Acts 25: 1 – 12 Paul’s trial before Festus

Acts 25: 1 – 12 Paul’s trial before Festus

Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. They requested Festus, as a favour to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. Festus answered, ‘Paul is being held at Caesarea and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there.’

After spending eight or ten days with them, Festus went down to Caesarea. The next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him. When Paul came in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood round him. They brought many serious charges against him, but they could not prove them.

Then Paul made his defence: ‘I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.’

Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favour, said to Paul, ‘Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?’

Paul answered: ‘I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!’

After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: ‘You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!’

*       *       *

It’s clear from this passage just how much the Jewish hierarchy hated and feared Paul.

Paul had been held under house arrest for two years while Felix was procurator of Judea. To a certain extent this was protective custody; it’s clear that Felix was shrewd and realised the risk that the Jewish hierarchy posed to Paul. Then Felix was replaced as procurator by Porcius Festus. Within days of arriving in the province of Judea to take up his duties as procurator, Festus was asked by the Jewish leaders to send Paul to Jerusalem for trial.

Luke tells us that they intended to ambush Paul and kill him during his transfer to Jerusalem. The way that Luke describes the request is significant. “They requested Festus, as a favour to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem”. To request a favour means to incur an obligation. The Jewish leaders were prepared to spend political capital to achieve Paul’s death; indeed, it was at the top of their ‘wish list’. That’s a chilling thought.

Festus declined their request. I find this a very convincing detail supporting the historical accuracy of the account. It’s perfectly possible, of course, that Felix briefed Festus about the risks to Paul, but there’s a much more compelling reason for Festus to refuse. The Jewish leaders have asked him “as a favour to them” to return Paul to Jerusalem. Festus, as an experienced negotiator, would have realised that Paul had a value, and the value was significant because the Jewish leaders had raised the matter as soon as they could. Until Festus knew how great a value to place on Paul’s trial he would make no commitments that gave away control. Any half-decent bureaucrat would have done the same; it would have been automatic.

So Festus does exactly the same as Felix. He asserts Roman authority and tells the Jewish leaders to come to Caesarea to make their accusations. Not surprisingly, the result is the same as Paul’s trial under Felix. The Jewish leaders fling accusations at Paul, but cannot prove any that were relevant in a Roman court of law. All Paul says is ‘I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar,’ and the case falls apart.

Festus has now shown the Jews that he will exercise Roman authority. Keeping Paul in custody is expensive, and could drag on indefinitely. He asks Paul whether he’s prepared to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there. Paul’s answer is incisive.

”Paul answered: ‘I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!’ ”

He demands to be tried in a Roman court, under Roman law. Very subtly, he introduces the idea that travel to Jerusalem would lead to his death when he says: “If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die.” And then, he triggers the nuclear option:

“I appeal to Caesar!’”

You can almost hear the sharp intake of breath from every person present in the court.

A Roman citizen could, at least in theory, appeal to the Emperor to hear his case. For obvious reasons this was rare. Before responding to Paul’s demand, Festus conferred with his council.

After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: ‘You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!’

Paul’s direction was now set. He was going to Rome, and going as a prisoner.

Prayer

Heavenly Father

Thank you for the faithful witness of all your saints. Please help us all to be obedient as they were.

In Jesus name, Amen.

Published by pennygadd51

I write. I've written many pieces of flash fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, with a third in progress.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: