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The Jews accuse Paul before Festus: he answereth for himself, and appealeth unto Caesar. Afterwards Festus openeth this matter to king Agrippa, and Paul is brought forth. Festus cleareth him of having done any thing worthy of death.
Anno Domini 63.
Acts 25:1. Now, when Festus was came, &c.— That is, When Festus entered upon his government, after three days he went up, &c. This was in conformity to the Roman law, and in order to make himself acquainted with the present state of their public affairs.
Acts 25:3. And desired favour,— That is, desired this favour. Instead of laying wait, &c. Dr. Doddridge reads and paraphrases the passage thus: "Laying an ambush of desperate wretches for him, who they knew would readily undertake to intercept his journey, and to kill him by the way." These assassins were probably some of the sicarii, mentioned ch. Acts 21:38. The high priests about this time were, according to the account that Josephus gives of them, such monsters of rapine, tyranny, and cruelty, that it is not to be wondered at that such adesign should be favoured by him who now bore the office.
Acts 25:4. Festus answered— It certainly was extraordinary that Festus, who, as a new governor and a heathen, could not but incline to make himself popular, should deny this request, when it had the appearance of being so reasonable, and came from persons of such eminent rank in the Jewish nation. But when we consider, how much edification to the churches depended on the continuance of St. Paul's life; and how evidently, under God, his life depended on this resolution of Festus; it must surely lead us to reflect by what invisible springs the Almighty God governs the world; with what silence, and yet at the same time with what wisdom and energy!
Acts 25:10-11. I stand at Caesar's judgment-seat,— Where St. Paul says, as thou very well knowest, he may either refer to the examination of him that day taken before him, or more probably to the information which we cannot but suppose Felix gave concerning him, when he resigned up his government to Festus. The word χαρισασθαι which we render deliver, implies a deliverance in order to gratify: "No man can lawfully deliver me into their hands, so as to gratify them with my death." This, however, will by no means prove that the Jews had the power of life and death in their hands; for St. Paul might reasonably apprehend, not only that he might be murdered by the way, as he probably would have been; but that, had the sanhedrim condemned him, Festus might, for particular reasons, have acted the part which Pilate did with respect to our Lord, in permitting and warranting the execution, though in his own conscience convinced of his innocence, and even declaring that conviction. See Matthew 27:24-26. On these accounts St. Paul appealed to Caesar. It is well known, that the Roman law allowed such an appeal to every citizen before sentence was passed, and made it highly penal for any governor, after that, to proceed to any extremities against the person making it.
Acts 25:12. Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council,— It was customary for a considerable number of persons of some distinction to attend the Roman praefects into their provinces, with whom they were used to consult, especially in matters of judicature.
Acts 25:13. King Agrippa and Bernice— This Agrippa was son to Herod Agrippa, whose tragical death is related ch. 12: He was by profession a Jew, had the power of the temple and the sacred treasury, and could likewise dispose of the high-priesthood as he thought proper. Bernice, his sister, was the eldest daughter of Herod Agrippa, and had been contracted in her infancy by Claudius Caesar to Mark, the son of Alexander Lysimachus, the Alabarch; but he dying before the marriage was consummated, her father married her to his own brother Herod, king of Chalcis, though that was contrary to the law of Moses. After his death she went and lived with her brother Agrippa, with whom she was suspected of an incestuous commerce; of which Josephus speaks, and to which Juvenal is supposed to refer, in a celebrated passage, Sat. 6: ver. 154, &c. To wipe off this aspersion, she endeavoured to marry again, offering herself to Polemon, king of Cilicia, upon condition that he would become a proselyte of righteousness to the Jewish religion. Polemon, who had more regard to the riches than to the character of the lady, consented to be circumcised, and actually married her. But Bernice did not continue long with her husband, which occasioned his castingoff the Jewish religion; and notwithstanding the scandal which she had formerly lain under, she went and lived where she pleased, not only continuing her criminal acquaintance (as there is too great reason to fear) with her brother Agrippa, but afterwards insinuating herself so far into the affections of Titus Vespasian, as to occasion much discourse; for she was of great beauty, and remarkably liberal: nay, she had even the prospect of being empress, had not the murmurs of the people of Rome prevented it. See Suetonius in Tito, 100: 7. Tacit. Hist. 50. 2: 100. 2 and 81. Joseph. Antiq. b. 19: 100. 5.
Acts 25:16. It is not the manner of the Romans, &c.— According to the Roman law, accusations were never to be heard in the absence of the accused person—a rule, which has justly gained to the Roman people the highest approbation of the best writers, and of all good men; a rule, which as it is now happily common to almost all nations, so ought it to direct our proceedings in all affairs, not only in public, but private life. It evidently appears from hence, that the judgment which they demanded against St. Paul, Act 25:15 was not a trial, but a sentence upon a previous conviction, which they falselyand wickedly pretended; and probably it was the knowledge which Festus had of St. Paul's being a Roman citizen, that engaged him to determine to try the cause himself.
Acts 25:19. Of their own superstition,— Of their own religion. See on ch. Acts 17:22. As Agrippa was a Jew, and now come to pay a visit of respect to Festus on his arrival at his province, it is improbable that he would use so rude a word as superstition; so that this text affords a further argument, that the word δεισιδαιμονια will admit a milder interpretation; and it is remarkable, not only that the Jewish religion is spoken of by this word inseveral edicts reported by Josephus, which were made in its favour, but that Josephus himself uses it in the same sense too, Jewish War, lib. 2: 100. 9. We may just observe from this, as well as many other places in the Acts, that St. Luke has generally given us no more than the substance of the speeches; for there is nothing of what is mentioned in this verse related in the place where he speaks of what passed when the apostle made his first apology before Festus.
Acts 25:21. Of Augustus,— Of our august emperor. As Augustus was not properly one of the names of Nero, though it was of Titus, the above version more justly expresses the import of Σεβαστος, which was plainly a complimental form of speaking.
Acts 25:22. I would also hear the man myself.— No doubt but Agrippa had learned from his father (by whom, it is to be remembered, St. James had been put to death, and St. Peter imprisoned, ch. Acts 12:2-3.), and from many others, something of the historyof Christianity; so that he would naturally have a curiosity to see and discourse with so eminent a Christian teacher as St. Paul; who, on account of what he had been in his unconverted state, was certainly more regarded and talked of by the Jews, than any other of the apostles.
Acts 25:23. With great pomp,— Dr. Hammond has shewn by a variety of quotations, that the word φαντασιας, here, signifies train, or retinue;—with a numerous and splendid train, making a most pompous and magnificent appearance. When they were seated, Festus gave orders that Paul should be brought forth; who came presently, in his humble garb, and, as it should seem, with his chains on; but his inward integrity was more honourable, and of greater excellence, than all their external pomp and grandeur.
Acts 25:24. Have dealt with me,— Have pleaded with me. Doddridge.
Acts 25:26. Unto my lord,— The term, Τω κυριω, plainly signifies to the lord of the empire; a title by which it is well known the emperor was now frequently spoken of. Festus knew very well the account which Felix had left behind him, and the accusations of the leading men among the Jews, both at Jerusalem and Caesarea; yet he was at a loss what to allege against the apostle, because the Romans had then no laws against the Christians. He was therefore in hopes that king Agrippa, who understood the Jewish customs and privileges, would help him out of this difficulty, and teach him how to form his charge against the prisoner, in so uncommon and remarkable a case.
Inferences.—In the conduct of Festus, as well as of Felix, we see what dangerous snares power and grandeur may prove, to a man who is not influenced by resolute and courageous virtue: the liberty of the worthiest of mankind was sacrificed by both, to their political views of ingratiating themselves with the Jewish people. Happy that ruler, who, approving the equity of his administration to every man's conscience, has no need to court popular favour by mean compliances; and whom the greatest eagerness of men's unjust demands can never turn aside from that steady tenor of justice which a righteous God requires, and which will engage that protection and favour in which alone the most exalted creatures can be happy, in which alone they can be safe.
Mysterious as that dispensation was which permitted St. Paul's labours to he interrupted by so long an imprisonment, it is nevertheless very pleasant to trace the manner in which all was graciously over-ruled by a wise and kind providence. On this occasion he had an opportunity of bearing his testimony, first before rulers and kings in Judea, and then in Rome, and in the palace of Caesar.
None of the jewels which these princes might wear, none of the revenues which they might possess, were of any value at all, when compared with the advantage which their converse with St. Paul gave them, for learning the way of salvation: but how shamefully was the advantage neglected, even the price which was put into their hands to get this divine wisdom, (Proverbs 17:16.) Alas! how coldly do they speak of the most important matters, even those relating to the death and resurrection of him, by whose knowledge and grace alone hell was to be avoided and heaven secured! There was a question about one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive: A doubtful question! But, O Festus, why was it doubtful to thee? Surely, because thou didst not think it worth thy while seriously to search into the evidence that attended it; else that evidence had opened upon thee till it had grown into full conviction, and this thine illustrious prisoner had led thee into the glorious liberty of God's children; had led thee to a throne far brighter than that of Caesar, far more stable than the foundations of the earth.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, No sooner was Festus entered upon his government, than St. Paul's implacable enemies beset him.
1. After three days' stay at Caesarea, Festus proceeded to Jerusalem; where he no sooner arrived, than the high-priest and elders, coming in a body to pay their compliments to the governor, failed not to seize the opportunity to prepossess his mind, informing him against Paul; and, setting the affair in the most invidious light, they besought him to give judgment against the prisoner; and for that purpose, begged the favour of him, that he might be sent for to Jerusalem; resuming the old scheme, to assassinate him by the way. How restless are the struggles of malice! and what wickedness is not the wretched heart of man capable of, when enslaved by envy and revenge?
2. Festus excused himself from granting their request, choosing rather to decide the matter at Caesarea: either he thought their desire unreasonable, or perhaps suspected some design; and therefore, informing them that he should shortly depart thither, he assured them, if they would prepare their evidence, and those who were best able to manage the prosecution would go down with him, and could prove him guilty of any crime or misdemeanour, he would grant them impartial justice.
3. After more than ten days' stay at Jerusalem, Festus went down to Caesarea with those who were to carry on the prosecution against St. Paul; and, without delay, the very next day the prisoner is brought to the bar, and his enemies surrounding the judge, as if to intimidate him into compliance, or by their number to give weight to the cause, laid many and grievous accusations against the apostle, as if he was the vilest of the vile: but when the evidences which should have supported these allegations were required, it evidently appeared that they could not prove one of their charges: while, in his defence, St. Paul confidently denied every accusation, having neither offended against the law, the temple, nor the civil government; and defied them to produce a single instance wherein he had acted unbecoming his profession as a Jew, or his allegiance to Caesar. Note; Nothing is easier than to advance high charges against Christ's people: but accusing and proving are on such occasions very different things.
4. Festus could not but perceive the malice of the accusation and the innocence of the prisoner; but willing, on his first coming to Caesarea, to ingratiate himself with the Jews, by granting them the favour which they desired, of having St. Paul tried at Jerusalem, he asked him whether he would go up thither, and have the cause decided by him in the presence of the sanhedrim? Too well St. Paul knew the designs of his persecutors, to consent to a proposal so dangerous; therefore he wisely pleads his privilege as a Roman, and appeals unto Caesar. I stand, says he, at Caesar's judgment-seat, where I ought to be judged, and am ready to appear: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest. For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, according to the laws of the empire, I refuse not to die, content to suffer the desert of my offences: but if there be none of these things whereof they accuse me, and the charge be evidently false and malicious, no man may deliver me unto them, and put me in their power. I claim my right as a freeman of Rome, to be only judged there, and appeal unto Caesar. Note; The wisdom of the serpent is highly necessary, when we have to do with unreasonable and wicked men.
5. Festus acquiesces in his appeal. He conferred with the council, who assisted him in the management of affairs; and as they admitted the right of the prisoner to claim this privilege, he answered, Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? Unto Caesar shalt thou go; not unwilling, perhaps, thus to rid his hands so fairly of a cause which might have involved him in much trouble.
2nd, As Christ had told his disciples that they should be brought before governors and kings, so does he order it in his providence, that their persecutors are made the instruments of leading those great men to hear the gospel, who perhaps otherwise never would have heard it. We have,
1. The visit of Agrippa to Festus, to congratulate him on his coming to his government. Agrippa was the son of that Herod who flew the apostle James: Claudius, the Roman emperor, had given him the title of king and the tetrarchy which belonged to his uncle Philip. Bernice, who accompanied him, was his sister; but was accused of too great familiarity with her brother: such were the great people of those times: when viewing then the present corruptions of the age, say not, the former days were better: the unawakened world was always the same.
2. Agrippa and Bernice were both brought up in the Jewish religion; and after they had been at Caesarea some time, St. Paul's case happened one day to be the subject of conversation; which Festus related to the king, either to entertain him with the account, or to have his advice how to act, as better acquainted with the Jewish rites and customs, than he, a stranger, could be supposed to be. He had found St. Paul in bonds, when Felix resigned the government to him, and had no sooner come to Jerusalem, to take possession of his province, than the chief priests and elders clamoured for judgment against him: but he excused himself from a hasty decision of the matter, alleging the constant custom of the Romans to adjudge no man to death, nor to consign him to destruction, through any favour or partiality; but first to have the person accused, and his accusers, face to face, that he might have liberty to exculpate himself, if he could, from any crime laid to his charge. And to dispatch the matter without delay, the next day after his arrival, the prisoner was brought to the bar; when, to his surprise, he found no one accusation of a criminal nature could be proved, none such as came under his cognizance as a magistrate; but that the charge turned upon certain questions of a religious nature, respecting the tenets that he held contrary to their law, and about one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. Counting himself an incompetent judge of such superstitious controversies, as he regarded them, he proposed to Paul to have the matter canvassed before the sanhedrim at Jerusalem; but the prisoner, objecting to them, had pleaded his privilege, and appealed unto Caesar: he was therefore still in custody, till an opportunity offered to send him to Rome. Note; (1.) Every man has a natural right to be heard, before he is condemned. To determine a case, where only one side of the question is told, is the sure way to err, and may be the means of irreparable injury to the purest innocence. (2.) They who know not Jesus, speak slightly of him; but to those who feel their guilt and need of a Saviour, whether he be alive again or not is a matter of infinite importance, on which their everlasting hopes depend.
3. Agrippa, curious to know what St. Paul had to say for himself, intimated a desire to hear him: Festus gladly consented to it, and appointed the next day. On the morrow, Agrippa and Bernice in vast pomp, arrayed in gorgeous apparel, attended by their royal retinue, entered the judgment-hall, where all the chief captains and principal men of the city attended, drawn by curiosity, or to pay their respects to the noble personages who were present: when, being seated, the prisoner, at the commandment of Festus, is brought forth, more adorned with his prison-garments and glorious bonds, than they in all their vain splendour and empty magnificence.
4. Festus, with respect, hereupon addressed himself to king Agrippa and the principal men who were present, and opened the occasion of their meeting with an account of the prisoner before them, upon whom he had been solicited with great importunity by all the Jews, both at Jerusalem and Caesarea, to pass sentence of death, as a miscreant unworthy to live. But when on fair trial nothing criminal could be proved against him, and Paul had appealed to Augustus for the final decision of his cause, he was resolved to send him. But as it looked absurd and unreasonable to send a prisoner without signifying what crimes he stood accused of, he had therefore brought Paul forth before that honourable assembly, especially before king Agrippa, who was most acquainted with the Jewish laws and customs, that, after a full discussion of the case, he might have something determinate to write to his imperial master, concerning the prisoner who had appealed to his judgment.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Acts 25". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13