Now three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews laid out their case against Paul, and they urged him, asking as a favor against Paul that he summon him to Jerusalem—because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way. Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea and that he himself intended to go there shortly. “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.”
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. 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. Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” 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?” 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. 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.” Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
From this short narrative, Festus appears as a reasonable and decent ruler. Yet he was a political animal.
His first act after arriving in Judea was to get the lay of the land. What was going on? Who are the major players in the area? What are the issues? What are the sensitivities? He needed to introduce himself. He needed to meet the local leaders. So, he made a short tour of the region.
He went to Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders saw an opportunity to take advantage of the new guy. He does not yet know what is going on. He is not aware of the history. They tell him about this fellow Paul. Paul, they said, is a very bad man. Felix has him in jail in Caesarea. Festus needed to provide justice. He needed to put Paul on trial. Justice required the trial to be in Jerusalem. That is where Paul committed his crimes.
Of course, they had no interest in justice. They had no intention of holding a trial in Jerusalem. They planned to ambush Paul during his journey to Jerusalem. Those fellows who took the oath not to eat until they killed Paul must have gotten pretty hungry. Its been over two years since they had eaten. LOL Yeah, I don’t think they were faithful to their vow.
They asked Fetus for “a favor.” This was very crafty on their part. “Look you’re new here. We know you want to get off on the right foot. So, as a small concession hold Paul’s trial in Jerusalem. It’s no big deal but it would mean a lot to us.” Paul was in prison for two years. Yet the Jews were still in an uproar over him.
They had a plan to kill Paul. It was a good plan. All they needed to do was pull it out and dust off.
Fetus was no fool. There were several questions these accusations raised. Who was Paul? Why was Paul imprisoned in Caesarea? Why had the trial not already taken place? Why did they care where the trial took place? There were too many unanswered questions to make a decision. But he did not want to start off of a bad footing. If he could appease them that would be good for him. But agreeing to their request without all the information was foolhardy. So he agreed to hear them and Paul in Caesarea. That is, he agreed to keep everything status quo but hear the case as soon as he got to Caesarea.
Festus let them know he was in charge. They were not going to take advantage of him. While he was concerned about their needs, he was in charge. The decision was his. Festus’s concern was about imperial privilege. And this is what God used to preserve Paul’s life. To the uninitiated, God had nothing to do with it. The decision was all Festus’. Yet it was God who preserved Paul. God governs the world by ordinary means. He uses men and their natural instincts. He used Festus here like he used Joesph’s brothers to accomplish his end.
Fetus left Jerusalem after about a week and a half. He returned to Caesarea. The day after he returned he took up Paul’s trial. He kept his word to the Jews. To hold the trail so soon, the Jews must have traveled with him.
Festus took his seat in the tribunal. This was a raised platform mounted by steps and sometimes furnished with a seat. Officials used it in addressing an assembly or making pronouncements. The judgment seat was a familiar item in Greco-Roman culture. It was often located in the public square or marketplace in the center of a city.
When the trial started the Jews made several accusations. None of which they could prove. But as is so often the case with evil men, they believed if they could accuse Paul of a lot of crimes one of them had to stick. They were hoping Fetus would conclude where there is smoke there is fire. Paul had to be guilty of something.
The prosperity and word of faith advocates lie. Those who claim God promises your health wealth and happiness lie. If that were the case why did Paul continue to suffer? Why was he in prison? Why was he beaten so often? God does not promise us our best life now. God promises us our worst life now. Christ’s servants are to expect the world to make false accusations. We are to expect condemnation.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Matthew 5:11
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” (John 15:18-21)
Paul had committed no crime. He did not offend the Jewish Law, the temple or Roman law. Yet that did not stop his accusers.
Paul gave a vigorous defense. But evil men will never let a little thing like the truth get in their way.
Festus knew Paul was innocent. Yet he saw this as a way to get some political chits. He could transfer the trial to Jerusalem. He would still judge the trail. He could serve up justice in Jerusalem as well as he could in Caesarea. He saw it as a no-lose situation. While he had the power and authority to hold the trail where he desired. He could not allow the appearance of acquiescing to the Jews. So he asked Paul if he objected to moving the trial to Jerusalem.
Paul’s defense was so sure. He must have thought Paul did not care where he held the trial. The venue did not change the facts. The facts were in Paul’s favor. So, he did not expect Paul’s response.
Let’s example the possible outcomes if the trial moved to Jerusalem.
Paul knew there had been a plan to kill him on the way to the temple. The probability was good the plan was still in place. But assuming they did not kill him on the way. Political pressure in Jerusalem may cause Festus to render an unjust verdict. Assuming Festus found Paul innocent he would be in Jerusalem. That meant he was in Jerusalem without the protection of the Roman guard. He was easy prey for the Jews. Jerusalem was a no-win situation for Paul. His only safe course was to go in the opposite direction. He needed to go to Rome. So he claimed his right as a Roman citizen he appealed to Caesar. Nero was under the influence of the Stoic philosopher Seneca. He had not yet shown hostility to Christianity. Paul could hope for acquittal.
This took Festus off guard. The political points he was counting on were gone. So he conferred with his staff. They decided this could be a good thing. It got Paul’s case out of Festus’ jurisdiction. And he could tell the Jews there was nothing he could do about it. In the balance of things, it was the best of cases. If he had found Paul innocent there would have been a political price to pay.
Fetus’ response to Paul was “Okey Dokey off to Caesar you go.”