Read: Acts 25:1-22
Paul’s time in prison continued in Caesarea when Festus succeeded Felix. To properly understand what’s going on here, I have to try and think like the presiding governors of that time. As I consider the events of that time, the story makes much more sense. Paul appears to have access to information about continued threats for his life by the Jews hell-bent on killing him. Even if he didn’t have a constant stream of updates, it’s reasonable to accept that those sworn to kill him would look for any opportunity to complete their vows.
Festus and the Jewish Leaders
Just after Festus took charge, the Jewish leaders seek him out and attempt to get access to Paul.
They requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. Acts 25:3
Festus would not lower himself to be manipulated by the Jewish leaders. Politically speaking, it made no sense that he would capitulate so early in his time as governor of the region. If they wanted to play, they would have to come on his terms in his stronghold.
One of the questions that come to mind concerns that of what prisons were like back in A.D. 50. As I researched this topic I found it interesting to consider that prisons were focused on holding people for trial or execution. In other words, people weren’t incarcerated for a period of time as punishment. Prisons were a holding tank for those two primary reasons. If you were waiting for a trial, the wait could be quite long, as in Paul’s case. If you were waiting for execution, it’s just a matter of logistics: you’ll be executed when it’s convenient for the executioner.
Sidenote on Felix
Several questions remain unanswered in my mind and I couldn’t help but backtrack a bit. Paul’s interaction with Felix is interesting. Remember that Luke added that Felix was hoping for a bribe in Acts 24:26. Paul was a man of influence, even Felix could see that. His perspective seems to be focused on how to benefit from having Paul as his prisoner. I found the following post from Birmingham Theological Seminary well written and quite interesting:
Now, in God’s mysterious providence, Felix was a dishonest ruler. Based on the insufficient accusations against Paul, Felix could have released him. But he didn’t. Instead, he saw an opportunity for personal gain. So, he held off ruling on the case, preferring to wait for Paul to offer him a bribe. Source
Felix essentially owned Paul. He could keep him restrained indefinitely under the guise of protection for Paul and peace for the region. This continued for two years as Luke noted in Acts 24:27, roughly A.D. 57-59.
The Trial (sorta)
The Jewish leaders made the journey to Caesarea to present their case against Paul for Festus to hear.
When Paul came in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him. They brought many serious charges against him, but they could not prove them. Acts 25:7
We’re not given a lot of details here, but it seems like the same questions were considered along with the same lack of evidence to prove that Paul had done anything to motivate Festus to take action.
Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.” Acts 25:8
Paul’s words are carefully chosen to reiterate this is a Roman matter, which implies that Festus needs to remain in control. The Jewish argument about desecrating their temple is of little interest to the Romans. It appears the Jewish attorney must have implied Paul was a problem for Caesar.
Let’s not forget that Jesus appeared to Paul in a vision and told him “so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11). Here is Paul’s opportunity.
If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” Acts 25:11
The words, “I appeal to Caesar” are significant. Festus confers with his council and declares:
You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go! Acts 25:12
In our modern world, at least in this society, we might consider having a case appealed up through judicial lines all the way to the Supreme Court. This is an expensive process in both time and money with no guarantee of success. The Supreme Court can refuse to hear the case, send it back to the lower court, or worse, deny the justice we sought at the beginning.
Though I’m sure there are a thousand technical differences, the concept was the same for Paul. He was fueled by Jesus’ clear statement to present his case, and therefore the Gospel message, in Rome. But there were no guarantees. He simply had to remain true to his calling and obedient to his task.
Lord, I pray that I can be consistent in a world that wants to pull me one way or another depending on the desire of those around me.