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Portius Festus was a more moderate and wise governor than Felix. [Note: Josephus, The Wars . . ., 2:14:1; Antiquities of . . ., 20:8:10-11.] We can see his wisdom in his decision to meet with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem soon after he took office. The province in view was Syria, which contained Judea.
Festus’ visit to Jerusalem 25:1-5
Paul’s defense before Festus 25:1-12
This is the shortest of Paul’s five defenses that Luke documented. Paul made his five defenses to the Jewish mob on the Antonia Fortress stairway (Acts 22:1-21), to the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:1-6), to Felix (Acts 24:10-21), to Festus (Acts 25:8; Acts 25:10-11), and to Herod Agrippa II (Acts 26:1-26). This one is quite similar to Paul’s defense before Felix except that now the apostle appealed to the emperor.
"Luke’s apologetic purpose is to show that only when Roman administrators were largely ignorant of the facts of the case were concessions made to Jewish opposition that could prove disastrous for the Christian movement." [Note: Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," p. 544.]
These Jews realized that they did not have much hope of doing away with Paul through the Roman courts. Ishmael had succeeded Ananias as high priest during the final days of Felix’s governorship. [Note: See ibid., 20:8:8, 11.] The Jew’s case against Paul was too weak. Consequently they urged the new governor to return Paul to Jerusalem so they could kill him on the way there (cf. Acts 23:12-15).
Festus did not agree to their request but promised to try Paul in Caesarea if his accusers would go down there.
The judgement seat (Gr. bema, Acts 25:6, cf. Acts 25:10; Acts 25:17; Acts 12:21; Acts 18:12; Matthew 27:19; John 19:13; 2 Corinthians 5:10) on which Festus sat was customarily in a public place. In view of Paul’s defense (Acts 25:8), the serious charges made by the Jews appear to have been the same as those Tertullus had presented (Acts 24:5-6). However the Jews could not prove them and produced no witnesses, so all Paul had to do was deny them categorically. This trial seems to have proceeded very much as the one before Felix had (ch. 24). Luke summarized the proceedings.
Paul’s hearing before Festus and the Jewish leaders in Caesarea 25:6-12
As the new governor, Festus did not want to do anything that would turn the Jewish authorities against him, especially in view of Felix’s record. He did not know how to proceed (Acts 25:20), but he wanted to stay in the Jews’ favor. Therefore he somewhat naively asked Paul if he was willing to move his trial to Jerusalem, the site of some of his alleged crimes. The fact that he asked Paul’s permission indicates that Paul was not a common criminal but an unconvicted Roman citizen with rights that the governor had to respect.
Paul turned this offer down perhaps because he feared that in Jerusalem popular opinion against him might sway his judge even more strongly than it had in Caesarea. His appeal for a trial in Rome was the right of every Roman citizen who believed he was in danger of violent coercion or capital punishment in a lower court. [Note: Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," p. 545.] Only Roman citizens who were murderers, pirates, or bandits caught in the act could not make this appeal. [Note: Barclay, p. 189.]
At this time Nero was emperor, but in the early years of his rule (A.D. 54-62) he was a relatively admirable emperor, and Paul had no reason to fear him now (A.D. 59). Only after A.D. 62 did Nero begin to rule erratically and to turn against Christianity.
Nothing in the New Testament indicates that Paul’s appeal to Caesar was contrary to God’s will. He probably saw this appeal as the way he could reach Rome having been detained in Caesarea for two year.
Paul’s appeal got Festus off the hook with the Jews, so the governor willingly granted it. He could have released Paul because he was innocent (cf. Acts 26:32), but the charges against him were political sedition and profaning the temple, both of which were capital offenses.
"The narrator shows unusual interest in Felix and Festus. They are complex characters with conflicting tendencies. Felix is attracted to Paul and his message, yet seeks a bribe and leaves Paul in prison to appease Paul’s enemies. Festus presents a favorable image of himself to the public, but his handling of Paul’s case is tainted with favoritism. Neither one is willing to offend the high priests and elders by releasing Paul. The narrator’s characterization of the Roman governors contributes to a portrait of Paul as one caught in a web of self-interested maneuvers by people who vie for support within the political jungle. However, Paul is not just a helpless victim. As opportunity comes, he continues to bear witness to his Lord. Although Paul continues to be denied justice and freedom, the saving purpose of God still has use for this resourceful and faithful prisoner." [Note: Tannehill, 2:314.]
Jesus had also stood trial before two Roman officials: Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas I.
This King Agrippa was Marcus Julius Agrippa II, the son of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1-11), the grandson of Aristobulus, and the great grandson of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1). [Note: See the diagram "Herod’s Family Tree" above at 12:1-2, and Bruce, "Chronological Questions . . .," pp. 283-84.] Herod the Great had tried to destroy the infant Jesus. One of his sons, Antipas, Agrippa II’s great uncle, beheaded John the Baptist and tried our Lord. Agrippa II’s father, Agrippa I, executed James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of John. He also imprisoned Peter and died in Caesarea (ch. 12). His son, Agrippa II, is the man Paul now faced. He had grown up in Rome and was a favorite of Emperor Claudius. He was the last in the Herodian dynasty and was the best of the Herods.
At the time he visited Festus, Agrippa was the king whom Rome had appointed over the territory northeast of the Judean province. He lived in Caesarea Philippi (Dan of the Old Testament) that he renamed Neronias in honor of Nero. Agrippa was about 30 years old at this time, and his sister, Bernice (Lat. Veronica), was one year younger. He ruled this region from A.D. 50 to 70. Drusilla, Felix’s wife, was Agrippa and Bernice’s younger sister.
Agrippa and Bernice evidently visited Festus on this occasion to pay their respects to the new governor of their neighboring province. Agrippa and Bernice were essentially favorable to the Jews. They both tried to avert the Roman massacre of the Jews in A.D. 66-70. [Note: Josephus, The Wars . . ., 2:15:1; 2:16:4]
Herod Agrippa II’s visit to Festus 25:13-22
The charges against Paul, and particularly his innocence, are the point of this pericope.
Festus apparently wanted to discuss Paul’s case with Agrippa because he needed to clarify the charges against Paul (Acts 25:27). Agrippa had a reputation for being an expert in Jewish matters since he was part Jewish and had grown up in the Herodian family. He was the person to whom Rome had given the authority to appoint the Jewish high priest and to preserve the temple treasury and vestments. [Note: Idem, Antiquities of . . ., 20:9:4, 7.]
Festus reviewed Paul’s situation and confessed his own surprise at the nature of the charges the Jews had brought against him. They were matters concerning the Jewish religion (cf. Acts 18:15; Acts 23:29) and the resurrection of Jesus. Luke did not record that Paul had spoken to Festus about Jesus’ resurrection previously, but apparently he had. Festus did not know how to deal with these charges (Acts 25:20).
"It is interesting that by this stage the question of Paul’s alleged desecration of the temple has quite disappeared from sight, and the topic of the resurrection (Acts 23:4; Acts 24:21) has replaced it. . . . The real ground of dispute is that Paul preaches the resurrection of Jesus, something which the Sadducees refused to believe on principle and which the Pharisees likewise refused to believe although they admitted the fact of a final resurrection of all men." [Note: Marshall, The Acts . . ., p. 388.]
The case interested Agrippa, and he asked to hear Paul. Festus readily agreed hoping that Agrippa would be able to help him understand Paul’s situation and provide information he could use in his report to the emperor.
Jesus had also appeared before a Jewish king, Herod Antipas I, who wanted to meet Him too (Luke 23:8). However, Paul’s interview with Agrippa proved to be more satisfying to this king than Jesus’ appearance before Antipas had been to that king (cf. Luke 23:6-12).
Festus used this occasion to honor Agrippa and Bernice before the local Caesarean leaders. There were five commanders based in Caesarea each with responsibility for 1,000 soldiers. They all had the same authority as Claudius Lysias, the commander of the cohort based in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 21:31 to Acts 23:30; Acts 24:22). Beside these commanders many prominent men of the city were present in the auditorium of the governor’s palace.
"Everyone who was anyone would have been there." [Note: The NET Bible note on Acts 25:23.]
Agrippa and Bernice conducted themselves like very important individuals, but Paul was the truly significant person in this gathering, as history has demonstrated (cf. Luke 21:12).
The preliminaries of the hearing 25:23-27
Paul’s defense before Agrippa 25:23-26:32
This is the longest of Paul’s five defenses. It centers on the gospel with an evangelistic appeal rather than on the charges against Paul. This emphasis harmonizes with Luke’s evangelistic purpose in Luke and Acts and is a fitting climax to that purpose. It also documents God’s faithfulness in allowing Paul to witness before kings (cf. Acts 9:15).
"Inherent in Luke’s account are at least three apologetic themes: (1) Paul’s relations with the Roman provincial government in Judea did not end in dissonance but with an acknowledgment of his innocence (cf. Acts 25:25; Acts 26:31); (2) even though the Jewish high priests and Sanhedrin opposed Paul, the Jewish king who in Rome’s eyes outranked them agreed with a verdict of innocence (cf. Acts 26:32); and (3) Paul’s innocence was demonstrated not only before Roman and Jewish rulers but also publicly before ’the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city’ (Acts 25:23)." [Note: Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," p. 550.]
In reviewing the reasons for conducting this hearing, Festus acknowledged that Paul had done nothing worthy of death as the Jews had charged (Acts 25:25). Pilate had made a similar observation about Jesus’ innocence (Luke 23:4; Luke 23:14; Luke 23:22). Festus referred to the emperor (Gr. sebastos, cf. Acts 25:21) as his lord (kyrios, definitely majesty, [Note: Werner Foerster, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "kyrios," 3:1054-58.] and perhaps deity, [Note: Ladd, "The Acts . . .," p. 1171.] Acts 25:25-26). But Paul would preach his Lord, a higher authority than Nero, to this crowd (cf. John 19:19). Festus decided to send Paul to Nero rather than sending him back to Jerusalem (Acts 25:9; cf. Acts 26:32). After explaining his need in face-saving language, Festus turned the hearing over to Agrippa.
"This naïve confession of Festus reveals how unjust has been his whole treatment of Paul." [Note: Robertson, 3:441.]
Luke undoubtedly included Festus’ preamble in Acts because it was another testimony by a Roman official that Paul and Christianity were not threats to the empire.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 25". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany