PAUL’S APPEAL TO CAESAR
1-12. Festus, the successor of Felix in the governorship of Judea, like Lysias, the kiliarch of Jerusalem, shows up a very beautiful character in all of his dealings with Paul, but one thing preventing him from releasing him at once, and that was Paul’s appeal to Caesar, which I trow was providential. An evangelistic tour in Rome, the world’s metropolis and capital, had been the life-long ambition of Paul. Though I traveled that same route, going from Jerusalem to Rome in twelve days, three years ago, in Paul’s day, without steam engines or mariner’s compass, it was a greater undertaking than the circumnavigation of the globe at the present day. Paul had no money with which to prosecute a voyage of two thousand miles [the way he went]. By appealing to Caesar he thus providentially compelled his enemies to defray all of his traveling expenses. Oh, how God makes the wrath of men to praise Him! At the very time when angry Herod was killing all the boy babies of Bethlehem, to cut off Jesus lest he dethrone the Herodian dynasty, behold Jesus has gone far away into Egypt on the back of a donkey! At the very time when Pharaoh, who symbolizes the devil, was killing all the boy babies born among the Hebrews, in order to cut off some mighty man that might rise in the Coming generation and lead them out of bondage, behold! he had Moses, the very one who was to do the mischief, flourishing like a king in his own palace, and pouring out his own money to hire his mother to nurse him, charging her all the time to give that child every possible attention and to feed him on the very fat of the land. When Festus, immediately after his inauguration at Caesarea, went up to Jerusalem, and the Jewish magnates appealed to him, charging his predecessors with delinquency in duty, and urging him to popularize the very beginning of his administration by inflicting capital punishment against Paul, he assures them the matter shall receive his immediate attention, saying to them,
5. “Let those who are influential among you coming down prefer charges, if there is anything criminal in the man.” In a few days Festus returns to Caesarea and the high priest, accompanied by his cohort of ecclesiastical notables, comes down from Jerusalem and stands up in prosecution of Paul, as on former occasions, utterly incompetent to bring against him a solitary charge, criminal in Roman law, but simply allegations of disharmony with the ecclesiasticism of which the Romans knew nothing and cared less. Pursuant to the persistent and vociferous clamors of the Jews, when Festus asked Paul if he was willing to go up to Jerusalem and be tried by him there, he then appeals to Caesar, claiming his right as a Roman citizen to stand at the highest tribunal of the empire, protesting that no one shall take his life merely to gratify the Jews, whom he has in no way injured.
12. “Then Festus, speaking with the assembly [i. e., privately taking council with them], responded, Thou hast appealed to Caesar; unto Caesar thou shalt go.” Here we have a finale of the aspirations, contemplations and prayers which had struggled in the bosom of Paul a quarter of a century. Now, behold! victory is in sight. The wrath and power of the empire are pledged to send Paul to Rome.
PAUL’S TRIAL BEFORE KING AGRIPPA.
(Acts 25:13 to Acts 26:32)
This, by far the greatest prosecution of all, had no reference to the immediate destiny of Paul, i. e., they are no longer trying for his life, as that matter has gone out of their hands, transferred to the emperor the moment Festus and his court admitted Paul’s appeal. But having admitted the appeal, Festus finds himself in a terrible dilemma, apparently unanticipated, i. e., having admitted the appeal, and put himself in a position where he is forced by law to send Paul to Rome to be tried by the emperor, and, at the same time, having not a solitary allegation recognizable in Roman law to send along with he criminal. Hence Festus sees that he has exposed himself to criticism and burlesque, probably to his own serious official detriment. Will not the emperor say, “Is not this pro-consul of Judea green as a gourd, to send to me a prisoner for trial, and not a solitary criminal charge against him”? Hence we are not astonished at the solicitude of Festus and his serious dilemma in the matter. When King Agrippa, a prince of the celebrated Herodian family, accompanied by his queen, Bernice, come from Chalcis [their dominion, under the Roman emperor, the title of king being a mere courtesy, because lie was a member of the Herodian dynasty, though now only a Roman pro-consul], come down to Caesarea to pay Festus a royal visit, the latter, who is now much exercised over his dilemma in Paul’s case, relates the whole matter to Agrippa, begging him, if possible, to help him out of the entanglement. In all this we are gratified with the high-toned integrity of Festus, in contradistinction to the condescending strategy and turpitude of his official predecessor, the unfortunate Felix.
Describing to King Agrippa the trial of Paul at his tribunal, in which he had appealed to Caesar, lie very beautifully alludes to the transparent rascality of the high priest and his confederates:
16. “To whom I responded that it is not a custom of the Romans to deliver up any man to death before that the accused may have his accuser face to face, and may receive an opportunity of defense concerning the charge.” Oh, what a noble law! how invaluable and appreciated here in America at the present day. It was adopted in England when the Barons rebelled against the tyranny of King John, and became the Magna Charta of English freedom. Thence transferred to America and adopted by the Colonial Congress, it became the battle-cry in the Revolutionary War, finally triumphing in the victories of Yorktown. It is this day the shibboleth of civil and religious liberty, without which martyrs’ blood would flow as in days of yore. Festus assures Agrippa that there was nothing against Paul except the superstitious clamors of the Jews charging him with disharmony in reference to their own religion, but nothing involving criminality in Roman law, there being a controversy over one “Jesus who is dead, whom Paul certifies incessantly that He liveth.” Agrippa, belonging to the celebrated Herodian family though a mixture of Idumean and Jewish blood, ranked as a Jew and claimed to be a loyal orthodox member of the Mosaic church. Hence we see Paul addresses him as a brother in the church, unlike Lysias, Felix and Festus, who were heathen Romans.
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Godbey, William. "Commentary on Acts 25". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany