The Jews in Jerusalem were often a cause of trouble to the Roman governors. In this chapter Festus had taken over from Felix and he wanted to ensure that any problems that he had inherited were dealt with as soon as possible.
Acts 25:1-6 The journey from Caesarea to Jerusalem was about 60 miles. Festus clearly felt that there was some urgency in dealing with the charges brought against Paul by the Jewish leaders so, after only three days as the new governor, he made the journey to Jerusalem. Festus may have felt that he would be able to keep the peace if he placated the Jews. They wanted Festus to send Paul to Jerusalem and planned to kill him on the way. This was the same plan that the Jews had decided on two years before (Acts 23:14-15). Festus did not know about that plan but he would not agree to their request and decided on a trial in Caesarea.
Acts 25:7-12 When Festus began Paul’s trial in Caesarea he found that the Jews could produce no credible evidence or witnesses. Festus realised that the charges brought against Paul were entirely related to matters concerning the Jewish religion and that Paul had not broken any Roman laws. Festus may have been trying to appease the Jews and keep the peace by suggesting that Paul should be taken to Jerusalem for trial. However, Paul knew that he would not receive a fair trial in Jerusalem and that his enemies might kill him before he arrived. Paul was a Roman citizen and could refuse to appear before a local court. As a Roman citizen he had the right to appeal to the higher court in Rome. Festus had to agree to Paul’s request to go to Rome for his trial.
Acts 25:13-22 King Herod Agrippa II was the son of Herod Agrippa I (see Acts 12:1). His great-grandfather had tried to kill Jesus as a baby; his grandfather had ordered John the Baptist to be beheaded and his father had caused the death of the apostle James. Bernice was the sister of Agrippa II. She was the oldest daughter of Herod Agrippa I. When Herod Agrippa I died, Agrippa II was only 17 years old and he stayed with the Emperor in Rome. Later Agrippa ll ruled over several small areas of land. Although Agrippa II didn’t rule over a great deal of territory he had some influence because the emperor gave him the right to oversee the affairs of the temple in Jerusalem and the appointment of the high priest. Festus, who was new to his post and unfamiliar with Jewish traditions and customs, must have realised that Agrippa was the best person to ask for advice about Paul and the Jewish problem.
After Agrippa and Berenice had spent several days with Festus, the governor finally confided to them that he had a difficult case to settle. He reviewed the proceedings against Paul in order to justify his own decisions and explained that the main issue, between Paul and his accusers, was about a man called Jesus who was believed to have risen from the dead. Festus viewed much of the Jewish and Christian beliefs as mere superstition and was scornful of these claims.
Festus knew that once Paul had asked to appear before Caesar then he would need to write a report explaining the charges against Paul. He also knew that he needed Agrippa’s help with writing the report and with taking it to Rome. Agrippa became interested in the case when Festus explained that Paul and other believers were preaching about the resurrection of Jesus and the fulfilment of God’s purpose through Jesus (see Acts 2:31, Acts 3:15, Acts 4:10, Acts 5:30, Acts 10:40, Acts 13:37).
Acts 25:23-27 Paul’s appearance before Agrippa was more like a hearing than a trial. King Agrippa and Bernice were special guests so it was an important social occasion where everyone entered the audience room in a procession. Agrippa and Bernice probably wanted to show off their royal power.
Festus explained that the Jews in Jerusalem and Caesarea were demanding Paul’s death even though he had committed no crimes deserving of death under Roman law. When Festus said, ‘I have nothing definite to write about this man.’ (Acts 25:26) he meant that he had no definite evidence against him. However, he did not want to let Paul go free because he did not want to upset the Jewish leaders. Festus hoped that Agrippa would help him after listening to Paul.
The emperor who Paul was appealing to was Nero who, at the beginning of his reign, was considered to be a just ruler. It was only later that he became an avowed enemy of the Christians.