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Paul Before Festus

INTRODUCTION: This study covers the opportunity Paul had to make his defense before another Roman governor at Caesarea, and before the Jewish King Agrippa. As he did that, he gave his personal testimony of conversion before the whole assembly at that hearing. This is the final study in a series about the most detailed passages in Acts about the conversion of Paul. It does not cover any of his "missionary journeys."

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the Bible in Basic English (BBE).


Acts 25 "1 So Festus, having come into that part of the country which was under his rule, after three days went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. 2 And the chief priests and the chief men of the Jews made statements against Paul, 3 Requesting Festus to give effect to their design against him, and send him to Jerusalem, when they would be waiting to put him to death on the way. 4 But Festus, in answer, said that Paul was being kept in prison at Caesarea, and that in a short time he himself was going there. 5 So, he said, let those who have authority among you go with me, and if there is any wrong in the man, let them make a statement against him. 6 And when he had been with them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea; and on the day after, he took his place on the judge's seat, and sent for Paul. 7 And when he came, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem came round him, and made all sorts of serious statements against him, which were not supported by the facts. 8 Then Paul, in his answer to them, said, I have done no wrong against the law of the Jews, or against the Temple, or against Caesar. 9 But Festus, desiring to get the approval of the Jews, said to Paul, Will you go up to Jerusalem, and be judged before me there in connection with these things? 10 And Paul said, I am before the seat of Caesar's authority where it is right for me to be judged: I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you are well able to see. 11 If, then, I am a wrongdoer and there is a cause of death in me, I am ready for death: if it is not as they say against me, no man may give me up to them. Let my cause come before Caesar. 12 Then Festus, having a discussion with the Jews, made answer, You have said, Let my cause come before Caesar; to Caesar you will go."

COMMENTS: Jerusalem was an important city in the province that Porcius Festus was now to govern, so he traveled there from Caesarea just three days after he had arrived to replace Felix. The chief priests and Jewish leaders wasted no time as they appeared before him and presented their charges against Paul. They made an urgent request to Festus to have Paul transferred to them, obviously hoping he would be willing to please them since he was new to the province. There plan to ambush Paul and kill him on the way was spoiled when Festus said that he would be going to Caesarea soon where Paul was being held, and he invited some of their leaders to accompany him to Caesarea so they could press charges against him there. the day after Festus had returned to Caesarea, he took his place on the judge's seat, and had Paul brought before him. The Jews who had come from Jerusalem stood around Paul, making many serious charges that they could not prove. Paul made a clear and succinct statement in his defense: he had done nothing wrong against the law of the Jews, or against the temple, or against Caesar. Because Festus desired to please the Jews, he asked Paul if he was willing to go to Jerusalem to have the case heard by Festus there. Paul's answer was that he was already before Caesar's court and that was the proper place for his trial because Festus could clearly see he had done nothing against the Jews. Paul said if he was guilty of doing anything deserving death, he was willing to die, but if the charges brought against him by the Jews were not true, no man had the right to hand him over to them. Then Paul used his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar as the high court for a final ruling. After Festus had a discussion with his advisors, he told Paul that he would be granted his appeal to Caesar.


Acts 25 "13 Now when some days had gone by, King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea and went to see Festus. 14 And as they were there for some days, Festus gave them Paul's story, saying, There is a certain man here who was put in prison by Felix: 15 Against whom the chief priests and the rulers of the Jews made a statement when I was at Jerusalem, requesting me to give a decision against him. 16 To whom I gave answer that it is not the Roman way to give a man up, till he has been face to face with those who are attacking him, and has had a chance to give an answer to the statements made against him. 17 So, when they had come together here, straight away, on the day after, I took my place on the judge's seat and sent for the man. 18 But when they got up they said nothing about such crimes as I had in mind: 19 But had certain questions against him in connection with their religion, and about one Jesus, now dead, who, Paul said, was living. 20 And as I had not enough knowledge for the discussion of these things, I made the suggestion to him to go to Jerusalem and be judged there. 21 But when Paul made a request that he might be judged by Caesar, I gave orders for him to be kept till I might send him to Caesar. 22 And Agrippa said to Festus, I have a desire to give the man a hearing myself. Tomorrow, he said, you may give him a hearing."

COMMENTS: The Jewish King Agrippa with his wife Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to the new Roman governor of the province because he had authority over the Jewish king. As they were there for many days, Festus discussed Paul with the king, explaining that Felix had left him there as a prisoner. Jewish leaders at Jerusalem had asked Festus to send Paul to them, but instead he told them to come with him back to Caesarea to bring their charges since Paul was a Roman citizen. Festus went on to explain to Agrippa that when the charges were brought against Paul, there was no crime that Festus had expected to hear. There seemed to be a dispute about their religion, and a dead man named Jesus that Paul claimed was alive. Festus said since he was at a loss about how to investigate these matters, he asked Paul if he would go to Jerusalem for trial, and at that point Paul appealed to Caesar. Paul was being held until he could be sent to Caesar. King Agrippa was apparently curious enough at this point that he requested to hear Paul's defense, and Festus made the arrangements for the next day.


Acts 25 "23 So on the day after, when Agrippa and Bernice in great glory had come into the public place of hearing, with the chief of the army and the chief men of the town, at the order of Festus, Paul was sent for. 24 And Festus said, King Agrippa, and all those who are present here with us, you see this man, about whom all the Jews have made protests to me, at Jerusalem and in this place, saying that it is not right for him to be living any longer. 25 But, in my opinion, there is no cause of death in him, and as he himself has made a request to be judged by Caesar, I have said that I would send him. 26 But I have no certain account of him to send to Caesar. So I have sent for him to come before you, and specially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the business has been gone into, I may have something to put in writing. 27 For it seems to me against reason to send a prisoner without making clear what there is against him.

COMMENTS: King Agrippa and his wife Bernice entered the hearing room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. Paul was brought into the room and Festus gave a brief explanation of the first hearing wherein he found no reason for Paul's death as his accusers were demanding. Since Paul had made his appeal to Caesar, Festus needed an explanation to write for the emperor. Therefore this second hearing was being held, and especially before King Agrippa to better establish something to write to specify the charges against the prisoner.


Acts 26 "1 And Agrippa said to Paul, You may put your cause before us. Then Paul, stretching out his hand, made his answer, saying: 2 In my opinion I am happy, King Agrippa, to be able to give my answer before you today to all these things which the Jews say against me: 3 The more so, because you are expert in all questions to do with the Jews and their ways: so I make my request to you to give me a hearing to the end. 4 All the Jews have knowledge of my way of life from my early years, as it was from the start among my nation, and at Jerusalem; 5 And they are able to say, if they would give witness, that I was living as a Pharisee, in that division of our religion which is most regular in the keeping of the law. 6 And now I am here to be judged because of the hope given by God's word to our fathers; 7 For the effecting of which our twelve tribes have been working and waiting night and day with all their hearts. And in connection with this hope I am attacked by the Jews, O king! 8 Why, in your opinion, is it outside belief for God to make the dead come to life again? 9 For I, truly, was of the opinion that it was right for me to do a number of things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And this I did in Jerusalem: and numbers of the saints I put in prison, having had authority given to me from the chief priests, and when they were put to death, I gave my decision against them. 11 And I gave them punishment frequently, in all the Synagogues, forcing them to say things against God; and burning with passion against them, I went after them even into far-away towns."

COMMENTS: When King Agrippa gave Paul permission to speak, he first expressed that he was especially pleased to make his defense before King Agrippa because he knew Agrippa was well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Paul asked that Agrippa be patient to listen as he began to explain that the Jews had known of him for a long time and that he had lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of Jewish religion. Paul emphasized that he was on trial for having hope in what God has promised their fathers, and the promise the twelve tribes hoped to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. Paul then asked why any of them should consider it incredible that God raises the dead. Paul continued by saying that he too was convinced that he ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth, beginning in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests Paul said he put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, he cast his vote against them. He also went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and he tried to force them to blaspheme. then he went to foreign cities to persecute them.


Acts 26 "12 Then, when I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and orders of the chief priests, 13 In the middle of the day, on the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining round me and those who were journeying with me. 14 And when we had all gone down on the earth, a voice came to me, saying in the Hebrew language, Saul, Saul, why are you attacking me so cruelly? It is hard for you to go against the impulse which is driving you. 15 And I said, Who are you, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus, whom you are attacking. 16 But get up on your feet: for I have come to you for this purpose, to make you a servant and a witness of the things in which you have seen me, and of those in which you will see me; 17 And I will keep you safe from the people, and from the Gentiles, to whom I send you, 18 To make their eyes open, turning them from the dark to the light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may have forgiveness of sins and a heritage among those who are made holy by faith in me. 19 So, then, King Agrippa, I did not go against the vision from heaven; 20 But I went about, first to those in Damascus and Jerusalem, and through all the country of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, preaching a change of heart, so that they, being turned to God, might give, in their works, the fruits of a changed heart. 21 For this reason, the Jews took me in the Temple, and made an attempt to put me to death. 22 And so, by God's help, I am here today, witnessing to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come about; 23 That the Christ would go through pain, and being the first to come back from the dead, would give light to the people and to the Gentiles."

COMMENTS: Paul began to describe his conversion on the road to Damascus. He told Agrippa he saw a light brighter than the sun blazing around him and his companions. As they all fell to the ground, Paul heard a voice asking in Aramaic why he was persecuting him, and Paul responded to ask who was speaking. the Lord replied "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." Paul then described how the Lord appointed him to be a servant and a witness of what he had seen and of what the Lord would show him. The Lord said he would rescue him from his own people and from the Gentiles. The Lord would send Paul to them to open their eyes, turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus. Paul then told King Agrippa that he was not disobedient to the vision from heaven, but he preached to those in Damascus, to those in Jerusalem and all Judea, and then to the Gentiles that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. Paul said that is why the Jews seized him in the temple courts and tried to kill him. But God's had help to this very day, and so Paul could make this testimony to small and great alike. This is nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen - that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.


Acts 26 "24 And when he made his answer in these words, Festus said in a loud voice, Paul, you are off your head; your great learning has made you unbalanced. 25 Then Paul said, I am not off my head, most noble Festus, but my words are true and wise. 26 For the king has knowledge of these things, to whom I am talking freely; being certain that all this is common knowledge to him; for it has not been done in secret. 27 King Agrippa, have you faith in the prophets? I am certain that you have. 28 And Agrippa said to Paul, A little more and you will be making me a Christian. 29 And Paul said, It is my prayer to God that, in little or great measure, not only you, but all those hearing me today might be even as I am, but for these chains. 30 And the king and the ruler and Bernice and those who were seated with them got up; 31 And when they had gone away they said to one another, This man has done nothing which might give cause for death or prison. 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, This man might have been made free, if he had not put his cause before Caesar."

COMMENTS: Hearing all of these things apparently stirred Festus as he shouted to Paul that he was out of his mind, and his great learning had made him insane. Paul respectfully replied that he was not insane, and that what he had been saying was true and reasonable. He knew he could speak freely before King Agrippa because these things were familiar to him and they had been done openly. Paul said directly to Agrippa that he was sure the king believed the prophets. Agrippa replied that he might be inclined to become a Christian through hearing more. Paul said that his prayer to God was, in little or great measure, that not only the king, but all those hearing him might be even as he was, with the exception of the chains. After this, all the officials left the room and agreed as they talked, that Paul had done nothing to deserve death or imprisonment. Agrippa said to Festus that Paul could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar. However, Paul had wanted to go to Rome, though perhaps not as a prisoner after two years of being held at Caesarea. this earlier passage shows Paul's plans before his last arrival at Jerusalem. Acts 19 "21 Now after these things were ended, Paul came to a decision that when he had gone through Macedonia and Achaia he would go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I have a desire to see Rome." When Paul had been attacked at the temple in Jerusalem, he was rescued by the Romans. then when he appeared before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, he again was taken away from the angry assembly by the Romans. Acts 23:11 And the night after, the Lord came to his side and said, Be of good heart, for as you have been witnessing for me in Jerusalem, so will you be my witness in Rome." The Lord had been with Paul all along and was working out a plan of his own will for Paul to go to Rome.


Lord, I am blessed as I read how you were directing these events as Paul was a prisoner under the authority of the Roman government, and facing ever present potential threats by the Jews. You used the Roman civil authority to protect Paul from the Jews, and at the same time provided opportunities for the message of the gospel to be displayed before many who otherwise may not have heard such a striking presentation. Though Paul had been a prisoner for two years before Festus became the governor, he had been given a level of freedom that allowed his friends to frequently visit him at Caesarea and provide for his needs. Knowing the character of Paul, this time was surely used to encourage and teach those visitors, and perhaps to influence the various officials who may have observed the many visits. You had planned that Paul would speak before Gentiles, kings, and Jews; and Paul gave witness of Christ before the Jewish King Agrippa. Before Paul left Jerusalem under Roman guard two years earlier, he had been assured by you Lord that he would see Rome, and that became his next destination. I ask Lord that you firmly fix in my heart and my mind the kind of love for Christ that Paul had as he readily seized opportunities to share the gospel, even in the most extreme personal circumstances. Guide me Lord through your word and by your Holy Spirit to carry out the purpose and plans you have for my life. Amen.

Published 30 March 2013