Festus is in for a big surprise. Later he will tell Agrippa and Bernice that when he was in Jerusalem, they had completely misrepresented Paul’s case to him. First, they asked Festus to have Paul taken to Jerusalem, where he would be ambushed on the way. When this did not work, they made Paul look like a revolutionary, of some kind. We know that Festus would have taken this very seriously. Folks like this were his primary concern at the beginning of his administration. Matters like these would get top priority; no wonder he was so quick to hear Paul’s case.
However, as soon as he started the trial, the Jews took Festus completely by surprise. They surrounded Paul like a pack of wolves, accusing him of very serious crimes, although they could not prove any of these charges. Luke is not quite ready to tell us what these charges are, but we will find out what they are from Festus’ conversation with Agrippa and Bernice. Also, Luke’s account of Paul’s defense is greatly abbreviated. He simply denies that he had committed any offense against Jewish law, or against the temple, or against Caesar. Our presumption is that they had accused him of all three, which will prove to be a serious tactical error on the part of the opposition.
If no charges could be proved, then the entire case should have been thrown out of court as Gallio, the governor of Achaia, had done. Suddenly Festus is willing to grant Paul’s Jewish opposition a favor, but it is for self-serving reasons. He now realizes that he is in way over his head and that he has no idea what to do next. He cannot find Paul innocent without getting the Jewish leaders angry with him; he cannot find Paul guilty because they could not prove any of the charges. So he “suggests” that Paul’s trial be moved to Jerusalem. He indicates that he will still be trying the case, but now with the help of the Jews who oppose Paul.
Some commentators have indicated that Festus’ suggestion was not so much a request as it was instructions. Yes, Festus really intended to try Paul in Jerusalem, but did Festus really think he was in control of the situation? Did he think that Paul had no option but to comply with his “suggestion?” If so, Festus was wrong. He did not count on the fact that Paul was a Roman citizen.
Luke tells us that Festus turned and consulted his counselors. We do not know what Festus said to them, but we can presume that after Paul appealed to Caesar, Festus turned to his council and said, “Can he do that?” After a few moments of silence and some muffled conversation, he realized that Paul was well within his rights. So, Festus responded, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go!” Which is exactly as God had intended.
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