Three days after Festus arrived in Caesarea to take over his new responsibilities, he left for Jerusalem, where the leading priests and other Jewish leaders met with him and made their accusations against Paul. They asked Festus as a favour to transfer Paul to Jerusalem (planning to ambush and kill him on the way). But Festus replied that Paul was at Caesarea and he himself would be returning there soon. So he said, “Those of you in authority can return with me. If Paul has done anything wrong, you can make your accusations.”
About eight or ten days later Festus returned to Caesarea, and on the following day he took his seat in court and ordered that Paul be brought in. sWhen Paul arrived, the Jewish leaders from Jerusalem gathered around and made many serious accusations they couldn’t prove. Paul denied the charges. “I am not guilty of any crime against the Jewish laws or the Temple or the Roman government,” he said.
Then Festus, wanting to please the Jews, asked him, “Are you willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there?” But Paul replied, “No! This is the official Roman court, so I ought to be tried right here. You know very well I am not guilty of harming the Jews. If I have done something worthy of death, I don’t refuse to die. But if I am innocent, no one has a right to turn me over to these men to kill me. I appeal to Caesar!”
Festus conferred with his advisers and then replied, “Very well! You have appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar you will go!”Acts 25:1-12
Why did Festus make the journey to Jerusalem only three days after his arrival from Rome?
He was a new, uninitiated Roman Proconsul. The Roman military base was in Caesarea. He did not have to go to Jerusalem so soon but Luke tells us that he did. The question is why? Many of you think that he went because of Paul’s pending case. I don’t think so. There is no reason why he would pick up on this case so soon. He had no reason to make Paul’s case one of urgency. Just look at the way Luke has told us the story. The remarkable thing about Paul’s case has been the lack of urgency. When the case was before Felix we were told that the court was in recess waiting for the arrival of Roman commander to return. But absolutely nothing happened when he did come. The case was allowed to linger for 2 years, during which time Felix summoned Paul frequently in order to talk with him. He wasn’t summoned for a court case. He was summoned to have a tête á tête with the Roman Procurator not summonsed to court. Luke told us Felix motive was greed, the hope that Paul would pay him some money to release him. He clearly didn’t know Paul well enough.
Given that background and lack of urgency, why would Festus suddenly head off to Jerusalem? Simple. As the new Roman Procurator for Judea it was a necessary to orient himself to this new land he was to govern. The Jews were a thorn in the Roman side and had proven difficult to manage. I am sure the message from Caesar in Rome was clear that Porcius Festus’ assignment in Judea was to deal with these troublesome Jews. So it stands to reason that Festus makes an early trip to Jerusalem to suss out the lay of the land. I doubt that Felix had a chance to debrief him and if he did Felix’s covertness together with his indolence probably meant he said nothing to Festus. It was his duty to get his bearings and view the Jewish capital and the religious centre in order to orient himself to the task in hand.
While there was no urgency on Festus’ part, the Jewish religious leaders seized the opportunity to want to meet with the new Roman Procurator and press their case for Paul to be turned over to them to be tried under their religious law. That has always been their goal. Now they take up the plea with the new Roman Procurator. They ask Festus for a favour to transfer Paul to Rome. But true to form and their guilty hearts, they don’t even want another trial. They just want the chance to have Paul ambushed and killed. Incredible!
Bear in mind Festus knows nothing of the plot, nothing about the case, he is simply faced with a plea from the Jewish leaders to grant them a favour. What a wonderful opportunity for him to start off his campaign in Judea with a win – win situation. Rome doesn’t even need to know about it and he would then have the troublesome Jewish leaders on his side. Whether Festus had had a chance to read anything about this matter or not is a moot point. But his visit to Jerusalem raises the issue, and the Jewish leaders press for action. But not legal action. The verb in verse 3 is to beg strongly. It was made clear to Festus that the Jewish leaders really wanted Paul sent back to Jerusalem. But not for a trial!
The way Luke has written this account is poised and focused on verses four and five. What will Festus’ response be to this seemingly reasonable, harmless request. But this new Roman Procurator is made of tougher stuff than the previous one. He concludes Paul is being held in Caesarea and he (Festus) is returning there soon. The word for soon [tachos] has the sense of speedily, with speed, quickly, within a short time, with alacrity. Festus says, “If there is anything wrong about this man Paul, let the most authoritative, prominent ones among you come with me to Caesarea and there you can argue your case” – on my terms and on my home patch. The construction “let your leaders go to Caesarea” is not a conciliatory granting of permission but a command by the Roman Procurator. This is the way I will handle this case. Oh no! The Jewish leaders hearts must have sunk. We are back to the same old, same old. They have to bring their accusations before a new governor. But their case is a futile, empty one in a court of law and they know it.
Festus stays another eight to ten days and goes back to Caesarea. Why the indefiniteness? How long did he stay? Eight days or ten days? He couldn’t have stayed eight and ten days. The construction is an estimate of time before the event or a vague summary of the length of time stayed when we don’t remember exactly how long we stayed. But Luke is more thorough than that. Why the indefiniteness? It can also carry the sense of time spent “whiled away” at leisure. I think Luke is conveying to us it was Festus who was in control of how long he would be there. He would decide when he left and the Jewish leaders would not know exactly the hour or the day he would return to Caesarea. Don’t think for a moment that Festus spent his time in Jerusalem as a guest of the Sanhedrin, under their watchful eye. The Roman Procurator was his own man and would do things in his way and in his timing.
Let’s return with him when he leaves in order to be there to see what happens in Caesarea; when this long awaited case is resumed. And like Festus, let’s not travel with the esteemed, most authoritative and prominent members of the Sanhedrin. Neither will we travel with the Roman Procurator. We will make our way privately back to Caesarea in order to be there for the fun and games. I can’t wait. It’s been so long in coming. What about you?
Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.Carl Jung
I’m not where I need to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be.Joyce Meyer
When I don’t know where I need to be and I don’t have all the information to make an informed decision, I trust myself to Him who knows all things.Ian Vail
God is not tired of carrying you. He never said, “I’ll get you going again, but then you’re on your own.” No, God said, “Even to your old age and to your grey hairs, I am He that will carry you.” God is not tired of you, and He never will be.Ian Vail