Chapter 13 – ‘Caesar, here I come!’
1 Now when Festus had come to the province, after three days he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem. 2 Then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they petitioned him, 3 asking a favour against him, that he would summon him to Jerusalem—while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him. 4 But Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was going there shortly. 5 ‘Therefore,’ he said, ‘let those who have authority among you go down with me and accuse this man, to see if there is any fault in him.’
6 And when he had remained among them more than ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day, sitting on the judgment seat, he commanded Paul to be brought. 7 When he had come, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood about and laid many serious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove, 8 while he answered for himself, ‘Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.’
9 But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favour, answered Paul and said, ‘Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?’
10 So Paul said, ‘I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know. 11 For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.’ 12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, ‘You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!’
Festus refuses the Jewish leaders’ petition
Porcius Festus is the new Roman governor. Like his predecessor, Felix, he continues to reside in Caesarea and use it as his headquarters. But Jerusalem is the city honoured and revered by the Jews whom he must govern. So, three days into his new role, he visits Jerusalem. Felix’s demise has not escaped the attention of the high priest and Jewish leaders. Here is their opportunity to re-open Paul’s case. The judge who insisted on hearing evidence from the neutral witness, has gone. Here is a new man in a new job to try to manipulate. So they ask an opening favour from him, to summons Paul to appear in Jerusalem. They again plan to ambush him en route. There is no oath taken this time by Paul’s intended killers. They may remember the forty conspirators’ failure pangs—and also their hunger pangs—after they failed before.1 Last time the Jewish leaders joined others in their plot. Now they forge the murder plot themselves. Will Festus curry favour and call Paul? Surely he has been briefed about the plan to kill Paul?
Festus shows that he is no weakling. He refuses the request, thereby following Felix’s insistence that the matter must be heard in Caesarea, where Paul is being kept. The new governor tells Paul’s accusers to accompany him when he shortly returns to Caesarea. He invites those in authority among the Jews to come there to accuse Paul. He will then determine ‘if there is any fault in him.’ Is he aware of Claudius Lysias’ letter to Felix, stating that Paul deserves neither death nor chains, and advising of the ambush planned on the way to the hearing to kill him? No doubt he will be when he researches the case before hearing it in Caesarea.
Paul stays strong
On this first visit to get to know the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem Festus stays over ten days. The day after his return to Caesarea he sits in judgment and commands Paul’s attendance. The accusing Jews lay ‘many serious complaints against Paul.’ To accuse is easy. To prove those accusations is harder, and impossible without convincing evidence. Paul’s accusers have no evidence. Paul refutes their charges. He insists that he has neither offended against Jewish law, nor abused the temple in any way, nor done anything at all to offend Caesar by breaking the law of Israel’s occupying power, Rome. Claudius Lysias is not called as a witness, though by now Festus must know what he wrote to Felix. Perhaps he saw Lysias during his recent stay in Jerusalem.
Does Festus wobble?
Festus knows that opposition from the Jewish leaders was behind the demise of governor Felix. Too late to avoid being removed by Nero, Felix tried to please the Jews who complained about him to the emperor. He hoped to do this by keeping Paul in custody when he was removed to be replaced by Festus.
Now the new governor also ‘wants to do the Jews a favour’. Does he feel that the Jews are already displeased because he has not given them what they want? Does he fear that he might be the next one they complain about to Nero? Or does he recognise that in his new role he must work closely with them, and that a good relationship is therefore very important? Or does he want to show the Jews that he wants to please them, but cannot pervert the course of justice to do so? Does he want the Jews to see his suggestion to Paul as showing his desire to please them, while knowing that Paul’s negative answer will cause them to blame him because Festus’ suggestion is not followed? How big a role does ‘politics’ play in this saga? It is hard to answer these questions with certainty, but Festus does then ask Paul directly in court before the Jewish leaders, ‘Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?’ The answer is immediate and clear!
Paul appeals to Caesar
It is no surprise that Paul’s immediate and definite answer is negative. Consider why he refuses to agree to go to Jerusalem to be tried. He has done nothing wrong: though had he done something demanding the death penalty he would ‘not object to dying’. He knows the high priest and Jewish elders are dishonest. If Paul did travel safely to Jerusalem the high priest could easily manipulate a large pool of ready false ‘witnesses’ against him. But he might never arrive there. He might fall to a murderous ambush planned en route. Paul may also be concerned about Festus’ weakening and warming towards his Jewish opponents. He may be concerned lest he would not be as well guarded as he should be. He may fear that Festus might judge less fairly in Jerusalem than in Caesarea. In any case, Paul has a burden from God to represent Him and share His gospel and His word in Rome. As a Roman citizen he can stand on his rights to ensure that he will reach Rome. This is a crucial time for Christianity’s future in the world. A large gate swings on small hinges. The decision Paul will make will affect millions in the years to come in Europe and beyond.
So the Jewish apostle to the Gentiles reminds Roman governor Festus, who wants to please the Jews, that no one can insist that he is tried in Jerusalem. He declares in accordance with his rights as a Roman citizen, ‘I appeal to Caesar.’
‘To Caesar you shall go!’
Festus now confers with the council. This is hardly likely to mean the Jewish council since a Roman judgment seat in Caesarea is not where the Jerusalem Sanhedrin could or would operate. It certainly cannot indicate the Christian council of apostles and elders! It therefore must refer to Festus’ advisers on hand to aid him in his court in Caesarea. Festus wants to make no mistakes. He wants all to see he is applying the law properly and objectively. In a sense by taking a decision after taking advice he distances himself from the decision and outcome in the eyes of the Jews he wishes to please.
The two sentences he utters show both the legal basis for his decision and the decision itself. ‘You have appealed to Caesar?’ This rhetorical question shows that Festus and his advisors have noted the absolute right of a Roman citizen, wherever they are, to appeal to Caesar. This is not something over which Festus or anyone else has any flexibility. An appeal to Caesar by a Roman must be honoured. The second sentence follows. ‘To Caesar you shall go!’
Rome looms large in the mind of this brave servant of Jesus Christ. Relentlessly opposed by Judaism, abused by a howling and hostile mob, kept in custody by the Roman military, heard and then abandoned by one judge, and then heard by another, he now sees the way ahead more clearly. ‘To Caesar you shall go!’
This trip for Paul will not be as straightforward as flying on British Airways from London Heathrow to Rome! Paul has yet to appear before a king to press on him his need to come to Christ. He will encounter a long and horrific storm in his voyage to Rome in which the Roman soldiers’ want to kill him and their other prisoners who try to escape. The apostle will then survive being shipwrecked off Malta, only to be bitten in the hand there by a poisonous viper. The people will first consider him to be a murderer and then regard him as a god!
Romans 8:35–39 later puts and answers these questions:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The apostle Paul clearly shows that it is ‘in’ such situations that God enables Christians to conquer by grace through Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, and through His word. Life can be hard and testing. But we can say and prove, as Paul did from Rome during his later unjust imprisonment there, and as recorded in Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ God is in control and He cares. He is on our side.
Questions on Chapter 13
‘Caesar, here I come!’—Acts 25:1–12
A. Why do some religious people, such as the Jewish leaders opposing Paul, act so wrongly and dishonestly? What challenge does this give to those who love Christ about how we should speak and act in those situations?
Acts 25:1–5, Romans 13:13, Ephesians 4:14–15, 3 John 1:4
B. When do you think it is right for you to point out that what is said about you is wrong? When is it wrong to do that?
Acts 25:6–8, Isaiah 53:7, 1 Peter 3:16
C. Is Paul right to insist on his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar? Give reasons for your answer.
Acts 25:9–12, Acts 22:22–29, Acts 23:26–30
- Acts 23:12–15 ↩