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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Acts 25

 

 

Verse 11

ST. PAUL’S APPEAL TO CÆSAR

‘I appeal unto Cæsar.’

Acts 25:11

This was St. Paul’s declaration to Festus who had succeeded Felix. More than two years had passed since the Sanhedrin excited the mob against St. Paul, but their hatred of him was still great. As soon as Festus arrived at Jerusalem, the chief priest and elders laid their plans—or part of them—before him (Acts 25:2-3). They stated that they wanted the Apostle brought to Jerusalem to be tried again, but really they had hired some persons ‘to wait in the way to kill him.’ Probably Festus knew nothing of the plot, but his answer to this request showed that he wished to act justly (Acts 25:4-5). He told them that he would be returning to Cæsarea shortly, where St. Paul was imprisoned, and he would hear the case. Some of their body could go down with him and prosecute Paul ‘if there be any wickedness in him.’ At the end of about ten days Festus returned to Cæsarea, and the trial was arranged the day after, the Jewish rulers being present to repeat the charges laid before Felix, ‘which they could not prove’ (Acts 25:7). To the charges Paul gave a simple denial (Acts 25:8). As there was no case, the prisoner should have been acquitted, but here again the desire ‘to do the Jews a pleasure’ prevented Festus from acting justly, as was the case with Felix; and as the Jews seemed to attach importance to the matter, Festus asked Paul if he would go to Jerusalem to be tried by the Sanhedrin if he presided? (Acts 25:9). This was a great crisis in St. Paul’s life. For the third time he took his stand on his rights as a Roman citizen. ‘I appeal unto Cæsar.’

I. The appeal.

(a) He could appeal no higher. Rome was now the mistress of the world, and her Cæsars could spare or sacrifice life as they liked, no one daring to question their right to do so. The Cæsar of Rome, at the time St. Paul made his appeal, was Nero, as impious and cruel a man as ever occupied a throne. It was by his imperial command that the Apostle was ultimately beheaded. Why did he appeal to such a man, knowing his character only too well? Because he felt that immediate destruction awaited him if he accepted the proposal of Festus to go up to Jerusalem to be tried there. There was, then, only one way by which he could save himself from ‘the jaws of the lion’ for at least some while to come, and that was by claiming his high privilege as a Roman citizen. He did not hesitate for a moment. He could but die ultimately, if Nero condemned him; and hence he uttered the four words of the text which changed, in the twinkling of an eye, the whole case.

(b) He asserts his innocence. He said to Festus, ‘To the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest.’ As it has been well observed, ‘It is a debt we owe to our good name not only not to bear false witness against ourselves, but maintain our own integrity against those who bear false witness against us.’

(c) He demands justice. ‘If there be,’ he says, ‘none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them.’ His meaning is this: ‘If I have done anything wrong, I will make neither resistance nor attempt to escape from justice; but if I am guiltless, as I maintain I am, the persecution of my foes is malicious; and no man can righteously deliver me unto them, not even thou, Festus; for it is thy business as much to protect the guiltless as it is to punish the guilty.’ For these reasons he flies to the last refuge of oppressed innocency, and earnestly says, ‘I appeal unto Cæsar.’ Alas, that ‘a Hebrew of the Hebrews’ should feel that he would be infinitely safer in Rome, among unbaptized heathen, than in Jerusalem, among his own countrymen! ‘A man’s worst foes are they of his own household.’

II The agreement.

(a) The language of Festus was decisive. ‘Hast thou appealed unto Cæsar? unto Cæsar shalt thou go.’ This seems brave enough; but Festus was beginning to be afraid. A mysterious Hand was writing on his heart as it did once on the walls of a palace in Babylon, and a great Spirit was pressing his mind with thoughts that bore him away as the sea-waves bear away whatever is on their bosom. St. Paul was a perfect contrast to Festus: they might well have changed places. Yet in one thing they were one—their agreement respecting Cæsar.

(b) This agreement was providential. Had Festus, who was very ‘willing to do the Jews a pleasure,’ taken St. Paul to Jerusalem, and he had fallen a martyr on the road, then some of those Epistles which now enrich our sacred literature, and have proved an emphatic benediction to thousands of God’s saints, had never been written. But Divine Providence so ordered this circumstance from beginning to end that it turned out for ‘the furtherance of the Gospel.’ He permitted the Apostle to be taken as a prisoner to Rome; but he whom they led to Rome carried the Gospel with him to that imperial city; and he preached it there with the same matchless eloquence and power as he had done in the Hebrew capital; and, strange to tell, though the preacher was incarcerated in a prison, he made converts to the faith of Jesus not only among the soldiers who guarded him, but among courtiers and others in the very palace of Cæsar to whom he had appealed! Surely the wrath of man shall ever praise God!

Illustration

‘The moment St. Paul uttered these words, neither the Jews nor Festus had any further power over him. Amidst all the corruption of Roman law and justice, the rights of the Roman citizen and the power of appeal had been jealously guarded by the emperors on account of the power which it put into their hands; for with the utterance of these words a Roman citizen obtained immediate right of entry into the presence of his emperor, and right of judgment from that emperor’s lips alone. Festus immediately arose from his judgment-seat and withdrew, in order that he might confer with his council. He had driven his prisoner further than he had intended, and had exposed himself almost on the first day of his jurisdiction in Judæa to a refusal to abide by his degree, and an appeal which passed him by and carried the matter to the emperor. But whether he were piqued or not as the result of his timeserving policy, he had no recourse save to reply, “Hast thou appealed unto Cæsar? unto Cæsar shalt thou go.”’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Acts 25:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/acts-25.html. 1876.

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