Acts 25 Continued

13. And after some days King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to greet Festus.

Several days pass from this time. Paul has made his appeal to Rome, and the law demands that he be sent there. However, such journeys could not be prepared instantly. Arrangements must be made for Paul being conveyed to Rome, and he will travel there with other prisoners, for certainly Rome is not going to go to all the expense of transporting prisoners one at a time. So preparations are being made, and during this time Paul remains in Caesarea.

Now at this point, Festus is visited by King Agrippa and Bernice. Agrippa means “Hero Like,” and Bernice means “Bring Victory.” These two are an interesting couple indeed. King Agrippa was actually Herod Agrippa II, son of Herod Agrippa I, the Herod whom we read about in Acts 12 who ordered James killed and planned to do the same with Peter until God stepped in. His son whom we read about here is a much more sympathetic character in the Scripture record, although he does refuse to accept Paul’s message. Bernice was his sister. She was first married to her uncle Herod, who reigned over Chalcis. After his death, she married Polemon, king of Cilicia. She soon abandoned him, and returned to her brother Agrippa. There was great suspicion about the exact nature of their relationship. The Bible, however, makes no accusations against them in this regard. Indeed, it doesn’t mention the matter one way or the other. Bernice finally became for a time the mistress of the emperor Titus.

As for Agrippa, he attempted to dissuade the Jews he ruled over from rebellion against Rome, but when he was unsuccessful, he refused to betray his people during the Jewish war. After the fall of Jerusalem, he was given rank as a praetorian, and maintained his kingdom until his death around 100AD. He was the last of the Herodian dynasty.

Now, this King Agrippa comes to Festus to meet and greet the new Roman governor of Judea. Since their territories are next to each other, he probably wants to establish ties with this new governor as soon as possible. Festus, of course, would also want to meet his equals in the surrounding territories, so he doubtless welcomes this visit from Agrippa.

14. When they had been there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying: “There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix,

The matter of Paul does not come up immediately, yet it does come up once Agrippa’s visit has gone on for many days. At this point, perhaps in casual conversation, Festus brings up the matter. He mentions Paul to King Agrippa, calling him “a certain man” but not naming him. He begins to review his case for Agrippa, telling him first that Paul had been left a prisoner by Felix when he left his position over the territory. Felix had left the matter for his successor to tackle, a fact which it is doubtful that Festus appreciated much at this point. Of course, the pickle he had gotten himself into was his own doing, for he had seen the truth of the matter, and could have done justice if he had wanted to.

15. about whom the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, when I was in Jerusalem, asking for a judgment against him.

He explains to Agrippa that the chief priests and elders of the Jews had come to him to inform him against Paul when he traveled to Jerusalem, and had asked him to make a judgment against him. This is all history as we have already had it recorded for us earlier in this same chapter.

Notice here that the elders of the Jews are mentioned. This is the Greek word presbuteros, the same word that Paul uses for “elders” in I Timothy and Titus. While it can mean an older man, the basic idea here is of a representative. These were the representatives of the Jews, although the group they represented was the unbelieving and Christ-rejecting group from Jerusalem.

The word for “judgment” here is not the common word in the New Testament at all, but is the word dike, which occurs four times and means vengeance or punishment. The modern Greek texts read katadike, which if correct would occur only here. The Greek reads kat autou diken, so it is easy to see how when writing by hand a kata could have been added (or subtracted) here.

16. To them I answered, ‘It is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning the charge against him.’

Festus repeats his answer to the Jews for Agrippa, and his words let us know a little more about the kind of judgment the Jews must have wanted Festus to hand down against Paul. Apparently they wanted him to declare him a bad man on their say-so, and to condemn him to death without him ever having to undergo a trial. This would have been very convenient for them, since their last attempt to put Paul on trial had not gone so well for them, it becoming obvious that they had no real case against him. Perhaps they were hoping that this new governor would be unsure of himself and weak, and so they could easily manipulate him into granting this outrageous request. Whatever the case, they were disappointed, for Festus was not about to prove himself as weak as they hoped he would be.

Festus pointed out to them that it is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning the charges against him. It is interesting how Festus phrased this, calling it “the custom of the Romans.” If we would examine this custom, we realize that what he was talking about is just simple justice. It would not be just to condemn anyone to death who did not even get a chance to answer for himself. The reason the Romans insisted upon this is that they had a sense of justice in their legal code. Yet it seems that Festus does not share the sense of justice that those who crafted the code of the Romans had. To him, this is just a custom that the Romans had that he must abide by. He does not think deeply enough, or perhaps care deeply enough, to be moved by the justice of it. These are just the boundaries within which he has to work, and that is all it means to him.

In the same way, our codes of justice can be treated like this today. Though in their inception they may have been meant to promote justice, in practice those who carry them out need to have a sense of true justice themselves. If not, they may treat these things as just the custom they have to follow. Though promoting justice because you have to may be better than the alternative, if a judge has no real sense of justice himself, he will not follow justice any further than the law forces him to. This is exactly what we see in the case of Festus. He does justice when it is demanded of him by the Roman system. However, when it is up to him, he is more interested in getting favor for himself. Even the best code of justice must ultimately be dependent upon the personal code of those who carry it out. The same is as true in our system as in any other.

17. Therefore when they had come together, without any delay, the next day I sat on the judgment seat and commanded the man to be brought in.

Festus does not mention his return trip to Caesarea. Instead, he skips right to when these chief priests and elders came together to accuse Paul. Without any delay, Festus reports, he sat on the judgment seat the next day and commanded Paul to be brought in to trial.

18. When the accusers stood up, they brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed,

Now he reports that when the accusers stood up, they did not bring the kind of accusations against Paul that he expected. He was probably expecting some terrible or noteworthy crimes to have inspired their concern with Paul’s demise. Being new to the region, he as yet had no idea of the jealousy of these leaders towards Jesus Christ and those who represented Him.

19. but had some questions against him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.

Instead, Festus reports, he found the accusations against Paul to involve questions about their own religion. For “religion” here Festus uses the word deisidaimonia, which means literally “dread of demons.” However, the common religions of the day made little difference between gods and demons, other than demons were somewhat more mischievous, so this word simply came to mean a religion. Festus was not trying to be insulting by using this word. Certainly not when he was talking to Agrippa, who, though he was Idumean rather than Jewish, was of the Jews’ religion himself.

Festus also reports that their accusations had to do with a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. Here, we see Festus’ interpretation of what their accusations were. He merely took it to be that Paul denied the death of the Lord Jesus had ever occurred, and this was the contention between him and the religious leaders. He had no idea that Paul did not deny that the Lord had died, but insisted that He had risen from the dead. It is not surprising that Festus made this mistake, for the beliefs of the Greeks made no room for resurrection, instead making death to be a desirable state wherein you shed your body and can now exist as an unfettered, pure spirit. Indeed, when Festus finally realizes that Paul teaches resurrection, he accuses him of being mad! So Festus understandably mistakes the whole argument between Paul and the religious leaders as merely being about whether or not the Lord died.

20. And because I was uncertain of such questions, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there be judged concerning these matters.

At this point, Festus ceases to be entirely candid with Agrippa, for this is not really how matters had gone. What really happened was Festus knew very well that Paul was innocent. However, now that he had asserted his power with the Jews, he was willing to gain favor with them, and twist justice in order to keep Paul bound. It was for this reason that he asked Paul whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there be judged concerning these matters. If Festus had done what he knew to be right, he would have had Paul released on the spot.

21. But when Paul appealed to be reserved for the decision of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I could send him to Caesar.”

Festus makes it sound as if Paul stubbornly rejected his reasonable request, and instead demanded that he be reserved for the decision of Augustus. The reality is that Paul knew he would be ambushed and killed by the Jews before he ever came to Jerusalem, and so he was forced to make this appeal. Whether or not Festus knew this or not at this point is hard to say. Yet the way he makes it sound to Agrippa, Paul had no reason to make this request. Having followed out the story in Acts, we know differently.

The word “Augustus,” is actually Sebastos in Greek, and means “Reverend” or “Venerable.” It is a title, not a name, which was applied to the Caesars. The Caesar at this time was doubtless Nero, not the man Augustus, who died long before this. Nero has a very bad reputation as a Caesar, and it is reported that the first major persecution of Christians occurred under him. It is interesting to note that the Holy Spirit has Paul go to him for justice, however. Josephus reports that some of the negative things said about Nero were lies. Of course, no one knows for sure what Josephus thought about Christians.

As a Roman citizen, Paul had every right to appeal to Caesar any decision that was going to be made against him. This right was granted to protect Roman citizens from local corruption, and it works exactly that way in this case. Paul would have died here due to Festus’ lack of concern for justice. Instead, Festus has no choice but to follow Roman law, and command Paul to be kept until arrangements can be made so he can send him to Caesar as he has requested. Therefore he will go to Rome, and be given the opportunity to witness for Jesus Christ to Caesar Nero himself.

22. Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.”
“Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.”

Agrippa is intrigued by this story. Whether or not he has heard of Paul (Festus never mentioned his name,) he surely knew about the followers of Jesus Christ, since he had long lived in the region, unlike Festus. He decides he would like to hear the man of which Festus has informed him. Festus has no problem with this. Indeed, he is hoping that Agrippa, having a better knowledge of matters and politics in the area, will be able to help him out of a difficulty, as we will see in a few verses. Therefore, he agrees, and decides to arrange it so that Agrippa can hear Paul the next day.

23. So the next day, when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command Paul was brought in.

The morrow arrives, and this significant event begins to play out, the Spirit describing it for us so we can see it in our mind’s eye. Agrippa and Bernice arrive with great pomp. The word “pomp” is the Greek phantasia, which means a great display. We get our word “fantasy” from this Greek word, and indeed the fiction of greatness suggested by this display was not in fact a reality. So Agrippa and his sister enter the auditorium. Along with them come the commanders and prominent men of the city. “Commanders” here is chiliarchos in Greek, the familiar word we know from the Chiliarch who first rescued and arrested Paul back in chapter 21. It seems that Paul is to be the day’s entertainment for these important and influential men. Festus, of course, is there, and he gives the command and Paul is brought in.

What a contrast Paul the prisoner must have made to these mighty and influential men! Even treated well as a Roman prisoner, he must have looked shabby in comparison to those who had all come together to hear him, especially considering the great show we read Agrippa and Bernice put on. However, in spite of the outward appearance, Paul is God’s representative, and as such is the most important person at this event. Though they might not know it, it is in reality Agrippa and his cohorts who are on trial, and the Judge and Jury is the living God Whom Paul represented. Someday, sentence will be passed against these men based on what they heard this day.

24. And Festus said: “King Agrippa and all the men who are here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer.

Agrippa and Festus already know what this is all about, but there are many in attendance who were not privy to their conversation, so Festus explains to all of them exactly who Paul is, and why they have all gathered together to hear him. Festus also has a goal in this, which he had not explained before to Agrippa, that he hopes to get accomplished this day.

Festus addresses his words first of all to King Agrippa, since he is the most honored guest here. Then, he addresses it to all the others there present along with the two of them. He points their attention to Paul, informing them that the whole assembly of the Jews had petitioned him against Paul, both in Jerusalem and Caesarea, crying to Festus that Paul ought not to be allowed to live any longer.

The word for “assembly” here means simply the “multitude,” the Greek being plethos. By this, he is referring of course to the leaders of the Jews, for it was they who were against Paul, not the common people.

25. But when I found that he had committed nothing deserving of death, and that he himself had appealed to Augustus, I decided to send him.

Festus changes the story yet again. He admits that he found he had committed nothing deserving of death. Of course, this is true. Yet he also claims that he “found” that he himself had appealed to Augustus, as if he had done this before he had ever appeared before Festus, and Festus bore no responsibility whatever for it. Again, we know better. It was Festus who forced Paul’s hand into doing this, since he was willing to indulge the murderous intent of the Jews. Yet Festus is not about to admit this, and so he makes himself sound as if he is completely without responsibility in this in his statement here. He acts like he just found out Paul had appealed to Caesar, so he rightfully decided to send him, as the law demanded. How righteous men can sound when they have the opportunity to tell their own story! Yet God knows the truth, and He exposes Festus’ duplicity here.

26. I have nothing certain to write to my lord concerning him. Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write.

Now Festus admits his dilemma. He is about to send a prisoner to Rome who has appealed to Caesar, and yet he has no charges against him to write to Caesar to explain why he made this appeal or needed to be sent to him. Festus already realized that there was nothing he could charge Paul with when he first heard his arguments. It would have been fine if he let Paul go then, as he should have done. However, he had not, and now he has put himself in this pickle. He is risking making himself look foolish to Caesar, and look as if he is wasting Caesar’s time and the Romans’ money.

In hopes of getting out of this dilemma, Festus reveals, he has brought him out before this company, especially King Agrippa. Since they have a better knowledge of the region and its politics, it seems Festus is hoping they will be able to see more in the matter than Festus does, and will figure out from their examination of Paul some plausible-sounding charge that Festus can write to accompany Paul to Caesar.

27. For it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to specify the charges against him.”

Festus is quite uneasy about this, because he knows that it is unreasonable to send a prisoner to his lord with no charges against him. He has put himself in this position, and now he is uncomfortable with the results of it. He hoped to gain favor with the people whom he ruled, and now instead he is going to look bad before his lord. Yet there is no help for it now for Festus. He hopes, therefore, that perhaps these men can help him out of this. We will see how successful or unsuccessful this was in the next chapter.