Acts 23:23–26:32 comment (0)
August 21, 2008
By Cecil Taylor
Related Scripture: Acts 23:23–26:32
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Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
CAESAREA: FACING SECULAR PEOPLE
Moved to Caesarea (23:23–35)
When he got word about a plot by Jews to kill Paul, the Roman commander in Jerusalem whisked him away to Caesarea by night with heavy guard. Roman law called for an officer to send a written statement of the case when referring a case to his superior. Lysias’ letter to Felix, the governor, indicated he thought Paul innocent. Felix promised a full hearing as soon as his accusers arrived and then ordered Paul held in the governor’s residence.
Before Felix (24:1–27)
Five days after Paul’s arrival, his accusers appeared in Caesarea. The delegation was comprised of “Ananias the high priest,” “certain elders” representing the Sanhedrin and “an orator” named Tertullus (probably a lawyer).
Tertullus’ speech contained a flattering introduction, a statement of the charges against Paul and a conclusion. He accused him of being a public pest, an inciter of discord, a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes and a profaner of the temple. Other delegates joined the attack.
In his defense, Paul denied two of the charges on grounds his accusers could not prove them, but he readily admitted he followed “the Way.” In so doing, he claimed he was serving the God of his Jewish ancestors, affirmed his belief in everything that agreed with the Hebrew Scriptures, asserted his hope of the resurrection and protested he did his utmost to keep his conscience clear before God. He explained what happened in Jerusalem, noting he had come to bring gifts for the poor. When they found him in the temple, he was ceremonially clean and the center of no uproar. Paul noted that the Asian Jews who created the fuss were not present and challenged his opponents to state his crime.
Felix adjourned the hearing on the pretext that he wanted to confer with Lysias. (Nothing shows the commander ever came.) The governor summoned Paul for a talk about “the faith in Christ.” Paul “reasoned” with the governor about morality, self-control and the judgment to come. Alarmed, Felix interrupted the interview and sent Paul away. Over the next two years, the governor spoke with Paul frequently but held him, hoping to get a bribe to free him.
At the request of the Jews, Nero Caesar replaced Felix with Festus. When there was a change of governors, it was customary to release unconvicted prisoners. To please the Jews, however, Felix “left Paul bound.”
Before Festus (25:1–12)
Three days after he took office, Festus visited Jerusalem to confer with Jewish leaders. They asked him to bring Paul to Jerusalem for trial (intending an ambush on the way). Festus insisted they come to Caesarea with their grievances. At the hearing, his accusers were unable to prove their charges. Still trying to win the favor of the Jews, Festus asked Paul if he would go to Jerusalem for trial. Instead Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen to go to Rome and be tried under Roman law.
Before Herod Agrippa (25:13–26:32)
Shortly after the trial, Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to pay respects to Festus. Knowing he had to send a written report with Paul to Rome, Festus wanted Agrippa (who was part Jew and hence familiar with Jewish law and custom) to explain Pauls’ charges.
The prisoner came in chains. Mostly he gave his personal testimony, i.e., how this persecutor became a preacher.
Then he affirmed his innocence, declaring that God was on his side and that what he preached was the fulfillment of what the Hebrew Bible predicted about the Messiah.
Paul’s enthusiasm and reference to the resurrection were too much for Festus, who thought him deranged.
Agrippa’s reply was dismissive. It is not that the king was very nearly persuaded to become a Christian but that he scorned Paul’s effort to evangelize him: “With but a little you would persuade ME to become a ‘Christian’?”
After discussing the matter, governor and king agreed that Paul had done no wrong and might have been set free had he not first appealed to Caesar.