This morning we come to our 84th message in the book of Acts, and we are looking at chapter 25. If you remember, in A.D.57 Paul was taken from Jerusalem to Caesarea because of an alleged violation against the temple. The Jewish leaders said he had desecrated the holy place by taking a Greek beyond the "Wall of Partition" during Pentecost. Having been removed from Jerusalem because Jews were plotting to kill him, Paul was brought before Governor Felix with whom he had the opportunity to share Jesus Christ. Over the next two years, he continued to witness to Felix and his wife Drusilla.
At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him. But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned. (Acts 24:26-27 NASB)
Felix was so inept that the whole province of Judea was in an uproar. Riots were occurring repeatedly with villages being burned, looted, and plundered. Felix was recalled to Rome because of the complaints of the Jews. Felix left Paul in prison because he wanted to pacify the Jewish leaders even though he knew that Paul was innocent.
In this chapter we are continuing to see the prophecy that Jesus made about Paul fulfilled. The Lord Jesus said to Ananias, whom he sent to Paul to pray with him and welcome him into the Christian family:
But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; (Acts 9:15 NASB)
In chapters 25 and 26, we will see this prophecy fulfilled. This is exciting to me because fulfilled prophecy is an undeniable proof of the inspiration of the Bible. No other book in the world contains the kind of specific prophecies found all throughout the pages of the Bible. There is no comparison, for example, between the Oracles of Nostradamus and the First Testament prophecies about Jesus Christ. The prophecies of the First Testament are often so obvious that many secular scholars have unsuccessfully attempted to assign later dates to some of these prophecies to make it appear that the prophecies were made up after the events. That's how stunning some of this stuff is.
There are over 300 prophecies that were literally fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. What are the chances that so many prophecies could all come true in the life of one man? Peter Stoner, in his book, Science Speaks, says, "... the probability that any man might have lived down to the present time and fulfilled just eight of the prophecies is 1 in 10 to the 17th power. That's 1 with 17 zeros after it."
In order to comprehend this, imagine taking that number ,10 to the 17th power, of silver dollars and laying them on the face of the state of Texas. They will cover the entire state two feet deep. Then mark one of the silver dollars and somehow stir the whole pile thoroughly, all over the state. Put on a blindfold, travel as far as you wish, and on the first try, pick up the marked silver dollar. The chance of that happening is the same as the chance of eight messianic prophecies coming true in any one man.
Stoner goes on to evaluate the chance of 48 of the prophecies being fulfilled by chance and the odds there had a 1 with 157 zeroes after it. And remember, that's just for 48 of the 300 that have been fulfilled. And that's why one researcher writes, "God designed fulfilled prophecy to be an open demonstration of the divine origin of the Scriptures."
In A.D.59 Felix was replaced by Governor Festus. This is where we find Paul in Acts 25:
Festus then, having arrived in the province, three days later went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. (Acts 25:1 NASB)
We don't know much about Festus from history, but Josephus writes, "The brief but firm and honorable rule of Porcius Festus began with efficiency and wisdom" (A.D. 59-61; Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.182-97; Jewish Wars 2.271). He was to be the last procurator to have any good intentions towards Palestine. He was appointed by Nero in A.D.59. and was in power for only two years before he died.
Festus arrived on the scene in Caesarea, which was the Roman headquarters. His predecessors' incompetency left him a legacy of profound hate from the Jewish people. So the first thing he did was go up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with the high priests and leaders of Israel:
And the chief priests and the leading men of the Jews brought charges against Paul, and they were urging him, requesting a concession against Paul, that he might have him brought to Jerusalem (at the same time, setting an ambush to kill him on the way). (Acts 25:2-3 NASB)
Luke describes the leaders in general terms as chief priests and Jewish leaders, probably indicating that more than the Sanhedrin was involved. From what we read here, it seems like the very first order of business for the leaders was to discuss with Festus the situation of the Apostle Paul.
Luke says, "They were urging him, requesting a concession against Paul"-- this could be translated: "they persistently requested," the imperfect and present tenses point to imploring repetition for a change of venue for Paul's trial. The Jews were trying to take advantage of the new governor. They knew Festus realized the mistakes Felix had made, and he wanted to appease them.
Their intention, as Luke makes clear in verse 3, was not to try Paul, but only to get him within reach of those who had vowed to assassinate him. Their real intent was to resurrect their foiled plans from two years before and murder him on the way.
This instant approach about Paul might serve to confirm that throughout his imprisonment his influence had continued to be felt throughout Judaea. There is little doubt that word of Paul's present ministry came to Jerusalem from Caesarea.
These men, who were plotting Paul's death, were the religious leaders of Israel, God's chosen nation. They were the only people on earth who had received God's covenant promises, and who were able to read His revelation in the Scriptures. They had access to God's presence through worship in the temple. Yet, in spite of all of their knowledge and privileges, they had killed the Anointed One whom God had sent to save them from their sins. And now they were intent on murdering God's servant Paul, one of their own countrymen, who had done them no wrong. We see here the blindness of religion.
Festus then answered that Paul was being kept in custody at Caesarea and that he himself was about to leave shortly. "Therefore," he said, "let the influential men among you go there with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them prosecute him." (Acts 25:4-5 NASB)
Festus declined the Jewish leaders request. This was a brilliant move on the part of Festus. He intended to gain the upper hand right from the beginning. He would not begin by having these Jews tell him what to do. There is another reason for Festus not taking Paul to Jerusalem: God is providentially directing human affairs so that the might of Rome will continue to protect His messenger.
After he had spent not more than eight or ten days among them, he went down to Caesarea, and on the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. (Acts 25:6 NASB)
Tribunal is from the Greek word bema, the judgement seat. The bema on which Festus sat was customarily in a public place.
After Paul arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him which they could not prove, (Acts 25:7 NASB)
The Jews circled around Paul, screaming out their charges. It was a chaotic, unruly proceeding. Their animosity against Paul was evident. But according to Scripture, the accusations against Paul could not be proved. Among other things, he had clearly been charged with being a man who disregarded local law, who had violated the temple, and who had been involved in activities against Caesar, none of which, as we know, were true.
It was a maxim of Roman justice, as of Jewish justice, that a man could not be convicted on accusation alone. There must be evidence, and a case must be proved. And Festus was a just man.
while Paul said in his own defense, "I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar." (Acts 25:8 NASB)
Paul was given the opportunity to defend himself, and he declared that he was guilty of none of the charges. What should have been Festus' response? He should have dismissed the case immediately, there was no evidence against Paul:
But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, "Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me on these charges?" (Acts 25:9 NASB)
Instead of doing what was just, Festus did what was advantageous for himself by conciliating the Jewish leaders. He was, after all, a politician. Remember that it was the protest of these Jews against the corruption of Felix that resulted in his removal from office. Instead of declaring Paul innocent, Festus saw a way that he could now gain some political capital with the Jews, and so he reversed his earlier decision and offered to move the trial to Jerusalem.
Paul had done nothing wrong against the Jews, as the lack of any tangible evidence proved. He had already been put on trial twice before the Jews with nothing having been decided against him. So why then should he once more be judged by a Jewish court?
The words "before me" do not mean that Festus would be the judge at the trial. Festus would either agree with the Sanhedrin's decision, or he would not agree with it. That is what Festus meant. The fact that he asked Paul's permission indicates that Paul was not a common criminal, but an un-convicted Roman citizen with rights that the governor had to respect:
But Paul said, "I am standing before Caesar's tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you also very well know. "If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar." (Acts 25:10-11 NASB)
If Paul couldn't be absolved of any blame in Caesarea, before the Roman official, then how could he expect it in Jerusalem? Jerusalem was the last place on earth he could expect to receive justice. So now he took advantage of his Roman citizenship and appealed his case to Caesar. The right of appeal to the sovereign people (the populus Romanus) was one of the most ancient rights of a Roman citizen, traditionally going back to the foundation of the republic in 509 B.C.
His appeal to Caesar may well have been the final straw for Paul, indicating that Israel would not turn, and that God's judgment was soon to come upon this nation, and particularly on the city of Jerusalem.
Then when Festus had conferred with his council, he answered, "You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go." (Acts 25:12 NASB)
It was customary for the governor, even the emperor, to have a body of assessors, higher-ranking military officers, younger civil servants in training and dignitaries from the local population, to help him evaluate court cases. Festus wants to make sure the appeal is in order based on the type of charges that have been brought. While Festus is conferring with his cronies, Paul is no doubt smiling because he knew that his appeal would be granted, because he knew that was the sovereign purpose of God:
But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, "Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also." (Acts 23:11 NASB)
Remember that behind the scenes God is controlling every decision of man. In these final chapters of Acts, God is using the unbelief and opposition of the Jews to accomplish His purposes, He is also using the Roman political officials. He has used Claudius Lysias to save Paul's life and to remove Paul from Jerusalem, where there was a conspiracy to kill him. He also used the politically shrewd Felix to keep Paul out of circulation (in what proved to be a kind of protective custody, out of Jewish hands) for two years. And now God will use Festus to point Paul toward Rome, where he must proclaim the Gospel.
The Caesar at the time of Paul's appeal was none other than Nero himself. We know that Nero was a very wicked man, He was called a beast by his contemporaries, I believe he was Mr. 666 of Revelation. But in the early years of his rule (A.D. 54-62) he was an admirable emperor, and Paul had no reason to fear him now (A.D. 59). Only after A.D. 62 did Nero begin to rule erratically and to turn against Christianity.
Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus. (Acts 25:13 NASB)
Festus had just been appointed procurator of Judea. Agrippa was the neighboring king. He arrived with his entourage to make a courtesy call on Festus to cement their relationship. Festus was the superior to Herod. Even though Herod was king, he was only a vassal king. The Roman government had subjugated all Israel's authority, and Herod was nothing but a puppet king.
King Agrippa was the last in the Herodian dynasty and was the best of the Herods. These were the kings who, although not exactly Jews, nevertheless belonged to the Jewish faith. They were Edomites, descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob.
The first of the line was Herod the Great, who killed all the babies in Bethlehem when our Lord was born in an attempt to wipe out the Messiah, whom he regarded as a rival to his throne. His son, Herod Antipas, had John the Baptist beheaded in prison. His grandson was Herod Agrippa I, who resided in Caesarea fifteen years earlier. He had the Apostle James put to death with the sword in Acts 12. Then God killed him:
The people kept crying out, "The voice of a god and not of a man!" And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died. (Acts 12:22-23 NASB)
So Caesarea must have evoked many memories with the son's return. Agrippa II, has been appointed by the Romans to be tetrarch of Galilee. He had supreme power in Jewish religious life, for the Romans gave him the right to appoint the high priest and custodianship of the temple treasure and the high priest's vestments (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities20.213, 222). Jewish and Roman historians agree that he was an expert in the affairs of the Jews.
Bernice's story is complicated. She was the sister of Felix's third wife, Drusilla, and the blood sister of Agrippa. Therefore, she and Agrippa were practicing incest, which was a capital offense in Israel. He is king of the Jews living in incest, according to Josephus (JewishAntiquities 20.7.3). Every so often she would have an interlude with a lover, but would come back to Agrippa because the lover would leave her when he found out about the incest she kept perpetuating. In fact, Vespasian's son, Titus, who was instrumental in the destruction of Jerusalem, took Bernice as his lover. When he took her to Rome, the gossip became so bad around Rome that he had to dump her. But she went right back into her incest with Agrippa. They remained in that relationship the rest of their lives.
Now in verses 14-21 Festus shares his predicament with Agrippa:
While they were spending many days there, Festus laid Paul's case before the king, saying, "There is a man who was left as a prisoner by Felix; 15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. 16 "I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges. (Acts 25:14-16 NASB)
Festus took advantage of Agrippa's superior understanding of Jewish law and custom to try to figure out what to do with Paul. He had been left by his predecessor with a prisoner that he was finding it difficult to make anything of. On the one hand, all the Jews could accuse Paul of were religious matters. On the other, Paul, for some reason, did not want to be judged in Jerusalem, and thus had appealed to Caesar. And as he did not really understand what the charges were against the man, he did not know what on earth he was going to give Caesar as the reason why he had sent him to him.
"So after they had assembled here, I did not delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought before me. 18 "When the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting, 19 but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive. (Acts 25:19 NASB)
Notice that Festus saw that the issue was an issue about the Lord Jesus, and it was about an issue of whether he was alive or not. In other words, he centered in on the discussion of the resurrection. We now know that Jesus' resurrection is the central point of contention. Paul certainly made that clear in his speech before the temple mob (22:7-10, 14-15, 17-21).
The question of Paul's alleged desecration of the temple has quite disappeared from sight, and the topic of the resurrection (23:4; 24:21) has replaced it. The real ground of dispute is that Paul preaches the resurrection of Jesus, something which the Sadducees refused to believe.
We could paraphrase, "I thought they were going to accuse Paul of something serious, like murder or treason. But instead they just had some silly dispute about their religion." Festus calls Him, "a certain dead man, Jesus" (25:19). To Festus, Jesus was some Jewish religious leader who went too far and got himself killed.
But Paul was saying that Jesus was alive. That is the very heart of the Gospel, we don't worship a dead Man, Jesus is alive. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul argues that the whole Christian faith depends on the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:13-17 NASB)
Paul says that if the resurrection is not historically true, you're wasting your time to be a Christian. It's better to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. But if it is true, the resurrection of Jesus is the central fact of human history, not some inconsequential event that can be ignored if you choose.
The world says that the resurrection is not factual or verifiable. It's just a subjective religious idea. But the Christian view is that the resurrection is based on factual, verifiable evidence. Our text says that Paul "asserted" Jesus to be alive (25:19). Paul didn't say it might be true or that he hoped it was true or that he believed it was true regardless of the evidence. He asserted it to be true. He wasn't presenting speculation or subjective religious ideas that warm the souls of all who are simple enough to believe. He was presenting testimony as an eyewitness of the risen Christ. Paul had met the risen Lord Jesus on the Damascus Road, and his life was turned around.
Apart from the resurrection of Christ, how do you explain the changed lives of all of the apostles? They all were depressed, disappointed men who were not expecting a resurrection. They easily could have returned to their former occupations and slipped
quietly out of sight. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose by their testimonies to the resurrection. Yet they suffered beatings, went to prison, and many were killed because of their testimony that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead. They were all men of honest character and integrity who did not profit financially, but rather gave up everything in their role as apostles. Did they do it for a known lie? Does that make any sense? Why give your life for something you know to be a hoax, especially if it's not going to make you rich or famous?
And how do you explain the empty tomb? If Jesus' body had been in that tomb, as soon as the apostles began preaching the resurrection, the Jewish leaders could have produced the body and ended the foolish myth right then. But clearly, there was no body to be found. The tomb was empty. If Jesus' enemies had stolen the body, they would have produced it immediately. If the Roman guards had been bribed to hide the body elsewhere, it meant their lives when the Jewish leaders protested to their commander.
There is clear, compelling evidence that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is a fact of history. It was this that Paul was willing to live and die for. It was this that the high priest and his cronies were afraid of. For if it was true, then they had brought about the crucifixion of the Son of God, of Israel's Messiah, and had proved unfaithful to God and were even now opposed to His will. If it was true, then they had no right to be where they were, for it meant that they were in opposition to all that they were supposed to stand for.
"Being at a loss how to investigate such matters, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these matters. 21 "But when Paul appealed to be held in custody for the Emperor's decision, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I send him to Caesar." (Acts 25:20-21 NASB)
It is interesting to note that Festus' words to Agrippa are recorded in the first person. While Paul was under arrest in Caesarea, he was free to move around and receive visitors. It is likely that Luke, who accompanied him on his missionary journeys, also accompanied him during this time in Caesarea. This would give Paul an opportunity to describe Festus' words as he knew them to Luke. It is evident that Festus, unlike Felix, did not waste any time trying to "get to the bottom" of this issue of Paul's imprisonment. He explained to Agrippa how he had gone to Jerusalem to learn of Paul's case almost immediately upon taking the position of governor. This might give us an implication of Festus' greater integrity.
So Festus had a prisoner that he had to take to Caesar, a duty that he would most likely have preferred to avoid. He was caught between the Jews, who wanted Paul condemned for his religious beliefs with their potential of violence if they are not vindicated, and the duty to appeal to Caesar with the ramifications that such an approach to the emperor might invoke. This is why Festus is so interested in Agrippa's opinion. He does not want to face the appeal to Caesar without the filing of specific charges against Rome:
Then Agrippa said to Festus, "I also would like to hear the man myself." "Tomorrow," he said, "you shall hear him." (Acts 25:22 NASB)
I can just hear Festus shout to himself, "Yes. This is exactly what I wanted to hear." He was hoping Agrippa can give him some insight and help him formulate formal charges against Paul.
So, on the next day when Agrippa came together with Bernice amid great pomp, and entered the auditorium accompanied by the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. (Acts 25:23 NASB)
Festus used this occasion to honor Agrippa and Bernice before the local Caesarean leaders. There were five commanders based in Caesarea, each with responsibility for 1,000 soldiers. They all had the same authority as Claudius Lysias, the commander of the cohort based in Jerusalem (cf. 21:31--23:30; 24:22). Beside these commanders many prominent men of the city were present in the auditorium of the governor's palace:
Festus said, "King Agrippa, and all you gentlemen here present with us, you see this man about whom all the people of the Jews appealed to me, both at Jerusalem and here, loudly declaring that he ought not to live any longer. 25 "But I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death; and since he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. (Acts 25:24-25 NASB)
Notice that Festus sees Paul as innocent--"he had committed nothing worthy of death." The Jews were trying to have him put to death, but since he had committed nothing worthy of death, he was obviously innocent.
"Yet I have nothing definite about him to write to my lord. Therefore I have brought him before you all and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the investigation has taken place, I may have something to write. 27 "For it seems absurd to me in sending a prisoner, not to indicate also the charges against him." (Acts 25:26-27 NASB)
Festus was very open and honest about his problem. He couldn't send Paul to Rome without an accusation, so he turned his problem over to Agrippa. This wasn't an official trial, but merely a hearing to satisfy Agrippa's curiosity. What he was looking for was backing and support so that he would be able later to excuse himself if necessary and a reasonable charge to lay against Paul in sending him to Caesar.
Alright, what can we glean from this chapter that we can apply to our lives? Well as we see Paul held in custody for two years going through trial after trial, it would be understandable for him to be frustrated and discouraged. It seems like nothing is happening. But we know that God is working behind the scene to fulfil His word. Remember at the time of Paul's conversion, God revealed that he would bear testimony of the Gospel "before the Gentiles and kings" (Romans 9:15). Paul has already stood before Claudius Lysias, Felix, and now Festus, and in the next chapter of Acts (26) he will stand before "King Agrippa" and Bernice. Before very long, he will stand before Caesar. God always keeps His promises. He is at work in our daily circumstances even though we can't see it.
The key for applying this to your life is to view your circumstances, however seemingly frustrating and confusing, from God's sovereign, providential perspective, not from the human perspective.
What we see in this chapter is kind of exciting. While Paul was sitting in prison, God assembled the entire town to hear his message. Festus and his family would be there along with King Agrippa and his wife. All of the commanders and prominent people of the city were invited. All were gathered on behalf of Paul so that he could tell them about Jesus Christ. God brought them all together to hear the Gospel, and Paul gets to preach to them all. We'll see what he has to say next week.
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