The Book of Acts (Chapter 25) (Part 37)
Satan’s attacks can be remorseless when the Gospel of the Kingdom is being preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. When Paul wrote his second letter to the believers at Corinth he said; “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the hardships we encountered in the province of Asia. We were under a burden far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, we felt we were under the sentence of death, in order that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God, who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) Of all the apostles Paul was the one who suffered the most in his long ministry. All of the apostles were ultimately martyred except John, and Paul would also face Martyrdom at the end of his life.
The marks of an Apostle
Also in his second letter to the believers at Corinth he described his life as an apostle; “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.” (2 Corinthians 11:23b-31)
First among equals
The apostolic ministry today is the God-given ability to plant churches in areas where the gospel has not been preached. Apostles are the LORD’s storm troopers that He drops behind enemy lines in enemy held territory. These men move in the gifts of the Spirit as they are confronting demonic powers and principalities head on. They are God’s Generals and seasoned veterans when it comes to spiritual warfare. The apostles today are not exactly the same as the original twelve because they had been with the Lord Jesus and had received His direct commissioning to the apostolic ministry. Paul was not among the twelve but had equal authority along with them because He had also spent time with the Lord Jesus when he was being trained in the wilderness. He had also been caught up to the third heaven and seen things that could not be put into human terms. Added to this when he wrote about the Lord’s Passover Meal to the believers at Corinth he wrote as if he was personally present with Jesus and the other apostles in the upper room at that time. The apostolic ministry is a very difficult and sometimes dangerous work because it draws a lot of flak from Satan’s artillery.
(Vs.1-3) “estus then, having arrived in the province, three days later went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. 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).”
Festus had replaced Felix as the Governor of Judea. When he was in Jerusalem the religious leaders brought further charges against Paul and were pressing Festus to bring Paul from Caesarea to Jerusalem to answer to the charges laid against him. These wicked and evil men were unwittingly servants of Satan who is himself called “the accuser of the brethren, who accuses them day and night before God.” Furthermore, they intended to assassinate Paul on the way from Caesarea to Jerusalem if Festus brought him up to Jerusalem. Down through the history of the Church apostate leaders always sought to work in with the secular authorities when it suited their purposes.
We are not specifically told but most probably Festus had spoken with Felix and knew the mindset of the Jewish religious leaders and the zealots and what they were up to. Having said this Festus still had to govern Judea which was a nightmare for any Roman Governor because of the activity of the zealots who were Jewish ‘patriots’ or in reality many were assassins and at times used by the religious hierarchy. Forty of them had previously taken a vow not to eat or drink anything until they had assassinated Paul. Of course in the providence of God it did not happen. So Festus then was most probably aware of what these religious leaders were capable of.
(Vs.4-6) “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.” 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.”
No doubt the religious leaders pressed their case for the eight to ten days Festus stayed at Jerusalem and Festus, being wise to their intentions, told them that Paul would be kept at Caesarea and that they would have to accompany him to Caesarea. Once there he would hear the charges. The next day Paul was summoned to the Tribunal.
(Vs.7-8) “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, while Paul said in his own defence, “I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.”
There was no doubt that Paul was innocent of all the charges. There was no concrete evidence to convict him but only hearsay and innuendo and ‘sabre rattling.’ Like the Lord Jesus and Stephen had previously experienced, Paul was being falsely accused without any evidence. Paul clearly enunciated the fact that he was innocent on all charges. Festus most probably knew that what Paul said was true. False accusations against believers, has always been a conspicuous feature during the time of persecution of faithful believers. Even today in many countries believers are brought up on false charges and imprisoned because of their loyalty to the name of the Lord Jesus before anyone or anything else. This will increase as the end of this age gets closer. Even in the western democracies the time is coming when Bible believers will be falsely charged and prosecuted by wicked and unprincipled judges, some who undoubtedly will be given bribes.
(Vs.9-11) “But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favour, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me on these charges?” 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. Then when Festus had conferred with his council, he answered, “You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go.””
Festus was already leaning towards favouring the Jews and asked Paul if he wanted to go to Jerusalem to answer the charges. Of course Paul knew that if he went there he would be falsely charged and convicted and most probably he would be killed on the way. Paul emphasized the fact they he should be tried before a Roman Court because he was a Roman Citizen and it was his right. In this way he could avoid dealing with the Jewish leaders. Added to this Paul knew that a Roman court would provide an unbiased trial as they were really only concerned about violations of Roman law.
According to Roman law a free Roman Citizen, who had been tried for a crime, and sentence passed on him, had a right to appeal to the emperor, if he conceived the sentence to be unjust; but, even before the sentence was pronounced, he had the privilege of an appeal, in criminal cases, if he conceived that the judge was doing anything contrary to the laws. Now Paul knew he was innocent and that that Festus knew he was innocent. Paul, seeing the Jews had influence over Festus, appealed to Caesar because Paul had this right as a Roman citizen and besides this the Lord Jesus had previously told him that he would be going to Rome. Once any Roman citizen had appealed to Caesar they would have to appear before Caesar.
(Vs.13) “Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus.
King Agrippa came to pay his respects to Festus. His full name was Marcus Julius Agrippa II (A.D. 27-100), the son of Agrippa I (Acts 12:1-25) and great-grandson of Herod the Great (Mt 2:1-23). Agrippa had been brought up in Rome in the court of Claudius and was a favourite of the emperor. 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 Antiquities 20.213, 222). He was the last of the Herodian line. He was accompanied by Bernice his sister, a year younger than he. She had been engaged to Marcus, a nephew of the philosopher Philo of Alexandria. Then she married her uncle Herod, king of Chalcis. At his death she returned to live with her brother Agrippa II and engaged in an incestuous relationship with him. This gained her notoriety both in Palestine and in Rome (Josephus Jewish Antiquities 20.145-46; Juvenal Satires 6.156-60).
(Vs.14-15) “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; 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.”
Festus knew that King Agrippa was better acquainted with Jewish laws and customs because of the supreme power he had over the religious life of the Jewish people and so Festus was most probably eager to relate Paul’s case to him. And so he related to Agrippa what had transpired.
(Vs.16-19) “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 defence against the charges. 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. When the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting, 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.”
Satan cannot stand believers testifying to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. This was the main sticking point for the Jewish religious leaders. Paul’s previous defence had generally been about the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:6; 24:15, 21) His defence before the Temple Mob had been about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 22:7-10, 14-15, 17-21) Added to this most of his accusers undoubtedly had been complicit in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. The last thing they needed was to hear about His resurrection. And so Festus continued to relate his side of things to Agrippa…
(Vs.20-23) “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. 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. Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.” 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.”
Humanly speaking the situation did not look good for Paul. However, the Holy Spirit would use this situation to bring glory to the Lord Jesus through Paul’s testimony. The next day King Agrippa with Bernice and a cavalcade of commanders and officials from all over the city, came into the audience chamber with great adulation accompanying the event and endowed with pomp and ceremony. It was not a trial as such but an investigation. The accusers were not present. God will often change a situation of oppression to one of opportunity when it comes to preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom by which men are saved and reconciled to God. So then after he had been seated Festus spoke…
(Vs.24-27) “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. But I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death; and since he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. 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. For it seems absurd to me in sending a prisoner, not to indicate also the charges against him.”
Paul was experiencing what the Lord Jesus and Stephen had experienced having been also falsely accused and condemned. Festus could find nothing to accuse Paul of because he had broken no Roman law. Having said this he also realised that Paul had appealed to Caesar. Adding to Festus dilemma over what to do with Paul he had nothing to write to the Emperor about concerning Paul as the matters in hand did not even relate to Roman law and governance. He thought that King Agrippa, being far more knowledgeable about things related to the Jewish laws and customs, might find something in the situation that Festus could write to the emperor about.
One thing to always keep in mind that if you or I as a believer in our Lord Jesus should have to stand before civil magistrates because of our faith in Him then at that time the Holy Spirit will empower us to testify boldly as we seek to uplift the name of the Lord Jesus before men. The Lord Jesus Himself said; “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives. (Luke 21:12-19)
The Apostle Peter also wrote; “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:14) We may not see how this would be possible especially if we are of a timid and even fearful disposition. Added to this it is not natural to seek to suffer pain and persecution but it comes with the territory as they say. Remember what the Lord Jesus Himself said; “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15:18-21)
If you or I have to go through persecution we are promised that the power of God will rest upon us and the Lord Jesus Himself through the Holy Spirit will give us the words we need if or when the time comes. We will have resting on us the Spirit of glory and of God. Some of us will appear before governors and possibly political leaders as they did in the times of the Lord Jesus and the apostles and down through Church history. One thing that will increase is that there will be those in the institutional hierarchy of the traditional church that will hand believers in Jesus over to secular powers for prosecution and punishment. Ecumenism and interfaith is going to become the major players in most institutional churches before the Lord Jesus comes back. This will see the Word of God laid aside for interfaith belief and doctrine.
Those who stick to the Bible will be prosecuted by their own brethren who profess to be Christians. Even believers will be ostracised and rejected by their loved ones and seen as radicals and extremists by their own unsaved and unsanctified family members. This will ultimately come to the Church in the western democracies. Biblical Christianity will no longer be seen in denominational, institutionalised Christianity. There will be activity, the supernatural and many social service activities of one sort or another but all being done without preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom by which men can be saved. The true Body of the Messiah, the faithful Church, will be meeting for worship and around the Lord’s Table in private homes, factories, forests, in caves and wherever they can meet. The Church of the very last days will be a persecuted Church and an underground one. Already we see institutional churches in North Korea, China, and Russia and in other third world countries governed and controlled by governments. This will come to the western Church. Governments will bring in laws that Christians cannot go along with because these laws will contradict the Bible.
Today we see the ordaining of homosexual and lesbians to the ministry and the push for same sex marriage and Euthanasia and toleration of all faiths, namely postmodernism thinking and existentialism where belief in God is concerned. What we see happening to Paul in the book of acts will happen again in many nations around the globe just before the Lord Jesus comes back to judge the world, rescue Israel and rapture and resurrect the saints! And so it was time for Paul to appear before King Agrippa who would have a far better grasp of Paul’s situation. Once again God’s General would have the opportunity to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom and to uplift the Lord Jesus Christ before men, something that the Holy Spirit will always endorse and empower! (John 15:26-27; 16:6-15) (Acts 1:8)