul delivered the last and longest of his defence speeches. Recorded in Acts 26, it contains not only Paul’s defence but also a positive presentation of the Gospel. I’ll consider it in my next post in this series of articles on the life of Paul.