THE CHANGE IN GOVERNOR FROM FELIX to Porcius Festus (Acts 24:27) brings no immediate improvement in Paul’s condition. Yet God remains in control, and in this chapter, Acts 25, under God’s providence Paul takes a decisive step. How was this brought about?
(1) New to the area and still relatively ignorant of its political and religious dynamics, Festus is determined to get off on the right foot. A mere three days after arriving at the regional Roman capital of Caesarea, he travels up to Jerusalem to meet the local Jewish authorities. He could have summoned them; he could have delayed his visit. But off he goes, and is promptly informed what a terrible man Paul is. The Jewish authorities see the accession of Festus as an opportunity to do away with Paul. They express their desire to have him brought to Jerusalem for trial, but in reality they plan an ambush that would ensure his demise (Acts 25:1-3). Festus replies that Paul is being held in Caesarea and insists that his interlocutors press their case there.
(2) In the next round of legal maneuverings the charges against Paul and his responses to them (Acts 25:6-8) provide Festus with no clear idea of what to do. Still trying to make a good impression on the Jewish authorities (and thus far more likely to listen to them than to a solitary man already in jail for two years), Festus asks Paul if he is willing to stand trial before the Roman court, but in Jerusalem.
(3) There is no hint that Paul is tipped off as to the planned ambush. Nevertheless, two years earlier he had been warned of a similar plot (Acts 23:16), and it would not take much to figure out that such a plot was likely being hatched again. If he agrees with Festus’s suggestion, he will be murdered; if he declines, he will appear obstreperous and arrogant. So he exercises the right of every Roman citizen in the first century: he appeals to Caesar. That was the judicial equivalent of appealing to the Supreme Court. Humanly speaking, this was a desperate move. Emperor Nero did not take kindly to frivolous suits, and he was already known to be corrupt and intoxicated by his own power.
(4) Yet by that means, as the rest of the book shows, Paul finally arrives in Rome. As Joseph was brought to Egypt’s palaces by way of slavery and prison, so Paul is brought to testify for King Jesus before the mightiest human authorities by way of prison and corrupt justice. Indeed, how did Jesus gain his place at the Father’s right hand?