“Festus then, having arrived in the province, three days later went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. And the chief priests and the leading men of the Jews brought charges against Paul, and they were urging him, requesting a concession against Paul, that he might have him brought to Jerusalem (at the same time, setting an ambush to kill him on the way). Festus then answered that Paul was being kept in custody at Caesarea and that he himself was about to leave shortly.“Therefore,” he said, “let the influential men among you go there with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them prosecute him.”
Under Roman guard the apostle Paul had been brought safely to Caesarea, thus frustrating the plot of the forty Jews to kill him. So the Sanhedrin hired a lawyer named Tertullus to represent them before the Roman court. It was customary in those days for people who were not Roman citizens to hire Roman attorneys to represent them in Roman courts. The trial ended in a stalemate. Felix kept Paul under house arrest for two more years in hope of obtaining a monetary bribe. Two years passed and Felix was replaced by Porcius Festus. Festus, wanting to appease the influential Jews, agreed to another trial in Caesarea. If they found anything irregular in the case, Paul would be retried by the Jews before Festus in Jerusalem. However, the case had already been tried and Paul had been found innocent, but Festus wanted to please the Jews.
Human inconsistency did not destroy God’s plan for the life of Paul. Festus succumbed to the combination of social and political pressure in allowing another trial. Festus failed, but Roman law was greater than his failure. Roman law put Paul out of the jurisdiction of Festus and under the jurisdiction of the court in Rome. God controls the events of history to protect believers. (Romans 8:28; Psalm 76:10)
“After he had spent not more than eight or ten days among them, he went down to Caesarea, and on the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. After Paul arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him which they could not prove, while 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.” But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me on these charges?”
Festus spent several days socializing and playing politics with the Jews in Jerusalem. The word for spent is “diatribe” means to wear someone down, to wear away by friction or to keep working on someone until they break down. They worked on him by social life, by flattery, by catering to him to the maximum. Then he went down to Caesarea; and the following day took his seat of judgment and commanded Paul to be brought before him and the Jews. Paul successfully defended himself against charges which could not be proven. But Festus sought to ingratiate himself with the Jewish hierarchy by trying to convince Paul to return to Jerusalem to stand trial. Remember the Jews had hatched another plot to kill Paul if they could get Festus to return Paul to Jerusalem.
“But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you also very well know. If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Then when Festus had conferred with his council, he answered, “You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go.”
Paul stated correctly that he was under the jurisdiction of Roman law and should not switch to Jewish law. He was a Roman citizen, and he ought to be judged by Roman law. It seems that Festus knew that Paul was innocent even though he would not admit it. The Greek word for (very well) know is “epiginosko,” which means a full understanding. And under Roman law the innocent were supposed to be released and never punished.
Paul believed in capital punishment, but knew his right as a Roman citizen to a trial in a Roman court. Actually as a Roman citizen Paul had the right to be judged in the highest court. Once Paul appealed to Caesar, which was the highest court in the land, he could not be sent to Jerusalem for trial. The council that Festus conferred with was a group of Roman lawyers (his council).
“Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus. While they were spending many days there, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man who was left as a prisoner by Felix; and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges. So after they had assembled here, I did not delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought before me.”
After several days King Agrippa, king of Judea (Jewish king) and Bernice (his sister) came to Caesarea to greet Festus. Herod Agrippa II was the last of the Herodian line. His grandfather was Herod the Great, His grand uncle, Herod Antipas, who had killed James and John the Baptist. Agrippa had no authority in the Roman province of Caesarea. He had a “kingdom” to the north and had come down with his sister Bernice simply to visit and to pay his respects to the new Roman governor. He was playing politics.
Festus, wanting a second opinion regarding the request to return Paul to Jerusalem for trial, consulted King Agrippa. Festus stated the position of the law as if this was the position which he had taken. Remember that he was ready to send Paul back to Jerusalem to be tried by the Jews. He represented himself as a zealous public servant in a very self-righteous way (I did not delay). Actually, he had just spent 8-10 days socializing with the Jews instead of tending to business.
“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 dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive. 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. But when Paul appealed to be held in custody for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I send him to Caesar.” Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.”
Festus apparently had actually developed a prejudice against Paul in the ten days he spent in Jerusalem. When Festus came under the influence of the religious Jews he was no longer an impartial judge. Festus knew what the charges from the Jews against Paul were going to be, but he didn’t want to admit it to Agrippa, so he lied. But Festus did give the correct assessment of the controversy, so he already knew what the Jews were going to accuse Paul of.
Roman law recognized the right of their subjects to worship any way they wanted to worship. They could have their own religion provided that it did not conflict with the authority of the Emperor. We see in Festus’s statement to Agrippa that Paul had preached the Gospel to him because Festus spoke about Jesus and the Resurrection.
The Greek word for being at a loss is“aporeo”meaning to be perplexed. Festus was distorting the truth once again by saying he was perplexed as to how to investigate the matter. He wasn’t perplexed at all; he was trying to appease his new Jewish friends and get approval from Agrippa regarding his decision. So this was his way of justifying sending Paul back to the Jews in Jerusalem so they could kill him. Fortunately, Paul knew to appeal to Caesar which would eventually get him to Rome where he should have been all along. Agrippa was apparently intrigued enough that he wanted to hear Paul’s defense. Festus agreed, hoping that Agrippa would give him something to write to Caesar when he sent Paul to Rome.
So, on the next day when Agrippa came together with Bernice amid great pomp, and entered the auditorium accompanied by the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. Festus said, “King Agrippa, and all you gentlemen here present with us, you see this man about whom all the people of the Jews appealed to me, both at Jerusalem and here, loudly declaring that he ought not to live any longer.”
Festus was trying to come up with a reasonable explanation to send to Caesar for not having resolved this issue himself. Festus hoped that King Agrippa could bail him out. And without realizing it, Festus exposed the true nature of religion. The Greek word for loudly declaring is “epiboao,” which means to scream out or exclaim vehemently. Religion hated Paul, was jealous of Paul and was vindictive toward him. Their antagonism was manifest in yelling and screaming in both the Jewish and the Roman courts. It exposed the true nature of all religion which is emotionalism.
“But I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death; and since he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. Yet I have nothing definite about him to write to my lord. Therefore I have brought him before you all and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the investigation has taken place, I may have something to write.
Festus knew that by Roman law Paul was innocent of all charges, but he couldn’t say Paul was innocent without offending the Jews. So he said Paul had done nothing worthy of death. The implication was that Paul had done something wrong. There was a lot of hypocrisy in Festus’s statement. The Greek word for found is “katalambano,”which means to be overtaken by surprise. Festus wasn’t overtaken by surprise at all. Festus was willing to sacrifice Paul on the altar of political expediency. Festus abandoned the proper administration of Roman justice. Festus was only interested in promoting Festus through ingratiating himself with the religious leaders.
Festus now faced the dilemma of Roman law. Under Roman law Paul had appealed to Caesar, which meant a change of venue to Rome. Paul was no longer under the legal jurisdiction of Festus, but Festus had to provide a report to Caesar. Festus could not admit his own incompetence to Caesar for being unable to resolve this issue himself, so he hoped that Agrippa or the others present would give him some help. Remember, this was not a trial; it was a hearing for the purpose of resolving the dilemma of Festus.
“For it seems absurd to me in sending a prisoner, not to indicate also the charges against him.”
Festus was going to have to come up with a report that did not reveal his own incompetency and how he had catered to the religious Jewish leaders. So he was hopeful that King Agrippa or someone present could bail him out with an explanation to Caesar that made him look competent.