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PAUL BEFORE FESTUS—A SECOND TRIAL AT CÆSAREA
1. The Succession of a New Governor; or, the Revival and Defeat of an Old Plot (Acts 25:1-44.25.5).
2. Paul before Festus—an Appeal to the Emperor (Acts 25:6-44.25.12).
3. Talked about by State Dignitaries; or, Festus’s Conversation with Agrippa about Paul (Acts 25:13-44.25.22).
4. A Third Hearing before Agrippa and Bernice; or, Festus’s Excuse for calling for his Prisoner (Acts 25:23-44.25.27).
Acts 25:1. Having come into the province, or having entered upon his province—i.e., his procuratorship (see on Acts 23:18)—Festus, after three days, ascended, or went up (contrast the reverse, “went down,” in Acts 24:1), from Cæsarea to Jerusalem, the metropolis of the dominion over which he had been appointed ruler.
Acts 25:2. The renewal of the complaints against Paul, which were made by the high priest, or, according to the best MSS., the chief priests and the chief, or the principal (R.V.)—lit., “the first” of the Jews, showed that the Sanhedrim had been greatly dissatisfied with the result of Paul’s trial before Felix. Their present movement was probably dictated by the hope of succeeding better with a new procurator, who, knowing their power as it had been displayed in procuring the recall of his predecessor, might naturally be disposed to exhibit towards them a greater degree of complaisance. The high priest at this time was Ismael, the son of Phabi, who succeeded Ananias (Jos., Ant., XX. viii. 8).
Acts 25:3. Their proposal that Festus should send for Paul to Jerusalem was, like the proposal of the forty (Acts 23:15), designed to afford them an opportunity of cutting him off by secret assassination on the road from Cæsarea.
Acts 25:5. Festus, however, whether he had heard from Felix or Lysias, or others of the former plot, refused their request, and invited those amongst them who were able—i.e., not physically able (Bengel), or to whom it was convenient (Grotius, Calvin) or talented, but powerful, δυνατοί, clothed with official authority, i.e., their rulers (Meyer, Alford, Holtzmann, Zöckler) to go down with him to Cæsarea, whither he was shortly to proceed, and accuse him if there was any wickedness, better anything amiss, or out of place, in his behaviour. The best MSS. omit τούτῳ, this.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 25:1-44.25.5
The Succession of a New Governor; or, the Revival and Defeat of an Old Plot
I. The old plot revived.—
1. What the plot was. To effect Paul’s removal by assassination. Nothing could more convincingly have attested the success of the apostle in establishing Christianity among his countrymen than this unappeasable thirst of the leaders of the Jewish people for his removal. So long as he was alive and at liberty to continue an active propaganda, it seemed to them there could be no security against the overthrow of their national faith. They had the sagacity to perceive that a death-struggle had commenced between the Old Faith and the New, in which one or other must go down. Their implacable hostility was also a gruesome revelation of the malignity of their hearts as well as of the secret conviction they entertained that victory was inclining to the side of “the Way.”
2. Why the plot was revived. Because of the failure of the first attempt to carry it out, through the midnight withdrawal of Paul to Cæsarea by Lysias’s soldiers (Acts 23:31-44.23.35), and because of the collapse of the subsequent proceedings against Paul before Felix at Cæsarea (Acts 24:22-44.24.23). The enemies of Paul and the instigators of the present conspiracy had hoped by fair means or foul to effect their murderous design, but thus far Providence had thwarted its execution. For two years they had brooded over their disappointment, but had not departed from their purpose. “Travailing with iniquity and conceiving mischief” (Psalms 7:14) all that time, they lay in readiness at the proper moment to bring it forth anew.
3. When the plot was resuscitated. On the occasion of Festus’s visit to Jerusalem. Festus, the new procurator, had just entered upon his duties, and come into his province in succession to Felix, who had lately been recalled. Festus, being a new governor, would naturally feel disposed, so Paul’s enemies reasoned, to ingratiate himself with his Judæan subjects, and all the more that he probably knew both how troublesome these were to rule, and how powerful they had shown themselves in being able to bring about the deposition of his predecessor. Besides, from Festus’s inexperience they most likely anticipated better results, than they had obtained from Felix’s longer and wider knowledge of themselves and their craft. Accordingly, no sooner had Festus paid his inaugural visit to the capital, than the Sanhedrists embraced the opportunity of reviving the old charges against their arch-enemy, the apostate. Rabbi then in captivity at Cæsarea.
4. How the plot was designed to be carried out. Under the pretext of wishing to have the apostle brought to a fresh trial, it was arranged that a deputation from the Sanhedrim should wait upon the governor and ask him to send for Paul from Cæsarea, that the charges standing against him might be re-examined in the metropolis, and, in the event of this request being complied with, that they should have a band of hired assassins lying in wait to despatch him while on the way. By no means a clever trick, it was merely the old scheme of the forty Sicarii revived. It was another proof that villains have not always at command sagacity or genius equal to their ferocity. Neither much insight nor much foresight was required to defeat the plot. How it prospered the next paragraph will show.
II. The old plot defeated.—
1. By a simple statement. That Paul was a prisoner at Cæsarea, whither he himself, Festus, was about to depart; which meant that as Paul was under military custody there was no danger of him escaping, and that as he himself (Festus) was about to proceed northwards to Cæsarea, there was no need to be at either the trouble or expense of fetching Paul to Jerusalem. Whether Festus had got an inkling from Lysias, the commandant of the castle, of the previous conspiracy against Paul by these venerable fathers of the people, and stood upon his guard against another stratagem, can only be conjectured; but his answer was a death-blow to their device.
2. By a fair proposal. That a number of themselves, the rulers, clothed with official power should return with him to Cæsarea, and prefer their indictment against the apostle there—if indeed there was anything wrong about either the man or his conduct, which (one almost reads between the lines) he hardly believed there was. How they relished the new governor’s proposal can only be imagined. Clearly it was not the answer they expected to their innocent suggestion. Unless they were either fools or blind, they must have seen that their secret machinations were understood. Concealing their chagrin as best they could, they retired from the governor’s presence, and began their preparations for a second journey to Cæsarea and a third attack upon Paul.
1. How hard it is for evil thoughts and purposes to die within the heart.
2. How difficult it is to kill those whom God wants to keep alive.
3. How easy it is to see through and thwart the designs of the wicked when God is against them.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 25:1. Changes in Government.
I. Occur mostly at unexpected times.—Felix hardly dreamed, when desiring to gain favour with the Jews he left Paul bound, that within two years his term of office would be finished.
II. Always entail new responsibilities upon the new governors.—Festus, on assuming the reins of government, had to make himself acquainted with his new dominions and their peoples.
III. Commonly bring new experiences to the governed.—Hardly any rule could have been worse than that of Felix; and Festus’s was for the Jews a happy exchange. But sometimes the change is from good to bad or from bad to worse.
IV. Unconsciously advance the purposes of Heaven.—He who is higher than the highest, whose kingdom ruleth over all, and who holds the hearts of kings as well as common men in His hand, worketh out the counsel of His own will by all the governments that rise and fall. Festus’s accession to the procuratorship, and coming into Judæa, was the opening of a new chapter in the history of Paul.
Acts 25:2-44.25.3. Wickedness in high places; or, the horrible iniquities of those who were, or should have been, good men—exemplified in the conduct of the chief priests and principal men of the Jews.
I. Malignity.—For two whole years they had nursed their wrath against Paul. Thus showed they themselves to be little else than human sleuth hounds.
II. Deception.—They pretended to Festus that they only wished to have the apostle brought to a fresh trial. Thus they attested themselves to be double-dyed hypocrites.
III. Assassination.—Their secret purpose was not to try the apostle but to kill him. They were black-hearted if not red-handed murderers.
Lesson.—The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.
Acts 25:5-44.25.6. The Lord reigns! let the earth be glad and let His people rejoice. God appears here:
I. As the providential governor of the world.
II. As the adversary and counter-worker of the wicked.
III. As the friend and protector of His people.
Acts 25:6. More than ten days.—According to the most reliable authorities this should be not more than eight or ten days.
Acts 25:7. The many and grievous complaints, or charges, against Paul, which his accusers could not prove, were no doubt the same which had been preferred against him by Tertullus (Acts 24:5-44.24.6).
Acts 25:8. Paul’s defence shows that the accusations now put forward were the srme old charges to which he had already answered, only perhaps in a different order—heresy, sacrilege, sedition.
Acts 25:9. Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem and there be judged?—The proposal of Festus not merely to shift the venue or place of trial from Cæsarea to Jerusalem, but to substitute an ecclesiastical for a civil court, with himself present merely as a spectator (which seems to be the import of before me), was perhaps dictated by two motives—a desire to please the Jews (see on Acts 24:27), and a wish to rid himself of a troublesome responsibility. It had also an appearance of being fair to Paul in that it offered him a trial before a court of his own nation, with the presence of the procurator to see that no injustice was done. Only as Paul had been handed over as a Roman citizen to a Roman tribunal, the proposed change could not take place without the prisoner’s consent.
Acts 25:10. I stand, or am standing, at Cæsar’s judgment seat.—Paul knew that his doom was sealed should his case be remitted back to Jerusalem, and hence claimed to be tried as a Roman citizen before a Roman court. It can hardly be that Paul intended to say, “I stand already in mind and purpose before the Emperor’s court, for God has shown me by a special revelation that I am to preach the gospel at Rome, and my trial there is accordingly part of the divinely ordered course of things which cannot be altered” (Wordsworth). As thou very well knowest.—This complete insight into the worthlessness of the charges brought against him, which Paul ascribes to Festus, may appear to conflict with Festus’s own statements in Acts 25:18-44.25.20; Acts 25:26 (Holtzmann); but both assertions may easily enough have been correct. Festus may not have perfectly comprehended the precise points in which Paul was alleged to have violated Jewish law; but he Lad discernment enough to perceive that sufficient to establish anything against his prisoner had not been advanced.
Acts 25:11. I refuse not to die.—I make no entreaty against dying, I beg not myself off by prayers. “Not mercy, but only justice, asks Paul of Cæsar” (Besser). “We make no request for favour; if any one can convict us of wrong, be it little or great, we refuse not the sharpest punishment” (Athenagoras in his Apology for the Christians, addressed to Marcus Aurelius). No man may deliver me unto them, or give me up to them as a favour.—“Not even Festus, if he will do what is right” (Besser). I appeal unto Cæsar.—“These important words were spoken by Paul,” says Stier, “being certainly impelled by the suggestion of the Holy Spirit” (compare Acts 23:11.) So did the Christians in Bithynia in Pliny’s time do. “Paul felt indeed what a curse his people had brought upon themselves by compelling him to appeal to Caesar” (Besser).
Acts 25:12. Conferred with the council.—I.e., with the Roman assessors who assisted him at the trial. The subject of consultation manifestly was as to whether the appeal should be admitted or refused. Appeals appear not to have been admitted in every case. Chap. Acts 28:18-44.28.19 shows that Festus was disposed to release Paul, and probably would have done so had not the Sanhedrists objected. Weizsäcker comments upon the fact that Paul was thrice in danger of his life (Acts 21:31; Acts 23:12; Acts 25:3), thrice accused by the Jews (Acts 23:28; Acts 24:1; Acts 25:2; Acts 15:0), and thrice rescued by the Romans (Acts 23:30; Acts 24:22; Acts 25:12), and finds in this word “thrice” a proof of manufactured history. This requires no refutation.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 25:6-44.25.12
Paul before Festus—an Appeal to the Emperor
I. The court constituted.
1. Some things the same on this as on the former occasion.
(1) The judgment hall—a room or chamber in Herod’s palace (see on Acts 24:24, “Homiletical Analysis”).
(2) The prosecutors—the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem, and who may have been as before “Ananias with certain of the elders” (Acts 24:1), including “the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews” (Acts 25:2).
(3) The prisoner—Paul, who had already so triumphantly vindicated his innocence, and been so wonderfully protected by God.
(4) The charges—many and grievous things which could not be established against him (Acts 25:7).
2. Some things different on this from what were on the former occasion.
(1) The judge.—Felix had given place to Porcius Festus, about whom little is known—though, like Felix, it would appear, he was not above pandering to the wishes of the Jews in the hope of currying favour with them (Acts 25:9).
(2) The mode of procedure. On this occasion Tertullus was conspicuous by his absence. The prosecutors believed themselves able to dispense with the services of a hired advocate. Roman flattery and eloquence had not done much for them at the previous trial; perhaps clamour and vehemence would serve them better at this. At least this was the method adopted. “The Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood round about Festus, bringing against Paul many and grievous charges.”
(3) The order of the charges. Though in substance the same, the presentation of them appears to have been somewhat varied (see below).
II. The indictment preferred.
1. The old charges were revived. Sedition, schism, sacrilege; treason against the state, against the faith, against the temple; revolt against Cæsar, against Moses, against Jehovah; revolution—a serious civil crime; innovation—a heinous ecclesiastical offence; irreligion or impiety—a deadly sin. Had Paul been guilty of these he must have been a monster of wickedness indeed.
2. The new order in which the charges were presented. Schism, sacrilege, sedition. Not without craft had this alteration been made. At the first trial the high priest and the elders had hopes of enlisting the jealousy and power of Rome against Paul, and with this end in view they placed in the forefront of their indictment the charge of sedition. What more likely to gain the ear of a representative of Cæsar, than the allegation that the prisoner at the bar had been “a pestilent fellow and a mover of insurrections among all the Jews throughout the world” (Acts 24:5), saying “there is another king, one Jesus” (Acts 17:7)? That card, however, had been tried and failed. It was now, therefore, their aim, if possible, to withdraw the prisoner from beneath the shelter of the Roman Ægis, and accordingly they shove the charge of sedition into the background, and advance into the purview of the procurator those of schism and sacrilege. They hoped in this way to persuade the new governor that the case was one which fell more within their jurisdiction than his, that it belonged to an ecclesiastical and spiritual rather than to a secular tribunal. The distinction between things secular and sacred, courts spiritual and ecclesiastical, and courts civil and criminal, was a sound one, but in their mouths it was being used not to secure right and justice, but to perpetrate cruelty and wrong.
III. The defence offered.
1. On every count in the indictment, as before, Paul pleaded not guilty. “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Cæsar” had he offended. He was no schismatic or heretic in the proper sense of that expression; what he preached was only a legitimate development and necessary fruit of the Hebrew faith. He had not violated the sanctity of the temple; the allegation that he had done so contradicted fact. He was no revolutionary against Cæsar’s throne; neither by word nor deed had he taught men to rise against the powers that be. From first to last Paul had been consistent in maintaining his innocence.
2. On every count in the indictment, as before, evidence in its support was wanting. Paul would be sure to call the attention of his judge to this, and Festus, it is clear, discerned that the charge of sedition was a bogus affair altogether (Acts 25:18), while about the heresy he was simply at sea—that belonged to another sphere than the one in which he moved (Acts 25:19-44.25.20). The sacrilege allegation he probably dropped out of view entirely, as an unfounded assertion, or as a matter too insignificant to be noticed. Nevertheless, baseless as the charges were, Festus wanted courage to sweep them aside, and liberate his prisoner. Precisely as Felix failed, so did he. Neither had the fortitude to follow conscience and do what was right.
IV. The proposition made.
1. A specious compromise.
(1) To drop the charges of sacrilege and sedition and restrict further investigations to the one point of divergence from the laws of the Jews. This would practically be a decision two-thirds in Paul’s favour.
(2) To proceed to Jerusalem, that the strictly religious question might be examined into by a court of his own people. This also, while it had the appearance of being fair to Paul, would be a virtual concession to what Festus understood to be the real wishes of the Jews.
(3) To have the trial conducted in the procurator’s presence as a guarantee that the prisoner would have even-handed justice.
2. The secret motive.
(1) The motive stated was to gain favour with the Jews. This was probably natural, considering that he was a new governor, and that they were a troublesome people, who had it in their power to impeach him, as they had impeached Felix his predecessor, before Cæsar—if not for real, for imaginary crimes, since, as he could see from Paul’s case, they were by no means fastidious as to the character of the weapons with which they struck a man down.
(2) The unrecorded motives probably were to shield Paul, if possible, and in any case to shift from himself all responsibility for his condemnation.
V. The appeal taken.
1. To whom? Cæsar, i.e., Nero. Paul demanded to be tried by the emperor himself. “Theoretically the emperor was but the imperator, or commander-in-chief of the armies of the state, appointed by the Senate, and acting under its direction. Consuls were still elected every year, and went through the shadowy functions of their office. Many of the provinces were directly under the control of the Senate, and were accordingly governed by proconsuls. But Augustus had contrived to concentrate in himself all the powers that in the days of the Republic had checked and balanced the exercise of individual authority. He was supreme pontiff, and as such regulated the religion of the state; permanent censor, and as such could give or recall the privileges of citizenship at His pleasure. The tribunicia potestas, which had originally been conferred on the tribunes of the plebs so that they might protect members of their order who appealed to them against the injustice of patrician magistrates, was attached to his office. As such he became the final court of appeal from all subordinate tribunals, and so by a subtle artifice, what had been intended as a safeguard to freedom, became the instrument of a centralised tyranny” (Plumptre).
2. For what reason? Because he was already standing before Cæsar’s judgment seat—i.e., was already pleading before a Roman tribunal, and no one, not even a procurator, had a right to withdraw him therefrom and hand him over to the Jews without his consent—which, of course, Paul was unwilling to give, for the following reasons.
(1) That as a panel at a Roman tribunal he was entitled to receive from that tribunal a verdict on his case.
(2) That he was perfectly prepared to accept that verdict, whatever it might be. Should he be found to have done wrong, and to have committed anything worthy of death, he refused not to die; but should, on the other hand, his innocence be established, he was entitled to be acquitted.
(3) That he was not amenable to any Jewish tribunal, since he had not violated any Jewish law, as Festus himself knew.
(4) That Paul also understood his doom would be sealed the moment he was handed over to the tender mercies of the Sanhedrim.
3. With what result? That his appeal was allowed. Having conferred privately with his own council of Roman assessors (see “Critical Remarks”), Festus, “with something like a sneer” in his words, intimated his acceptance of Paul’s decision. “He knew, it may be, better than the apostle to what kind of judge the latter was appealing, what long delays there would be before the cause was heard, how little chance there was of a righteous judgment at last” (Plumptre).
1. That false witnessing against good men and good causes is an old and common, as well as heinous sin.
2. That the desire of gaining popular favour often leads statesmen, judges, and private individuals to perpetrate acts of great injustice.
3. That Christians are not debarred by their religion from defending themselves against persecution and oppression by all lawful means.
4. That nothing inspires a man with courage in presence of his adversaries like a consciousness of innocence.
5. That God’s people are (or should be) ever ready to render due satisfaction for whatever evil deeds can be proved against them.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 25:6-44.25.12. A Court Scene in the Olden Time.
I. Infuriate and reckless pursuers.—
1. A multitude against one.
2. Men of power against a weak prisoner.
3. Persons regardless of truth against an individual who tried to keep a clean conscience.
II. A friendless but unmoved defender.—Strong in—
1. The consciousness of his innocence.
2. The justness of his claim—to be judged where he was.
3. The superiority of his soul to death.
III. A discerning but unprincipled judge—
1. Faithless to conscience. Knowing his duty, but declining to act upon it.
2. Showing respect of persons. Preferring the favour of the powerful and rich wicked to the rights of the humble but poor good.
3. Trampling on the weak. Sending Paul to Rome instead of granting him liberty.
Acts 25:8. A Model Defence.
I. Short.—Consisting of one sentence.
II. Simple.—Containing no intricate reasoning or doubtful chicanery.
III. Direct.—Resting satisfied with a plain denial of the charges advanced.
IV. Exhaustive.—Leaving none of these untouched, but repudiating all alike.
V. Effective.—If it did not procure acquittal it at least showed the charges to be false.
Acts 25:8-44.25.10. Christian Fortitude.—As exemplified in Paul.
I. Unlike the effrontery of the hypocrite.—Paul grounds his defence on solid fact and absolute truth.
II. Different from the defiance of the wicked.—Paul declines not to be examined once and again, having nothing to be ashamed of or conceal.
III. Having no resemblance to the obstinacy of the litigious.—Paul submits to every just decision, being willing even to die if he had done anything for which capital punishment is the only expiation.
Acts 25:10. Cæsar’s Judgment Seat and Christ’s.—A contrast. In respect of—
I. The authorities by which they have been appointed.—Cæsar’s by the kings and emperors of earth. Christ’s by the King of kings, the Lord of eternity, and Sovereign of the universe.
II. The judges who have been entrusted with their procedure.—In the case of Cæsar’s mortal, fallible, and sinful men; in that of Christ’s, the Divine Son, who liveth evermore, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, in whom, are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and with whom is no respect of persons.
III. The businesses which are transacted thereupon. In the case of Cæsar’s tribunal, the earthly and temporal affairs of men, so far as they affect men’s mundane interests; at Christ’s the concerns of the soul and the transactions of the life.
IV. The verdicts which are issued therefrom.—From Cæsar’s often such as are false and oppressive; from Christ’s always such as are just and true. The first may call for an appeal: the second are irreversible and final.
V. The parties who appear before them.—Some may never stand at Cæsar’s, but all must eventually stand at Christ’s, judgment-seat.
Acts 25:11. Paul’s Appeal to Cæsar.
I. Evidenced a conscience void of offence toward God and man.—Had the apostle not been conscious of innocence he would hardly have ventured on this step, which was not the last stroke for liberty on the part of a despairing criminal, but the sober act of a good man who knew himself to be wronged.
II. Signalised a humble submission to divinely ordained authority.—Had the apostle not regarded Cæsar’s tribunal as in some respects invested with divine authority, he would scarcely have proposed to lay his case before it.
III. Showed a laudable desire to avoid unnecessary martyrdom.—Had Paul deemed it sinful to keep himself alive as long as possible, or right to throw away his life without an effort to preserve it, it is doubtful if he would have resorted to this tedious method of obtaining justice.
IV. Proved an unwearied zeal for the extension of the kingdom of God.—Having already been assured by God that he would preach the gospel at Rome also, Paul probably saw in this appeal which he took a means of attaining to what was already a burning passion in his soul.—From Gerok in Lange.
Difficulties connected with Paul’s Appeal to Cæsar.
I. How does this harmonise with Christ’s doctrine of non-resistance (Matthew 5:39)? Answer: Paul, in appealing to Cæsar, does not propose retaliation, but only self-preservation, which is the first law of life, and is not forbidden to a Christian.
II. How does this accord with Paul’s exhortation to Christians not to go to law before the unrighteous but only before the saints (1 Corinthians 6:1)?—Answer: Paul does not propose to drag his accusers before the law, but only to vindicate his own character in the eyes of the law—which is always permissible to a Christian.
III. How does this square with Paul’s knowledge that Christ was with him and had promised to protect him?—How does his conduct compare with that of Ezra—e.g., who, in a time of difficulty and danger, refused to lean upon a secular arm (Ezra 8:22)? Answer: This may have been Christ’s way of protecting Paul.
IV. How does this comport with Paul s doctrine that the state has nothing whatever to do with judging spiritual matters (1 Corinthians 2:15)?—Answer: Paul does not propose to submit to Cæsar the question of his religious opinions, but only that of his civil Paul’s deportment.
Acts 25:13. After certain days, or certain days having gone by; how many is unknown. Agrippa the king was Herod Agrippa II., the son of Agrippa I., mentioned in Acts 12:1-44.12.6; Acts 12:19-44.12.23, and the Jewish vassal-prince of Rome, who, on his father’s death, was considered too young to succeed to the sovereignty of Judæa, which accordingly was placed under procurators, though on the death of his uncle Herod, King of Chalcis, in A.D. 48 or 50 (Hackett), he received the sovereignty of that region from Claudius, along with the superintendence of the temple and the nomination of the high priests. Four years later “he received the tetrarchies of his great-uncles, Philip and Lysanius, with the title of king” (Plumptre). In A.D. 55 some Galilean cities were added to his kingdom by Nero (Jos., Ant., XIX. ix. 1, XX. i. 3, viii. 4). He died under Trajan in A.D. 100, at the age of seventy-three. Bernice, or Bernice—perhaps Macedonian for Pherenice—was his sister, and the sister of Drusilla. The eldest daughter of Herod Agrippa I., she had been married while a young girl to her uncle Herod of Chalcis, on whose death, while ostensibly living as a widow, she became, according to public rumour, the incestuous paramour of her brother Agrippa II. Afterwards Polemon, the King of Cilicia, in order to obtain her hand in marriage, professed himself a convert to Judaism, and, as Azizus had done for Drusilla, accepted circumcision. The union, however, was quickly dissolved. It was subsequent to this that she accompanied her brother to Cæsarea. Eventually she followed Titus to Rome as his mistress, in the hope of marriage which he had promised; but this was more than the Senate could tolerate, and he was forced reluctantly to part with her (Sueton., Titus, c. 7; Tacit., Hist., ii. 81; Jos., Ant., XX. vii. 3). To salute Festus probably meant to formally acknowledge him on entering on his procuratorship, as the representative of his (Agrippa’s) overlord (Cæsar).
Acts 25:14. Declared, better, laid Paul’s case, or the matters concerning Paul, before the king.—Festus might naturally conclude that Agrippa, being a Jew, would understand the points in dispute, and be able to enlighten him about them. Weizsäcker sees in the bringing of Paul before Agrippa an exact parallel to the removing of Jesus to Herod Antipas by Pilate (Luke 23:8-42.23.12), and pronounces both unhistorical, but without reason.
Acts 25:16. It is not the manner, rather custom, of the Romans (if it is of the Jews!), to deliver any man to die, should read, to give up any man, the words to die, literally “unto destruction,” being a gloss, which is not found in the best MSS. “The use of the same verb (χαρίζεσθαι) as that which Paul had used in Acts 25:16 shows that the arrow shot at a venture had hit the mark. Festus is eager to repel the charge” (Plumptre).
Acts 25:18. Against.—Better, either concerning (R.V.), or round (Alford, Hackett). In the former case the clause should be corrected with “brought”; in the latter with “stood up.”
Acts 25:19. Superstition.—Better, religion. Festus designedly, perhaps, using a word which might be interpreted either in a good or bad sense as Agrippa pleased. One Jesus.—Hackett remarks on Luke’s candour in recording this contemptuous remark.
Acts 25:20. Doubted.—The verb describes something stronger than doubt or uncertainty, and is more happily rendered “perplexed” (R.V.). This, however, was hardly the motive why Festus asked him whether he would go to Jerusalem to be judged (see Acts 25:9). Festus doubtless wished to set the matter in the best light for himself.
Acts 25:21. Augustus.—Sebastos. A title first conferred on Octavianus by the Roman Senate, and afterwards borne by all succeeding emperors. The emperor in question was Nero, the stepson of Claudius, who married his mother Agrippina, the wife of Ahenobarbus, and the daughter of Germanicus. Nero succeeded Claudius, A.D. 54. Nero’s inhuman character is too well known to require detailed mention.
Acts 25:22. I would also hear.—Meaning not that he had formerly cherished such a desire (Calvin), but that he was then wishing such a thing had been possible as that he might hear.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 25:13-44.25.22
Talked about by State Dignitaries; or, Festus’s Conversation with Agrippa about Paul
I. The royal visit to the governor.—
1. The illustrious pair.
(1) Their names: Agrippa and Bernice. II. Herod Agrippa, the royal personage here referred to was the son of Herod Agrippa I., who had perished so suddenly (A. D. 44, 45) in Cæsarea, and the great-grandson of Herod the Great, the founder of the Idumean princes, “vassals of Rome who played so distinguished a part in the story of Israel during the last fifty years of the existence of the Jews as a separate nationality” (Spence). Bernice was his sister and the sister of Drusilla, the wife of Felix (Acts 24:24). Like Drusilla, Bernice was a woman of great beauty, whose story reads “like a terrible romance or a page from the chronicles of the Borgias” (Plumptre). Agrippa and she were both illustrious for their rank, if for nothing else, though history reports them to have been not undistinguished for intellectual ability as well.
(2) Their characters. Rather infamous than illustrious, living at the time, as was currently believed, in unholy relations with one another (see “Critical Remarks”). When high station and lofty character go together, they lend a glory to each other, which makes both more attractive; when high station is conjoined with gross wickedness, the former is degraded and the latter rendered more heinous and despicable.
2. The object of their visit. To exchange courtesies with the new procurator on the assumption of his office. Whether it was dictated by genuine politeness or by self-interest which suggested the propriety of keeping “on terms of intimacy and friendship with the powerful Roman lieutenant commanding in the provinces of which he was nominally the sovereign” (Spence), may not be known; but the visit itself was proper and becoming to be made. Men, simply as men—how much more as Christians (1 Peter 3:1)—owe each other civilities which, when sincerely paid, tend to sweeten social intercourse.
II. The governor’s communication to the king.—
1. Concerning Paul. No doubt he would mention Paul’s name (see Acts 25:19). But the main facts reported with respect to him were these:
(1) That he had been left behind in Cæsarea as a prisoner by Felix, the late procurator, without any statement of the reason of his imprisonment or the nature of his offence.
(2) That he had been bitterly accused by the chief priests and the elders of the Jews, who laid before Festus, when at Jerusalem, a criminal indictment against Him demanding his instantaneous surrender to punishment.
(3) That he had been formerly placed upon his trial, and opportunity given to his accusers to make good their allegations against him, with the result that no actual crime had been brought home to him, but only an assertion of his had been proved—viz., that one Jesus, whom his opponents affirmed to be dead, was really alive.
(4) That rather than accept an offer which had been made to him to go to Jerusalem to be judged of these matters, he had appealed to be kept for the decision of the emperor. If—which does not appear from the narrative—Festus recited to Agrippa Paul’s magnanimous declaration about refusing not to die, if he had done anything worthy of death (Acts 25:11), one would like to know what impression such a display of moral heroism made upon the royal bosom! And
(5) That he was now in gaol waiting till he could be conveniently despatched to Rome.
2. Concerning himself.
(1) That he had rather snubbed the ecclesiastical dignitaries of Jerusalem, when these had approached him, by reminding them that it was not the custom of the Romans, if it was of the Jews, to hand over any man—“to destruction,” though a gloss, correctly interprets the sense of Festus’s words—until he should have had opportunity to meet his accusers face to face and reply to the charges these preferred against them. (Festus may really have said this, though Luke does not incorporate the observation in his preceding paragraph (Acts 25:4-44.25.5); as Festus, in rehearsing the story to Agrippa, omits to state that he had invited the Sanhedrists to come to Cæsarea).
(2) That he had nevertheless given them the fullest opportunity to establish their case against Paul, but that they had failed to bring out anything more tangible than this, that on the religious—hardly “superstitious,” since courtesy must have taught him better manners than so to insult his guest (see “Critical Remarks”)—questions above referred to, he, Paul, took a different side from them, and maintained Jesus was alive, while they as positively alleged He was dead.
(3) That he had been altogether at a loss how to deal with such a problem, and had proposed that it be laid before the High Ecclesiastical Court of the nation at Jerusalem, which might discuss the question, if not under his presidency, at all events in his presence.
(4) That, as Paul had declined this offer, and had appealed to Nero, he (Festus) was now waiting a convenient opportunity to have him forwarded to the imperial court. It is obvious that Festus would rather Paul had not appealed to Augustus. It was a step the exact issue of which for himself the governor, as well as for Paul the prisoner, no one could foresee. It need not be doubted that the calmest bosom of all connected with this affair was that of Paul.
III. The king’s reply to the governor.—
1. A wish expressed. “I would also hear the man myself.” Better, “I also was wishing,” meaning, as some suggest, that he had not for the first time heard of Paul, and had even before this been secretly desirous of both looking on and listening to the great Nazarene preacher, as Herod Antipas had formerly been with regard to Christ (Luke 23:8). Reports of the apostle’s doings, both in Palestine and in Asia Minor, could hardly fail to have reached the ear of Agrippa II.; and, being the son of Agrippa I. who had so fiercely persecuted the Jerusalem Christians, and who had so soon after miserably died at Cæsarea, it was not surprising that, like Drusilla his sister (Acts 24:24), he should have inwardly cherished a longing to see and hear the wonderful Jewish Rabbi who had so suddenly apostatised from the law of his fathers, and so powerfully agitated the world ever since.
2. The wish granted. Festus, out of courtesy towards his guest, and out of a secret hope, it may be conjectured, that Agrippa would be able to assist him in his perplexity, promised that next day an opportunity should be afforded him of both seeing and hearing the distinguished man whom Felix had left in bonds, and against whom the Sanhedrists were gnashing their teeth, but over whom, though Festus knew it not, a watchful Providence, even more than Augustus’s soldiers, was keeping guard.
1. That courtesy becomes all men, but especially Christians.
2. That Christ’s witnesses, even when in prison for their Master’s sake, do not cease to be men talked about and wondered at.
3. That Christ’s people are not always careful to avoid condemning others unheard.
4. That when other people’s interests are at stake no delay should intervene to hinder setting things to rights.
5. That the world’s charges against Christians are, for the most part, untrue.
6. That the unenlightened understanding has a difficulty in comprehending questions in religion.
7. That the grand problem of all the Christian centuries concerns the resurrection of Jesus.
8. That Christians have sometimes a better chance of getting justice at a civil tribunal than in an ecclesiastical court.
9. That wicked men have often a secret respect for ministers of the gospel.
10. That to hear the gospel out of curiosity alone is not a promising occupation.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 25:13. Christian Salutations.
I. Are becoming on the part of Christ’s followers towards each other (Romans 16:16).
II. Are due by Christ’s followers even to such as are unbelieving (Matthew 5:47).
III. Are regarded by Christ as a high proof of sincerity in religion (Matthew 5:48).
IV. Are calculated to win the favourable regards of those who might otherwise be hostile to religion.
Agrippa and Bernice.
I. Possessors of a common nature.
II. Descendants of a common parentage.
III. Sharers of a common dignity.
IV. Partners in a common wickedness.
V. Actors in a common ceremony.
VI. Partakers of a common privilege (Acts 25:23).
VII. Rejectors of a common salvation (Acts 26:30).
Acts 25:14. Paul’s Case.
That of a follower of Christ.—
I. Accused of crimes he had not committed.
II. Suffering persecution for conscience’ sake.
III. Consigned to prison against all law and justice.
IV. Compelled to appeal to the world’s tribunals for protection.
Acts 25:16. Not the Custom of the Romans! Neither should it be of Christians.
I. To punish a man before he has been found guilty.
II. To pronounce a man guilty before he has been heard in his defence.
III. To ask him to defend himself before he knows the evidence against him.
IV. To refuse a man the right of appeal from a lower court to a higher. Yet all these violations of natural right have been perpetrated in times past in the name of religion.
Acts 25:17. No delay! Cases in which there should never be procrastination.
I. In doing justice to one’s fellow-men.
II. In relieving the cry of human distress.
III. In listening to the call of duty.
IV. In accepting the invitation of the gospel.
V. In making known Christ’s salvation to others.
VI. In fleeing from the presence of temptation.
VII. In preparing for death and judgment.
Acts 25:18. “As I supposed”; or, the World’s Misconceptions about Christianity.
I. About its founder.—The world supposes Him—
(1) to have been “one Jesus” and nothing more, whereas He is the Son of God and one with the Father.
2. To have been merely a good man and wise teacher, whereas He was the sinless One and the Truth.
3. To have died as a martyr to His own cause, whereas He laid down His life as a propitiation for our sins.
4. To be dead, whereas He is alive again for evermore.
II. About its tenets.—The world supposes—
1. That so far as these are intelligible they are only the discoveries of the natural reason, whereas they claim to be the revelations of eternal Wisdom
2. That they may be better (though, in the world’s judgment, that is questionable), but are not really different from the tenets of other religions, whereas they claim to supersede those of all other religions.
3. That they will have their day, by-and-by become obsolete, and ultimately be forgotten, whereas they will endure while the world lasts.
4. That they are no more fitted to promote the happiness of mankind than the teachings of other religions, whereas they alone have power to permanently enlighten the understanding, purify the heart, quicken the conscience, and redeem the will.
III. About its preachers.—The world supposes—
1. That they are the victims of an intellectual delusion, whereas they are the subjects of true mental illumination.
2. That they are the teachers of an idle superstition, whereas they are the bearers to mankind of the highest saving knowledge.
3. That they are troublers of society and disturbers of the peace of communities, whereas they are real restorers of order, and promoters of social well-being.
4. That they are interested self-seekers, whereas they are, when true to their vocation, disinterested apostles of goodwill and grace to men.
Acts 25:19. One Jesus—Dead or Alive—the great question of the day.
I. Dead.—In support of this may be urged—
1. That death—without resurrection following—is the ordinary lot of man, and that Jesus, whatever else He was, was a bonâ-fide man. The exceptions to this law recorded in the Scriptures—such as the raisings mentioned in the Gospels (Matthew 9:25; Luke 7:15; John 11:44)—must meanwhile be left out of view.
2. That since the so called resurrection of Jesus no one else of the human race has been recalled to life. Here again the instances of Dorcas (Acts 9:40) and Eutychus (Acts 20:12) must be meanwhile withdrawn from consideration. The exceptional character of Christ’s resurrection is in one aspect of it a difficulty in the way of assenting to its truth.
3. That Jesus, if He died—and of this by the supposition no doubt exists—could not have been restored to life without a miraculous interference with the uniform order of nature, and, so far as man’s experience goes, the occurrence of a supernatural is less probable than that of a natural phenomenon.
4. That no one is reported to have ever seen Jesus after His alleged resurrection except those who were interested in believing He had risen—such as Mary Magdalene, the women who went to the sepulchre, the ten disciples, James and the five hundred brethren.
5. That the so-called appearance of the risen One are all explainable by natural means, without calling in the aid of a supernatural occurrence, such as the reanimation of a dead body. Whatever objections may be urged against the swoon theory or the deception hypothesis, the supposition that all the appearances of the forty days were of the same sort as that made to Paul—viz., visionary—is quite sufficient to account for the rise in the early Church of a belief in the resurrection of Jesus.
II. Alive.—This alternative is based on the following considerations:
1. That, if Christ rose not from the dead, then His prediction about Himself was falsified. He distinctly claimed that after three days He should rise again. Of course an ordinary man’s predictions about himself might fail without any consequence relative to himself being deducible beyond this, that he must have been in error; but with the failure of Christ’s predictions about Himself collapses the entire superstructure of His pretensions.
2. That if Christ rose not from the dead, then He could not have been what He gave Himself out to be, not only the Messiah of Israel but the Son of God, and therefore must have been an impostor—an inference which is contradicted by all that is written concerning Him in Scripture.
3. That if Christ rose not from the dead, the origin of the Christian Church is perfectly inexplicable. Rationalists may hold that the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus is sufficiently accounted for by the illusion or delusion of Mary Magdalene and of the enthusiasts whom her contagious ecstasy affected; but the persistence for nineteen centuries of an idea which was cradled in the excited brain of a female, and the propagation by means thereof of the Christian Church throughout these centuries cannot be explained without assuming that the resurrection of Christ was a fact.
4. That if Christ rose not from the dead, then the apostles who staked their lives on the truth of this assertion were not only of all men the most deluded, but were besides the most transcendent fanatics the world has ever seen. That one man, or even two, should have acted in the fashion in which the apostles are represented as having done might be credible, that twelve men, and much more, that five hundred men should have done so, is incredible.
5. That if Christ rose not from the dead then all the experiences of those who claim to have become conscious of a spiritual life derived from the risen Christ, must be set down as pious imaginations. We must frankly admit ourselves not prepared for this (see “Hints” on Acts 1:3).
Acts 25:20. Perplexing Things about Christianity to Worldly Men.
I. The supernatural character of its founder.—Attested by His resurrection from the dead.
II. The spiritual character of its doctrines.—Religious questions generally are in great part beyond the grasp of men of the world (1 Corinthians 2:14).
III. The lofty character of its adherents.—These, whether teachers or professors, when true to its spirit, appear actuated by motives which are more or less incomprehensible to ordinary minds.
Acts 25:22. Agrippa’s Wish.—“I also could wish to hear the man” may have been one of three sorts.
I. The wish of a supercilious curiosity, which seeks nothing more than a passing entertainment. Of such sort as are not unfrequently the motives which lead men to attend Church, hear sermons, and read good books.
II. The wish of a worldly desire of knowledge, which is only concerned about interesting information. Occasionally also this ambition leads men to wait on Christian preachers, frequent religious assemblies, and study theological works.
III. The wish of a pious thirst for salvation, which fills the need of spiritual instruction. Happily there are not wanting those who are actuated by the noblest impulses in seeking to hear gospel ministers and observe Christian ordinances.—From Gerok in Lange.
Acts 25:23. The chief captains were the chiliarchs or commanders of the cohorts stationed at Cæsarea—which cohorts were five in number (Jos., Wars, III. iv. 2).
Acts 25:24. All the multitude of the Jews, the procurator says, had dealt with or made suit to him because the Jewish rulers in their action had only interpreted the popular outcry against the apostle (Hackett), or because a crowd may have gone with them to the procurator’s residence in order to enforce their application by clamouring for the same object (Meyer).
Acts 25:25 supplies a valuable attestation of the governor’s conviction that Paul had committed nothing worthy of death—i.e., was practically innocent of the charges preferred against him.
Acts 25:26. No certain thing to write.—In cases of appeal “it was necessary to transmit to the emperor a written account of the offence charged as having been committed, and also of all the judicial proceedings that may have taken place in relation to it. Documents of this description were called apostoli or literæ dimissoriæ” (Hackett). My Lord, κύριος, Dominus, was a title which neither Augustus nor Tiberius would accept because it implied the relation of master and slave, and because properly it belonged only to the gods (Tacit., Annals, ii. 87; Suetonius, Aug., 53), Caligula and all the emperors who followed him had no such scruples. The use of it now by Luke, when a few years earlier it would have been inappropriate, is another mark of historical veracity.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 25:23-44.25.27
A Third Hearing before Agrippa and Bernice; or, Festus’s Excuse for calling forth his Prisoner
I. The brilliant assemblage.—The persons composing it were the most illustrious of the day, the élite and fashion of Cæsarea.
1. A Roman governor. Porcius Festus, Felix’s successor, who had recently entered on his procuratorship over Palestine (A.D. 60–62), and who in some degree succeeded in restoring order to the country which had been seriously disquieted during his predecessor’s reign (Jos., Ant., XX. viii. 9, 10). Of these Roman governors generally, not inaptly styled “a splendid series of provincial administrators,” it has been said “we can find among them examples occasionally of cruelty, occasionally of rapacity, but never of incompetence” (Waddington, Fastes des Provinces Asiatiques, p. 18; quoted by Ramsay in The Church in the Roman Empire, p. 174).
2. A royal pair. Agrippa II., the last of the Herods (born in 27 A.D., made King of Chalcis A.D. 50, died A.D. 100, in the third year of Trajan), accompanied by his beautiful sister Bernice, who had once been, through marriage with Polemon, Queen of Cilicia, Paul’s native province (see preceding “Homily and Critical Remarks” on Acts 25:13). Kingly dignity and queenly loveliness are gifts bestowed on few. When attended by moral elevation and grace, they become both worthy of admiration and powerful in influence. When dissociated from these, and much more when allied with depravity, as was the case in Agrippa and Bernice, they attract towards themselves the scorn and contempt of all good men and women.
3. A company of officers. Five in number, these were the military tribunes, or commanders of the imperial forces stationed at the garrison, who waited on and served the procurator, and whose presence on this occasion was, no doubt, intended to put honour on Festus’s distinguished guests, if not to overawe the lonely prisoner who was about to be summoned forth before such august notabilities. If the former, it was all the honour the sinful pair were worth receiving, and perhaps all they could have appreciated; if the latter, it signally failed in accomplishing the end for which it was designed.
4. A group of magistrates. The principal men of the city, the civic authorities of Cæsarea, were probably accustomed to receive invitations from the governor when great occasions were going forward in the palace.
II. The splendid auditorium.—The palace of Herod (see on Acts 23:35).
1. A scene of magnificent displays. It was within this gorgeous chamber that the kings and governors of past days had been wont to hold their celebrations, when, as on the present occasion they exhibited all the pomp and paraphernalia that were supposed to lend lustre to their royal and imperial majesties. The account of what took place on this memorable day reads like a description given by one who had been an eyewitness of the scene: “The splendour of the procession and the glittering appearance of the court, crowded with those royal and princely personages and their retinue, Roman and Jewish guards, the Sanhedrim officials, the stately garb of the high priest and his fellows, the head of the hierarchy of Israel” (it is doubtful, however, if these were present), “must have been very striking; all honour on this occasion was evidently shown to King Agrippa II., the last Jew who legally bore the royal title” (Spence).
2. A hall of bloody memories (see on Acts 23:35). It would hardly be possible for Agrippa to forget the tragic associations which adhered to the place in which they were then assembled. The blare of trumpets might dull, but would not be able to altogether shut out the cries of murdered men and women that in imagination he heard echoing through the hall. The magnificence of the scene before him would not prevent him from seeing on its marble pavement stains of blood, which to other eyes may have been invisible
3. A place of gracious opportunities. Such an opportunity had been given to Felix and Drusilla when Paul reasoned before them of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come (Acts 24:24); and such another was about to be afforded to the gay company then assembled within its walls.
III. The noteworthy prisoner.—Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, now the prisoner of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:1). Remarkable for three things:
1. The evil reputation he enjoyed at the hands of his countrymen. “All the multitude of the Jews,” both at Jerusalem and at Cæsarea, cried out that he was no longer worthy to live. Could they have obtained their desire he should instantly have been torn to pieces, or stoned to death. And yet he was the noblest man that Palestine had produced—whether for excellence of talent, nobility of soul, or beneficence of life! Verily the world does not always know its great or good men. Paul at this moment might have taken to himself for consolation the eighth beatitude (Matthew 5:11).
2. The baseless character of the charges preferred against him. Three times over he had been put upon his trial—before the council (Acts 23:9; Acts 23:29), before Felix (Acts 24:22), and before Festus (Acts 25:18)—and each time the verdict had been practically given in his favour. He had committed nothing worthy of death, or of imprisonment. And yet he was remanded to confinement! “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.” Paul had still to preach the gospel to Agrippa, and to his countrymen at Rome; and for both reasons he was yet, in God’s providence, detained as a prisoner.
3. The noble courage he had all through displayed. Never quaking through fear of man, never shrinking from the severest ordeals, never apologising for the message he delivered, never pleading with his persecutors for mercy, but always only for justice, never hesitating to proclaim the glorious truths of Christ crucified and risen, of which he had been appointed a witness and herald; but always calm, heroic, self-forgetful, earnest, tender, and confident. Probably a more sublime testimony to the efficacy of Divine grace in supporting a faithful minister of the gospel amid weakness, weariness, pain, shame, hardship, and oppression has never been furnished to the Church or the world!
IV. The trumpery excuse.—After a pompous harangue the governor pretends to give an explanation to his guests of the reason why he had commanded the apostle to be fetched from his confinement. The excuse was—
1. Ostensibly good. Having determined to forward Paul to Rome, it was unreasonable to send on a prisoner for judgment without specifying the charges that had been brought against him. No doubt; and it was illegal as well, since Roman law demanded that such a document should accompany every case that was transmitted to the emperor. Then he had nothing certain to write about the case and hoped that Agrippa, being a Jew, might assist him to the better understanding of its intricacies. This, too, was a proper course to follow, if it really was so that he felt at a loss what to report to the Emperor.
2. Barely true. Festus understood perfectly that Paul had committed nothing worthy of death—that was one certain thing he could have written. Festus knew that Paul’s offence was neither social nor political, but only ecclesiastical and religious, and that as yet the policy of Rome was not to intermeddle with such disputes—which was a second certain thing he could have reported to Augustus. Besides, Festus knew that the real reason for Paul’s production was to afford Agrippa and Bernice an opportunity of hearing that remarkable man. Hence, in a strict sense, Festus’s explanation was not precisely in accordance with truth.
1. The mystery of Divine providence, which seats an Agrippa upon the throne and consigns a Paul to a prison.
2. The insignificance of earthly pomp when compared with the glory of moral and religious worth, as seen in the external decoration of Agrippa and Bernice, when set alongside of the inner graces of Paul.
3. The truth of Jesus Christ’s predictions that His servants should suffer persecution (Matthew 10:18; Mark 13:9; Luke 21:12), and in particular that Paul should bear His name before kings (Acts 9:15).
4. The infatuation which sometimes impels communities to hate and even slay their best men. Seen in the conduct of the Jews towards Paul.
5. The involuntary testimony that the world is often compelled to bear as to the moral excellence of Christians—illustrated by Festus’s declaration concerning Paul.
6. The disregard for strict truth which is often found in great no less than in mean men.
7. The unreasonableness of continuing a man in prison against whom it is difficult to find a charge that will bear writing down.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 25:23. A Christian Service in a Strange Place.
I. The cathedral, church, or chapel. The judgment hall in Herod’s palace. This hall had been built by wicked hands, had been often stained with blood, had frequently echoed to the cries of despair and the shouts of bacchanalian revelry, and had more than once reverberated to the sound of Paul. But any place will do to preach the gospel in.
II. The congregation.—
1. Brilliant. Consisting of the civic and military dignitaries of Cæsarea, the aristocracy and fashion of its population.
2. Mixed. Comprising persons of royal birth, and persons of low degree, statesmen and rulers with their servants and subjects.
3. Sinful. All alike needful of the gracious blessings of the gospel. Of different degrees of wickedness, they were one in this, that all needed salvation.
III. The preacher.—
1. A shackled prisoner. Paul, when he stood before that gay throng which crowded Herod’s judgment hall, was chained by his right hand to a Roman soldier.
2. A spiritual freeman. In all that company Paul alone was possessed of true liberty.
“He is the freeman whom the truth makes free
And all are slaves besides” (Cowper).
3. A fearless prophet. Conscious of innocence, and depending on his Lord, Paul was not abashed before so much material splendour and earthly glory.
4. An eloquent orator. Sufficiently proved by the oration he delivered when called upon to speak in his de fence
IV. The sermon—The apology he uttered, setting forth:
1. The groundless character of the charges advanced against him. Thus confirming the conclusion at which Festus had already arrived (Acts 25:25).
2. The supernatural character of the call which had transformed him into a Christian apostle. Thus explaining that his countrymen, in seeking his death, were practically fighting against God.
3. The necessary character of his mission to the Gentiles. Thus showing that in all he did he was acting under the impulse of a higher will than his own (see chap. 26).
Acts 25:24. Behold this Man! (Compare John 19:5 : Behold the Man!)
I. An Israelite indeed, and yet hated by his co-religionists.—They had lost the inner kernel of the Old Testament religion, and were trying to live upon the husk; they had abandoned the spirit, and were become slaves of the letter. He, on the other hand, had cast aside the letter, and was living on the spirit of it, had thrown away the husk, and was retaining the kernel.
II. An innocent man, and yet consigned to prison.—In this certainly he was not worse treated than his Master had been, who, though He did no sin, was yet put to death as a common malefactor. Though the law was not made for a righteous man but for the unrighteous (1 Timothy 1:9), yet its penalties and prisons often fall to the righteous rather than to the wicked.
III. A friendless prisoner, and yet a fearless confessor.—Though Paul had friends in Cæsarea whose visits cheered and relieved his captivity (Acts 24:23), it is not certain that they were permitted to stand beside him in Herod’s palace on that memorable day. Nevertheless, it need not be doubted that the Lord stood by him (Matthew 10:19; Matthew 28:20), and that the presence of this heavenly friend was more to him than ten thousands of human allies and supporters, enabling him to say with the Hebrew Psalmist: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalms 27:1)
Acts 25:26. No Certain Thing to Write; or, the Uncertainties of Infidelity.
I. Whether there be no God.—The fool may say in his heart that there is no God (Psalms 14:1). The transgressor may wish there were no God. The materialist may assert and imagine he has proved there is no God. But neither fool nor philosopher can be sure that their conclusions are right.
II. Whether Jesus of Nazareth was only a man.—That He was a man all—believers and unbelievers—are agreed. That He was only a man has been vehemently and persistently affirmed by rejectors of His divinity. But they can never demonstrate to the satisfaction of others that such a thing as an incarnation is impossible.
III. Whether there be no hereafter.—This also has been blatantly proclaimed by the champions of infidelity; but as no one has ever returned from the grave they cannot positively know that there is no conscious existence beyond.
IV. Whether there be no hell.—By many it is confidently maintained that eternal punishment is only an imagination of mediæval theologians; but until the great hereafter comes with its awakening experiences, it will be impossible with regard to this to cherish more than a hope. N.B.—If Christians were uncertain that the things most surely believed among them were realities, they would be in no worse position than the unbelievers are who reject them; but Christians can say with reference to their faith in God, Christ, Immortality, Heaven, “We have not followed cunningly devised fables” (2 Peter 1:16).
Acts 25:27. Unreasonable Things, whoever does them.
I. To commit a man to gaol who has done no wrong.
II. To punish a man on account of his religion.
III. To oppress the single and de fenceless in order to please the many and the strong.
IV. To expect to crush a good cause or a good man by means of persecution.
Acts 25:23-44.25.27. Festus’s Audience Chamber at Cœsarea.
I. A drawing-room of worldly glory; constituted such by the splendour of the assembled nobility (Acts 25:23).
II. A lecture room of holy doctrine; constituted such by the testimony of the Apostle (Acts 26:1-44.26.23).
III. A judgment hall of Divine majesty; constituted such by the impression of the apostolic discourse, which discloses the secrets of all hearts (Acts 26:24-44.26.32).—Gerok in Lange.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Acts 25". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent