Paul’s Appeal and Festus’ Predicament

04 Jun

If only I could undo some of the things I have done… if only! Have you ever felt this way too? I believe this may have been how Festus felt after Paul appealed to Caesar. At first, one might presume that Paul had many prominent accusers, so surely something could be written up to show that Caesar’s court is where Paul should be. After all, he had been accused of treason, no matter how one looked at the Jewish authorities’ accusations. Yet, it wasn’t long before Festus realized that he was in a very uncomfortable position.

The fact that Paul was able to appeal to Caesar, shows that his Roman citizenship was no longer in doubt. By the time Paul was sent to Rome, he would have been at Caesarea under house arrest for over three years. Surely, if there was a way out of this predicament that both Felix and Festus found themselves in, it would have been to uncover that Paul had lied about his Roman status. Proof, either coming from Paul or after an official investigation of his birth at Tarsus, would have been forthcoming, leaving the governors no choice but to accept the fact that a Roman citizen had been accused of high crimes by the Jewish authorities, and they wanted that citizen executed.

We don’t know for certain how much Festus knew of Paul’s case, however Paul’s citizenship is unquestioned, and Festus’ initial refusal to have Paul brought to Jerusalem implies he knew of the Jews original plan to have Paul ambushed, so the governor wouldn’t be fooled by another plot to make good on their original conspiracy to kill Paul. Furthermore, Paul does not excuse Festus’ behavior at his (Paul’s) trial in Caesarea, which indicates the governor had more than a cursory knowledge of Paul’s case. Festus must have been informed of Felix’s understanding of Paul’s innocence and the letter from Claudius Lysias, the tribune at Jerusalem’s Antonia, which noted he believed Paul’s case developed over differences in Jewish theology. Paul’s statement about the Festus’ qualifications, concerning his case, may also imply a private consultation with Paul, before the governor went to Jerusalem. If this is true, it would be highly improper for a Roman governor to hand over a Roman citizen as a political favor to what amounts to that citizen’s accusers.

Luke may imply some annoyance with Paul in the governor’s reply: “You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go” (Acts 25:12). Whether this is so or not, the governor no longer is able to use Paul as a political pawn and must now show in a letter to Caesar why Paul’s case must be decided by the emperor and couldn’t be handled by his (i.e. Festus’) court. What he eventually wrote up against Paul is not said, but Festus admits later to King Agrippa that he really didn’t know what to write to the emperor that would show the crimes of which Paul was accused were of such magnitude that he should be heard by the emperor and not the provincial governor. In other words, Festus’ own competence as judge and administrator of Rome’s affairs was now at risk, unless he able to word the legal document in a manner that wouldn’t reveal the political opportunism he had been guilty of pursuing.

All in all, Luke presents us with a case where the political maneuvering done by the movers and shakers of this world is brought to naught through the patience and skill of the man of God, who is willing to serve his Lord as unambiguously as possible and with more integrity than any of his accusers and judges serve their superiors. With confidence in his Lord’s promise that he would testify of him at Rome (Acts 23:11), Paul appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11), bringing the political games to an end to the surprise and consternation of both his accusers and his judge.

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Posted by on June 4, 2013 in Gospel, Kingdom of God, Paul in bonds


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