Jesus Fish 3

Acts: Chapter 25

Written By: Steve Shirley

     Let’s begin by reading (Acts 25:1-12).

     (Verse 1) “Now when Festus was come into the province, after three days he ascended from Caesarea to Jerusalem.”

     “Festus” – As we read in the last verse of Chapter 24, Festus has just replaced Felix as governor (about 60 A.D.). Felix was removed from his post by Emperor Nero, and recalled to Rome to stand trial for his actions as governor, in particular his cruel treatment of the Jews. We know little about Festus. The “MacArthur Study Bible” says he was “a member of Roman nobility.” Several accounts say that Festus was a much better leader than Felix. Josephus says that he died about 2 years after this succession (Ant. xx. 8.9 to 9.1).

     “after three days” – Keeping in mind that Felix was removed from his position in big part due to his treatment of the Jews, shortly after Festus arrives in Caesarea, he immediately heads to Jerusalem, the home of the Jewish leaders. (***Note: The distance between Caesarea and Jerusalem was about 75 miles.)

     “ascended” – Remember that over and over in the Bible, people are described as “going up” to Jerusalem, or “coming down” from Jerusalem (i.e. see: Mt 20:17-18, Mk 3:22, Lk 2:42). This is because Jerusalem sits upon a hill, and all roads leading to it are “up.”

     “Caesarea” – As we first mentioned in (Acts 9:30), Caesarea was built by Herod the Great between 25 – 13 B.C., and he named it in honor of Caesar Augustus. It served as the headquarters for Roman governors (i.e. Pilate lived there while he was ruling Judea). Several important events that we have already covered in Acts occurred there: i.e. Philip preached there (Acts 8:40), and later lived there (Acts 21:8-9), Peter met there with the Roman centurion Cornelius, who became the first Gentile Christian (Acts Ch. 10), and Herod Agrippa I was killed by God there (Acts 12:19-23).

 

     (Verses 2-3)(NKJV) “Then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they petitioned him, (3) asking a favor against him, that he would summon him to Jerusalem – while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him.”

     By this time, it has been just over two years (Acts 24:27) since the “high priest and the elders” (the “Sanhedrin”) (Acts 24:1) had gone to Caesarea to bring charges against Paul (Acts Ch. 24). As we can see here, they are “still” angry with Paul!

     “asking a favor of him” – Likely knowing that Festus (the “new” governor) had come to them to try and make peace, the Sanhedrin tried to take advantage of this situation by asking for a “favor.” This “favor” was to ask Festus to summon Paul to Jerusalem (from Caesarea where he was imprisoned), and while he was in route, they would ambush and kill him.

     “while they lay in ambush to kill him” – If you remember back to (Acts 23:12-21), a similar “plot” to kill Paul occurred. Paul was made aware of the plot by his nephew, who overheard it, and warned Paul, who in turn sent his nephew to warn the commander of the garrison in Jerusalem. To thwart this “plot,” the commander (“Lysias”) assembled a group of 450 soldiers, and sent Paul from Jerusalem to Caesarea.

***Note: If you look at the first “plot” in (Acts 23:12-15), you see that the “Jews” went to the “chief priests and elders” (members of the Sanhedrin) to ask for help in carrying out their plot. Here, however, we see the “high priest and the chief men” (members of the Sanhedrin) conceiving a “plot” to kill Paul themselves!

***Note: Remember that both of these “plots” to kill Paul were doomed to failure because Jesus had already promised Paul in (Acts 23:11) that he would send him to Rome to “bear witness.”

***Note: When we get to (Verse 16), we are given a detail in regards to this that we aren’t given here. In short, Festus replies that to the Sanhedrin that no man can be put to death before being given a trial.

 

     (Verses 4-5)(NASB) “Festus then answered that Paul was being kept in custody in Caesarea, and that he himself was about to leave shortly. (5) “Therefore,” he said, “have the influential men among you go there with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, have them bring charges against him.””

     We don’t know if Festus was aware of their previous plan to kill (“ambush”) Paul, and the lengths that the Roman “commander” went to to protect him, but for whatever reason (probably verse 16), Festus refused to go along with their plot. 

     Festus told the Sanhedrin that he was not going to have Paul come to Jerusalem, but instead, he was leaving him in Caesarea, and he was going to return there soon. If they wanted to “bring charges” against Paul, they should return “with him” to Caesarea, and “bring their charges against him” there.

     It is worth noting that Festus did not give into the pressure by the Sanhedrin, but also did not ignore their charges. He was willing to reopen Paul’s case for them, but would only do so in Caesarea, not Jerusalem. Compromise!

 

     (Verses 6-8) “And when he had tarried among them more than ten days, he went down unto Caesarea; and the next day sitting on the judgment seat commanded Paul to be brought. (7) And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove. (8) While he answered for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all.”

     “tarried among them more than ten days” – (From the “Barnes Commentary”) – “The Syriac reads it, “eight or ten.” The Vulgate, “not more than eight or ten.” The Coptic, “eight or ten.” Griesbach supposes this to be the true reading, and has admitted it into the text.”

     “sitting on the judgment seat” – (From the “MacArthur Study Bible”) – “This signified that this hearing was an official Roman trial (see vv. 10,17; 18:12; Mt 27:19; John 19:13).”

     “laid many grievous charges… which they could not prove” – We are not told what these “grievous charges” were, but they were likely similar charges to those laid out by Tertullus (the (“prosecuting attorney” hired by the Sanhedrin) in (Acts 24:5-6). They were:

1. He is a “public menace” (KJV: “a pestilent fellow,” NKJV: “a plague”).

2. He “stirs up dissention” (among the Jews).

3. He is a “ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.”

4. He “tried to desecrate (“profane”) the Temple.”

     Remembering back to (Acts Ch. 24), Paul vigorously defended himself against each charge individually. Here, however, Paul basically replies with, “I haven’t done any of these things…”

 

     (Verses 9-10) “But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure (“favor”), answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me? (10) Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest.”

     “wanting to do the Jews a favor” – Similar to Felix in (Acts 24:27), Festus now wants to get on the good side of the Jews by attempting to grant their original request to have Paul tried in Jerusalem. However, he would not do so without Paul’s consent (likely because of his Roman citizenship). He tries to get this consent by telling Paul that “he,” rather than the Sanhedrin would try him in Jerusalem.

     “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat” – (From the “Barnes Commentary”) – “When Paul says, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat,” he means to say that he regarded the tribunal before which he then stood, and on which Festus sat, as really the judgment seat of Caesar. The procurator, or governor, held his commission from the Roman emperor, and it was, in fact, his tribunal. The reason why Paul made this declaration may be thus expressed: “I am a Roman citizen. I have a right to justice. I am under no obligation to put myself again in the hands of the Jews. I have a right to a fair and impartial trial; and I claim the protection and privileges which all Roman citizens have before their tribunals – the right of a fair and just trial.” It was, therefore, a severe rebuke of Festus for proposing to depart from the known justice of the Roman laws, and, for the sake of popularity, proposing to him to put himself in the hands of his enemies.”

     “I have done no wrong, as thou very well knowest” – John Gill says this, “It may be by his predecessor Felix, who had informed him of this case; or by Lysias’s letter (Acts 23:26-30), which might come to his hands; or by the apostle’s answer and vindication of himself, which he now made.”

 

     (Verses 11-12)(NASB) “”If, therefore, I am in the wrong and have committed something deserving death, I am not trying to avoid execution; but if there is nothing to the accusations which these men are bringing against me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.” (12) Then when Festus had conferred with his council, he answered, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go.””

     “If… am in the wrong and have committed something deserving of death, I am not trying to avoid execution.” – Reading between the lines, Paul addresses a “controversial” subject here: the “death penalty.” Christians are about evenly divided regarding their views on this subject, and MUCH could be said on it, but we will not do so here. I write in-depth on this here:  https://jesusalive.cc/should-we-allow-death-penalty. However, in short, here are a few Bible verses to consider:

God originally instituted the death penalty for certain sins: i.e. false prophets (Deut 18:20), 
blasphemers of God (Lev 24:16), those who served another God (Deut 17:2-5), and many more.

Jesus affirmed that these OT death penalty laws were not wrong (Mt 15:3-6).

Confirming what he says in (verse 11), Paul more clearly states in several other writings that “government” does indeed have the right to carry out the “death penalty” i.e. (Rom 13:1-4)(1 Pet 2:13-14).

 

     “no one can hand me over to them” – Remembering the first plot of the Sanhedrin to kill him, Paul certainly says this because he knows they will try again to kill him on the way to Jerusalem if he goes. And, as we mentioned above (v. 3), Festus has to know they will try too.

     “I appeal to Caesar” – Seeing that Festus “very well knowest” (v.9) he hasn’t done anything wrong, but still wants to do the Jews a ‘favor” by taking him to Jerusalem to stand trial, Paul realizes he will not get a fair trial. Therefore, he “appeals to Caesar.”

     (From the “Zondervan NIV Study Bible”) – “I appeal to Caesar! – Nero had become the emperor by this time (He began his reign in 54 A.D.). It was the right of every Roman citizen to have his case heard before Caesar himself (or his representative) in Rome. This was the highest court of appeal, and winning such a case could have led to more than just Paul’s acquittal. It could have resulted in official recognition of Christianity as distinct from Judaism.”

     (From the “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible”) – “Paul knew that as a citizen of Rome he could insist on a trial before the Roman judgment seat, and not the Jewish Sanhedrin, where he would find little justice. The appeal to Caesar was the right of any Roman citizen. If a citizen thought he was not getting justice in a provincial court, he could appeal to the emperor himself. If the appeal was declared valid, all other proceedings in the lower courts ceased and the prisoner was sent to Rome for disposition of his case.”

 

     “conferred with his council” – (From the “Barnes Commentary”) – “With his associate judges, or with those who were his counselors in the administration of justice. They were made up of the chief persons, probably military as well as civil, who were about him, and who were his assistants in the administration of the affairs of the province.”

      “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go.” – How do you think Festus felt about this decision? 

 

     Next, let’s read (Acts 25:13-22).

     (Verse 13) “And after certain days king Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea to salute Festus.”

     “Agrippa and Bernice” – (From the “MacArthur Study Bible”) – “Herod Agrippa II, son of the Herod who killed James and imprisoned Peter (see: Acts 12:1-4). He was the last of the Herods, who play a prominent role in NT history. His great-uncle, Herod Antipas, was the Herod of the gospels (Mark 6:14-29; Luke 3:1; 13:31-33; 23:7-12), while his great-grandfather, Herod the Great, ruled at the time Jesus was born (Matt. 2:1-19; Luke 1:5). Though not the ruler of Judea, Agrippa was well versed in Jewish affairs (cf. 26:3). Bernice. Not Agrippa’s wife, but his consort and sister. (Their sister, Drusilla, was married to the former governor Felix.) Their incestuous relationship was the talk of Rome, where Agrippa grew up. Bernice for a while became the mistress of Emperor Vespasian, then of his son Titus, but always returned to her brother.”

***Note: “Titus” was the Roman general whose army destroyed Jerusalem, and the Temple in 70 A.D.

     (From the “Zondervan NIV Study Bible”) – “Herod Agrippa II. He was 17 years old at the death of his father in A.D. 44 (12:23). Being too young to succeed his father, he was replaced by Roman governors. Eight years later, however, a gradual extension of territorial authority began. Ultimately he ruled over territory north and northeast of the Sea of Galilee, over several Galilean cities and over some cities in Perea. At the Jewish revolt, when Jerusalem fell, he was on the side of the Romans. He died c. A.D. 100 – the last of the Herods. Bernice. The oldest daughter of Agrippa I, she was 16 years old at his death. When only 13, she married her uncle, Herod of Chalcis, and had two sons. When Herod died, she lived with her brother, Agrippa II. To silence rumors that she was living in incest with her brother, she married Polemon, king of Cilicia, but left him soon to return to Agrippa. She became the mistress of the emperor Vespasian’s son Titus but was later ignored by him.

     “to salute Festus” –  It was customary for a ruler to go and welcome to a new ruler after he ascended to office.


     (Verses 14-16)(NASB) “And while they were spending many days there, Festus presented Paul’s case to the king, saying, “There is a man who was left as a prisoner by Felix; (15) and when I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. (16) I replied to them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any person before the accused meets his accusers face to face, and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges.”

     “Festus presented Paul’s case to the king” – (From the “Ellicott’s Commentary”) – “The matter seems to have come in, as it were, in the course of conversation. Festus probably thought that Agrippa, who knew all about the Jews and their religion, could throw some light on the peculiar position of his prisoner, who, though a Jew, and professing the utmost reverence for the Law and the Temple, was yet accused and denounced by his compatriots.”

     “asking for a sentence of condemnation against him” – As we saw in (verse 3), the “chief priests and elders” wanted Festus to go along with a plan which would allow them to ambush and kill Paul!

     In (verse 16), we get more detail about Festus’ response to their plan to ambush and kill Paul.

     “it is not the custom of the Romans” – The “Barnes Commentary” lists several other ancient writers who also mention this: “Appian, in his Roman History, says, “It is not their custom to condemn men before they are heard.” Philo (DePraesi. Rom.) says the same thing. In Tacitus (History, ii.) it is said, “A defendant is not to be prohibited from adducing all things by which his innocence may be established.””

     “meets his accusers face to face” – A similar law was established by God in the Old Testament, and is mentioned in the New Testament: (Num 35:30)(Deut 17:6)(Deut 19:15)(Mt 18:16)(Jn 7:51)(2 Cor 13:1)(1 Tim 5:19)(Heb 10:28).


     (Verses 17-19) “Therefore, when they were come hither, without any delay on the morrow I sat on the judgment seat, and commanded the man to be brought forth. (18) Against whom when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed: (19) But had certain questions against him of their own superstition (“religion” other versions), and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.”

     These 3 verses are recalling the events that happened in (verses 6-8) above.

     “None accusation” (From the “Barnes Commentary”) – No charge as I expected of a breach of the peace; of a violation of the Roman law; of atrocious crime. It was natural that Festus should suppose that they would accuse Paul of some such offence. He had been arraigned before Felix; had been two years in custody; and the Jews were exceedingly violent against him. All this, Festus would presume, must have arisen from some flagrant and open violation of the laws.”

     “certain questions… of their own superstition (“religion”) – Remember back in (Acts 18:12-17), when Paul was brought by the Jews before the “judgment seat” of Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, and Gallio made it clear that matters of “religion” (i.e. Jewish law) were not to be brought before a Roman court. (Acts 18:16-17) says, “he (Gallio) drave them (the Jews) from the judgment seat. Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things.”

     “superstition” – The Greek word used here is “deisidaimonia.” This word (a form of it – “deisidaimonesteros“) is used in only one other place in the New Testament (Acts 17:22). Strong’s gives this definition: “This person has a conceit that God is well-pleased by an overdoing in external things and observances and laws of man’s own making.”

     As Paul did not use this Greek word in a “negative” sense when speaking to the Athenians in (Acts 17:22), it is likely that Festus did not use this word in a “negative” way either, since he was speaking to Agrippa, who himself was a “religious” Jew.

     “of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive” – (From the “Barnes Commentary”) – “Greek: “of one dead Jesus.” It is evident that Festus had no belief that Jesus had been raised up, and in this he would expect that Agrippa would concur with him. Paul had admitted that Jesus had been put to death, but he maintained that he had been raised from the dead. As Festus did not believe this, he spoke of it with the utmost contempt. “They had a dispute about one dead Jesus, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.””

     (From “Bengel’s Gnomen”) – “Thus the wretched Festus speaks concerning Him, to whom every knee shall bow.”


     (Verses 20-21)(NKJV) “And because I was uncertain of such questions, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there be judged concerning these matters. (21) But when Paul appealed to be reserved for the decision of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I could send him to Caesar.””

     These 2 verses are recalling the events that happened in (verses 9-11) above.

     “uncertain of such questions” – (From the “MacArthur Study Bible”) – “Festus, a pagan Roman and new in Judea, could not be expected to understand the theological differences between Christians and Jews.” (From the “Cambridge Commentary”) – “The whole subject was a strange one to Festus, and when he found that some Jews in part at least agreed with St Paul, while others of them were his bitter opponents, he could find no better plan than to turn to a Jew for an explanation. He did not himself know how to conduct an inquiry on such a subject, and yet the Jews’ religion, being now allowed by the Empire, must have its causes adjudicated on.”

***Note: Notice that Festus leaves out the part about wanting to move Paul to Jerusalem “to do the Jews a favor” (verse 9).

     “Augustus” – (A Latin word, Gr. equivalent: “Sebastos“) This was not a “name,” but instead a title. The title was first given to Octavius (emperor at the time of Jesus birth, and successor to Julius Caesar) by the Roman senate, and later used by his successors. It meant “revered” or “worshipped one,” and here it is applied to Caesar Nero. From this word we get our month “August.” (“July” comes from “Julius.”)

 

     (Verse 22)(NKJV) “Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.””

     (From the “Ellicott Commentary”) – “Better, I also was myself wishing; the phrase implying that the wish was not now formed for the first time.”

     Apparently, Herod Agrippa had heard about Paul previously, and wanted to meet him, just as Herod Antipas had heard about Jesus, and wanted to meet him (Lk 9:9)(Lk 23:8).

***Note: Fulfilling Jesus’ words to Ananias that Paul would “bear My name before kings” (Acts 9:15).


     Finally, let’s read (Acts 25:23-27).

     (Verses 23-24)(NKJV) “So the next day, when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command Paul was brought in. (24) And Festus said: “King Agrippa and all the men who are here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer.

     “pomp” / “auditorium” – Trivia fact: These two words are used nowhere else in the NT. “Pomp” (Gr. “phantasia“) / “auditorium” (Gr. “akroaterion“).

     I like this quote from the “Benson’s Commentary” regarding the “pomp” – “But all this pomp and show was far outshone by the real glory of the poor prisoner at the bar (Paul). What was the honour of their fine clothes, compared with his wisdom, grace, and holiness; his courage and constancy in suffering for Christ? His bonds in so good a cause were more glorious than their chains of gold…”

     “auditorium” – (From the “Zondervan NIV Study Bible” – “Not the judgment hall, for this was not a court trial. It was in an auditorium appropriate for the pomp of the occasion, with a king, his sister, the Roman governor and the outstanding (“prominent”) leaders of both the Jews and the Roman government. “high ranking officers” – Five regiments were stationed at Caesarea, so their five commanders would be in attendance.” (***Note: Josephus mentions the “five regiments [“cohorts”] in Caesarea in “Wars of the Jews: Book III, Chap. 4, verse 2.)

     (From the “Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary”) – “This was the most dignified and influential audience Paul had yet addressed, and the prediction (Act 9:15) was fulfilled, though afterwards still more remarkably at Rome (Act 27:24; 2 Tim 4:16,17)”

     “about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me… he was not fit to live” – see: (verses 2,3,7 above).


     (Verses 25-27) “But when I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and that he himself hath appealed to Augustus, I have determined to send him. (26) Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my lord. Wherefore I have brought him forth before you, and specially before thee, O king Agrippa, that, after examination had, I might have somewhat to write. (27) For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.

     “I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death” – Festus is following two other leaders who have previously found Paul “not guilty” – Lysias (Acts 23:29), and Felix (Acts 24:25-26), with Agrippa soon to follow (Acts 26:32).

     “I have no certain thing to write unto my lord” – Remember back to (Acts 23:25-30), when Commander Lysias sent a letter to Governor Felix explaining why he had sent Paul to him. I shared a quote with you then from the “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible,” which said, “Roman law required a subordinate officer to send a written statement of the case with a prisoner when he referred the case to his superior.” Well, Festus is now faced with this same issue. Paul has “appealed to Caesar,” and Festus will have to send a letter to Caesar (Nero) explaining why he is sending Paul. What will he say??? What are the charges??? He is hoping that Agrippa can give him some ideas!

     And again, from the “JFB Commentary” – “certain = “definite” The writer’s accuracy should be remarked here. It would have been… a mistake to apply this term (“lord”) to the emperor a few years earlier. Neither Augustus nor Tiberius would let himself be so called, as implying the relation of master and slave. But it had now come (rather, “was coming”) into use as one of the imperial titles” [HACKET].”

     (From the “Life Application Study Bible”) – “Paul saw this new audience as yet another opportunity to present the gospel. Rather than complain about your present situation, seek ways to use every opportunity to serve God and share him with others. Our problems may be opportunities in disguise.”

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