|The Appeal to Caesar: Acts 25:1-12
THE APPEAL TO CAESAR
Central thought: Paul recognizes the proper role of civil government in the maintenance of civil order.
Felix, the Roman governor of Judea, had imprisoned Paul at Caesarea in A.D. 57. He had heard the case of the Jews against Paul but had refused to give in to the Jews or to release Paul. In fact, Felix hoped to receive a bribe from Paul before he (presumably) released him (Acts 24:26). Consequently, for the next two years Paul remained in prison (Acts 24:27).
However, in A.D. 59 there was a change in governors (Greek, procurator). Since the procurator was an imperial representative, the emperor could replace his charges at any time. Felix had fallen into disfavor because of his underhanded tactics and inability to control Jewish rioting. Festus, a man of good reputation, replaced him. Festus took office in mid-59 A.D. and died in office in A.D. 62. However, in the changing of the guard, Felix deliberately left Paul in prison as "a favor to the Jews" (Acts 24:27).
Verses 1-2. Caesarea, a seaport constructed by Herod the Great, was the provincial capital of Judea. Jerusalem was located in the hills rising 2500 feet above sea level. Luke's language is quite specific: they "went up" to Jerusalem (v.1) and they "went down" to Caesarea (v.6). Even though he had been in Palestine only three days, Festus left the capital to visit with Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. This would be a normal diplomatic call in the hope of ensuring good relations between the two parties. In this context Festus is presented with the problem of Paul by the priests and the Sanhedrin ("Jewish leaders"). They thought that Festus might do them a favor as Felix had.
Verses 3-5. The leaders requested that Paul be brought to Jerusalem for trial, but what they wanted was to kill him along the way. The Sanhedrin had been involved in a previous plot on Paul's life (Acts 23:12-15), and were still intent on carrying out their plan. The Jewish leaders, then, were bargaining with Festus in bad faith. They never intended Paul to reach Jerusalem alive. Festus was probably unaware of their evil intentions, but nevertheless insisted that the trial be heard in Caesarea since it was the imperial seat in the region. Festus was willing to accommodate the Jewish leaders by immediately hearing the case, but he would do so only in Caesarea. He encouraged them to send legal representatives to make their case before him.
Verses 6-7. An indication of Festus' desire to please the Jewish leaders is the speed with which he proceeds with the trial. After more than a week in Jerusalem, the day after arriving in Caesarea he convenes his court. Paul finds himself once again standing before a Roman procurator being accused by his Jewish enemies. No doubt the charges were the same as under Felix (Acts 24:1-25) and the result was the same: they could not prove Paul's guilt. Presumably, this means they could not prove Paul's guilt to the satisfaction of Festus (see v. 10).
Verse 8. Paul's response to the charges indicates the nature of them. He had been accused of violating Jewish law and the sanctity of the temple which were matters for a Jewish court to decide. But they also accused him of crimes against Caesar, and this charge made the case a Roman matter. If the Jews had left the charge on simply a Jewish level, Festus may have returned the matter to Jerusalem or he may have thrown it out (like Gallio in Acts 18:12-16). Now, however, it was a imperial problem and to be judged by the Roman procurator. Of course, Paul denied all charges just as he had under Felix.
Verse 9. However, Festus gives a new twist. He thinks it might be better to move the place of the trial to Jerusalem. After all that is where the supposed crime was committed and the case might be heard better there. Besides, it would show the Jews that he was willing to give them every consideration. It is important to note that Festus was not going to turn Paul over to the Jews. Festus was still going to judge the matter. It was simply a suggestion about a change in location.
Verses 10-12. However, a change in location is not what Paul desired. He was aware of the plots on his life and probably feared an assassination attempt somewhere along the process. Paul legitimately claims that he is exactly where he should be: he is before Caesar’s court. Paul, exercising his right of Roman citizenship (see Acts 21:25-29), appeals to be tried before the imperial seat in Rome. Paul will not placed in a dangerous situation simply because a governor wishes to politically appease his trusts. Paul will not be a political pawn. He exercises his right and Festus recognizes it. Paul is headed for trial before the emperor in Rome. Rome, of course, is where Paul wished to go all along (Acts 19:21) and where God had promised to send him (Acts 23:11).
Interestingly, in this episode Paul does not deny the procurator's right to try him nor the right of the procurator to put him to death if he has done something worthy of capital punishment (see v. 11). Instead of rebelling against governmental authority, Paul uses it for the his benefit and his protection. In an earlier circumstance, Paul placed himself under the protection of the Roman army in order to escape a plot on his life (see Acts 23:16-24). And before Festus he is willing to suffer any penalty at the hands of the government he is due. This gives us insight into Paul's view of civil government.
Civil government is ordained of God. It is God's servant in this world for a two-fold purpose. It protects good citizens by providing order in which productive lives might be pursued. But it also punishes evildoers, even to the point of punishing them with the sword, i.e., violent death (Rom. 13:1-7; see also 1 Pet. 2:13-14). In our lesson text Paul sanctions the death penalty in cases where the appropriate crime has been committed. Consequently, Christians have a right to use governmental authority to protect themselves and they have a right to expect that it will punish criminals (including capital punishment).
Questions for Discussion
1. Look up "Festus" in a Bible Dictionary. What other facts can you learn about this man?
2. Look on a map of Palestine. Where are Caesarea and Jerusalem located? How far apart are they? Look up these cities in a Bible Dictionary.
3. In this episode how does Festus demonstrate his shrewdness as a governor?
4. Summarize the charges against Paul based upon Acts 25:8 and Acts 24:1-9.
5. Were the Jews wise in charging Paul with crimes against Caesar? Why did they do it?
6. Why do you think Festus was willing to move the trial to Jerusalem?
7. Does Paul sanction capital punishment in our text? Under what circumstances?
8. Read in a commentary or Bible dictionary about the appeal to Caesar. What can you learn about it?
9. Discuss the principles of God-ordained government as recorded in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2.
10. How do Paul's actions here reflect his view of civil government? What implications and applications do his actions have for us today?