Paul Before Festus – Acts 25:1-27

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

November 5, 2006

Faithfulness in the Midst of Injustice, Part 2

Paul Before Festus- Acts 25:1-27


Last week we left the story of Paul at Acts 24:27 when the Roman governor Felix was replaced by Porcius Festus. Paul had been faithful to proclaim Jesus Christ even to those who treated him unjustly including Felix, the governor. Paul should have been released from his imprisonment upon his arrival in Caesarea since the letter from the Roman commander, Lysias, was clear that Paul had not broken any Roman laws, and though there were accusations against him pertaining to Jewish law, there was nothing worthy of death or even imprisonment (Acts 23:27-30).Felix did promptly hold a hearing a few days later when the chief priest, elders from the Sanhedrin and Tertullus the lawyer arrived to falsely accuse Paul of treason, religious heresy and temple desecration. Felix did let Paul defend himself and Paul refuted every single charge.

Paul was not guilty of treason because he only been in Jerusalem for 12 days, at least 5 of which he was in custody. He had come to Jerusalem to worship. There were no witnesses of him causing a riot or of even having a seditious conversation. He was not guilty of religious heresy because “the Way” which his accusers claimed was an illegal sect was just as rooted in Judaism and held to the same hope in the resurrection of the dead as did the rest of Judaism, so it was protected under Roman law. And finally, Paul was not guilty of Temple desecration for he had been in the temple to bring alms, present his offerings and go through a purification rite. He was not the cause of any crowd or uproar. He was in no way involved in any sort of temple desecration but was doing quite the opposite in showing the utmost respect toward it by performing the practices which were to take place within it. The problems were caused by certain Jews from Asia who had not come to the trial.

This was plenty of evidence for Felix to have released Paul right then, but instead he decided to keep Paul in custody until Lysias the commander could come down. Yet, two years later when Felix is removed from office he still had not carried that out because he was looking to get a bribe from Paul (Acts 24:26) and he wanted to gain the favor of the Jews by doing them the favor of keeping Paul imprisoned (24:27).

In the midst of this injustice, Paul took every opportunity to explain to Felix and his wife Drusilla faith in Jesus Christ and proclaim to them righteousness, self-control and the judgement to come (24:24-26). Even more tragic than Paul being kept imprisoned was the fact that Felix never responded in faith to the truths of God that Paul proclaimed to him. Felix was like so many today who are curious, but not serious enough to believe.

As we begin our examination of Acts 25 Paul is now under the custody of the new Roman governor, Porcius Festus and he will again demonstrate that same commitment to live a life with a conscience clean before God and man as well as taking advantage of every opportunity to proclaim the gospel of God even when he receives injustice at the hands of new governor, Festus.

The Second Conspiracy to Murder Paul (1-5)

Festus Arrives in Jerusalem (1)

Acts 25:1 (NASB) Festus therefore, having arrived in the province, three days later went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea.

We quickly find out that Festus is of very different in character and knowledge than that of Felix. This is will be both a positive and a negative. Felix had climbed the political ladder to become governor starting out as a freed slave. He learned in that process how to manipulate things to his advantage even if it meant evil actions. He was also greedy.He continually delayed his decision concerning Paul because if fit his political manipulations while wishing for a bribe from Paul.

Festus was from a Roman noble family and was known to be wise and honorable. He would not procrastinate but would investigate and make decisions. Though he had been in Judea for only three days he knew that if he was going to be a successful ruler in putting to rest the political and civil turmoil that marked the end of Felix’ rule, he would have to have the cooperation of the Jewish civic and religious leaders, so he set out for Jerusalem to meet with them. These are all good character traits,but one very important thing he did lack was knowledge and experience with Judaism and its leaders. If he was not careful he could easily be manipulated by them as they had done to many previous Roman rulers.

The Accusations and the Plot of the Jews (2-3)

2 And the chief priests and the leading men of the Jews brought charges against Paul; and they were urging him, 3 requesting a concession against Paul, that he might have him brought to Jerusalem ([at the same time,] setting an ambush to kill him on the way).

Though this is a new governor and there would be many things to address concerning his rule of Judea, one of the first things the Jewish leaders do upon Festus’ arrival is to make accusations concerning Paul. Paul has been in prison for two years, but putting him to death is still at the forefront of their minds.Luke tells us that the particular reason they requested the change in location to Jerusalem for a trial was because they wanted to carry out the plans they had formulated two years before in killing Paul in an ambush. The request had a certain logic to it. Since Festus was already in Jerusalem, it would be for his convenience as well. Though Festus was unaware of it, the change in venue for the trial would have put Festus at a disadvantage since Jerusalem was a center of Jewish power and not Roman. If the ambush to kill Paul while traveling failed and Paul did make it to Jerusalem, he would never leave it alive.However, in God’s providence, Festus already had other plans and it would not be convenient for him to have Paul come to Jerusalem. [“chief priests” in verse 2 refers to the high priest Ishmael, son of Phabi, who was appointed to office by Agrippa II in A.D. 59 along with other members of the high-priestly family and Ananias who though deposed still had great influence].

Festus’ Invitation (4-5)

4 Festus then answered that Paul was being kept in custody at Caesarea and that he himself was about to leave shortly. 5 “Therefore,” he ^said, “let the influential men among you go there with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them prosecute him.”

Festus was already planning to return shortly to Caesarea where Paul was already under guard, and it would have been a disadvantage to him to send for Paul and then have to wait for his arrival. Instead, he invites Paul’s accusers to go with him back to Caesarea and there to make their charges. If they wanted a quick judgement on the matter of Paul, they would have to fit within the governor’s schedule.

Paul’s Defense to Festus (6-12)

The Accusers (6-7)

6 And after he had spent not more than eight or ten days among them, he went down to Caesarea; and on the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. 7 And after he had arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him which they could not prove;

Festus does not let grass grow under his feet. He completes his initial business in Jerusalem and returns to Caesarea in only about a week and a half. He has not even been in the country two weeks and has already aggressively pushed forward to fulfill his responsibilities as governor. The Jews accepted his invitation and return with him and Festus sets the trial for the very next day.

Festus takes his place in the seat of the judge [bhma / b ma] with Paul once again as the accused and the Jews who had come down as the prosecutors. As soon as Paul came in they began to accuse him before the governor with many serious charges. The setting here did not help because they were able to physically surround him while making their accusations which would have greatly increased their aggressiveness and the tension.

Luke does not go into detail this time, but we assume the charges were the same as those presented two years earlier that Paul was the source of civil unrest throughout the empire, that he was a leader of an illegal religious sect and that he had desecrated the temple. But even though they had two years to prepare, they still did not have any witnesses to prove any of the charges. Luke summarized Paul’s defense in verse 8.


Paul’s Denial (8)

8 while Paul said in his own defense, “I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.”

As the accusations were being made Paul was responding that he was not guilty of any crime. [verb tense of apologeomai/ apologeomai is a present, middle participle. He was actively defending himself]. Paul had done nothing against the Law of the Jews, the temple or Caesar. Last week we went through the detail of Paul’s defense in how he refuted the charges and then laid the responsibility for the riot on them.

This put Festus in a predicament. Paul had not violated any Roman laws and since he was a Roman citizen Festus was responsible to protect him. At the same time, something had happened to cause these Jewish leaders to hate Paul so strongly. All Festus knew was that it had something to do with the Jewish religion which he did not understand. Properly, Festus should have freed Paul since it was a Roman court and Paul had not violated any Roman law. However, Festus is still trying to figure out the issues and dynamics of the province, so he chose a different course of action.

Festus’ Question (9)

9 But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me on these [charges]?”

Festus had come into a country to govern a people he did not understand that had a religion that he did not understand. He knew that if he was going to be able to bring peace and order to the province he would have to acquire some understanding of the people and their religion as well as gain the favor of the civic and religious leaders. It would have seemed reasonable to him to go to Jerusalem, the center of Jewish influence, to gain an understanding of what was behind these charges and driving these men to such hatred of Paul. That would have been a favorable concession to men from the Sanhedrin who asked for the trial to be in Jerusalem, but since he would be the judge it would still be a Roman court, and he might also gain the insight he needed to govern the province.

It would also have seemed reasonable to Festus that telling Paul that he would be standing trial before him would have been enough assurance to Paul that he would be receiving a fair trial in a Roman court. However, that would have been of no comfort to Paul since he knew what Festus did not. Paul knew the region, the religion and the rascals that were accusing him and how manipulative they were. Festus made a very bad proposal out of his ignorance. Please note that Festus is asking and not ordering or demanding that Paul go to Jerusalem. He had no legal basis for his proposal and so was seeking a voluntary concession from Paul. It is hard to come up with a reason he would think this proposal would be of any benefit to Paul except perhaps as a way to end the imprisonment sooner rather than later.

From Paul’s point of view several different outcomes were possible if he agreed to go to Jerusalem, and they were all bad. 1) Paul knew about the previous plot to murder him and it is reasonable to assume that he would expect such a plan to still to be in effect. He could be assassinated before ever reaching Jerusalem.2) Festus could use members of the Sanhedrin as his council in order to understand the religious charges being made which would result in a biased hearing and a conclusion of condemnation reached before it even started.3) Festus could simply decide to condemn Paul on the false accusations as a means to gain the favor of the Jews.4) Festus could declare Paul innocent after the trial and release him from custody right then and there. That would remove him from the protection of the Roman military, and Paul knew that if that happened he would be assassinated on the streets of Jerusalem. Paul will not concede to the request.

Paul Appeals to Caeaer (10-12)

10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to [the] Jews, as you also very well know. 11 “If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is [true] of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.” 12 Then when Festus had conferred with his council, he answered, “You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go.”

Paul points out that he was already in the proper court so there was no need for any change. The current tribunal was that of Caesar with Festus being in reality simply Caesar’s representative.Paul points out once gain that he had done nothing wrong to the Jews and that Festus was already aware of this fact because of the court proceedings that had just occurred before him.In verse 11 Paul basically calls on Festus to make a judgement. Paul is either guilty or innocent. If he is guilty of any crime Paul is willing to accept the punishment even if it means death. He then uses a conditional sentence structure by which he once again proclaims his innocence – i.e. “If I am innocent, and I am.” That being true no one could turn him over to his enemies in violation of proper Roman justice.

At this point Paul loses all hope of gaining Roman justice while he is still in Judea, and so he appeals to Caesar. Paul’s right to do this was called a “provocatio” which was the right of any Roman citizen to appeal against the verdict of a local magistrate to the higher authority of Caesar. This was one of the early rights of Roman citizenship dating back to 509 B.C. and it had been expanded under Augustus and Julias to include what Paul takes advantage of here. He could not be sentenced after an appeal nor prevented from going to Rome to have the appeal heard within a reasonable time.

Some have wondered why Paul would appeal to Caesar when the man holding that office at that time was Nero who later became infamous for his cruelty and persecution of Christians in A.D. 64 & 65. It must be pointed out that Paul’s appeal came in A.D. 59 during the first part of Nero’s reign which was considered a golden age in Rome due in large part to the influence of Nero’s tutor, Seneca, the Stoic philosopher, and Afranius Burrus, the prefect of the praetorian guard. When Paul made his appeal he had every reason to believe that he would be vindicated under Roman justice as he had before byGallio in Corinth (Acts 18:12-17). Though he had lost hope of getting a fair hearing and judgement in Judea, he expected to receive that before Caesar.

After Festus conferred with his council as to the correct response to such an appeal he declared that the appeal was accepted and that Paul would be sent to Caesar. The only delay now would be making the arrangements for his transportation which would include waiting until there were enough prisoners being sent to Rome to justify the use of a Centurion and a guard detail.

This once again shows God’s providential hand in the life of Paul. In Acts 23:11 the Lord had revealed to Paul that he would be His witness in Rome. Paul was now going to be sent to Rome under Roman protection and at Roman expense. He would still face the normal perils of traveling during that ancient time, but he would be protected from the plots by Jews in various places to murder him.

Paul’s appeal removed Festus’ immediate dilemma about what to do about Paul. He now could ensure Paul’s protection as a Roman citizen without antagonizing the Jews. However, he now had a new dilemma. In such appeals Caesar relied on his governors and consuls to provide full descriptions of the case so that he could make judgement. Festus had very little to send to Caesar especially in relationship to Paul breaking any Roman law. Perhaps he had Lysias’ letter and the record of the first trial under Felix, but these only showed Paul to be innocent. What reason could he give for Paul being sent to Caesar for judgement instead of having already been set free? An opportunity to figure that out came only a few days later.

Paul Before Agrippa (25:13-26:32)

Agrippa Arrives in Caesarea (25:13-22)

13 Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea, and paid their respects to Festus. 14 And while they were spending many days there, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix; 15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation upon him. 16 “And I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face, and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges. 17 “And so after they had assembled here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal, and ordered the man to be brought. 18 “And when the accusers stood up, they [began] bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting; 19 but they [simply] had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a certain dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20 “And being at a loss how to investigate such matters, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these matters. 21 “But when Paul appealed to be held in custody for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I send him to Caesar.” 22 And Agrippa [said] to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he ^said, “you shall hear him.”

Several days later Festus gets an opportunity to confer with someone that might be able to help him figure out what to write to Caesar. King Agrippa II along with his sister, Bernice, arrive to welcome Festus. ( Map) Herod Agrippa II reigned over the area to the Northeast of Judea in the area we now know as Syria along with key cities and villages in Galilee and Perea along with the right to appoint the High Priest in Jerusalem (Map). It would have been customary for neighboring rulers to visit a new governor to welcome him and begin building a working relationship. They apparently

( Genealogy) Agrippa was the brother of Bernice and Drusilla, the wife of Felix, the previous governor. They were the children of King Herod Agrippa I who had ruled over Judea from A.D. 37-44 and had put the apostle James to death. They were the great grandchildren of King Herod the Great through his Jewish wife, Mariamne.Agrippa had a Roman education and in fact had been in Rome when his father died. He also had a Jewish heritage and was considered an expert in Jewish affairs so he would be an excellent person for Festus to question about Paul and what should be written to Caesar.

After several days Festus and Agrippa develop a friendship and Festus explains Paul’s case to him to get his opinion. What Festus says is very revealing of his own confusion about the case and what had been said during the trial. Of most interest are the following.

1) In verse 15 we find that the Jews did not start out by asking for a trial for Paul but simply made their accusations against him and asked for a summary judgement of death upon him. Festus’ response was to point out that Roman law did not allow for this but that Paul must be given a trial. It would have been after this that they would have then asked for Paul to be brought to Jerusalem for that trial. Festus had them assemble in Caesarea instead.

2) In verse 18 we find that Festus is surprised by the particular charges being made against Paul. That tells us that they had made changes from their initial accusations against Paul.

3) Verse 19 tells us that those surprising accusations were religious in nature and concerned the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That tells us that the key point of conflict was the one that Paul had shouted out in the Sanhedrin. He was indeed on trial for his hope in the resurrection of the dead and specifically the core issue of the gospel itself, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

4) Verse 20 tells us that not only was Festus at a loss of even how to investigate this matter but also that it was the religious questions that would be the subject of the trial. Paul had correctly perceived that Festus was going outside the bounds of Roman justice. Paul had broken no Roman laws and should have been freed, but Festus had an interest in involving himself in a religious matter that was not within Roman jurisdiction. Paul was wise to appeal to Caesar.

At this point Agrippa expresses his interest in hearing Paul himself much as his sister Drusilla had heard him in the previous years. Festus welcomes this for it might give him the insight he needed to write to Caesar, and so he make the arrangements for it to take place the next day.


Paul Presented to Agrippa (25:23-27)

23 And so, on the next day when Agrippa had come together with Bernice, amid great pomp, and had entered the auditorium accompanied by the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 And Festus ^said, “King Agrippa, and all you gentlemen here present with us, you behold this man about whom all the people of the Jews appealed to me, both at Jerusalem and here, loudly declaring that he ought not to live any longer. 25 “But I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death; and since he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. 26 “Yet I have nothing definite about him to write to my lord. Therefore I have brought him before you [all] and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the investigation has taken place, I may have something to write. 27 “For it seems absurd to me in sending a prisoner, not to indicate also the charges against him.”

Much like their father, Agrippa and Benice enjoyed opportunities to show off their royal positions with pomp and ostentatious displays of their wealth. Agrippa was single and his sister Bernice took on the role of queen and had that title used of her. They came into the auditorium with great pageantry and would have been dressed in their royal robes. They were followed by the Roman military commanders [Chiliarchs] and other prominent men of Caesarea. Each of whom would have been dressed for the formal occasion. The location was the governors auditorium and not the courtroom for this was not a hearing. Paul came in and stood before them in chains creating a great contrast between his humble position and their pretentious ones. History has shown who was actually the most important to humanity.

Festus uses this as an opportunity to honor Agrippa and Bernice by allowing them the prestigious positions in the proceedings that day. Festus begins with an explanation of why he has called the assembly before yielding his authority to Agrippa to control the meeting.

Festus’ introduction is direct. He explains to all present that the Jews were demanding Paul’s death, but that his investigation had not revealed anything worthy of such a penalty. That statement once again confirmed Paul’s innocence and the wisdom of his appeal to Caesar since Festus wanted to take him to Jerusalem for another trial. Paul was being sent to Caesar, but Festus had nothing specific he could write on why he was being sent. For that reason he had asked King Agrippa to question Paul so that he would have some explanation to send to the Emperor. He then added the comment that it would be absurd to send a prisoner to Caesar without indicating the charges. It would have been more than just absurd, it would have been dangerous to his own position to waste Nero’s time in such a manner.

There was no legal standing for this to be a trial, and since Paul had already appealed to Caesar, he would not have been obligated to be there. From a human stand point Paul could have refused in view of all the injustice he had already suffered, but he did not. Paul would readily take advantage of any opportunity to declare the gospel. He does so again here. Paul was committed to being faithful in proclaiming the truth of God even in the midst of injustice.

Next week we will examine his testimony as a model for how we can tell others about who Jesus Christ is and what He has done in our own lives.


Sermon Study Sheets


Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Keep track of how many times governor Festus is mentioned. 2) Talk with your parents about how the American system of justice works.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

Why was Paul imprisoned? Who were Paul’s accusers? How did Paul prove he was innocent? How is Festus different from Felix – good and bad? What did the Jewish leaders do after they met Festus? Why did Festus invite them to Caesarea? Why couldn’t the Jews prove their charges against Paul? What was Festus’ predicament & how would having a trial in Jerusalem solve it? Could Paul have received a fair trial in Jerusalem? Why or why not? What could have happened to him if he had gone? Why wasn’t he forced to go? What rights did appealing to Caesar give Paul? What problem did this solve for Festus? What dilemma did it give him? How did it show God’s providence? Who is King Agrippa?Why was he visiting Festus? How could he help Festus with his dilemma? What additional information do we learn from Festus’ explanation to Agrippa? What were the nature of the actual charges being made against Paul? Why did this surprise Festus? Why did it leave him at a loss for how to investigate? What is Agrippa’s interest in Paul? Why do Agrippa and Bernice enter the auditorium with such pomp? What could have happened to Festus if he had sent Paul to Caesar without explanation? Why did Paul agree to appear? Have you been treated unjustly because of being a Christian? How does God want you to respond? How are you doing at that? Pray with someone about it.

Sermon Notes – November 5, 2006

Faithfulness in the Midst of Injustice, Part 2 – Acts 25:1-27

Introduction – Acts 24


The Second Conspiracy to Murder Paul (25:1-5)

Festus Arrives in Jerusalem (1)

The Accusations & Plot of the Jews (2-3)

Festus’ Invitation (4-5)

Paul Second Roman Trial

The Accusers (6-7)

Paul’s Denial (8)

Festus’ Question (9)

Paul’s Appeal to Caesar (10-12)

Festus Dilemma (25:13-27)

Explanation to Agrippa (13-22)


Explanation to the Assembly (23-27)


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