Acts 25:1–22 . . .
“Paul’s Trial Before Governor Festus”
Looking back at last week's discussion of Acts 24:1–27, Paul easily could have become frustrated while he waited in prison in Caesarea. Felix knew that Paul was innocent, yet he kept him in prison, hoping for a bribe from Paul’s wealthy friends. When that didn’t come, and Felix was recalled to Rome because of complaints from the Jews to gain some political capital, he left Paul imprisoned.
Since Paul’s trial in Caesarea two years earlier, some of the faces have changed. Ananias, the high priest whom Paul had offended, has been replaced. Ironically, his replacement must have been appointed by Herod Agrippa II, whom we'll meet in today's text. Governor Felix has been replaced by Governor Festus, a Roman treasury officer. Tertullus, the silver-tongued lawyer hired by the leaders of the Sanhedrin to prosecute Paul before Felix, is nowhere to be seen.
Festus’ First Official Visit to Jerusalem (25:1–5)
Felix’s successor Festus was a more upright ruler than Felix (according to Josephus). He was a man of action who'd barely arrived in the capital of Caesarea before he went up to Jerusalem to familiarize himself with the situation there. Paul’s Jewish opponents there took advantage of the governor’s newness on the job to present their case against Paul and urge that he be brought to Jerusalem for trial (vv. 2–3). Their real intent was to resurrect their foiled plans from two years ago and murder him on the way. But Festus wasn’t going to let the Jews get the upper hand by telling him how to manage his affairs, so he told them that they could come to Caesarea and present their case against Paul.
When Paul found himself standing before the same angry accusers who'd tried to get him executed two years earlier, he easily could have become frustrated. It seemed like more of the “same old, same old.” These guys just wouldn’t quit! They didn’t have anything new to say. Their charges, which they couldn’t prove, were basically the same as before, i.e., that Paul was violating Jewish Law, that he'd desecrated the Temple, and that he was a threat to the Roman government (v. 8). Paul could have impatiently thought, When will this ever end, so that I can get on with the more important task of taking the gospel to the Gentiles who've never heard about Christ?
A New Trial Brings a Verdict (vv. 6–12)
But Paul didn’t grow frustrated or impatient. Instead, he calmly defended himself before this same angry group of Jews and the new governor. As the trial progressed, Festus saw a way that he could gain some political capital with the Jews, and so he reversed his earlier decision and offered to move the trial to Jerusalem (v. 9). Paul knew that he wouldn't get a fair trial there, if he even got there alive; so he was forced to appeal his case to Caesar. Through this, God was working sovereignly to get his apostle to Rome.
When Festus granted Paul’s appeal to go to Caesar (v. 12), he was probably relieved to get this sticky case out of his jurisdiction. But he also created a problem for himself; he had to give sufficient rationale to Caesar to trouble him with this case. About that time, King Agrippa and his sister (and lover) Bernice, arrived at the capital to pay their respects to Festus who was still puzzled over what to write to Caesar; so he ran the case by Agrippa who wanted to hear Paul. So God used these potentially frustrating circumstances to not only get Paul to Rome, but also for Paul to present the gospel to these influential leaders.
But two critical questions required head-to-head consultation for Judge Festus' team: Should they simply release Paul? Or should they deliver him a counterproposal to hold the trial in Caesarea? They must have quickly agreed that there was no legal room for either of these responses to Paul's appeal. It was considered an act of serious dishonor to Caesar to resolve a case that had formally been committed to his judgment. Reaching a just verdict had become the business of Caesar’s court, and Festus no longer retained a role as judge. The final verdict was this: If Paul wanted Caesar to judge him, then to Caesar he'd go (v. 12). Festus doubtlessly was relieved to resign further responsibility for the case. He'd already achieved his purpose, which was to make himself popular with the Jewish leaders.
Enter Regal, Pompous Visitors (13–22)
A decision by Festus to investigate Paul's case further is likely why the apostle was still being held in Caesarea when, "a few days later," a neighboring ruler, Herod Agrippa II, came to visit the governor. Perhaps he came by invitation to help Festus complete his review of Paul's case before sending it to a higher court. This Agrippa, who was king over territories to the north of Judea, belonged to the Herod family. Like Drusilla, wife of Felix, he was a child of Herod Agrippa I, the ruler who beheaded James and tried to kill Peter.
Verse 19 reveals two views of the resurrection, the world’s view and the Christian view. Apostle Paul was under house arrest in Caesarea, awaiting transfer to Rome. Governor Festus had heard Paul’s defense before his accusers, Jerusalem's Jewish leaders. He'd asked whether Paul would be willing to go to Jerusalem to stand trial for these charges. Paul knew that he'd either be murdered on the way or given a mock trial and condemned. So he exercised his right as a Roman citizen by appealing to Caesar. But that meant that Festus had to forward along the charges that warranted taking this case to Caesar.
As Festus pondered this, his friends, Agrippa and his sister, Bernice, arrived for a visit. Since Agrippa was an expert in Jewish matters, Festus told him about the case to get his opinion. We find Festus summarizing the case to Agrippa in vv. 18–19. While this is shop talk between two rulers, it reveals the world’s view of the resurrection. We'll soon look at the Christian view, as represented by the Apostle Paul. We see that, while the world views the resurrection as inconsequential, the Christian views it as the most important fact in history.
Catch the flavor of Festus’ words: “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.” To paraphrase: I thought they were going to accuse Paul of something serious, like murder or treason. But instead they just had some silly dispute about their religion. No big deal — just some dead man who Paul said was alive.
If the reporter from Caesarea Daily News had been there, he probably would have reported the “important” news: “Festus and Agrippa Meet. Historic high-level talks between leaders take place in Caesarea.” Somewhere down in the middle of the article it might have mentioned that, among other things, they discussed various judicial cases. But Paul’s assertion of the resurrection of Jesus would have been skipped altogether. It wouldn’t have been considered very important in light of the really “important” news that Festus and Agrippa had a meeting filled with pomp and splendor.
To Christians, the resurrection is the most important fact of life. While the world says, “The resurrection is no big deal,” the Christian says first that the resurrection is the biggest deal in history! Paul argued in 1 Corinthians 15:13–17 that Christian faith depends entirely on the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, if you want to discredit Christianity once and for all, disprove the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. It's the foundation on which all else rests; the domino that makes all the others fall when pushed.
In addition, the resurrection is based on factual, verifiable evidence. Festus points to this when he states that Paul “claimed" or "asserted” Jesus to be alive (v. 19). Paul didn’t say it might be true or that he hoped it was true or that he believed it was true regardless of the evidence. He asserted Jesus' resurrection to be true. He wasn’t presenting speculation or subjective religious ideas that warm the souls of all who simply believe; he was presenting his hearty testimony having become, with thousands, an eyewitness of the risen Christ.
Paul had met the risen Lord Jesus on Damascus Road where his life was turned around. He'd been a rising young Jewish leader, bent on persecuting Christians and stamping out their pernicious new teaching. He had a promising future, status in the community, and a good living ahead of him. But he gave it all up when the risen Lord Jesus confronted him that day.
But, you say, that could have been a hallucination. Many people have such mystical experiences. But what about the changed lives of all the other apostles? All became depressed, disappointed men who weren't expecting a resurrection. They easily could have returned to their former occupations and slipped quietly out of sight. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose by their testimonies of Jesus' resurrection. Yet they suffered beatings and were imprisoned; many were killed because of their testimony that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead. They were all men of honest character and integrity. They didn't profit financially; rather they gave up everything in their role as apostles. Why else would the Twelve, and Paul, and thousands of other early Christians live the lives they'd lived, unless they knew, based on abundant eyewitness testimony, that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead?
If they were all deluded, you still have to explain away that empty tomb. If Jesus’ body had been in that tomb as soon as the apostles began preaching the resurrection, Jewish leaders could have produced the body and ended the foolish myth then and there. But clearly, there was no body to be found — the tomb was empty. Over all, there's clear, compelling evidence that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is a true fact of history.
This is the real issue. Most people don't reject Christ because of a lack of evidence. The Jewish leaders in Jesus' day had plenty of evidence. People today reject Christ because they don’t want to turn from sinning habitually and acting selfishly. They want to cling to their pride that tells them, You're good enough to get into heaven. It's that pride that convinces them that their good works will merit eternal life. But the Bible declares that none of us by our good works can earn a place in heaven (Titus 3:4–7).
Our closing verse tells us that Festus replied that Agrippa would hear Paul the following day. Come back next week when there'll be yet another hearing at a large assembly of distinguished citizens. See how Agrippa comes to grips with the resurrection and the gospel.
- Q. 1 What's one circumstance that threatened to ambush you in your spiritual life? How well did you deal with it?
- Q. 2 If your defense attorney was to attempt to prove tomorrow that you're living a Christian life, what evidence from this past week could he or she use?
New International Version (NIV) [View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 25.]
† Watch this video clip of Acts 24:13–26:10, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.
Paul’s Trial Before Festus
25 Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, 2where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. 3They 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. 4Festus answered, “Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. 5Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there.”
6After 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. 7When 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.
8Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”
9Festus, 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?”
10Paul 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. 11If, 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!”
12After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”
Festus Consults King Agrippa
13A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. 14Since 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. 15When 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. 17When 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. 18When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 19Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. 20I 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. 21But 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.”
22Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear this man myself.”
He replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him.”