THE FIVE TRIALS OF PAUL
Part IV - Governor Festus
1 Now three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. 2 And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews laid out their case against Paul, and they urged him, 3 asking as a favor against Paul that he summon him to Jerusalem—because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way. 4 Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea and that he himself intended to go there shortly. 5 “So,” said he, “let the men of authority among you go down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them bring charges against him.”
6 After he stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. 7 When he had arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him that they could not prove. 8 Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” 9 But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar's tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. 11 If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” 12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”
13 Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus. 14 And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul's case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix, 15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews laid out their case against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. 16 I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. 17 So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. 18 When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed. 19 Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20 Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them. 21 But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.” 22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” said he, “you will hear him.”
23 So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.”
— Acts 25:1-27, ESV
The three men judging Paul’s third, fourth, and fifth trials are the middle men. They stand between Jerusalem and Rome, in Caesarea. They stand between imprisonment and freedom, for the Apostle Paul. And, they stand between belief and unbelief, in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This fourth trial is almost a copy of the third, ironically with each occupying a single chapter in Acts containing twenty-seven verses. Both have a similar judge with the same prosecutors and same defendant. The serpentine religious rulers make another brief appearance and the Apostle Paul is still defending himself. And he is no fool, but rather the smartest, and most spiritual, man in the room.
Here Comes the Judge
Our judge for this fourth episode of Paul on trial is Porcius Festus. When I first started reading this story in the Bible, I could not get the image of Ken Curtis out of my head. He played Marshall Dillon’s deputy, Festus Haggen, in the old show Gunsmoke. Deputy Festus was a delightful character with good character.
The same cannot be said for the real Roman Governor Porcius Festus, who replaced Marcus Antonius Felix in Judea in AD 60. Festus, inept and immoral like so many other Roman rulers, served a term of only two years.
This means that Festus’ encounter with Paul, and the ensuring opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, was among his last official business in life. He made a wreck of it, by driving himself into the middle of the road.
For the Prosecution
The same old snakes slithered to the prosecution table in this brief trial. That had politicked Festus to cut short this trial and extradite Paul back to Jerusalem. The text tells us those whitewashed walls were planning to fall on Paul, to murder him along the way, to rid the earth of him and his message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Their plot failed as the trial in Caesarea proceeded. This is the last time we will have to deal with these hypocrites in the book of Acts. So, now may be a good time, while we’re being warned to stay out of the middle with Festus, to receive a warning about gravitating to the extreme left or right, also.
We’ll start with the previously named ringleader, the high priest, Ananias. He was a Sadducee. As such, he lived on the extreme left of the theological spectrum. To him, Scripture was simply ceremonial, not to be taken seriously. He did not believe in a Heaven or Hell, so he did not encourage people to seek the former and avoid the latter. And, not only did he revel in his unbelief, and use religion as a means to obtain power and money. He hated those, like Paul, who held to biblical beliefs, even mocked and made fun of them. In this case, he was willing to use the extreme left edge of his knife to kill.
Tertullus, the previously named spokesperson, was most likely a Pharisee. As such, he lived on the extreme right of the theological spectrum. To him, salvation was by works, and an elaborate list of rules and regulations are required to keep people in line. He did believe in Heaven, and only him, other Pharisees, and those who cowered to their brand of fundamentalism could go. Everyone else could go to Hell, the idea of which gave him quite a thrill. He was an enemy of grace, and enemy of the gospel, and enemy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In this case, he wanted to put a stone in his extreme right hand and kill the Apostle Paul.
Stay out of the middle of the road! But if you feel yourself steering to a position too far left or too far right, watch out. You know you are in danger of falling off a cliff when you are not aligned with Holy Scripture, when power or money is more important to you than people, when mocking or hatred of people who disagree with you comes from your lips, and the idea of someone else dying and going to Hell gives you glee. This is extremism, and whether it be on the left or the right it is a menace to society and the true gospel.
For the Defense
It is because of the gospel our defendant, the Apostle Paul, now endures his fourth trial. The mob gave him to the Council, the Council gave him to Felix, Felix left him for Festus. One more trial, under Herod Agrippa II, and off to Rome Paul will go. But this is the trial where Paul’s trip to Rome was secured.
As we’ve agreed upon before, Paul is no fool. He senses the conspiracy between Festus and the Jews, and knows where that would end. He is not afraid to die, but in no hurry to do so, a perfect Christians position. So, he pulls some secular strings to keep his spiritual journey alive.
Paul used his Roman citizenship to appeal to Caesar. He would have known that the Roman Emperor at the time was Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, who upon ascending to the throne changed his name to Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known as just Nero. It was not that Paul trusted the scoundrel Nero, it was just that he trusted the secular rule of law more than the spiteful religious rulers.
As I think about this part of Paul’s trial, of him putting himself in the hands of Romans who did not believe in God instead of those who claimed to be the people of God, it reminds me of some of the most surprising and difficult things I’ve faced as a Pastor. I worked for four secular companies before spending the bulk of my adult life serving four churches. I must admit, with the exception of my present congregation, the secular companies treated me fairer, compensated me better, and operated more ethically than the churches. When I look back over life and consider the people who hurt me, hurled false accusations at me, robbed me and my family of peace and prosperity, none of them came from the secular companies, all of them were the religious rulers in Baptist churches. This should not be! But enough of my complaints, let’s get back to Paul’s.
Paul’s appeal was meant to accomplish three things. He hoped it would saved him from mob injustice. It could secure him safe passage to Rome, which was his exact plan after the three missionary journeys, anyway. And, knowing his accusers would not be afforded the same trip on the taxpayer dime, he figured his day in Caesar’s court would result in exoneration and freedom.
Paul was right on the first count. By the time he is on his way to Rome, the religious rulers have snaked their way back to Jerusalem, presumably to never bother him again. Paul was correct also on the second count, although he had no idea at the time of the trials and tribulations he will go through to get to Rome. Bingo on the third count, also, but Nero would not be as lenient after Paul’s second imprisonment.
For now, however, Paul demonstrates for us the dual realities of the Christian life. To borrow from Augustine, we are residents in the city of God and citizens in the city of Man. To become Christian, we give up our rights and become bondservants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet as American citizens, at least, we have certain unalienable rights given to us by our Creator that the state has sworn to protect. So trust in the Lord with all your heart, but cling while you still can to every right you have against injustice, persecution, and violations of your freedom of worship and speech. Like Paul, surrender to the will of God, but be wise in the ways of citizenship.
The Trouble with the Middle
Festus, our middle man of the hour, lets this fourth trial fizzle into a fifth. He honors Paul’s appeal, but schedules a hearing with Herod Agrippa II to formulate the official charges with which Paul will be sent to Rome. HA II is introduced to us in this chapter and we will deal with him more in the next. But before we leave Festus, let’s explore further the dangers found in the middle of the road.
Festus, like Felix before him and Herod Agrippa II after him, had the power to pronounce a death sentence against Paul. He did not. He also had the power to drop the trumped up charges against him and let him go free on the spot. He did not. In the process he heard the good news and had the opportunity to be become a Christian. He did not.
Festus did not go out of his way to hurt Paul. Festus did not go out of his way to help Paul. Festus did not attack Christianity. Festus did not accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Festus, like most people in the world and worldly churches was a middle man.
Festus desired no real understanding of the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Neither does the average member of most churches today. Festus never acknowledged any sin or iniquities in his own life, just like the typical church member today, save for guilt-ridden Catholics and born-again Protestants. Festus believed benignly in God or gods, and figured if an after life exists, surely he’ll wind up in a good place because, after all, he considers himself to be a good person.
Such is the belief, or unbelief, of a middle man today. Such is the pavement in the middle of the road on the pathway to Hell. And most don’t know when the road comes to an end.
Festus ruled two years as Governor of Judea. He died, suddenly, in AD 62. His cause of death is unknown, but it is well known what happens to people who die in the middle of the road.