Here we go again!! A change of administration brings a new vigor to Roman authority in the province of Judea. Paul has been cooling his heels in Roman custody for two years and had seen little to encourage him that his captivity was nearing an end OR that he was closer to ministering in Rome.
A. Determined Jews vv. 1-5
· revived assassination plot
Ananias had been deposed by Agrippa and his position given to Ismael, a man of similar character as his predecessor. However, Ananias continued to exert great influence and was likely the primary instigator.
· persistent pleading
imperfect active indicative, “they kept on begging him, asking a personal favor” Wuest The were determined if humanly possible to press their case to a conclusion favorable to them and believed this was their opportunity.
· long-held grudge
hadn’t forgotten the case they had against Paul two years prior. This time, though, the conspiracy started at the highest levels, within the Sanhedrin itself. It is clear from verse 24 that they were still determined to end Paul’s life – he had been out of circulation for two years and they still thirsted for his blood.
Their two presentations of the case against Paul were at odds with each other: see v. 15 and 18; the charges leveled at Jerusalem and intended to persuade Festus impressed him as being far more serious than the charges brought before Paul in person at Caesarea. In both places the Jewish “crowd” vigorously maintained that Paul’s crimes deserved death yet Festus could find no just cause for such a penalty.
B. Another corrupt judge vv. 6-22
· official recall
Felix had been recalled by Nero to Rome in disgrace because of his failure to deal with the Jews effectively. Festus was appointed in his place and governed for little more than two years before his death in the summer of 62 AD.
· assertive administrator
Unlike Felix, Festus seemed intent on dealing with issues without unnecessary delays. He wasted no time in going up to Jerusalem or getting a hearing underway on his return to Caesarea. Like Felix, though, Festus wanted to do the Jews a favor to get his administration off to a good start, to bring calm to the region rather than provoke more serious uprisings.
· established boundaries
Festus was not willing to relinquish his prerogative over Paul, especially in light of his Roman citizenship. Even more important was the fact the charges brought required the death penalty, something which the Jews had been forbidden to exercise since the time of Jesus (Joh_18:31).
· testy response
Festus responds in a less than regal way to Paul’s appeal to Caesar; Festus may have been of the equestrian class but he bristles at the lack of confidence Paul had in his judgment. The spiteful tone in his voice seems to come through even in the printed text.
· minimalistic assessment
Further, Festus like Felix dismissed the charges as merely a dispute over the Jewish religion and perhaps the ravings of a madman – “a dead man whom Paul claimed to be alive” (Act_25:19). Festus, also like Felix, gave little credence to Paul’s confidence in the resurrection and its significance. All of this presents a picture of one who seems to start out as a decisive proactive Type A sort of fellow and suddenly is at a loss for what to do next (Act_25:20).
C. The faithful servant vv. 8, 10-12
· New charges
This time it seems from Paul’s defense that they at least implied a charge of insurrection against Caesar; previously all the charges had to do with infractions of Jewish law and custom. Is it possible that his connection with Jesus (v. 19) publicly labeled as “King of the Jews” was construed as treasonous and seditious? Festus obviously gave little weight to the charge since he was willing to release Paul to Jewish custody.
Paul answers unto the three crimes which he was charged with:
1. He had not offended against the law, having been always a religious observer of it: nor:
2. Against the temple, which he went into devoutly, and upon a religious account: nor:
3. Against Caesar; having never taught any rebellion, nor said or done any thing against his government. Matthew Poole
· Paul’s wisdom
Paul’s response to the suggestion by Festus that he go back to Jerusalem for another trial shows his grasp of the technicalities both of his situation and of Festus’ character. As a Roman citizen who was innocent of any offense against the Jews, Festus could not force him to submit to a Jewish trial – Paul literally says to Festus “no one has the power to grant me as a favor (give me as a present) to them”! (Act_25:11) even though Festus desired to give them a favor as a deposit (Act_25:9).
· Festus’ agenda
Festus was more concerned with Jewish opinion than with seeing justice done – he knows the Jews don’t want or intend to give Paul a trial, they had already judged him guilty. Recognizing that weakness of character in Festus, Paul appeals to Caesar; in effect Paul rebukes Festus twice for his lack of strong leadership in a simple situation. He tells Festus that his innocence is obvious, something which Festus later admits (Act_25:25), and takes him to task for proposing the injustice of an unnecessary trial in Jerusalem. Paul further shows his lack of confidence in Festus and his ability to provide a fair hearing by appealing to Caesar. It is perhaps the smart from such a public rebuke that caused Festus to respond so abruptly, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go!”
· New complications
In Festus’ defense the case had suddenly become complicated as he describes it in verses 18-19 after further reflection. It was becoming apparent that The Way could no longer be considered a Jewish sect. Now the Roman government has a problem it must address – the Jewish religion had been given legal status, a common practice in Roman-occupied provinces, and as long as Christianity was a subset of Judaism it, too, had legal status. The conflict between Jews and Christians and the “religious” rejection of Christianity by the Jews coupled with Paul’s appeal to Caesar meant Rome had to decide whether or not to grant equal rights to the Church or brand it as illegal.
All of this had put Festus at a great disadvantage – he was legally bound to honor Paul’s request to be heard by Caesar and he was also obligated to provide some sort of written assessment of Paul’s case (Act_25:26-27). As near as Festus could tell, the actual conflict or crime had nothing to do with Roman law – how would he describe that for Caesar and not look foolish in the process!?
D. Fulfilled prophecies vv. 15-21
Further confirmations of the church’s spread and establishment among the Gentiles
· Jewish losses
The Jews are no longer in charge of their own government including certain elements of their court system
God had promised that the scepter would not depart from Judah until Messiah had come – see Gen_49:10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people. NKJV Messiah had come, and now gradually since their rejection of him the Jewish people had seen their autonomy, their ability to self-govern slip away little by little.
Early on in Roman occupation they had allowed the Jews the right to carry out the death penalty on those who entered restricted areas of the temple unlawfully. By this time, perhaps because of the widespread state of unrest, the Jews no longer had the right to issue and carry out the penalty they desired for Paul. They were dependent on the Roman governor to hand down the sentence and at least give his permission for them to kill Paul.
· Church gains
The Church has grown especially among Gentiles (which was a great part of what provoked the Jews) to the degree that its legality and continued existence has become a State issue
God had promised repeatedly that the good news of the Gospel was not intended solely for the Gentiles (Gen_12:2-3, Gen_18:18; Gen_22:18; Gen_26:4). He had declared that the Messiah, his promised one would be a light to the Gentiles as well as the Jews (Isa_42:6, Isa_49:6, Isa_60:3). In his roll call of those who inhabit his house God included Israel’s enemies as well as her friends (Psa_87:3-4).
God had also clearly indicated the Jewish people would experience an extended time of hardening and blindness while the Gentiles experience the riches of salvation (Rom_11:7-10). Their fall embodied in their rejection of Christ and the Gospel was the means by which God had ordained to bestow immeasurable riches on the non-Jewish world in addition to those he intended for the Jewish remnant. From their treatment of Paul it is apparent that not only could they not see the truth, they were obstinately determined not to acknowledge it. Had the Jewish leaders among the Sanhedrin been interested at all in truth they would not have been the lead conspirators in another assassination plot.
E. Our good God
· a loving Sovereign
compare v. 4 and 9 — demonstrates God’s sovereign control of Festus’ thinking process which served to protect Paul from his enemies
The Jews wanted a favor, Festus refused at least in the short term; Festus wanted to do the Jews a favor, Paul refused. Just as God put it in the mind of Cyrus to build a house in Jerusalem, so God put it in the mind of Festus to give Paul a hearing in Caesarea. Just as God put it in the mind of Darius to encourage the construction of the house in Jerusalem to continue, so God put it in the mind of Festus to suggest Paul return to Jerusalem for a hearing. Just as God in the person of Jesus eased the mind of Paul during his confinement in Jerusalem, so he put it in Paul’s mind to appeal to Caesar.
Clearly God is sovereignly in control of each event which occurs in the life of his children. Paul’s experiences were not the result of chance accidents but were explicitly ordained of God for a specific purpose. God is well able to move men and nations to do his bidding in order to bring glory to himself and good to his people. Altering Festus’ perspective on the situation was no problem for God whatever!
· a loving Savior
compare vv. 2-3 and 7 with Rom_11:22-23 — In spite of malevolent animosity by Jews against Christ and the Gospel, God has not finally and irrevocably rejected them – he is determined to preserve the remnant of his elect. (Mar_12:1-11)
The Jewish people were not fussy about who they persecuted; they were the prime motivators behind the death of Christ, directly responsible for the death of Stephen, and if they had their way also of Paul. They didn’t stop with killing the landlord’s son, they kept on trying to kill his servants. This did not take God by surprise – what else could he expect from those whose hearts were hardened and eyes blinded? In fact, things are working exactly according to his plan – God had purposed that salvation being lavished on the nations would provoke a jealous reaction among the Jewish people. “But through their false step and transgression salvation [has come] to the Gentiles, so as to arouse Israel [to see and feel what they forfeited] and so to make them jealous.” AMP (Rom_11:11)
Consider God’s wisdom in this plan – it would be wonderful for him to bring his people to salvation when they loved him, yet he has purposed to bring them to salvation when they are his sworn enemies. How much more glorious it will be when our Savior lovingly converts the hearts of his enemies and draws them to himself, when he grafts them back into his olive tree (Rom_11:23-24) and banishes ungodliness from Jacob (Rom_11:26).
[Paul’s] mind catches at the thought of what may be produced by the recovery of the Jews, and no ordinary language would convey his idea. He had already exhausted the usual forms of speech by saying that even their rejection had reconciled the world, and that it was the riches of the Gentiles. To say that their recovery – a striking and momentous event; an event so much better suited to produce important results – would be attended by the conversion of the world, would be insipid and tame. He uses, therefore, a most bold and striking figure. The resurrection of the dead was an image of the most vast and wonderful event that could take place. This image, therefore, in the apostle’s mind, was a striking illustration of the great change and reformation which should take place when the Jews should be restored, and the effect should be felt in the conversion also of the Gentile world. Albert Barnes on Romans 11:15