Acts 25:13-27 – Luke’s Apologetic & Political Interests

Acts 22-26 – Luke’s Historical & Apologetic Interests
Diving Deeper Lesson Outline for Acts 22-26

Although we have come to Acts 25:13-27, I will not undertake a lesson specific to these verses.
Given the subject matter of these verses, I think it a better use of our time to explore some larger over-arching issues that are on display both in our text today and all the way back to Acts 22.
The below chart gives a quick overview of what I mean and it is the foundation of our lesson today.

Lysais Felix Festus Agrippa II
Acts 22:30
“set him before them.”

Acts 23:29
“charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment.”

Acts 22:1
Paul said “hear the defense that I know make before you.”

Acts 24:27
“wishing to do Jews a favor”

Acts 24:26–27
Never passed judgment.

Acts 24:10
Paul “cheerfully made his defense.”

Acts 25:9
“wishing to do Jews favor”

Acts 25:25
“done nothing deserving death”

Acts 25:8
Paul “argued in his defense.”

“His concern for Judaism is not in doubt…” – AYBD

Acts 26:31
“doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.”

Acts 26:1
Paul “made his defense.”

Given events listed in the above table, which took place from about 57-59 A.D., 2 main questions arise.
What were the reasons the Roman leaders of Palestine put politics above justice and go out of their way to placate the Jews?
Why did Luke see fit to document these somewhat identical events?

The answer to the first question is found in the political climate that existed at that time.
The answer to the second question is found in Luke’s apologetic intentions.

1) POLITICAL CLIMATE

So to answer the 1st question we must consider the following information.

It was during Felix’s term as procurator that rebellion firmly took hold in Palestine” – AYBD.

  • For example, Josephus documents Felix’s suppression of a Jewish riot at Caesarea in which he ultimately used force.
  • We know that Felix was booted because of his brutal tactics in handling the Jews growing rebellion.
  • In fact – “Josephus writes that Felix was saved from disciplinary action under Nero by the intervention of Pallas, who at that time enjoyed favor with Nero” – AYBD.

So, “It is against this background of severe and growing disorder that we must understand Felix’s [and the others] detention of Paul (Acts 24: 26–27)” – AYBD.

Evidence of this lingering tension between the Romans and the Jews can be seen in the following:
Acts 22:30 (ESV) — 30 But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them.

  • Lysias took the unorthodox action of calling an informal meeting of the Sanhedrin.

Acts 24:27 (ESV) — 27 When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.

  • Even after Felix was booted, he left Paul in prison for Festus to deal with.
  • His retention of Paul in custody for two years is understandable: “other Roman governors, including the upright Cicero (ad Att 6.1.7), are known to have avoided decisions that could earn them criticism, and Felix will have been aware that two of his predecessors had been recalled for trial” – AYBD.

Acts 25:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Now three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. 2 And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews laid out their case against Paul, and they urged him,

  • We know that Felix was removed from office for the way he dealt with Jewish unrest.
  • Given the political tension between Rome and the Jews, it was in Festus’ (and Rome’s) interest to quickly be conciliatory to the Jewish leadership.

Acts 25:9 (ESV) — 9 But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?”

  • Festus “hesitates to offend the Jews and suggests a trial at Jerusalem, where he might have allowed an advisory role to members of the Sanhedrin” – AYBD.
  • His actions are described as “an attempt to ingratiate himself with the Jewish officials” – AYBD.
  • Even in Josephus’ portrayal of Festus we see documentation of “his desire to have good relations with the Jewish leadership” – AYBD.

And from history, we have the following example:

  • We know that Festus died 3 years into office (after Paul had been shipped off to Rome).
  • The high priest Ananias, appointed by Agrippa II, “took advantage of the interval which elapsed before the arrival of Festus’ successor to assume the right of capital jurisdiction” – AYBD.
  • It was during time that Ananias had James, the brother of Jesus, killed.
  • This usurpation of an authority which was not his would have brought down Roman reprisals on the province if his action had not been disowned by his being deposed from the high priesthood” – AYBD.

And so for the answer to our first question, “what were the reasons the Roman leaders of Palestine put politics above justice and go out of their way to placate the Jews?

From the political background, we can see that an uneasy tension existed between the local Roman politicians and the nationalistic Jewish leadership and laymen.

  • This relationship was complicated by the Jews hatred of Christianity and the Romans indifference to it.
  • In addition, the Roman provincial governors’ standing in the eyes of Rome was negatively impacted when things went badly in the provinces; not good for their careers.
  • Therefore, “maintaining peace was the highest priority of a Roman provincial governor” – John MacArthur.

It was for these reasons that Paul was, in many ways, simply a means to an end for Felix, Festus and to a lesser extent, Lysias.

  • He was used to engender good will between themselves and the Jewish leadership.
  • He was a pawn in political game to placate the Jews at the expense of His due process.

Had Paul not been a Roman citizen, there seems to be little doubt that he would have been executed for this very same purpose.

  • But, by God’s design, Paul was indeed at once Christian, a Pharisee and a Roman citizen – a necessary trinity of a different sort.
  • And, in God’s timing, he was sent to Rome at a time appointed by God.
  • It is an awesome thing how God works in the details of history (Roman, Jewish & Paul’s) to accomplish His purposes.

Speaking of God’s timing:
One could easily question the wisdom of God allowing Paul to languish in prison these 2 years.
It would seem his time, talents and love of the Gospel could have been put to much better use.
But we must learn 2 things.

  1. God’s timing and reasoning are His to know and accomplish as He sees fit.
  2. And, if we ever find ourselves in a metaphorical “prison” lingering in life seemingly without purpose, we must look to Paul’s example on how we are to find our purpose.
  • Felix was hoping for a bribe, and so “sent for him often and conversed with him” and Paul “reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” – Acts 24:25-26.
  • We always have purpose in speaking the Gospel!

And What of Agrippa II whom we meet in today’s text?
Acts 25:13 (ESV) — 13 Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus.
Acts 25:22 (ESV) — 22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” said he, “you will hear him.”
Acts 25:26 (ESV) — 26 But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write.

There were, of course, some Jews, such as Agrippa II, that were sympathetic to both Roman and Jewish causes.

  • Agrippa owed his kingship of Judea, Galilee, etc. to Emperor Claudius in 53 AD.
  • Because he owed his kingship to Rome, he “seems to have thought that the best future for the Jews lay in acquiescence in Roman rule, which was to be coaxed and tempered rather than thwarted” – AYBD.

Yet he also was a Jew.

  • And as the King of the Jews, he had the authority to appoint the Jewish high priest (e.g., Ananias from Acts 23:3, 24:1) and over the temple.
  • Therefore he had sympathies for his Jewish heritage.
  • This is also evidenced by, for example, “the fact that he took costly steps to save the Temple from subsidence [sinking or settling at it foundation]” – AYBD.

Why is he involved in Paul’s odyssey?
We will learn more about that as we explore more of the end of chapter 25 and chapter 26 in the coming weeks.

2) LUKE’S APOLOGETIC INTENTIONS

Now on to our second question, “Why did Luke see fit to document these somewhat identical events?
We have at least 3 reasons.

Luke was revealing how God brought Paul to Rome:
In Acts 25:11, Paul appealed his case to Rome.
The appellatio was introduced to protect the Roman citizen against unfair treatment by a magistrate” – New Testament Milieu.
Interestingly, initially this practice was limited to the city of Rome itself, but by the time of Paul it had been extended to the Roman provinces.
Yet another example of God working through the details of history.

There seem to be 4 specific reasons why Paul made the appeal.

  • He knew he could not receive justice in Palestine because of the influence of the Sanhedrin upon the Roman courts there” – Believers Study Bible.
  • The Roman courts were notoriously unjust when they had sufficient motive” [placating the Jews, e.g.] – Believers Study Bible.
  • Acts 22:17-18 tells us that Jesus had told Paul not to go back to Jerusalem.
  • Acts 23:11 — The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

Luke was showing that Christianity was not a political threat to Rome:
From the texts we have dealt with today we see that:

  • Lysias (& probably Felix), Festus and Agrippa II determined that Paul had not committed any acts of sedition (crimes against Cesar & Rome).
  • And that any charges by the Jews of sectarianism (law breaking) or sacrilege (temple defilement) were not under the purview of Roman law.

And looking forward we see that this theme continues.
Acts 28:18–19 (ESV) — 18 When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19 But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation.

Luke’s political apologetic is intended to emphasize that there is nothing seditious about Christianity; on the contrary, Christians are law-abiding subjects of the Roman Empire.”– AYBD.

Luke is, in fact, one of the first Christian apologists. In that particular type of apologetic which is addressed to the secular authorities to establish the law-abiding character of Christianity he is absolutely the pioneer” – F.F. Bruce.

POI – Luke, in his Gospel, also shows that even Jesus was not found guilty of sedition by Pilate.
Luke 23:4 (ESV) — 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.”
Luke 23:14 (ESV) — 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him.
Luke 23:22 (ESV) — 22 A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.”

Luke was showing that at issue for the Christian faith was the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
Acts 23:6 (ESV) — 6 Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.”
Acts 24:15 (ESV) — 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.
Acts 24:21 (ESV) — 21 other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.’ ”
Acts 25:19 (ESV) — 19 Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive.
Acts 26:8 (ESV) — 8 Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
Acts 26:23 (ESV) — 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
Acts 26:26 (ESV) — 26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner [It was done in history for all to see].

Luke’s choice of the narrative form is deliberate. He explicitly designates his work a diegesis “narrative” (Luke 1:1) and emphasizes that he tells events “in sequence”. It is clear from several other places that Luke regards the narration of events “in order” to have a peculiarly convincing quality (e.g., Acts 9:27; 11:4; 15:12–14). For him, the development of the plot itself, in sequence, has a persuasive force (Dillon 1981: 217–33). In this, Luke shares the conviction of Hellenistic rhetoric, which regards the narratio as critical to historical argument or personal defense, as he shows also in the construction of Paul’s “defense speeches”” – AYBD.

And so we have answered our 2nd question.
It should come as no surprise that there is intent behind anything that God is purposing.
Even if at first glance it seems as simple repetition, if you get off the tour bus and explore the “nature preserve” you can often see more than you did from the comfort of a padded seat.