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36. Paul’s Appeal (Acts 25:1-27)

Introduction

At the end of my first year of seminary, my family and I returned to the Northwest to rekindle some relationships and to hopefully find a summer job. The Lord actually had two jobs for me so that I was able to work the entire summer. The first job was filling in for a teacher whose class had gotten out of control, forcing her to take a leave of absence. Bringing this very unruly fourth grade class under control seemed to qualify me for my second job of teaching high school classes in a medium security prison. There I taught under my high school principal and alongside some of my former teachers. Because I was returning to my seminary studies in the fall, a permanent teacher was hired to take my place at the end of the summer. He was a nice enough fellow but straight out of college with no teaching experience.

I doubt if I would want my first days of teaching to be in a prison high school but such was the case for my replacement. While I was still teaching, he came to class to be introduced to his future students and to get a feel for the situation. Had this fellow known what adventures lay ahead of him, he would have been apprehensive about the future. He probably was insecure and apprehensive, but if this was the case, he made the mistake of trying to act a little too confident and “in control.” He took over the class somewhat highhandedly, informing the prison high school students about the class, about its curriculum, and especially about its discipline. I felt he overplayed his role. Having been the supreme test for some of my teachers, I thought I knew how these men felt. At least I know how I felt about this fellow.

When that class period ended, the men all filed out to their next class. One of the men lingered a bit. He slipped up beside me and having an inkling about my impression of the “show” that had just been put on for us all, he quietly mumbled so that I could hear him, “We’ll see.” The worst part of it was that I found myself emotionally identifying with this inmate, and not with the teacher. I rather hoped that this novice teacher would be humbled a bit, and that he would not “teach down” to these men, as it seemed he was inclined to do.

Inexperience and its outcome can prove to be a humbling thing. How many of us has had the uncomfortable experience of beginning a new job one about which we know very little. Beginning a new job is a most insecure feeling. When I read in our text of Festus, the new governor of Judea before whom Paul will stand, I think of that “wet behind the ears” college graduate who had little understanding or experience in that which he was about to attempt. I see this whole scenario which Luke has depicted for us in Acts chapter 25 as the result of the inexperience and insecurity of Festus, the new governor, the man who replaced Felix, his predecessor.

We know that Festus was a Roman governor, and therefore a man of considerable power. But he was also a novice, at least when it came to dealing with the Jews. His inexperience and insecurity plays a major role in the outcome of Paul’s two-year imprisonment, and is the cause for Paul’s appeal to Caesar. Felix was an “old pro,” a seasoned politician. He knew the political ropes, he knew the Jews, and he was well informed about Christianity, “the way” (24:22). He was also a corrupt man, whose corrupt administration created many problems for Festus, his replacement. He must have congratulated himself on the way he skillfully used Paul’s arrest to make some political gains. In addition to putting off a very delicate decision—on Paul’s guilt or innocence—he had gained some favor with the Jews (or at least not lost too much favor) by leaving Paul in prison. He had also hoped to obtain a bribe from Paul, failing to comprehend Paul’s deep sense of principle and confidence in the sovereignty of God. In any case, Felix would have been inclined to congratulate himself for “making the best of a bad situation” and not having his career destroyed by getting caught between Paul and his Jewish opponents.

When Felix left the scene, he was replaced by Festus. This man was new, “green,” inexperienced. He had some very hard lessons to learn. What appears to have been his first case was also one of the worst problems he would face in his short stay in office. He was persuaded to complete what Felix had started, but had not finished—Paul’s trial. It looked quite simple at first, cut and dried, but it proved to be a nightmare to Festus. This case would cause him many sleepless nights (in my opinion). It was a very touchy, almost explosive situation, and one which seemed to be very detrimental to his popularity and to his career.

If, in these final chapters of Acts, God is using the unbelief and opposition of the Jews to accomplish His purposes, He is also using the Roman political officials. He has used Claudius Lysias to save Paul’s life and to remove Paul from Jerusalem, where there was a conspiracy to kill him. He also used the politically shrewd Felix to keep Paul out of circulation (in what proved to be a kind of protective custody, out of Jewish hands) for two years. And now God will use this neophyte, Festus, to point Paul toward Rome, where he must proclaim the gospel (see Acts 23:11). Let us take note of how God sovereignly guides Paul toward Rome as we study our text, and let us look for those principles which will guide us as well.

Background

It is a mystery that Paul’s case ever got this far in the Roman judicial system. It is an even greater mystery that his case will go even farther—all the way to the Roman emperor, Caesar. The whole episode began with a hasty and inaccurate conclusion, drawn by men who were looking for an excuse to be rid of Paul. Paul had gone to the temple, along with four other Jews, at the suggestion of the elders of the Jerusalem church (Acts 21:17-26). As Paul was concluding his worship, he was seen in the temple by some Asian Jews (21:27). Previously these men had seen Paul in the city of Jerusalem with Trophimus, an Ephesian Gentile, and so they jumped to the conclusion that Trophimus was still with Paul, and thus that Paul had desecrated the temple by taking Gentiles along. At the very least, in their minds, he was about to do so, if he had not already done so (21:29). They charged Paul with this horrid crime of desecrating the temple, not before the religious officials or before the Roman officials, but before a mob which they assembled. Their intention was not to bring Paul to trial, but to kill him. The managed to quickly gather an angry crowd who were in the process of putting Paul to death (21:30-31). Had the Roman commander not gotten wind of this riot and quickly arrived on the scene, they would have succeeded and Paul would have been killed.

Because Paul was innocent of any crime, against the Jewish law, the Roman law or the temple, there was no charge that could be made against him that would hold up under scrutiny. From the very outset of Rome’s involvement in this case, the officials kept trying to identify some charge against Paul, so that he could be fairly tried. Claudius Lysias allowed Paul to address the crowd of Jews who had gathered to kill him, but since he did not understand Hebrew he missed the key points which Paul made (21:37—22:21). He could not fail to grasp the intensity of the riot that followed, due to Paul’s reference to the divine command to forsake Jerusalem and to go to the Gentiles with the gospel (22:22-23).

Frustrated by his inability to get a handle on this volatile situation, he was about to interrogate Paul by scourging until he learned that he was a Roman citizen (22:24-29). When Paul was brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin the following day, another riot broke out, and nothing more was learned about Paul’s alleged offense (23:1-11). When word of a conspiracy to kill Paul reached the commander’s ears, he sent Paul to Caesarea under heavy guard, to stand trial before Felix, who successfully avoided rendering a verdict for two years. Both Claudius Lysias (23:26-30) and Felix (implied in chapter 24) knew that Paul was not guilty of any serious offense. Nevertheless, he was held in custody for two years in Caesarea. Felix had hoped that this inaction would gain him some measure of favor among the Jews and that it might also enable him to obtain a bribe from Paul (24:26-27).

A Change in Administration:
From Felix to Festus

The events described in Acts chapter 25 are the result, in great measure, of the change in administration from the governorship of Felix to that of Festus. From what historical information is available, it would appear that Felix was an apple that was rotten to the core, while Festus seems to have been a significant improvement.

Felix was originally a slave, who, for some unknown reason, was given his freedom by the emperor Claudius Caesar. Suetonius referred to his military honors, as well as his governorship of Judea, bestowed upon him by the emperor. He also referred to Felix as the “husband of three queens or royal ladies,” far from a compliment. “Tacitus, in his History, declares that during his governorship in Judea he indulged in all kinds of cruelty and lust, exercising regal power with the disposition of a slave; and in his Annals (xi, 54) he represents Felix as considering himself licensed to commit any crime, relying on the influence which he possessed at court.”514

As an example of his “leadership” we are told that Felix had a grudge against Jonathan, the high priest, who spoke out against this wicked governor’s methods and administration. Felix managed to have Jonathan killed with the help of one of the priest’s intimate friends, who arranged for a group of assassins to murder him. “While in office he became enamored of Drusilla, a daughter of King Herod Agrippa, who was married to Azizus, king of Emesa, and through the influence of Simon, a magician, prevailed upon her to consent to a union with him. With this adulteress Felix was seated when Paul reasoned before him (Acts 24:25).”515

Relations between Felix and the Jews were rapidly deteriorating, and would be the reason for his recall by the emperor and the loss of his office which was filled by Festus. Had it not been for the influence of his brother Pallas in the court of the emperor, Felix would have faced even more severe punishment for his misdeeds. We should not wonder, then, that when Paul’s case came to him, Felix left Paul in prison to gain some favor with the Jews. He badly needed to gain some ground with them, though whatever gains he made were short-lived.

In comparison to the corrupt rule of Felix, Festus was a breath of fresh air:

Josephus’ writing picture Festus as a prudent and honorable governor. Felix’s maladministration bequeathed to Festus the impossible task of restoring order to a province embroiled in political strife and overrun by robbers. The Sicarii,… as the robbers were called on account of the small swords they carried, would come upon a village, plunder it, set it on fire, and murder whomever they wished. Through the use of an impostor, Festus succeeded in ridding the province of many of these criminals (Ant. xx.8.10 {185-88}). But his procuratorship was too short to undo the legacy of his predecessor, and under his successor, Albinus, the situation rapidly deteriorated once again (BJ ii.14.1 {272-76}).”516

Unfortunately for Festus, he not only inherited a corrupt administration, but he also inherited the unresolved problem of posed by Paul, who was still being held prisoner in Caesarea, thanks to the indecision of his predecessor, Felix. It will now become the task of Festus to identify some charge against Paul so that he can be tried and this long-standing problem can be put behind him. The events of our chapter are really the result of the absence of any specific and demonstrable charges against Paul. Festus will do his best to isolate Paul’s offense, but he will not succeed. But in his search for the truth, the gospel will be proclaimed to many people of position and power, thus fulfilling the plan and promise of God (Acts 9:15).

The Setting:
Festus Gets a Promotion and a Problem
(24:27—25:5)

Felix was lucky, or so it seemed. He was able to put off the “problem of Paul” until he left office. Festus517 was not so fortunate. The moment Festus took office, the issue of Paul’s trial was raised by the Jerusalem Jewish leaders, who urged the governor to send Paul to Jerusalem. Two years had in no way cooled their intense animosity toward Paul, nor their determination to be rid of his preaching. Their intention, as Luke makes clear in verse 3, was not to try Paul, but only to get him within reach of those who had vowed to assassinate him.

Festus was new at his task, unfamiliar with Judaism, and ignorant of the intensifying conflict between Christianity and unbelieving Judaism in Israel, and especially in Jerusalem. At this point in time, Paul was the most prominent Jewish Christian, and thus he was the focus of the unbelieving Jewish attack on the gospel. When Festus arrived in Jerusalem, he had unknowingly walked into the “lion’s den.” It would be several days before he would begin to grasp the gravity of the problem which was to be put before him in Jerusalem on his first official visit.

Festus wanted to start out his new administration on the right foot, so almost immediately upon assuming his position as the governor of Judea,518 he made an appearance at Jerusalem. His headquarters were in Caesarea, but the headquarters of the Jews, over whom he ruled, were in Jerusalem. And so within a few days of taking office, Festus arrived in Jerusalem, where he spent several days. It was at this time that the Jewish leaders began to press Felix to send Paul to Jerusalem for trial. Whether this was represented as a trial before Felix, a trial before the Sanhedrin, or a combination of both is not entirely clear. It didn’t really matter, for the Jews had no intention of going through the motions of another trial. They only wanted Paul brought to Jerusalem where the plot to assassinate him could be carried out (25:3).

Festus quickly grasped the political implications of doing what the Jews requested. It would give the appearance that they were “in control,” that they were “calling the shots.” Festus declined, not because he was seeking to spare Paul from the danger of assassination (which dangers he either was ignorant of, or he did not take seriously), but because of the political “loss of face” that would result for him personally. No. If there was to be a trial, it would not be in Jerusalem. Paul was a Roman citizen, and Festus was a representative of the Roman government. He would try the case, and he would do so at his headquarters. If they wished to press charges, let them make the journey to Caesarea.

It was a brilliant move on the part of Festus. He intended to gain the upper hand, right from the beginning. He would not begin by having these Jews tell him what to do. He was going to “call the shots.” If they were so eager to have this dangerous criminal tried, he would try him in Caesarea, he would there be seated on his tribunal, from which he could pronounce a verdict as a representative of Rome and of the emperor. How quickly Festus will change his tune and seek to win the favor of these Jews.

The Trial, Festus’ Verdict, and Paul’s Appeal
(25:6-12)

Festus did not rush back to Caesarea. With a kind of calculated deliberateness, Festus stayed on in Jerusalem for another week and a half, before he returned to Caesarea. Then, promptly upon his return, he set the date for Paul’s trial to be conducted on the following day. The scene is now set for yet another trial, and yet another instance of indecision.

Festus was shocked to hear the charges of which the Jews accused Paul. They were nothing like those which he had expected, based upon his earlier conversation with these leaders in Jerusalem, only a few days earlier (see 25:18-19). Luke briefly describes the scene and the indictments against Paul:

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 (Acts 25:7).519

Like a pack of angry dogs, the circled Paul, unleashing their anger and hostility.

I think I can imagine how it all fell apart. The real disagreement with Paul was the gospel. The fundamental issue was over the person of Jesus. Paul insisted that He was the Messiah, the Christ, in fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. One aspect of this fulfilled prophecy was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The Jews adamantly rejected these claims and resisted Paul and any who would seek to propagate them. The “official” grievances against Paul were some “Romanized” charges, which the Jews hoped would give at least the appearance of legality to the execution of this troublemaker. The Jewish leaders were calm and cool and business-like when they met with Festus in Jerusalem. But when they came face-to-face with Paul in the courtroom, the “official” charges quickly gave way to the real dispute. Thus, they circled about Paul, screaming out their charges. It was, I believe, a chaotic, unruly proceeding. The intensity of the opposition, along with its apparent unanimity, caused Festus to back off and to try to appease these zealous opponents of Paul.

Paul’s defense, like the allegations of the Jews, is very briefly summarized. Paul’s defense refers to three alleged offenses, none of which were true:

… 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” (Acts 25:8).

Festus quickly began to change his way of dealing with these Jews and with Paul. Luke explains his actions by telling us that he was “wishing to do the Jews a favor” (25:9). He was, after all, a politician. Granted, he was not an elected official, but an appointed one. Nevertheless, he had to keep the peace and also to maintain a certain level of acceptance with the Jewish leaders or his position could be in jeopardy. Remember that it was the protest of these Jews against the corruption of Felix which resulted in his removal from office. Even dictators have to maintain a certain level of popular support or at least toleration. Paul was but one man (albeit a Roman citizen), and these Jews seemed to represent the masses (a conclusion which was not altogether accurate). As Festus weighed the political implications of the case before him, he realized that protecting Paul against these folks could be a very costly move. And so he began to seek to appease them, and to win their favor, by failing to carry out his task. So far as dealing fairly with Paul, Festus would prove to be no better than Felix.

There was at least one other reason for the compromise which Festus was about to offer Paul,520 a reason which Luke saves until later in this story, but which we will take note of here: since the charges brought against Paul were really religious and theological in nature, and not matters concerning Roman Law, Festus was incompetent to deal with them. He did not have the foggiest idea what these Jews were arguing about. He knew that they considered their differences very serious, but he was not like Felix or Agrippa, for he did not understand Judaism. How much more competent the Sanhedrin would be to judge such matters. Thus, he will explain to Agrippa:

“And when the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting, 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. 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” (Acts 25:18-20).

And so Festus proposed a compromise, which, in his mind should have been acceptable to all. He proposed that Paul go to Jerusalem, where he would stand trial, and at which he (Festus) would preside. On the surface, it did not seem like such a bad suggestion. The Jews would get what they wanted—Paul would be brought to trial in Jerusalem. And, if things did not change, Paul might very well be found innocent there. How could Paul possibly refuse?

It seems to me that Festus either failed to have all the facts before him, or he closed his eyes to these facts. Did he have a copy of the letter of Claudius Lysias to Felix? Was he aware of the riots in Jerusalem, and of the abortive attempt of Claudius Lysias to have Paul tried before the Sanhedrin? And was he aware of the plot to assassinate Paul? These records might have been lost in the change of administration, or Festus might not have come to this trial adequately prepared. Or, Festus may have chosen not to believe the reports. For whatever reason, he was asking Paul to go back to Jerusalem, where these Jewish leaders planned to have Paul assassinated. It is no wonder Paul refused the offer, much to the surprise (I think) of Festus.

Paul’s response to Festus is a courteous rebuke, and it is also a very important commentary on his teaching on the role of government and its God-given responsibilities (see Romans 13:1-5; also Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17). If government is a God-ordained institution, assigned with the task of rewarding those who do good and punishing those who do evil, then it has an obligation to protect those who are not guilty. Paul has been tried, and the charges against him have not been proven. It is the duty of Festus to pronounce him innocent. In seeking to please the Jews, he is failing to carry out his divinely ordained duty. It is not because Festus has failed to be convinced of Paul’s innocence, either (see 25:24-25). In fact, he has not yet been able to even identify the charges. Festus is failing to carry out his duty.

Paul therefore uses his rights as a Roman citizen to the full. If Festus will not do the right thing and pronounce him innocent, then Paul will exercise his right of appeal to Caesar.

The right of appeal (prouocatio) to the emperor arose out of the earlier right of appeal to the sovereign people (the populus Romanus), one of the most ancient rights of a Roman citizen, traditionally going back to the foundation of the republic in 509 B.C. It was usually exercised by appealing against a magistrate’s verdict, but might be exercised at any earlier stage of proceedings, claiming “that the investigation be carried out in Rome and judgment passed by the emperor himself.” At an early stage in his principate, Augustus was granted the right to judge on appeal; not many years later, the Julian law on public disorder safeguarded Roman citizens not only against degrading forms of coercion or punishment but also against being sentenced after an appeal had been voiced or being prevented from going to Rome to have the appeal heard there within a reasonable time.521

For Paul, making this appeal must have been a major turning point. Paul was still a devout Jew, one who saw that the hopes of Judaism had been fulfilled in the person of Jesus, the Christ. How he loved his own people and yearned for their salvation. How he looked forward to the time when all Israel would turn to the Lord in faith, and when the kingdom of God would be established on the earth. His appeal to Caesar may well have been the final straw for Paul, indicating that Israel would not turn, and that God’s judgment was soon to come upon this nation, and particularly on the city of Jerusalem. With this appeal, I believe that all hope of Israel’s repentance and turning to the Lord was lost for the near future, and would only occur in the more distant future.522

If Paul’s appeal was a deeply painful experience for him, it was perhaps even more traumatic event for Festus. It may have taken Festus a little time to realize this, however. From Luke’s account, I get the impression that when Paul appealed to Caesar, Festus turned to his counselors and said something like this: “Can he do that?” They assured him that he could, and so he indicated to Paul that his appeal would be honored.

Initially, Festus may have breathed a sigh of relief. He may very well have thought, “Well, now takes a load off my mind. Now I don’t have to take the heat for protecting Paul. Let Caesar get all the credit for this verdict.” Eventually, however, Festus had to realize that he had one very serious problem, a problem that was even greater than the one that had originally confronted him. At first, he was caught between Paul and the Jews who wanted him dead. Now, he was caught between Paul and Caesar.

The implications of Paul’s appeal to Caesar began to sink in, as Festus considered his plight. In the first place, Festus was required not only to send Paul to Caesar, but he was also required to send a full report with Paul of the circumstances leading to his appeal. Let’s suppose, for the moment, that he had a government form to fill out, in triplicate—for 2301 B. Paul could not be sent without the form, and the first thing that would be required on this form would be a listing of the charges against Paul. That was the problem every Roman official had faced since Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem. No Roman official was able to identify any charges! How could Festus send Paul to Caesar with no charges filed against him? Second, the absence of these charges was not only embarrassing, but the whole episode would be certain to reflect badly on Festus and his administration. Here he was, a new governor, seeking to establish himself with the Jews, and eager to prove himself to Caesar, who had appointed him. And his first case results in an appeal. His first case has not even gotten to the point of identifying the exact nature of the alleged defense! He was in a bunch of trouble.

If Paul’s light was on, late that night, it was probably because he was reading the Scriptures or meeting with some saints, or writing an epistle, or praying. But one thing is for sure, the light of Festus was on late that night, and for many nights thereafter. He was sitting up, staring off into space, sweating profusely, wondering what he could possibly write to Caesar which would explain the presence of Paul and of his appeal.

A Helping Hand:
The Arrival of Agrippa and Bernice
(25:13-22)

Seemingly, it was just a coincidence, but it was one that Festus welcomed. Herod Agrippa and Bernice happened to arrive in Caesarea, for a lengthy visit, and they stopped by to pay their respects to Festus, probably to congratulate him on his appointment to his new position as governor. These two visitors are very interesting characters, and knowing a little about them sheds much light on the next chapter of Acts.

“Herod Agrippa II, ruler of a client kingdom to the northeast of Festus’s province, arrived in Caesarea on a complimentary visit, to congratulate the new procurator on his appointment. This man was reputed to be an expert in Jewish religious questions, and Festus hoped he might give him some unofficial help in drafting his report.

Marcus Julius Agrippa, as he calls himself on his coins (using his name as a Roman citizen), was the son of Herod Agrippa I. He was in Rome when his father died in A.D. 44, and the Emperor Claudius was disposed to make him king of the Jews in succession to his father; but because of the younger Agrippa’s youth (he was seventeen years old at the time) he was dissuaded from this plan, and Judaea was once more administered by Roman governors. In A.D. 50, however, Claudius gave him the kingdom of Chalcis (in Lebanon), in succession to his father’s brother Herod, together with the right of appointing the Jewish high priests. In 53 he gave up this kingdom in exchange for a larger one consisting of the former tetrarchies of Philip and Lysanias. This territory was augmented three years later by Nero, who added to it the regions of Tiberias and Tarichaea, west of the lake of Galilee, together with Julias in Peraea and fourteen neighboring villages. In token of gratitude to Nero, Agrippa changed the name of his capital, Caesarea Philippi (modern Banyas), to Neronias.”523

“On this visit Agrippa was accompanied by his sister, Julia Bernice. She was the eldest daughter of Herod Agrippa I, born in A.D. 28. She was given by her father in marriage to his brother Herod, king of Chalcis. When Herod died in 48, she lived in the house of her brother Agrippa. Later she married Polemon, king of Cilicia, but soon left him and returned to Agrippa. On inscriptions she is entitled “queen” and even “great queen.”524

There is an on-going interface throughout the gospels and Acts between the Herods and the gospel. Here, in Acts 24 and 25 we meet three members of the family. They are all the children of Herod Agrippa I, who had James killed, and who died shortly after (Acts 12). Drusilla, the wife of Felix (24:24), and Bernice (25:13) are sisters, and their brother is Agrippa (24:13ff.). Unfortunately, Agrippa and Bernice were more than brother and sister. Their relationship was scandalous. Later, she had an affair with Titus, but her past immorality was so wicked, the Roman people would not tolerate her marriage to this emperor.525

In spite of their immoral lifestyle, I think that Festus was happy to see them in this social context. I think he was even happier when the occasion arose for him to speak with Agrippa about his dilemma concerning Paul and his appeal. (I wonder if Festus didn’t work to bring this subject up.) Festus shared his predicament with Agrippa, as reported in verses 14-21). From his words to Agrippa, we learn some important factors in his decision to seek to persuade Paul to go to Jerusalem for trial. We learn, for example, that the charges which Festus heard (or assumed) from the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem were not the same charges which became the major issues in the trial he conducted. We also learn that Festus now understood the hostility of the Jews toward Paul was based upon religious and theological issues (upon the gospel), and not on any infraction of any law, Jewish or Roman. We finally learn that Festus realized he was totally incompetent to judge this matter, and thus sought help from the Sanhedrin. His honest is refreshing, as well as revealing.

The problem which Festus shared seemed to arouse the curiosity of Agrippa. His family, after all, had frequently come into contact with the gospel, beginning with John the Baptist, and then Jesus, followed by the apostles, and now Paul. He was probably fascinated both by Paul himself, and also by the perplexing issues of the case. If he was an expert in Jewish affairs and Festus was a novice, here was a chance to “show his stuff.” For whatever reason(s), Agrippa indicated that he would like to hear Paul personally. This was an offer quickly accepted by Festus, and so a meeting was arranged for the following day.

The Stage is Set For
Paul’s Proclamation of the Gospel
(25:23-27)

As I understand the argument of the Book of Acts and this chapter (25) in particular, it is to show how God arranged an opportunity and an audience for the proclamation of the gospel by Paul, as is recorded in the following chapter (26). The events of chapter 25 set the scene for the preaching of Paul in chapter 26.

From a purely human point of view, things look bad for Paul and for the gospel. The Jews want to kill him, and the Roman rulers want to avoid ruling in Paul’s favor, even though all the evidence would demand it. Paul’s circumstances here in chapter 25 appear to be the result of sin, incompetence, and bureaucratic bungling. But such a conclusion would be both hasty and incorrect. If the divinely ordained goal were for Paul to be given the opportunity to preach the gospel to the greatest number of people, from the highest political and social strata of society, and in the most effective manner, what would we expect to find at this point in the Book of Acts? I believe that the human mind could not conceive of a plan that would be more effective than that which God brought to pass in our text.

The preceding section (25:13-22), along with the final segment of the chapter (25:23-27), informs us of several important facts. First, Paul’s words, recorded in chapter 26, are not his defense, so much as they are his proclamation of the gospel. Paul is not on trial here. No verdict is to be rendered. Nothing can be changed, because of Paul’s appeal to Caesar. This is an unofficial gathering, an unofficial proceeding.

Second, Paul is given the opportunity to proclaim the gospel to a large group of very prominent people. Due to the divine plan which we see being worked out in Acts, Paul will be given the opportunity to speak in his defense, but we know that he will respond by boldly proclaiming the gospel. His audience is much larger than just the governor, Festus. In addition to the governor, those present will include Agrippa and Bernice, Roman military commanders, and a large number of the prominent men of the city of Caesarea (25:23). These all entered an auditorium, to hear Paul. This is a far bigger collection of “shakers and movers” than a preacher could ever have hoped to have assembled in one place and at one time. But it was not Paul who “called this meeting,” it was God who did so. Paul therefore has the opportunity to proclaim the gospel to a large number of powerful people.

Third, Paul is given the opportunity to proclaim the gospel, to a large number of powerful people, without the hindrance and the interruptions of the Jews who opposed him. Since Paul’s speech from the stairs in the city of Jerusalem, Paul was not allowed to speak unhindered and uninterrupted. His “trial” before Festus seems to have been chaotic, hardly the occasion for a clear, concise presentation of the gospel. But here, in this auditorium, Paul was given the chance to speak for himself, but without the Jewish audience who continually harassed him and who wanted to debate every point he tried to make. Here, Paul could preach the gospel, to many influential people, without interruption.

Conclusion

I understand chapter 25 as preparatory and explanatory to Paul’s preaching of the gospel in chapter 26. Our text (along with those which precede it) explains to us just how it was that Paul had this opportunity to preach to this many leaders and influential people. Not only did God give Paul the message, the gospel, but He also gave him the audience and this opportunity. Let us consider how this applies to us.

(1) We are reminded, once again in Acts, that God always keeps His promises, in ways that leave us amazed at His wisdom and power. In theological terms, we are speaking of the sovereignty of God. Over and over again in the Scriptures we find men and women of God marveling not only at what God has done, but also at how He has done it. For example, Paul elsewhere has written:

30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him {be} the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:30-36).

At the time of Paul’s conversion, God revealed that he would bear testimony of the gospel “before the Gentiles and kings” (Romans 9:15). Paul has already stood before Claudius Lysias, and Felix, and now Festus, and in the next chapter of Acts (26) he will stand before “king” Agrippa and Bernice. Before very long, he will stand before Caesar. God always keeps His promises.

But notice how the promise of God pertaining to Paul’s mission and ministry is being fulfilled. It is not through one event alone, or through one person. It is by means of God’s orchestration of a host of people and events. God has used Paul’s love for his people and his desire to bring a gift from the Gentile churches to get Paul to Jerusalem, even when he knew that his arrival would result in “bonds and afflictions.” He also used the counsel of the Jerusalem church leaders, who loved Paul and who shared his faith, along with the opposition of the Jerusalem Jewish leaders, who hated Paul and the gospel. He has used Claudius Lysias, and his meticulous care in protecting Paul’s rights as a Roman citizen, as well as the self-seeking efforts of Felix, who sought to use Paul to further his own interests. And now, He has used the inexperience and indecision of Festus. By means of all of these elements, God has given Paul a platform, an occasion to speak, without opposition from the Jews, and before the leading men of Rome who are in Caesarea, including Festus, King Agrippa, and Bernice. How marvelous are His ways!

The experience of Paul has a great deal to say to each of us. God has given us His precious promises, too. Some are promises which include all the saints, while others may be only for certain saints. But we can be assured that just as God fulfilled all of His purposes and promises pertaining to Paul, so He will do and in through us. And, just as He accomplished these in ways we would never have predicted, so He will do through us.

From a human standpoint, one could look at the events of Paul’s arrest and numerous trials as a “comedy of errors.” These things have taken place out of sheer ignorance or prejudice (the accusation that Paul sought to desecrate the temple), out of desire to do one’s job well (Claudius Lysias), out of sinful self-interest (Felix, and also the Jewish leaders), and out of ignorance (Festus). But as our chapter unfolds, Paul is given the opportunity to proclaim his faith, apart from the constraints of a courtroom, where one’s testimony is always limited to what the court desires, and where the opposition of the Jews is absent. And while Paul’s audience begins with only Festus, it continues to grow throughout the chapter (by what seems to be a coincidental dropping in of Agrippa and Bernice) until an auditorium of celebrities is gathered to hear the gospel.

The point I am trying to make is simply this: THE GREATEST OPPORTUNITIES FOR MINISTRY OFTEN COME DRESSED IN THE FORM OF FAILURE OR OF FRUSTRATING CIRCUMSTANCES, WHERE WE SEEM TO BE LIMITED. It is not until the end of chapter 26 that we begin to see how the hand of God has been behind all of the frustrating events of Paul’s life over the past two years, in order to give him the opportunity of a lifetime, to proclaim the gospel to people who he would never have encountered in the normal course of events, or even as a result of his finest efforts. Paul did not plan these events, nor was his the prime mover in bringing them to pass. Neither was any other person. God was a work here, causing all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28), for the proclamation and advancement of the gospel.

Does your life lack the typical indicators of “success” and “significance”? So did Paul’s. Do you sometimes feel like you have been taken out of the action, and that you life is “on hold”? Does it seem that you have been hemmed in by your circumstances? Well then consider Paul. His life seems to have been put “on hold” for two years. Two years he has been confined in prison. Two years he has been kept from traveling about those churches which he helped to establish. Two years were seemingly wasted because of the self-seeking, greedy, gutless actions of men. But look at the fruit which God will bring out of these frustrations and seeming failures. Paul could have worked for two years to get an appointment with but a few of those gathered in this auditorium. Who would have thought that being falsely accused, beaten, arrested, and then wrongly detained would have been the means to gaining this audience?

I think when time has passed and we look back upon our lives from the vantage point of eternity, we will see that many of the most significant ways God has been able to use us for His glory are very much like the way in which He has used Paul in Acts. God will not only fulfill His promises in and through us, but He will do so in such a way that He gets the glory and the praise, and that we will fall before Him in wonder and in worship. The disasters of your life, like those which befell Paul and other biblical saints, are the materials with which God builds His program, and by which He promotes His gospel. While we need not pursue disaster and difficulty as though such were pleasant, we need not dread them when God brings them our way, for He will cause “all things to work together for good, to those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). What a comfort to those who live in a fallen, chaotic world, which seems to be unguided, unguarded, and uncontrolled. My friend, behind the chaos is a sovereign God, who is able to use man’s best efforts as well as his worst to achieve His purposes.

(2) Our text provides us with insight into the way God guides men. If God’s ways are beyond our own ways—and they are (Isaiah 55:9)—then man would never be able to anticipate or predict what God was going to do. This is the case, and thus the will of God must be revealed to men, which is done through the Word of God and the Spirit of God (see also 1 Corinthians 2). Many Christians think that God’s will is spelled out, both in great detail and in advance. What we see in Luke and in Acts (not to mention elsewhere in the Bible) is considerably different. God did reveal some of what He was planning to do, but He most often did not reveal the timing of the event, or the means by which it was to be accomplished. For example, in the gospels Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God and of the salvation which He was to accomplish, but the timing and the means were not at all clear. At the time of our Lord’s ascension (Acts 1), the disciples are still pressing Jesus for the details, which things Jesus said were not for them to know.

In Paul’s case, we see, once again, that Paul was called to be a witness to the Jews, to the Gentiles and to kings, but the timing and the means were not indicated. In His appearance to Paul in prison, the Lord told Paul that he would bear witness of the gospel in Rome, just as he had in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11). He was not told that he must be detained for two years in a Caesarean prison cell, however, or that all of the things which Luke has reported to us would be the means to attaining this end.

Seldom, if ever, in the life of the apostle Paul, was the guidance of God like that which most Christians seem to want and to demand today. Seldom, if ever, was Paul told precisely what to do, when and how to do it, and what the precise results would be. Most often, Paul was merely assured that a certain thing would happen. This is the case in Acts 23:11. Let me seek to summarize what I am trying to say in one general principle:

IN PAUL’S LIFE AND MINISTRY, AS IN OUR OWN, THE GUIDANCE OF GOD HAD MORE TO DO WITH THE GOALS OR OUTCOME, THAN WITH THE MEANS, AND WAS PROGRESSIVELY AND PARTIALLY REVEALED IN SUCH A WAY THAT HE WAS REQUIRED TO EMPLOY BOTH FAITH AND REASON.

Let me state this differently:

IN NO CASE, WAS GOD’S WILL GIVEN IN TOTAL, WITH ALL THE DETAILS, AND ONLY TO BE METICULOUSLY AND MECHANICALLY FOLLOWED.526

The will of God is a matter of partial and progressive divine revelation, of human reasoning (enabled by the Holy Spirit), of action based upon faith, and of unexpected providential intervention. As someone once put it, “The will of God is a compass, not a map.”

Why is it, then, that Christians seem to expect God to tell them every step they are to take, or to think that God will spell out His will for them, from the beginning to the end, before He asks them to believe and to act in faith and obedience? Why do we look for God to speak to us directly on every matter that concerns us, and to think that this is the way He guided men of the Bible? It simply isn’t true. It surely is not true of Paul’s life and ministry.

When God guided Barnabas and Paul so as to commence the “first missionary journey,” He did so through the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch. But this guidance only informed to “Set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which He had called them” (Acts 13:2). The church had to discern what the work was, to which Barnabas and Paul were called. Barnabas and Paul had to discern where they were to go, which was not told them in the beginning, but was progressively revealed or determined. They did not know, at the beginning, that Paul would take prominence over Barnabas (so that the order of their names would be reversed).

In the “second missionary journey,” impetus to make this journey came first from the hearts of these two missionaries, Paul and Barnabas, to visit those churches which had been founded on their first journey (Acts 15:36). The missionary team was divided by an argument between Paul and Barnabas, and the team was reformed over a period of time (15:40—16:3). The journey went far beyond that which was first envisioned, and the places to which they were to go, or to avoid, were indicated over time and in different (sometimes unexplained) ways (16:4-8). The so-called “Macedonian vision” was not as specific in its guidance as some seem to think. Paul was not told to go to Macedonia, no was he told to go to Philippi. He simply had a vision of a Macedonian, who pleaded for help. Paul and the others had to think and pray about this vision, to conclude that it was God’s guidance to go to Macedonia (16:10—note the word “concluding”). The decision to go to Philippi seems to have been made apart from any specific revelation.

God’s guidance is such that we are told all that we need to know. We are told, for example, what God purposes to do in us and, to some degree, through us. We are assured of God’s ends, and we must often reason our part in these things. We are given divine principles as guidelines, governing how God’s work is to be done. But very often we are given situations in which we must decide to do, apart from a voice from God, based upon His Word and the wisdom which the Spirit provides.

How did Paul know that he was to appeal to Caesar? I believe that he “reasoned by faith” that this was the thing to do. He knew from his vision in Jerusalem that his work in Jerusalem was ending, and that he had a work to do in Rome. He knew the Jews were trying to kill him, and that they wanted him in Jerusalem to do so. He knew now that Festus wanted to appease the Jews by persuading him to go to Jerusalem. Paul knew of his rights as a Roman citizen and appealed to Caesar, which would take him to Rome. It was a decision, based partly upon divine revelation, and partly on human reasoning (aided, I believe, by the Holy Spirit).

Abraham discerned God’s will in the same way. God gave Abraham a number of promises, pertaining to the goal or the outcome of what He was going to do for him and through Him (see Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6, 12-21). The timing and the means were not revealed. Abraham was told to leave his homeland and his relatives, to go to the place where God would lead him, but he was not told, initially, where this would be (Genesis 12:1). It became more and more clear that some of God’s promises could only be fulfilled through a son, whom we know (in time) would be Isaac. When God later commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, this caused a real dilemma for Abraham, for he was to kill the means by which many of God’s promises (and his hopes) were to be fulfilled. In the New Testament, we learn that Abraham came to grips with this matter by reasoning and by faith, or, should I say, by “faith reasoning”:

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18 it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR SEED SHALL BE CALLED.” 19 He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type (Hebrews 11:17-19).

God did not command Abraham to sacrifice his son, telling him at the same time that He would spare this son by providing an animal in his place. He did not assure him of His ability to raise the dead. His ability to raise the dead was taught Abraham by the way in which Isaac was born (see Romans 4:18-21). If God could give Abraham and Sarah (who were as good as dead when it came to child-bearing), then He could also bring this dead child to life, if he were sacrificed. The obedience of Abraham was based upon partial revelation of God’s will, and upon a reasoning of faith, based upon what God had already said and done in the life of Abraham.

I believe that this is the way that God generally guides men, as He did in the Old Testament, as He did in the New, and as He continues to do today. Let us not wait for a divine voice from heaven. Let us not demand a full revelation of God’s plan, including the timing and the means. Let us act in faith, on the basis of what God has told us He will do, on the basis of those principles which should govern how we act, and on the basis of “faith reasoning,” enabled by His Spirit, confident that we cannot thwart his purposes, and that we will not ever be able to predict His means, but that He will use us as He wills, to further the gospel.

(3) Finally, let us be reminded of the gospel which confronts us, which demands a decision of us, and of the judgment of God which awaits all who reject the gospel. In the minds of Festus, Agrippa, Bernice, and those dignitaries, it was Paul who was on trial, but this was not really true. Paul was a preacher of the gospel. Paul was not the one who needed to fear judgment, but those who heard him in that auditorium. They were on trial, and the gospel was to be their judge. Would they believe in Jesus? This was Paul’s concern, and not his own defense. There will come a time when the “pomp and circumstance” of that event will be overshadowed by the majesty and glory of God’s throne, when men must stand before him. Those who trust in Jesus as the Savior, the Messiah, need not fear this judgment. But those who reject Him, will one day give account for their unbelief and sin. May none of you, my reader friend, be among that number who reject the gospel, to your own eternal doom. May we all, like Paul, be willing to lay down our lives for the gospel, knowing that we have been forgiven, and that heaven awaits us.


514 “Felix,” Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), p. 348.

515 “Felix,” Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p. 348.

516 “FESTUS PORCIUS,” C. M. Kerr, and Nola J. Opperwall, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised edition, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), Vol. 2, p. 299.

517 “In the year of Felix’s recall by Nero (or possibly a little later), Porcius Festus came into the office of procurator of Judea where he lived but two years and then died in office. Little is known concerning the life or character of this man, apart from a brief account by Josephus. He appears to have been an honorable and prudent man, for the most part. Had the circumstances of his reign been more favorable, his success might have been greater. However, the impossibility of his situation was brought about by the corruption and maladministration of his predecessor, Felix. Violence, intrigue, sedition, and extreme loyalist bigotry made of the Jews an impossible people for this Roman procurator. Josephus describes the beginning of his rule thus: “Festus succeeded Felix as a procurator, and made it his business to correct those that made disturbances in the country. So he caught the greatest part of the robbers, and destroyed a great many of them.” Josephus describes somewhat in detail the nature of these disorders and the measures employed by Festus to correct them. Withal his task proved impossible and the situation grew worse, a condition which may have contributed to his early death.” Charles W. Carter and Ralph Earle, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), p. 369.

518 Previous governors included King Agrippa and Pontius Pilot.

519 Let’s face it. By this time, the Jew’s case against Paul, which could never hold water, is virtually a dead horse. The Asian Jews who started this whole thing were wrong in the first place and long gone in the second. In sheer desperation, the Jews were throwing everything at Paul, including the kitchen sink. The fact of the matter is that they didn’t care about a conviction, only about getting Paul to Jerusalem, where they could kill him.

520 How often our actions are prompted by a combination of motives, some of which are more noble than others.

521 F. F. Bruce, p. 453.

“Appellatio, to which process Paul thus resorted, was the act by which a litigant disputes a judgment, and the effect was that the case was brought before a higher magistrate, normally the one who had originally appointed the magistrate of the lower court. The litigant either pronounced the word appello, as Paul did here (11), or submitted his appeal in writing to the court of the magistrate whose judgment was impugned. That magistrate in either case was under obligation to transmit the file together with a personal report (littarae dimissoriae) to the competent higher magistrate. Hence, probably, there was some measure of embarrassment for Festus when, after consultation with his board of assessors (12), he accepted the appeal. He had virtually acquitted the prisoner, and, as a newcomer, had no exact knowledge of the religious situation out of which the charge had arisen. He must have been at a loss how to phrase the letter which was to accompany the appellant to the imperial court, and the terms of the communication to a tribunal so exalted as Caesar’s were a matter of some importance, if only to the reputation of the magistrate concerned.” Blaiklock, p. 183.

522 Rackham seems to agree, at least in part: “Rackham further states: . . . it was with great reluctance that S. Paul made his appeal. It was the final and complete assertion of his Roman citizenship and acceptance of Caesar as his king; to the Jews it meant repudiation of the theocracy and apostasy from Moses. But the apostle in the past two years must have thoroughly weighed the question. The Lord himself in the vision at Jerusalem (XIII, 11) might almost be said to have suggested it; for it seemed at the time the only possible method of reaching Rome.” Carter and Earle p. 373.

523 Bruce, p. 456.

524 Bruce p. 457.

525 “Like her brother, she tried hard to avert the war which broke out in A.D. 66. In spring of that year she performed a Nazirite vow in Jerusalem, and attempted, but in vain (and not without considerable personal risk), to prevent a massacre of Jews by the procurator Gessius Florus. Later, however, when her house (together with Agrippa’s) was burned down by insurgent extremists, she became an ardent pro-Flavian. She attracted the attention of Titus during the war, and lived with him on the Palatine when she came to Rome with her brother in 75. Titus would have married her, had it not been for strong expressions of disapproval among the citizens of Rome, which made him sever his connection with her. See Josephus, BJ 2.217, 220-21, 310-14, 333-34, 405, 426, 595; Ant. 19.276-77, 354; 20:104, 143, 145-146; Life 48.119, 180-81, 343, 355; Juvenal, Satire 6.156-60; Tacitus, Histories 2.2; Suetonius, Titus 7.1; Dio Cassius, History 65.15; 66.18; also G.H. Macurdy, ‘Julia Berenice,’ AJP 56 (1933), pp. 246-53.” Bruce, p. 457, fn. 26.

526 As an Old Testament illustration of these principles, think of Joseph, who was informed by God through two dreams that he would rule over his family. In no way did he ever fully fathom how God was to accomplish this, until much later in his life (see Genesis 37:5-11; 42:7-9; 50:15-21).