Paul defends himself before Festus, King Agrippa II, and his sister Bernice against the accusations of the Jerusalem establishment, who stood around Paul. He was calm and forceful in his defense. He appealed to “lord” Caesar.
As I write in every introduction:
The translation and commentary are mine, just so I can learn. I also offer quick word studies. If you would like to see the verses in many translations, please go to biblegateway.com. And if you would like to study Greek with a short lexicon, go to biblehub.com, and click on the interlinear tab.
At the end of each passage and this post, I offer observations for discipleship. How can we apply these truths to our lives?
Links are provided for further study.
Festus Visits Jerusalem (Acts 25:1-12)
1 So Festus, arriving in the province, after three days went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. 2 The chief priests and the first men of the Jews informed him against Paul. They pleaded with him and 3 asked a favor that he might summon him to Jerusalem, plotting an ambush to kill him on the road. 4 And so Festus answered that Paul was being held in Caesarea, and he himself was about to leave quickly. 5 “And so for their part,” he told them, “the powerful men, when they come down together, should accuse him if there is something wrong with the man.”
6 Festus spent not more than eight or ten says with them and went down to Caesarea. The next day he sat in judgment and ordered Paul to be brought in. 7 He arrived, and the Jews who had come down stood around him and brought many and weighty charges, which they were unable to prove. 8 Meanwhile, Paul was defending himself, saying, “I have done nothing wrong neither against the law of the Jews nor against the temple, nor against Caesar.” 9 Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul, saying, “Do you want to go up to Jerusalem and there to be judged by me about these matters?” 10 Paul said, “I am standing before the judgment seat of Caesar where I must be judged. I have committed no crime against Jews, as you very well know. 11 If therefore I am a wrongdoer and have done something worthy of death, I do not refuse to die. But if there is nothing to the things of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.” 12 Then Festus consulted with his council and answered, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go.”
“against Paul”: his name was added for clarity.
How did Luke know about the ambush? Did the informer or reporter tell him, like Paul’s nephew again? Or did they use simple logic because of the Jews’ hatred of Paul? Did someone get it by a word of knowledge? Remember, Luke-Acts is a very charismatic book, so we should not easily discount the last option.
“accuse”: the verb is katēgoreō (pronounced kah-tay-gor-eh-oh), and it combines the prefix kata– (down) and the verb agoreuō (pronounced ah-gor-ew-oh), so the context is in public, specifically in the synagogue here. The verb agoreuō means “to speak in the assembly, harangue, speak ill of someone” (Liddell and Scott). Combine it with the prefix and you get “speak down to” or just “accuse.”
It is stunning that the Jerusalem establishment would not leave Paul alone, even though he was in Caesarea, away from Jerusalem, in Roman custody. Apparently the establishment saw Paul as a worldwide threat to Judaism, because of Paul’s effective ministry and mission.
The official chief priest is no longer Ananias (23:2; 24:1), but now Ishmael, son of Phabi …, appointed by Agrippa II (see Acts 25:13), probably shortly before Festus’s accession … The chief priests and other leaders were hostile toward each other at this point … but apparently found common cause in hostility toward Paul. (Keener, p. 571)
The excerpt says that even though the Jerusalem establishment were at odds, they could unite against Paul, indicating his effectiveness. (The ellipses or dots indicate references to the Jewish historian Josephus, which I omitted.)
Festus: his name was added for clarity.
“in judgment”: it is the noun bēma (pronounced bay-mah) and it is used 12 times in the NT and literally means “a step or footsteps, space to set one’s foot on; an elevated place ascended by steps; a tribunal, throne” (Mounce, p. 1048). It is an official’s place or seat of judgment. Think of a judge sitting behind his “bench” today. Therefore it is often means “judgment seat.” Paul uses it in Rom. 14:10 for God’s judgment seat, and in 2 Cor. 5:10, for Christ’s judgment seat. It is clear where he got the image from—right here (and other places). In Acts 12:21, it is used of Herod’s throne, where he delivered a speech. Also see Acts 12:21 and in this chapter at vv. 10 and 21.
“As for the general charge, Luke represents him [Paul] as observing Jewish law punctiliously, and Paul himself agrees that he observes it when living among law-abiding Jews (1 Cor. 9:20)—especially in Judaea, where the Sanhedrin’s writ ran. … As for the particularly charge of temple profanation, those who first raised a clamor against him on this ground did not come forward as witnesses when the alleged crime was recent; no evidence in support could be produced now” (Bruce, comment on vv. 6-8).
“stood around”: that’s how the Greek reads. I picture circling jackals yipping and snapping at him. Paul stood his ground and did not give an inch. You will know you have the Spirit of God with you when in your most trying time, you have peace and confidence. If you don’t have it, you can pray for it every day. Ask God to give you the inner strength and anointing and power and grace to stand and not to fold or flag during satanic or broken human attacks. I pray this almost every day. It works!
“The right of appeal… to the emperor arose out of the earlier right of appeal to the sovereign people (the populous Romanus), one of the most ancient rights of a Roman citizen, traditionally going back to the foundation of the republic in 509 B.C.” (Bruce, comment on vv. 10-11).
Sometimes extra-devout, hard-core believers, whose main (and only) message is to deny yourself and die to self, tell us that we have no rights, and we should not exercise them, even if we did have them. Of course this teaching is out-of-balance. We can certainly demand our rights in the face of injustice in a human court of law. We may life a life of self-denial and daily death before God, and all this speaks of surrender to him and his plan, but in a human court we should stand our ground.
In any case, it is good to fight back once in a while. The best example is Jesus. Maybe millions believe that throughout his ministry he did not answer his challengers. Where do they get this bad idea? The source must be at his trial. Is. 53:7 says he did not open his mouth before his accusers, but was like a lamb going to slaughter, and Peter repeats the same idea (1 Peter 2:22-23) (Matt. 27:12-14; Mark 14:60-61; 15:4-5; John 19:8-9.) Yes, at his trial he did not defend himself or argue his case with the purpose of exonerating or clearing himself of the death sentence. He could have called twelve legions of angels (Matt. 26:53). Instead, he was called to die for the sins of the world, so he let the unjust events take their course and remained silent in the sense of no self-defense. However, during his ministry he often replied to verbal challenges from the Pharisees and teachers of the law. He answered back and defeated them in their badgering him (Mark 2:6; 2:16; 7:1-5; 8:31; 9:14; 10:33; 11:18, 27-28; 14:1, etc.).
Defend yourself cheerfully (Acts 24:10).
In v. 10 the word “know” is the verb epiginōskō (pronounced eh-pea-gee-noh-skoh, and the “g” is hard as in “get,” and it is used 44 times in the NT). In any case here are the basic meanings, depending on the context: (1) “know exactly, completely”; “know again, recognize”; “acknowledge’; (2) “know, learn, find out, ascertain; notice; perceive, learn of; understand, know, learn to know.” It seems the first definition works here.
“must”: It comes from the word dei (pronounced day), and in some contexts it denotes a destiny orchestrated by God, as it does here. (Compare the French il faut, “one must” or “it is necessary,” if you know this language.) The Greek verb means: “it is necessary, one must … one ought or should … what one should do” (Shorter Lexicon). In Luke it often means divine necessity; that is, God is leading things: Luke 2:49; 4:43; 9:22; 12:12; 13:16, 33; 15:32; 17:25; 18:1; 19:5; 21:9; 22:37; 24:7; 24:26, 44; Acts 1:16; 1:21; 3:21; 4:12; 5:29; 9:6, 16; 14:22; 16:30; 17:3; 19:21; 20:35; 23:11; 25:10; 27:21; 27:24, 26. In this context, Paul may be alluding to justice as a divine necessity.
“Paul did not appeal [to Caesar] while Felix was in office. Felix had virtually decided that there was no case against him and was simply postponing the formal acquittal and discharge. One day (Paul might have hoped) Felix’s procrastination would come to an end and Paul would be released)” (Bruce, comments on vv. 10-11).
Paul “may have been moved more than anything else by the incomprehensible opportunity which the hearing of his appeal would provide of preaching the gospel at the seat of imperial power” (Bruce, comment on v. 12).
Recall Acts 23:11:
The next night the Lord stood before him and said, “Take courage, for as you testified to the things about me in Jerusalem, in the same way you must testify also in Rome.” (Acts 23:11)
Paul was called to go the Rome, and now he was on his way.
GrowApp for Acts 25:1-12
A.. Paul appealed to Caesar because of his right of Roman citizenship. He also was called to go to Rome (Acts 23:11). Do you believe God is guiding your steps to reach your goal?
Agrippa II and His Sister Bernice Visit Festus (Acts 25:13-27)
13 After several days passed, King Agrippa and Bernice landed at Caesarea and greeted Festus. 14 When he spent several days there, Festus laid out the case against Paul before the king, saying, “There is a man who had been left a prisoner by Felix. 15 When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders of the Jews informed me about him and were seeking a guilty verdict against him. 16 I answered them, ‘It is not the custom for Romans to turn over any man before the accused has the opportunity right in front of the accusers and make his defense against the charge.’ 17 When they had gathered here, I did not make any delay, and the next day I sat on my judgment seat and ordered the man to be brought in. 18 The accusers stood up and did not bring one charge of wrongs which I had supposed. 19 They had questions for him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus who had died and whom Paul claimed was alive. 20 I was at a loss about investigating these issues. I said to him whether he would be willing to go Jerusalem and to be judged there concerning these issues. 21 But Paul appealed that he was to be held for the decision of Augustus. I ordered that he be held until which time I shall send him to Augustus.” 22 Agrippa said to Festus, “I myself would like to hear the man.” “Tomorrow,” he replied, “you shall hear him.”
23 So the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience hall with both commanders and prominent men of the city. Festus ordered Paul to be brought in. 24 And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all the men present with us, you see this man concerning whom the entire people of the Jews brought a suit to me in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought no longer to live. 25 I found nothing that he has done worthy of death. Since this man appealed to Augustus I decided to send him. 26 About him I have nothing definite to write to lord Caesar. Therefore, I brought him before you and particularly before you, King Agrippa, so that after the investigation I would have something to write. 27 For it seemed unreasonable for me to send him a prisoner and not to indicate the grounds for the charges against him.”
You can read about Bernice’s colorful life, as she zig-zagged between one king or another high-level Roman leader (even General Titus, who sacked Jerusalem in A.D. 70) or a governor to the next.
“judgment seat”: in v. 17 the noun bēma is used again. See v.7 for a closer look.
In v. 19, Paul preached the death and resurrection of Jesus. The fact that his Jewish opponents asked him about issues in their law tells us that Paul was moving away from the Old Law and towards faith in the resurrected Jesus, in order to be found righteous before God. Once again, Luke omits details we would like to hear, except this passing reference in the mouth of Festus.
Paul appealed to Caesar. In the previous section I said we should stand our ground and demand our rights when we are challenged in a court of law. We can even answer our critics in the court of public opinion. You can re-read that section again for a fuller discussion.
“accusers”: it is “those who accuse” him, and see v. 11 for the verb.
The word for pomp in Greek is phantasia (pronounced fahn-tah-see-ah), and, yes, we get our word fantasy from it.
“lord Caesar”: the Greek just reads “the lord.” Either Jesus is Lord or Caesar is lord, ultimately. Heb. 2:8 says that at present we do not see that everything has been put under God’s feet (so to speak). Verse 9 goes on to say that we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a while, when he walked the earth in human flesh. And now that he has been crowned with glory, we know that he is the only Lord who will last. The Roman Empire faded away, and then other European kings and emperors claimed descent from the old Roman emperors. Whoever they have been throughout history, Jesus is Lord, not them.
I like Marshall’s summary of the whole trial up to Acts 26:32:
The effect of the scene as a whole is to emphasize the uprightness of Roman legal proceedings over against the partiality and injustice of the Jews, and to show that, when measured by Roman law, Paul’s behavior appeared to be free from any guilt; mad he might appear to be, but not a criminal. There is tremendous emphasis on the climax: This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar. Paul’s actual defence consists of another account of his conversion experience, in which he stresses that his Christian faith is in line with his Jewish beliefs as a Pharisee and that his commission from the risen Lord is to offer salvation both to the Jews and also to the Gentiles. (pp. 406-07)
In shorter terms, Paul is innocent, the accusations leveled by his fellow Jews are unreasonable, the resurrection is part of his branch of Judaism, Roman law does not deal with a resurrected Lord, and his conversion makes a great testimony, as we will see in the next chapter.
GrowApp for Acts 25:13-27
A.. In v. 19, Festus repeated Paul’s claim about the resurrection. His preaching stuck. What is your main theme in your own message about the gospel?
Observations for Discipleship
The resurrected Jesus himself said of his plan for Paul: … “this man is my chosen vessel to carry my name to the nations, even kings and descendants of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Jesus also said he was going to show Paul how much he was about to suffer in his name (Acts 9:16). In Paul’s third retelling of this Damascus Road experience, he says that Jesus told him that he would rescue Paul “from the Jewish people and the Gentiles, to whom I shall send you” (Acts 26:17).
In 2 Cor. 11:23-27 Paul writes:
23 I have worked much harder, in prison more often, more severe floggings, facing death often. 24 Five times I have received forty lashes minus one by Jews, 25 three beatings with rods, once hit with stones, three times shipwrecked; a day and a night I have spent in the deep; 26 traveling on foot often; in danger from rivers, in danger from robbers, in danger from fellow-Jews, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in cities, in danger in the wilderness, in danger at sea, in danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and nakedness …. (2 Cor. 11:23-27)
Not very encouraging for us today, particularly those of us who live in religious freedom in the West!
Nonetheless, Jesus is fulfilling his mission for Paul in Acts 25 and the next three chapters. He really is testifying to government officials and prominent leaders in Jerusalem and in Caesarea, and soon in Rome. Jesus indeed showed his apostle how much he was to suffer.
Never fear or be oppressed with anxiety that God will not see you through difficult times. Any persecution suffered for Christ is a sign of God’s favor and the promise of an earnest reward (Matt. 5:11; Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12). If God protected carried Paul as he walked through various valleys of the shadow of death (Ps. 23), then he will protect you. But what about martyrdom? Then that is the ultimate deliverance. He will lift you up to heaven where there are no more shadowy valleys of death.
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Academic, 2007.
Bruce, F. F. Acts. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1988. (I also used his earlier work Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Commentary, Eerdmans, 1951, 1952, 1990, 3rd ed.).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger. United Bible Society, 2014.
Keener, Craig, S. Acts. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge UP, 2020.
Longenecker, Richard N. Acts. Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.
Marshall, I. Howard. Acts. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Tyndale, 1980.
Parsons, Mikeal C. and Martin M. Culy. Acts. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor, UP, 2003.
Peterson, David G. The Acts of the Apostles. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 2009.
Polhill, John B. Acts. New American Commentary. Vol. 26. Broadman and Holman, 1992.
Schnabel, Eckhard, J. Acts. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2012.