“If you take care of yourself and walk with integrity, you may be confident that God will deal with those who sin against you … Pray for those who persecute you. God will one day turn your persecution into praise.” ~Warren Wiersbe
For the emerging church the Sanhedrin, or Jewish Council, was a real threat because it was a source of religious persecution. The Sanhedrin had tried Jesus (Matthew 26:59; Mark 14:55; 15:1; Luke 22:66), Peter and John twice (Acts 4:1-21; 5:17-40), Stephen (6:8-15; 7:1-60), and Paul (22:30; 23:1-10; 24:1-22). The Roman authorities were not impressed by particular religious convictions, but the Council still had political clout because Palestine was under occupation, and the rulers wanted to subdue hostilities.
The Sanhedrin’s nasty interference was behind the martyrdom of Stephen, one of the seven deacons; the martyrdom of James, the son of Zebedee; and the imprisonment of Peter. Herod behaved the way he did partly because he saw it pleased the people (Acts 12:1-4).
The Judaizers, and subsequently the Sanhedrin, had gotten Paul into this latest mess and, by their harsh tenacity, were preventing his release. What was detaining him—he was guarded, though not locked up (minimum security)—was the desire of the authorities to placate the natives. Paul had had two years to witness to Governor Felix, who was now being replaced by Governor Festus. Before he left office, Felix could have released Paul. He did not.
Three days after he arrived and assumed the governorship, Governor Festus left Caesarea Maritima and went to Jerusalem. The high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul and asked him to bring Paul to Jerusalem. Of course, the reason Paul was squired away, in the first place, was that Jews were lying in wait to kill him; and they were hitting on Festus now for the same reason: they were still lying in wait to kill him.
Fortunately, for the time being, at least, Festus held off. He said Paul should be kept at Caesarea; if they had something to say, they could accuse him there.
Festus remained in Jerusalem more than ten days. When he returned to Caesarea, he commanded Paul to be brought to yet another trial. The Judaizers, who had come down from Jerusalem, stood round about, and alleged against Paul many grievous complaints, which they could not prove.
Paul answered, as he had answered before. “Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the Temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended anything at all” (Acts 25:8).
But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul, “Will you go up to Jerusalem and there be judged of these things before me?” (25:9).
Paul knew what going back to Jerusalem meant: a plot to assassinate him. To prevent that, he said, as was his right as a Roman citizen, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as you very well know. If I be an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, let me be executed; but if I am guilty of none of these things of which these Judaizers accuse me, no man may deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar” (25:10, 11), meaning he trusted the Romans more than he trusted the Jews.
Festus, after conferring with the Council, answered, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you will go” (25:12), meaning the Jews were out of it now. From here on, Rome would take over.
After certain days Herod Agrippa II—prefect of Syria, brother-in-law of the former governor, Felix, friend of the Jewish historian Josephus, and the last reigning Herod—with Bernice, came to Caesarea to greet Festus. Festus put Paul’s cause to the king. “Felix left in bonds a certain man. When I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me against him, desiring me to judge his case. I told them, ‘It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die without having the opportunity to face his accusers and answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him.’ When they came here, without any delay, I sat on the judgment seat and commanded him to be brought. The accusers brought no accusation of such things as I supposed, but had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul affirmed to be alive. Because I doubted such manner of questioning, I asked him if he would go to Jerusalem and there be judged of these matters; but he appealed to Augustus[Nero Caesar]. So I commanded him to be held till I might send him to Rome” (25:14-21).
Agrippa responded, “I will hear the man myself. Tomorrow” (25:22).
The next day when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and was entered into the place of hearing, Herod’s Judgment Hall (photo top of page shows mosaic floor from the hall), with the chief captains and principal men of the city, at Festus’ command, Paul was brought.
Festus said, “King Agrippa, and all men present with us, you see this man, about whom all the multitude of the Jews have dealt with me, both at Jerusalem and also here, crying that he ought not to live any longer. But when I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and that he himself had appealed to Augustus [Nero Caesar], I determined to send him to Rome. However, I have no certain thing to write of him to my lord. So I have brought him before you, and especially before you, O King Agrippa, that, after examination, I might have something to write to Caesar. It seems unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to signify the crimes laid against him” (25:24-27).
Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself” (26:1).
Jesus had forewarned: “Beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the Council, and they will scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what you shall speak, for it shall be given you in that same hour what you shall speak. For it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matthew 10:17-20). If ever anyone had been brought before Councils, synagogues, governors, and kings, it was Paul, and these were his instructions.
Paul stretched forth the hand and answered: “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before you touching all the things of which I am accused of the Jews: especially because I know you to be expert in all customs and questions of the Jews. Therefore, I ask you to hear me patiently.
“The Jews know that my manner of life from my youth was at the first among my own people at Jerusalem. They knew me from the beginning and could declare, if they would testify, that after the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God to our fathers: life after death. To this promise our twelve tribes, serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.
“Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? I did many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. In Jerusalem. Many saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. I punished them often in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even in strange cities.
“One day, as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O King, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining around me and about them who journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking to me, saying in the Hebrew tongue, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me? It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.’
“I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’
“He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you persecute. Rise, and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you for this purpose: to make you a minister and a witness both of the things you have seen and of the things you will see. I will deliver you from the people, and from the Gentiles, to whom now I send you, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them who are sanctified by faith in Me.’
“O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. I showed first to them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the Temple and went about to kill me. Having, therefore, obtained help of God, I continue to this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the Prophets and Moses said should come: that Christ should suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and that He would show light to the Jews and to the Gentiles” (26:2-23).
While Paul was still speaking, Festus interrupted with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning has made you mad!” (26:24).
“I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and soberness. For the king, before whom I speak freely, knows of these things: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him, for this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you believe” (26:25-27).
Agrippa answered Paul, “Almost you persuade me to be a Christian” (26:28).
“I would to God, that not only you, but also all who hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether, such as I am, except these bonds” (26:29).
When Paul had thus spoken, the king, the governor, Bernice, and those seated with them arose and had a private conference. When they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, “This man has done nothing worthy of death or of bonds” (26:31).
Then said Agrippa to Festus, “This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed to Caesar” (26:32).
Exactly. Paul might have been set at liberty by Claudius Lysias, by Felix, or by Festus. Didn’t Festus know that Paul had been rescued by the Temple guards and moved from Jerusalem by armed guards in the middle of the night to avoid a lynch mob? Yet it was Festus, not Felix or Agrippa, who was so weak-kneed before the Jews that he boxed Paul into a corner where he had no other choice but to appeal to the Romans.
“That the Church was able to endure centuries of persecution and survived centuries of neglect and opposition is difficult to explain apart from the system of theology stemming from belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who actually died, rose, and ascended into heaven.” ~John F Walvoord
Copyright © 2013 Alexandra Lee