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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Acts 25

 

 

Verses 1-27

Chapter 25

I APPEAL TO CAESAR (Acts 25:1-12)

25:1-12 Three days after he had entered into his province, Festus went up to Jerusalem. The chief priests and the chief men of the Jews laid information before him against Paul. They urged him, asking a favour against Paul, to send for him to be brought to Jerusalem, for they were hatching a plot to murder him on the way. But Festus replied that Paul was under guard at Caesarea and that he himself would soon be leaving. "So," he said, "let your men of power come down with me, and, if there is anything amiss with the man, let them make their accusations." After spending no more than eight or ten days amongst them, when he had gone down to Caesarea, he took his place on his judgment seat and ordered Paul to be brought in. When Paul came in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem surrounded him; they levelled many serious accusations against him which they were unable to prove, while Paul said in his defence, "I have committed no crime either against the Laws of the Jews, or against the Temple, or against Caesar." But Festus, with the desire to ingratiate himself with the Jews, replied to Paul, "Are you willing to go to Jerusalem and in my presence to be tried on these charges?" But Paul said, "I am standing at Caesar's judgment seat where I ought to be tried. I have committed no crime against the Jews as you very well know; but if I have committed some crime and if I have done something which merits death, I am not trying to beg myself off dying. But if there is nothing in the charges of which they accuse me, no one can hand me over as a favour to them. I appeal to Caesar." After Festus had conferred with his assessors, he said, "You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go."

Festus (Greek #5347) was a different type from Felix; we know very little about him but what we do know proves that he was a just and upright man. He died after only two years in office but he died with an untainted name. The Jews tried to take advantage of him; they tried to persuade him to send for Paul to come to Jerusalem; for once again they had formed a plot to assassinate Paul on the way. But Festus was a Roman, with the Roman instinct for justice; and he told them to come to Caesarea and plead their case there. From Paul's answer we can deduce the malicious charges which they levelled against him. They accused him of heresy, of sacrilege and of sedition. No doubt from their point of view the first charge was true, irrelevant as it was to Roman law; but the second two were deliberate lies.

Festus had no desire to get up against the Jews in the first days of his governorship and he offered a compromise. Was Paul, he asked, prepared to go to Jerusalem and stand his trial there while he stood by to see fair play? But Paul knew that for him there could be no such thing as fair play at Jerusalem and he took his great decision. If a Roman citizen felt he was not getting justice in a provincial court, he could appeal direct to the Emperor. Only if the man was a murderer, a pirate, or a bandit caught in the act, was the appeal invalid. In all other cases the local procedure had to be sisted and the claimant had to be despatched to Rome for the personal decision of the Emperor. When Paul uttered the fateful words, "I appeal to Caesar," Festus had no choice; and so Paul, in very different circumstances from those of which he had dreamed, had set his foot upon the first step of the road that led to Rome.

FESTUS AND AGRIPPA (Acts 25:13-21)

25:13-21 When some days had elapsed, Agrippa, the king, and Bernice came to Caesarea to welcome Festus. As they were staying there for some time, Festus referred Paul's case to the king. "There is a man"," he said, "who was left behind by Felix, a prisoner. When I was in Jerusalem the chief priests and the elders of the Jews laid information before me concerning him and asked for his condemnation. I replied to them that it is not the custom of the Romans to grant any man's life as a favour before the accused meets his accusers face to face and receives an opportunity to make his defence against their charge. So when they came down here I made no delay, but on the next day I took my seat on my judgment seat and ordered the man to be brought in. The accusers rose and brought against him none of the accusations of crime which I was expecting; but they had an argument with him about their own religion and about someone called Jesus who was dead and whom Paul insists to be alive. I did not know what to make of the dispute about these matters so I asked him if he was willing to go to Jerusalem and to be tried there on these charges; but Paul appealed and demanded to be held for His Majesty's investigation and decision; so I ordered him to be held until I should remand him to Caesar."

Agrippa (Greek #67) was still king of a quite small part of Palestine, which included Galilee and Peraea; but he knew quite well that he held even that limited realm by grace of the Romans. They had put him there and they could just as easily remove him. It was therefore his custom to pay a courtesy visit to the Roman governor when he entered his province. Bernice was a sister of Drusilla, the wife of Felix, and she was also a sister of Agrippa himself. Festus, knowing that Agrippa had the most intimate knowledge of Jewish faith and practice, proposed to discuss Paul's case with him. He gave Agrippa a characteristically impartial review of the situation as it existed at that moment; and now the stage was set for Paul to plead his case and bear his witness before a king. Jesus had said, "You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake" (Matthew 10:18). The hard prophecy had come true; but the promise of help (Matthew 10:19) was also to come abundantly true.

FESTUS SEEKS MATERIAL FOR HIS REPORT (Acts 25:22-27)

25:22-27 Agrippa said to Festus, "I, too, would like to hear the man." "Tomorrow," he said, "you will hear him." So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with much pomp; and when they had come into the audience-chamber with the captains and the leading men of the city Paul was brought in. So Festus said, "King Agrippa and all who are here present with us, you see this man, concerning whom the whole community of the Jews kept petitioning me both in Jerusalem and here, crying out that he ought not to be allowed to live any longer. I understood that he had done nothing to merit death. But when this man himself appealed to His Majesty, I gave judgment to send him. I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. So I have brought him in before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, when investigation has been made, I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to send the charges against him."

Festus had got himself into a difficulty. It was Roman law that if a man appealed to Caesar and was sent to Rome there must be sent with him a written account of the case and of the charges against him. Festus' problem was that, as far as he could see, there was no charge to send. That is why this meeting had been convened.

There is no more dramatic scene in all the New Testament. It was with pomp that Agrippa and Bernice had come. They would have on their purple robes of royalty and the gold circlet of the crown on their brows. Doubtless Festus had donned the scarlet robe which a governor wore on state occasions. Close at hand there must have stood Agrippa's suite and also in attendance were the most influential figures of the Jews. Close by Festus there would stand the captains in command of the five cohorts which were stationed at Caesarea; and in the background there would be a solid phalanx of the tall Roman legionaries on ceremonial guard.

Into such a scene came Paul, the little Jewish tent-maker, with his hands in chains; and yet from the moment he speaks, it is Paul who holds the stage. There are some men who have an element of power. Julian Duguid tells how he once crossed the Atlantic in the same ship as Sir Wilfred Grenfell. Grenfell was not a particularly imposing figure to look at; but Duguid tells that, whenever Grenfell entered one of the ship's rooms, he could tell he was there without looking round, because a wave of power emanated from the man. When a man has Christ in his heart and God at his right hand he has the secret of power. Of whom then shall he be afraid?

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Acts 25:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/acts-25.html. 1956-1959.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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