Acts 25: 13 – 22 Festus consults King Agrippa – Part 1
A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. He said, ‘There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.
I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges. When they came here with me, I did not delay the case, but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in. When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man called Jesus whom Paul claimed was alive. I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on those charges. But when Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.’
Then Agrippa said to Festus, ‘I would like to hear this man myself.’
He replied, ‘Tomorrow you will hear him.’
* * *
King Herod Agrippa II was a Jew, but he was educated in the court of Emperor Claudius in Rome, and was a favourite of his. He did not inherit his father’s land – he was too young when his father died – but he was gradually given territories to administer. Among other responsibilities he appointed the Jewish high priest, and had control over the temple revenues. He was Jewish, and he understood and had sympathy for them.
We saw yesterday that Porcius Festus, the Roman procurator for Judea, had a problem with Paul. He found him innocent of crimes against Rome, but he was under political pressure from the chief priests to hand him over for trial under Jewish law. However, if he handed Paul over – or even released him – he could see that Paul would rapidly be killed.
And Festus didn’t have a clue what the Jews were talking about!
As he says to Agrippa, “When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man called Jesus whom Paul claimed was alive. I was at a loss how to investigate such matters…”
Had Paul testified in court before Festus about Jesus being raised from the dead? Or had his Jewish accusers given some garbled account of what Paul had said and done? Luke doesn’t say directly that Paul proclaimed the good news in court. It’s quite likely he wouldn’t have done so, knowing that Festus would not understand. Paul seems to have taken his stand on Roman law, and relied on the reluctance of Roman authority to hand over a Roman citizen to a local jurisdiction. He may have been led by the Holy Spirit to do this, to ensure he would travel to Rome and give his testimony in the very heart of power.
Agrippa’s visit must have seemed providential to Festus; here was a man who knew both Jewish and Roman law, who could explain what this nuisance Paul was on about.
How relieved Festus must have felt when Agrippa said, ‘‘I would like to hear this man myself.’
Please keep the resurrection of Jesus at the centre of my life.
In Jesus name, Amen