Paul Appears before Festus
Three days after Festus arrived in Caesarea to take over his new responsibilities, he left for Jerusalem, where the leading priests and other Jewish leaders met with him and made their accusations against Paul. They asked Festus as a favour to transfer Paul to Jerusalem (planning to ambush and kill him on the way). But Festus replied that Paul was at Caesarea and he himself would be returning there soon. So he said, “Those of you in authority can return with me. If Paul has done anything wrong, you can make your accusations.”
About eight or ten days later Festus returned to Caesarea, and on the following day he took his seat in court and ordered that Paul be brought in. When Paul arrived, the Jewish leaders from Jerusalem gathered around and made many serious accusations they couldn’t prove.
Paul denied the charges. “I am not guilty of any crime against the Jewish laws or the Temple or the Roman government,” he said.
Then Festus, wanting to please the Jews, asked him, “Are you willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there?”
But Paul replied, “No! This is the official Roman court, so I ought to be tried right here. You know very well I am not guilty of harming the Jews. If I have done something worthy of death, I don’t refuse to die. But if I am innocent, no one has a right to turn me over to these men to kill me. I appeal to Caesar!”
Festus conferred with his advisers and then replied, “Very well! You have appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar you will go!”
A few days later King Agrippa arrived with his sister, Bernice,[a] to pay their respects to Festus. During their stay of several days, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. “There is a prisoner here,” he told him, “whose case was left for me by Felix. When I was in Jerusalem, the leading priests and Jewish elders pressed charges against him and asked me to condemn him. I pointed out to them that Roman law does not convict people without a trial. They must be given an opportunity to confront their accusers and defend themselves.
“When his accusers came here for the trial, I didn’t delay. I called the case the very next day and ordered Paul brought in. But the accusations made against him weren’t any of the crimes I expected. Instead, it was something about their religion and a dead man named Jesus, who Paul insists is alive. I was at a loss to know how to investigate these things, so I asked him whether he would be willing to stand trial on these charges in Jerusalem. But Paul appealed to have his case decided by the emperor. So I ordered that he be held in custody until I could arrange to send him to Caesar.”
“I’d like to hear the man myself,” Agrippa said.
And Festus replied, “You will—tomorrow!”
In Romans chapter 8 verse 28 Paul makes an emphatic and sweeping statement. He writes, all things work together for good for those who love the Lord.
Sometimes when we are going through a time of crisis it can be incredibly difficult to comprehend how this might be possible. Often it is only as we look back that we see how God has been at work.
I’m convinced that this must have been the case for Paul as he experienced the circumstances that we read about in Acts 25. He must have been incredibly frustrated that, for well over two years, he was stuck in prison, apparently unable to fulfil his ministry. However, as we look back now, we can see that without doubt that God was at work.
In the short term he got to speak to king Agrippa. In the medium term, he got sent to Rome, this fulfilled a word that God has spoken directly to him, that he would testify for him there. And in the long term, we know that Paul wrote a lot of his letters from prison. These letters were a no doubt a blessing to the churches which received them, and 2000 years latter are still a source of encouragement to us today, especially for those who have also had to face false imprisonment, accusations and criticism. I suspect that Paul would have been astonished in the midst of all these difficulties to know how much good was going to come from them.
Already in the current pandemic we are seeing that good is coming from it. Many Christians are spending much more time in prayer and there has been a huge surge in those looking towards the church for help and answers. How will this situation pan out in the medium and long term? Only time will tell. In this life, we may never know, how God uses our faithfulness in the face of the challenges we all face. All we are called to do is trust that God will fulfil his word, for his glory.