Paul, after two years in prison
Paul meets his next judge, Governor Festus1 Judea’s new governor, Festus, arrived in Caesarea. Three days later, he made a trip to Jerusalem. 2 While he was there, top Jewish priests and other Jewish leaders met with him to bring criminal charges against Paul. 3 They asked Festus for a favor: send Paul back to Jerusalem. They knew Paul wouldn’t make it. They had already arranged for him to get ambushed and killed along the way. 4 Governor Festus told them Paul was in custody at Caesarea. He added that he would be headed back there in a few days. 5 He said, “Why don’t you send some of your leaders with me. If this man has done something wrong, bring your charges against him when I hold court there.” 6 Festus stayed there in Jerusalem for a little over a week, no more than eight to 10 days. Then he went back down to the coastal city of Caesarea. The day after he got there he took his seat in the court and called for Paul to appear before him. 7 When Paul arrived in court the Jews stood beside him. They leveled serious charges against him—none of which they could prove. 8 Paul defended himself. He said, “I haven’t done anything wrong. Not against the Jews. Not against the Temple. Not against Caesar.” 9 Festus wanted to keep the Jews happy. So he told Paul, “Your case could be tried in Jerusalem. Would you be willing to go up there for the trial?” 10 Paul said, “Caesar’s court is here in Caesarea. This is where I should be tried. I’ve done nothing to the Jews. You know that as well as I do. 11 I’m not trying to get out of an execution I deserve. The fact is I don’t deserve an execution at all. There’s nothing to the charges these people have made. No one has a right to turn me over to them. I’m going to appeal my case to Caesar’s supreme court.” 12 Festus conferred with his legal advisors. Then he said to Paul, “You appeal to Caesar. You go to Caesar.”
King Agrippa visits Governor Festus13 A few days later King Agrippa and his sister Bernice came down to Caesarea to welcome the new governor, Festus. 14 Since the Jewish king and his sister were staying there for several days, Festus chatted with them about his Jewish prisoner, Paul. Festus said, “You might be interested in hearing about a prisoner I inherited from Felix. 15 When I went over to Jerusalem recently, the top priests and other Jewish leaders asked me to convict the man—to just go ahead and declare him guilty. 16 I said I couldn’t do that. I told them Romans don’t turn people over for execution without giving them a chance to defend themselves against their accusers in a court of law. 17 So when they made the trip down here, I didn’t keep them waiting. The very next day I held court and ordered the man to come and stand trial. 18 When the prosecution brought their case, they didn’t make any of the charges I expected. 19 Instead, they started asking him questions about their religion and about some dead guy named Jesus, who Paul said was alive. 20 Since I had no idea how to handle questions like that, I asked if he wanted to take his case to Jerusalem, where he could be tried on those religious charges. 21 That’s when Paul appealed his case to the emperor. So I ordered him held here until I can arrange to send him to Caesar in Rome. 22 Agrippa said, “I would love to hear what that man has to say for himself.” Festus said, “Well, I’ll see to it that you get your chance tomorrow.”
Paul’s command performance for King Agrippa23 The next day Agrippa and Bernice arrived at the courthouse. They brought pageantry and flamboyance with them. The show included a parade of top military officers and Caesarea’s most important leaders. Festus gave the order and Paul was brought into the court. 24 Festus addressed the crowd, “King Agrippa and everyone else present with us today, take a look at this man. The entire Jewish nation wants him dead. They have lobbied me here and in Jerusalem, pleading with me to kill him. They say he shouldn’t be allowed to live any longer. 25 But I’m telling you this, I can’t see that he has done anything that warrants death. Since he has appealed to the emperor’s supreme court, I’ve decided to send him there. 26 My problem is that I can’t think of anything substantive to write about his case. What can I tell the emperor? I’m at a loss. So I’ve brought him here for you folks to examine—especially you, King Agrippa. I’m hoping that when you’re done interrogating him that I’ll have something worth writing to Caesar. 27 I mean, come on, it makes no sense to send a prisoner to Rome for trial in the emperor’s supreme court if we don’t know what crime to charge him with.”
Caesarea was a port city that King Herod the Great built on the Mediterranean coast about 70 miles (110 km) northwest of Jerusalem. The walk from one town to the other would take three or four days. Herod built a huge harbor in Caesarea because the nation had no natural harbor. Herod designed Caesarea after Roman cities and he named it after Caesar because he knew who was really the boss. Romans used Caesarea as their capital in the Middle East for 600 years.
The emperor at the time was Nero. He ruled the Roman Empire from AD 54-68. The first intense wave of Roman persecution of Christians took place in AD 64-65.
Herod Agrippa II (AD 28-100), great-grandson of Herod the Great, ruled the Jewish northland. That included Galilee and parts of what are now south Lebanon and west Jordan.
Bernice (AD 28-81). First-century writers reported that she lived with her brother beginning in the AD 40s, after failed marriages. Rumors are that she and her brother enjoyed each other’s company a little too much from time to time.
Newly appointed governor of the Jewish homeland region, Festus, spent only three days in Caesarea, which Romans used as their capital of the Middle East. Then he visited Jerusalem. He didn’t take long to settle in and get acquainted with his new digs. Why would you expect he went to Jerusalem so soon?
The governor before Festus—Felix—got fired partly because he abused his power and got the Jews upset about it, according to first-century writers such as Josephus. As you read the story of the Jews pressuring rookie governor Festus to let them take care of Paul, how do you think he handled the pressure?
When Paul finally gets a hearing before Festus, Paul doesn’t seem to give Festus a chance to consider the matter. Paul tells him, “I’m going to appeal my case to Caesar’s supreme court” (25:11). Why do you think Paul felt compelled to appeal his case to Emperor Nero, of all people—the first emperor who would, several years later, drop the hammer on Christians by accusing them of starting the AD 64 fire that burned Rome for six days?
If you had been a lawyer advising Paul during his hearing with Festus, what would you have recommended he do before kicking the case up a big notch to Rome’s supreme court?
When Jews presented their case against Paul, Festus was dumbfounded. “They didn’t make any of the charges I expected. Instead, they started asking him…about some dead guy named Jesus, who Paul said was alive” (25:18-19). What do you think Festus would have done with Paul had Paul not appealed his case to Rome’s supreme court?
Festus seems to have no idea how to charge Paul with a crime worthy of a hearing in the supreme court. He tells King Agrippa and other leaders, “It makes no sense to send a prisoner to Rome for trial in the emperor’s supreme court if we don’t know what crime to charge him with” (25:27). If you’re familiar with Paul’s story and with the trouble he stirred up among the Jews throughout what is now Syria, Turkey, and Greece, what crimes would you suggest Festus consider charging Paul with?
LIFE APPLICATION. When King Agrippa and his sis arrived at the courthouse, “They brought pageantry and flamboyance with them. The show included a parade of top military officers and Caesarea’s most important leaders” (25:23). We still do that. We make a big deal when important people come to visit us, whether we’re a president, a governor, or a Kansas City homeowner. What’s the value of that? And what’s the danger of doing that?