Agrippa and Bernice didn’t come to hear about Paul’s case, they had actually come to congratulate Festus on being appointmented as governor of Judea. That was a big promotion for him, but since they stayed for so long, it was convenient for Festus to share his problem with them. What he said was that he had inherited a left-over prisoner, from a case Felix had never closed. Now you can probably hear the condescension there. He probably rolled his eyes and said, “Yeah, ol’ Felix left this one . . .” He also explained that when he was in Jerusalem, the Jewish bigshots wer pressing him to condemn Paul. Festus had to remind “those Jews” that Romans don’t do things that way. A man has to first have a trial, where charges must be proven and the person accused is given a chance to make some kind of a defense.
What is ironic about this is that Jewish law worked the same way. So maybe Festus was making a sarcastic jab at them. Do you remember when Nicodemus questioned his fellow-Jewish leaders for wanting to do away with Jesus without a trial? He asked them, “Our law doesn’t condemn a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, doesn’t it?” (John 7:51).
We could even call this chapter “Israel’s Watergate.” But that would only make sense to someone old enough to remember the “Watergate” era (and be an American). What I am referring to is how the interests of these Jewish leaders have become so important that they overrule the law of the land. A crime (the illegal execution of Paul) is now justified as protecting “the public good.” This is the same excuse that was used as justification for the wrongful execution of Jesus:
“So the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, ‘What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation.’ Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, ‘You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish.’ (Now he did not say this on his own, but because he was high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish nation, and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered) —John 11:47-52
When the Jews arrived in Caesarea, Festus quickly opened the trial against Paul. However, the charges they presented against Paul had completely changed from those raised against him in Jerusalem. Law and order were undoubtedly high on Festus’ agenda, so there is not doubt that the accusations against Paul that were raised in Jerusalem, included threats to peace and public order. Among other things, Paul would have been accused of being a revolutionary (as Claudius Lysias initially thought), and guilty of crimes against Rome and Caesar. That is why, in his defense, Paul said: “I have committed no offense against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Story of Acts