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. When 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
The day after Porcius Festus gets back from Jerusalem he takes his seat in court and orders the prisoner brought in. This Procurator didn’t waste any time. Clearly, he realized something about the desperation of Jewish leaders after he met with them in Jerusalem. I would say he sensed something about this case and did not delay. Notice, unlike our court system, the judge didn’t arrive last, the judge was already there and summoned the accused. No doubt the authoritative and prominent members of the Sanhedrin were there early at court ready to present their evidence. When Paul arrives they gathered like vultures ready to tear him to pieces. Imagine the scene.
The Procurator sits on the high elevated seat while all others in the court stand during the entire proceedings. If the Procurator didn’t sit on the legal high place of judiciary then the ruling was not legal. Imagine, the members of the Sanhedrin’s displeasure at having to stand for the duration of the case. And what’s more having to stand before the legal representative of the occupying forces. Now that would not have gone down well among men who felt they ruled for God. I for one would love to know what serious charges the Sanhedrin brought against Paul. The charges were all fictitious but I suspect they would have added to the list wherever possible to make it sound like what they had against him was overwhelming. But all charges were empty and lacking evidence. Since the case was now two years old I suspect there would have been a lack of any eye witnesses who were there at the beginning – those foreigners who had followed Paul on the journey. So there would have been no factual specifics but all generalities.
Paul’s opening, ““I am not guilty of any crime against the Jewish laws or the Temple or the Roman government.” Well that pretty much covers the field. “I have done absolutely nothing wrong against any law in the land. Not even the Jewish law or against the Temple (read God). Jews often used “the temple” as a circumlocution for God himself.
Then Festus, wanting to please the Jews:-
Oh there it is again: that underlying tendency to want to please these ornery, cantankerous, troublesome Jews. The word used is [charis] which is the word used most often in the New Testament for grace (God’s Grace). Here the idea could be expressed as good will, a sign of favour or graciousness, the willingness to placate the Sanhedrin’s position. Clearly this governor was offering an olive branch to the Jewish leaders but I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was currying favour with them. Why? Because he directs the question to Paul. This question was not directed to the accusers but rather to the accused. This is curious. So too were the words “before me” which were placed in the position of emphasis in the sentence. What was the implication of that?
“Are you willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial before me?”
A curious statement. The place of Festus’ authority was Caesarea. The place of authority for the Jewish leaders was in the temple court in Jerusalem. It is hard to conceive of a situation where the Sanhedrin would allow Festus to hold the authority in the Temple. The issue is that the Sanhedrin foolishly charged Paul with insurrection against the Roman emperor from the beginning of the case on the steps outside the Temple court and before the Roman fort in front of the commander. In so doing this made the case mandatory to try in a Roman court. That is why the issue of Paul’s Roman citizenship came to the fore. The case could have been taken to Jerusalem to try before the Sanhedrin if it were a religious matter. But by claiming Paul was an insurrectionist meant the case had to be heard before a Roman Governor or Procurator because insurrection was a crime against Caesar. Furthermore. Paul had appealed to Caesar. How then would the Sanhedrin allow this case to be heard in the Temple Court and yet yield the final decision to the Procurator? Oh what a mess. It seems with this statement Festus was offering the Sanhedrin the right to try the religious case but he would pronounce the final verdict. I think it was a cool calculated move to the back the Sanhedrin into a corner. A way to offer an olive branch without really offering an olive branch. And beside he made the offer to Paul himself not the Jewish leaders. Oh, how that must have infuriated them.
Paul’s response shows he understood the situation very well:
“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!”
How does Festus know very well that Paul is not guilty of harming the Jews? It is not like Festus has had a chance to hear Paul’s testimony or defense at length. I suspect Paul knows what Festus is doing and why. Whether he does or not, Paul knows the Roman law well and knows the Procurator (an honest one) must do right. We are not told at this point in the proceedings that Festus even knows the earlier, implicit information that Paul was a Roman citizen. So Paul pulls his coup de grace and appeals again to Caesar. Only a Roman citizen can do that. Now the case is a fait accompli.
Festus conferred with his advisers and pronounced: “Very well! You have appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar you will go!”
It’s now a done deal. Oh how I would have loved to been in court and seen the look on the Sanhedrin faces at that moment.
Never confuse the will of the majority with the will of God.Ian Vail
He who slings mud generally loses ground.Ian Vail
Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…it’s about learning to dance in the rain.Ian Vail
Trouble is inevitable, misery is optional. Choose to be happy no matter your circumstances.Ian Vail
By the time a man is wise enough to watch his step, he’s too old to go anywhere.Ian Vail