by Greg Williamson © revised 2022
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB © The Lockman Foundation*

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The Trial Before Festus; Festus Consults King Agrippa (Acts 25:1–12; 13-27)

The Trial Before Festus; Festus Consults King Agrippa (Acts 25:1–12; 13-27)

From the plotters to the introduction (Acts 25:1-27)

(1) Festus then, having arrived in the province, three days later went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. (2) And the chief priests and the leading men of the Jews brought charges against Paul, and they were urging him, (3) requesting a concession against Paul, that he might have him brought to Jerusalem (at the same time, setting an ambush to kill him on the way). (4) Festus then answered that Paul was being kept in custody at Caesarea and that he himself was about to leave shortly. (5) "Therefore," he said, "let the influential men among you go there with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them prosecute him."

(6) After he had spent not more than eight or ten days among them, he went down to Caesarea, and on the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. (7) After Paul arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him which they could not prove, (8) while Paul said in his own defense, "I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar." (9) But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, "Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me on these charges?" (10) But Paul said, "I am standing before Caesar's tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you also very well know. (11) If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse 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."

(13) Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus. (14) While they were spending many days there, Festus laid Paul's case before the king, saying, "There is a man who was left as a prisoner by Felix; (15) and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. (16) I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges. (17) So after they had assembled here, I did not delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought before me. (18) When the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting, (19) but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive. (20) Being at a loss how to investigate such matters, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these matters. (21) But when Paul appealed to be held in custody for the Emperor's decision, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I send him to Caesar." (22) Then Agrippa said to Festus, "I also would like to hear the man myself." "Tomorrow," he said, "you shall hear him." (23) So, on the next day when Agrippa came together with Bernice amid great pomp, and entered the auditorium accompanied by the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. (24) Festus said, "King Agrippa, and all you gentlemen here present with us, you see this man about whom all the people of the Jews appealed to me, both at Jerusalem and here, loudly declaring that he ought not to live any longer. (25) But I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death; and since he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. (26) Yet I have nothing definite about him to write to my lord. Therefore I have brought him before you all and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the investigation has taken place, I may have something to write. (27) For it seems absurd to me in sending a prisoner, not to indicate also the charges against him."

I. FESTUS AND PAUL (Acts 25:1–12)
  A. The governor and the plotters (Acts 25:1–5)
    1. Their request (Acts 25:1–3): Jewish leaders ask Festus to bring Paul on his visit to Jerusalem, for they plan to kill him en route.
2. His refusal (Acts 25:4–5): Festus declines, saying Paul will remain in Caesarea for his trial.
  B. The governor and the prisoner (Acts 25:6–12)
    1. The accusations (Acts 25:6–7): The Jewish leaders bring many charges against Paul but can't prove any of them.
2. The answer (Acts 25:8): Paul pleads innocent to all these charges.
3. The appeasement (Acts 25:9): Anxious to please the Jews, Festus asks Paul to continue his trial in Jerusalem.
4. The appeal (Acts 25:10–12): Paul refuses and appeals to Caesar, and his request is granted.
II. FESTUS AND AGRIPPA (Acts 25:13–27)
  A. The information about Paul (Acts 25:13–22): Festus tells the visiting monarch about this famous political prisoner.
    1. The review by Festus (Acts 25:13–21)
      a. He talks about Paul's accusers (Acts 25:13–19).
b. He talks about Paul's appeal (Acts 25:20–21).
    2. The request by Agrippa (Acts 25:22): The king desires to meet Paul.
  B. The introduction of Paul (Acts 25:23–27): Festus has Paul brought in to stand before the king. [ref]

The Providence Of God
David Peterson:
Theologically, the theme that is implicit in [Acts 25] is the gracious providence of God, fulfilling his purpose for Paul by protecting him from injustice and making it possible for him to be transported to Rome. Paul may appear to be 'the passive pawn of characters and events outside his control' (Johnson). However, as in the book of Esther, God is the hidden actor who influences all the events on the stage of history, as human beings play their part in the drama that unfolds. Indeed, if the glorified Lord Jesus is 'the Lord' who assures Paul of his destiny in [Acts 23:11], we may say that the one who called Paul to his service in the first place continues to provide opportunities for his name to be proclaimed 'to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel' (Acts 9:15). 'Paul can be so bold within his setting because of his confidence in God's promises and ability' (M. L. Skinner). [ref]
  • (Acts 25:1-12) Toussaint: "This section (Acts 25:1–12) is crucial because in it Paul appealed to Caesar. It sets the direction for the remainder of the book and also shows how the apostle reached Rome." [ref]
  • (Acts 25:1-5) The newly appointed governor, Festus, arrives and almost immediately he meets with the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, who want Paul to be brought there for trial. Instead, Festus invites them to accompany him back to Caesarea and examine Paul there. Bruce: "Festus ... saw no need to accede to this particular request. He did not intend to make a long stay in Jerusalem; he was shortly to go back to Caesarea, and if a responsible deputation from the Jewish rulers went along with him, they could state their case against Paul before him there." [ref]
  • (Acts 25:2) Dunn: "That Festus should make one of his first priorities a visit to Jerusalem is a reminder of the increasing tensions of the period (increasing brigandage, or guerrilla actions) and of the importance of commanding Jerusalem as Israel's capital and heart. That Paul should be high on the agenda of the chief priests and other leading Jews is equally understandable: the threat which Paul's mission to the Gentiles was seen to represent and embody, a threat to Jewish national identity and integrity, would have made his case stand out, whatever the other grievances of the time." [ref]
  • (Acts 25:6-9) About eight or ten days later, Festus returns to Caesarea. The next morning he takes his place in the courtroom and has Paul brought in. The minute he walks in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem are all over him, hurling the most extreme accusations, none of which they can prove. Then Paul takes the stand and says simply, "I've done nothing wrong against the Jewish religion, or the Temple, or Caesar. Period." Festus, though, wants to get on the good side of the Jews and so says, "How would you like to go up to Jerusalem, and let me conduct your trial there?" (see The Message; some verbs changed to present tense). Arnold:
    In his defense, Paul implies that the Jewish leaders are accusing him of sedition. In a Roman context, this was a serious charge, which could lead to death. It may be an expansion of Tertullus's charge that Paul was a "troublemaker" (see Acts 24:15). The charge may be based on reports that the priests have heard from Diaspora Jews in places such as Thessalonica (Acts 17:6–7), where Paul had run-ins with the Roman authorities.

    Festus now changes his mind and reveals an openness to change the venue of the trial to Jerusalem. It may seem odd to us that a Roman ruler would ask his prisoner about his willingness to stand trial in a different city, but as a Roman citizen, Paul has the right to insist on a Roman trial. It is unclear what Festus has in mind: Is he proposing that Paul stand trial in the Sanhedrin and he would be present and merely approve the outcome of their deliberations? Or is he planning to hold the trial in the Antonia Fortress in the presence of the Jerusalem leaders? [ref]
The Apparent Immunity Of The Wicked
R. Kent Hughes:
It is sad to see how evil is so entrenched in our world. Why do pro-abortion politicians get reelected more easily than pro-life candidates? Why does a drunk driver walk away from a wreck while a darling two-year-old is killed? Why do the media so effectively portray Christian activists as meddlesome, Constitution-stomping kooks but God-denying radicals as heroes -- and why do people believe them? Why did innocent Steve Linscott go to prison but some serial murderers are never caught?

Like us, the psalmist Asaph lamented the apparent immunity of the wicked. "Pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence… the evil conceits of their minds know no limits… their tongues take possession of the earth… people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance" (Psalm 73:6–7, 9–10). It is easy to mourn this seeming injustice, to forget that God is still Judge and that he will make all things right in their time: "till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny" (Acts 25:17).

When we are wrongly accused, slandered, or treated harshly, we must remember that God, the Judge of Heaven, will hold men accountable. We must also keep on loving our enemies, as Jesus commanded (Matthew 5:43–44). Rather than becoming bitter or giving up hope, we must recognize the futility and temporality of our opponents' efforts against us. In the words of the great preacher C. H. Spurgeon, "We ought never to fear those who are defending the wrong side, for since God is not with them their wisdom is folly, their strength is weakness, and their glory is their shame."

Furthermore, times of malicious accusation and mistreatment are opportunities for prayer and trust in God. Again quoting Spurgeon, "Often the less we say to our foes, and the more we say to our best Friend, the better it will fare with us." [ref]
  • (Acts 25:10-11) Paul once again asserts his innocence before appealing his case to Caesar. Bruce:
    If Festus began by making one concession to the Sanhedrin, he might be persuaded to make further concessions even more prejudicial to Paul's safety. Felix had been an experienced administrator of Judaea when Paul's case was submitted to him, but Festus was a novice, and his inexperience might well be exploited to Paul's detriment. There was one way open to Paul as a Roman citizen to escape from this precarious situation, even if it was a way attended by special risks of its own. It was not, he assured Festus, that he wished to circumvent the law of Rome or escape the due penalty for anything he might have done. If he had in fact committed a capital crime, as his accusers maintained, he was prepared to suffer the supreme penalty for it; but if there was no substance in their charges, he must not be placed in their power. Let Roman justice decide.

    Paul probably made his appeal not only in the interests of his personal safety but also from a desire to win recognition for the Gentile churches as authorized associations in their own right. And he may have been moved more than anything else by the incomparable opportunity which the hearing of his appeal would provide of preaching the gospel at the seat of imperial power (cf. Eph. 6:19–20; Phil. 1:19–20, and possibly 2 Tim. 4:17). [ref]
  • (Acts 25:12) Festus confers with his council and then grants Paul his appeal. Keener: "Festus has reason to comply with Paul's request. Under ordinary circumstances, appeals were granted. Moreover, in any case the political implications of dismissing an appeal to Caesar were unpleasant (a critic could potentially accuse the governor of usurping imperial privileges), whereas the benefits of sending Paul to Rome free Festus from having to disappoint the Jerusalem leaders if his own juridical conclusions differ from theirs." [ref]
Government Authority (Acts 25:1-12)
Since God has established government authorities to be His servants in administering justice, there may be times as believers when we should appeal to a court of law. (Video link) [ref]
  • (Acts 25:13-27) Agrippa and Bernice arrive in Caesarea and Festus informs Agrippa of Paul's situaton. Agrippa expresses an interest in hearing from Paul directly.
    ■ Toussaint: "The King Agrippa referred to here was Agrippa II, son of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1) and a great-grandson of Herod the Great (Matt. 2:1). At this time he was a young man of about 30 years of age and the ruler of territories northeast of Palestine with the title of King. Because he was a friend of the Roman imperial family he was awarded the privilege of appointing the Jewish high priest and also had been made the custodian of the temple treasury. His background made him eminently qualified to hear Paul; he was well acquainted with the Jews’ religion (cf. Acts 25:26–27)." [ref]
    ■ Witherington:
    Paul's appeal to the emperor placed Festus in a difficult spot. He would have to write an official report (see below on Acts 25:26) specifying the charges that stood against Paul, and the reason for the appeal. On the one hand, if the charges were insubstantial or not sufficient under Roman law, the emperor would surely wonder about Festus's competence. Why had he not resolved the matter in Judea, one way or another, even if it meant dismissing the matter and setting Paul free? On the other hand, if Paul, a Roman citizen, had appealed to Rome, there must have been something about the situation that was grave enough to warrant this action. What was Festus not telling the emperor that he ought to know about the situation in Judea involving the Jewish authorities? These are the sorts of thoughts that were likely running through Festus's mind as he sought [a] way to write his report so that he himself would not fall under suspicion. As fortuna would have it, he was about to receive help from an unexpected quarter -- Jewish nobility. [ref]
  • (Acts 25:14-21) Larkin: "Festus discusses Paul's case with Agrippa, laying it before him so he could get his opinion on it. In the process Paul is described in four ways. 1. He has been left as a prisoner (Acts 25:14). ... 2. Paul was opposed yet protected (Acts 25:15–16). ... 3. Paul was tried, but no punishable charges resulted (Acts 25:17–19). ... 4. Paul was offered a change of venue but instead appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:20–21)." [ref]
  • (Acts 25:18-19) "The accusers came at him from all sides, but their accusations turned out to be nothing more than arguments about their religion and a dead man named Jesus, who the prisoner claimed was alive" (The Message).  Marshall:
    Festus must have expected that a prisoner whom the Jews were so zealous to prosecute must have been charged with particularly grave crimes. When it came to the point, however, the offences seemed to him to be trivial, however emotive they may have been in the minds of the Jews. They were matters concerned with their own religion: the word used is perhaps slightly derogatory (RSV superstition), although since Festus is represented as speaking to the man who was in effect the secular head of the Jewish faith, the word may be fairly neutral here. Probably Luke pictures Festus and Agrippa as two men of the world, the latter with a fairly formal or nominal attachment to Judaism (see, however, Acts 26:27). More particularly, the point at issue seemed to be Paul's statements about Jesus having risen from the dead. It is interesting that by this stage the question of Paul's alleged desecration of the temple has quite disappeared from sight, and the topic of the resurrection (Acts 23:6; 24:21) has replaced it. [ref]
  • (Acts 25:20-21) Williams: "Festus then told how he had suggested to Paul that his case should be tried in Jerusalem. Notice the change of motive. The reason given here is that he had sought in this way to find out what the case was really about. There may have been an element of truth in this, but Luke's analysis in [Acts 25:9] reveals what was almost certainly the more pressing reason, namely, that he had wanted 'to do the Jews a favor.' In any case, Paul had not fallen in with the suggestion, but had appealed, asking to be held over for the Emperor's decision (Acts 25:21). This wording throws a new light on the affair. Not only was Paul looking for Roman justice, he was appealing for Roman protection." [ref]
Church & State
William Larkin: "Festus and all governmental officials following him do well to learn the limits provided by a biblically grounded distinction between the proper spheres of authority of church and state. The state's judicial wisdom is never competent to decide matters of theology. Its power is never a valid enforcer of church/temple decisions." [ref]

Willing To Listen
William Larkin: "To hear a messenger with the word of God is the first step on the path to saving faith (Lk 8:8, 15, 18; Acts 4:4; 10:22, 33; 13:44; 18:8). Agrippa and Festus at this point unwittingly appear to model two essential prerequisites for receiving the gospel: a teachable spirit and a desire to hear the message." [ref]
  • (Acts 25:25-26) Toussaint: "Two interesting terms for Roman royalty are found in [Acts 25], the first of which is Sebastos meaning 'revered' or 'august' and used in the New Testament only in [Acts 25:21, 25; 27:1]. In [Acts 25] it is translated “Emperor” and in [Acts 27:1] it is rendered 'Imperial.' The other term is kyrios meaning 'lord.' In [Acts 25:26] 'the lord' is translated His Majesty. Both Augustus and Tiberius refused this title for themselves because they felt it exalted them too highly; however, by the time Paul made his appeal to Caesar, Nero was on the throne and 'lord' was used much more commonly of the Caesar. Though Nero did accept the title of 'lord,' he had not yet gone to the excesses that characterized his reign later. At this juncture Nero was reputed to be a fair-minded ruler." [ref]
  • (Acts 25:27) Keener: "A governor would not dare to send a case to the emperor's court frivolously; Festus needs to provide a document explaining the prior inquiry (a cover letter, litterae dimissoriae). The charge against Paul is political, but all the evidence involves Jewish religion, which would be incomprehensible to Roman procurators. Agrippa II is the first official competent in both Roman and Jewish law to hear Paul's defense; he will thus supply the evaluation for Festus's letter to Nero. If this Jewish king does not think Paul guilty, Festus has protected himself against complaints from Jerusalem's aristocratic priests." [ref]
Religious Persecution
William Larkin: "All persecution in the final analysis is born of religious, ideological or ethnic pride or fear. It is a blind, irrational hostility against the truth of the gospel, which seeks to frustrate the purposes of God but in the end only finds itself 'kicking against the goads' (Acts 26:14). ... When persecutors use the state to further their ends and the result is a failure in the administration of justice, Christians must live in such integrity that even then their innocence before the laws of the state will be apparent to all." [ref]


*Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.