1. Now when Festus had come to the province, after three days he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem.
So the newcomer Festus, Felix’s replacement, arrives in the province. In Greek, his name is actually spelled “Phestos,” there not being any “F” in Greek. Although the exact time he was procurator is unknown, his tenure there was short-lived. History tells us that he died in 62AD. The Companion Bible suggests he was procurator starting in 60AD, which would place for us the time this is taking place.
Festus comes first to Caesarea, the Roman capital of the region. He spends several days there, perhaps resting up from his journey and familiarizing himself with his new capital, but he does not remain there for long. After three days, he heads for the Jewish capital of Jerusalem, no doubt to meet with the leaders there, for interacting with them will be an important part of his job as governor.
Notice that Festus goes “up” to Jerusalem. Caesarea was near the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, whereas Jerusalem was in the mountains. Thus, it was definitely “up” in elevation to go to Jerusalem. Not only so, but as we have said before, in the Bible, one always goes “up” to Jerusalem.
2. Then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they petitioned him,
The high priest and the leaders of the Jews waste no time in bringing Paul’s case before Festus. They are still motivated by their hatred for him, and see the installment of this new Roman governor as an opportunity to have their way in putting him to death. Therefore they petition him to grant the request which Felix had so long denied them.
3. asking a favor against him, that he would summon him to Jerusalem—while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him.
They seek to carry out much the same plan they had had in mind two years before. That is, they seek to have Paul called before them in Jerusalem. It seems they ask this as a personal favor from Festus. Their plan, as it was two years ago with Felix, is to have an ambush waiting along the road, so that when Paul is passing by they can spring the ambush and kill him.
The word used for “favor” here is charis, the Greek word for “grace.” They literally wanted grace, a favor that they did not deserve, from this new Roman official.
4. But Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was going there shortly.
Festus refuses to grant the Jews’ request. It is hard to say whether or not he has been informed about the kind of plot the Jews had attempted to carry out once before when they tried to ambush Paul. The text gives no sign that he knows this. It could be that Festus simply wishes to show these powerful Jewish leaders that he is not going to assent to their every demand. Since he is new to his position as Roman ruler of the province, he needs to show these local leaders that he is in charge, and remind them that he is the one that Rome has given the power. Whatever his reasoning, he does not grant their request, but instead instructs them to appear before him in Caesarea. He will be returning there shortly, and so it is there that he wishes to conduct Paul’s trial. Caesarea is the seat of Festus’ power, and it could well be he wants to remind the Jews that he is the one with the authority from Rome by having them meet with him there.
5. “Therefore,” he said, “let those who have authority among you go down with me and accuse this man, to see if there is any fault in him.”
Here we have some of Festus’ words in this situation quoted. He tells those of them with authority to go down to meet with him at Caesarea. This will be a much more comfortable situation for Festus overall. He will be surrounded by his own men, whereas the Jews will have to bring their men with them, as many as they can. In Jerusalem, the situation is the opposite, for Festus has only those he has brought with him, and he is surrounded by the men who owe allegiance to the Jews. We can see his wisdom, then, in demanding they come to him for a trial. In Jerusalem, he is at a disadvantage, and may feel forced to make a decision just because he feels weak. In Caesarea, he can more effectively assert his strength.
6. And when he had remained among them more than ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day, sitting on the judgment seat, he commanded Paul to be brought.
Festus remains in Jerusalem more than ten days. No doubt, he is dealing with matters of government and familiarizing himself with his new jurisdiction during this time, Then, being satisfied with what he has accomplished in Jerusalem, he returns home to Caesarea. Once there, he wastes little time in bringing the matter of Paul to trial. No doubt he realizes that this is a high priority matter to the Jewish leaders, and so having asserted his authority, he is now willing to hear the matter quickly to satisfy their impatience.
7. When he had come, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood about and laid many serious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove,
The Jews who came down to Festus in Caesarea to accuse Paul waste no time in bringing forward their accusations. Many and serious are their complaints against him. They are trying to make out that Paul is a terrible malefactor, when in fact they can prove nothing at all against him. Their complaints have to do solely with their hatred of Paul, and nothing to do with anything wrong he has actually done. Of course, we realize that their hatred of Paul is motivated by his identification with the Lord Jesus Christ. Even so, those who love and live for Christ today are often hated. This should not be a surprising thing. Though these specific religious leaders are long gone, their kind is always present. They hated the Lord, they hated His representative Paul, and so it is no surprise when they hate us as well.
It is interesting that the Jews who came down are described as “standing about.” This calls a picture to our minds of a mob of angry religious leaders on one side, all standing together in a group hurling their malicious accusations against Paul. On the other side stands God’s representative alone, calmly and clearly pleading his cause against all these who hate him. Happily for Paul, he had the Holy Spirit on his side. He was not truly standing alone.
8. while he answered for himself, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.”
As he did before Felix, Paul once again answers for himself. Of course, he has the advantage of having the inspiration of the Holy Spirit on his side. This time, we do not have the totality of his argument recorded for us, but only his summary statement. He insists, and rightfully so, that he has done nothing wrong from any standpoint. Against the law of the Jews he has not offended. He has done nothing to desecrate the temple of God, as his enemies pretended he had. Against Caesar, whom Festus represented, Paul had also committed no crime. No doubt the Jews had accused Paul of crimes against all three of these, yet all their accusations were false. Paul is innocent, and he knows it.
9. But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?”
Festus is an intelligent man, and probably has looked into the matter of Paul. He knows that the accusations of the Jews are false as much as Paul does. Yet another factor enters in here. This is that Festus wishes to do the Jews a favor. Actually, the Greek here more likely indicates he was seeking favor of the Jews, so he was looking for them to give him favor, not the other way around. He has now asserted the fact that he is the boss by making the powerful Jewish leaders comply with his wishes and accuse Paul at Caesarea, rather than in Jerusalem. Having established his dominance, Festus’ motivation changes. He now desires to curry favor with these rich and powerful men, knowing he will need their blessing and good will if he is to rule well over Judea. Thus, he is now willing to grant their request, and send Paul to Jerusalem to be tried.
The question now arises whether or not Festus realizes that sending Paul to Jerusalem is akin to a death sentence. The Holy Spirit knew this, and so has recorded it for us here. Felix knew this, and so we wonder if he kept records of this that could be accessed by his successor. Of the truth of this, we have no way of knowing. All we know is that Festus was willing here to acquiesce to what the Jews wanted. We do not actually know if he realized that this would mean death for Paul. Since it would also mean death for some of his soldiers who accompanied Paul, it could be he did not know.
Yet if Festus does not know that he is consigning Paul over to death, he can still be blamed. For what Festus does know is that Paul is innocent. There is no reason to send an innocent man to be tried in the court of his enemies. Festus should let Paul go on the spot. His actions, even if they are not done with murderous intentions against Paul, are at least done solely to benefit Festus at the expense of justice. For this, Festus certainly can be blamed.
Moreover, the word for “favor” here is actually the Greek word charis, which means “grace.” We know that grace is love and favor shown to the undeserving. Festus well knows that these Jews do not deserve the favor he is showing them. Yet he decides to show them this grace of allowing them their way with Paul, hoping for grace himself from them in the future. How different this is from the grace of God, however! God died to show us grace. Festus, however, shows grace only to gain goodwill for himself.
Festus therefore asks Paul if he is willing to go to Jerusalem at the Jews’ request. This question to Paul is probably something of a formality. If Paul says he is not willing, will that stop Festus from sending him? Doubtless it will not. Festus has decided to send Paul, and though he is asking Paul about it, he is probably just hoping that Paul will agree to it. If Paul does not, no doubt Festus is planning to send him anyway. This is not a real question, and Paul has no real choice here.
10. So Paul said, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know.
Festus might not realize that what he is planning to do will be a death sentence to Paul, but Paul himself certainly knows this. He does not even need the Spirit to inform him of this, for he has been made well aware of the fact that the Jews are planning to kill him from ambush the moment they can get him on the road from Caesarea to Jerusalem. Paul cannot agree to Festus’ plan, yet he also knows that if he does not agree, Festus will send him anyway. His only choice is to utilize his rights as a Roman.
Now every Roman who was being tried had the right, if he so wished, to appeal his case to Caesar himself. This was one of the many rights and privileges that the Romans enjoyed that were not allotted to ordinary men. This appeal could be made at any time during the trial, and could not be denied. Of course, this could not be done frivolously, for Caesar would not appreciate having his time wasted with small matters. Yet this gave every Roman some recourse when he was faced with local corruption. Therefore, it is to this right that Paul now appeals.
So by the words recorded for us here Paul makes his formal appeal to Caesar. As we can clearly see from the record, he really had no other choice. It was either this, or else die on the road to Jerusalem. Of course, God could have miraculously rescued Paul some other way, or even raised Paul to life again if he was killed by a Jewish ambush. Yet this is not the way He chooses to work in this case. Remember that Paul is God’s apostle, and his every word during this trial is inspired by the Holy Spirit. His appeal to Caesar here is not a mistake. This is exactly what God wants Paul to do. Rome is where He wants Paul to go after Jerusalem, and now he will be taken there free of charge by the Roman government. God wants Paul to testify to Caesar, and now the Roman government will see that he gets his chance.
Paul’s words here, as well as being his formal appeal to Caesar, also cut to the heart of the matter. Festus knows that he has done no wrong to the Jews, and Paul tells him so. These words are harsh, yet they are true. Festus knows that he really has no good reason for sending Paul to them. Paul’s words point out Festus’ corruption. Yet once he has appealed to Caesar, he is really safe from anything Festus might wish to do to him. He is now free to speak to Festus the bold truth. Hopefully, Festus was ashamed when he heard it.
11. For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.”
Paul continues to speak. He assures them that if he is an offender, or if he has committed anything worthy of death, then he does not object to dying for such crimes. But if he is innocent of all the charges brought against him, (and he has already indicated that Festus knows that he is,) then he is not going to meekly allow himself to be handed over to his enemies to be put to death. By saying this he indicates that he knows he will die if he is transported to Jerusalem. Certainly the Jewish leaders who are accusing him know this is the case. It is less clear whether or not Festus knows this is the case, If he does not, Paul certainly makes it clear that this is what he believes will happen here, though he does not specify that there will be an ambush on his way to Jerusalem. Therefore, knowing the trip to Jerusalem will result in his death, he is not about to allow Festus to transport him there to be handed over in this way. Therefore, he repeats himself again most emphatically. He is using his right to invoke Caesar.
12. Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!”
Festus, after hearing this, confers with his counselors. Of course, the word for “council” here is not the common word in Acts sunedrion or the Sanhedrin, for this was not the council of the Jews, but rather is sumboulion, meaning Festus’ court officials. Probably the only thing to be settled is the legality of Paul’s appeal. Since Paul is a Roman citizen, his request is certainly legal. Being made in a public court like this, there is no way for Festus to deny Paul made this appeal. As we have seen, Rome took its citizens’ rights very seriously, so this is not something that Festus should consider messing with. If Paul demands this right, then he must get it.
Once he is assured that Paul’s request is legal, Festus responds. His response is official, and seals the matter. Paul has appealed to Caesar, so he will go to Caesar. Once again Paul with God’s help turned this situation around. Now, it is Festus who no longer has any choice. Paul has appealed to Caesar, and Festus must either grant this request or defy the government it is his job to uphold. Festus has no real choice then but to comply. Paul must go to Rome.
Nathan C. Johnson