Paul States His Defense
24 1-4 Within five days, the Chief Priest Ananias arrived with a contingent of leaders, along with Tertullus, a trial lawyer. They presented the governor with their case against Paul. When Paul was called before the court, Tertullus spoke for the prosecution: “Most Honorable Felix, we are most grateful in all times and places for your wise and gentle rule. We are much aware that it is because of you and you alone that we enjoy all this peace and gain daily profit from your reforms. I’m not going to tire you out with a long speech. I beg your kind indulgence in listening to me. I’ll be quite brief.
5-8 “We’ve found this man time and again disturbing the peace, stirring up riots against Jews all over the world, the ringleader of a seditious sect called Nazarenes. He’s a real bad apple, I must say. We caught him trying to defile our holy Temple and arrested him. You’ll be able to verify all these accusations when you examine him yourself.”
9 The Jews joined in: “Hear, hear! That’s right!”
10-13 The governor motioned to Paul that it was now his turn. Paul said, “I count myself fortunate to be defending myself before you, Governor, knowing how fair-minded you’ve been in judging us all these years. I’ve been back in the country only twelve days—you can check out these dates easily enough. I came with the express purpose of worshiping in Jerusalem on Pentecost, and I’ve been minding my own business the whole time. Nobody can say they saw me arguing in the Temple or working up a crowd in the streets. Not one of their charges can be backed up with evidence or witnesses.
14-15 “But I do freely admit this: In regard to the Way, which they malign as a dead-end street, I serve and worship the very same God served and worshiped by all our ancestors and embrace everything written in all our Scriptures. And I admit to living in hopeful anticipation that God will raise the dead, both the good and the bad. If that’s my crime, my accusers are just as guilty as I am.
16-19 “Believe me, I do my level best to keep a clear conscience before God and my neighbors in everything I do. I’ve been out of the country for a number of years and now I’m back. While I was away, I took up a collection for the poor and brought that with me, along with offerings for the Temple. It was while making those offerings that they found me quietly at my prayers in the Temple. There was no crowd, there was no disturbance. It was some Jews from around Ephesus who started all this trouble. And you’ll notice they’re not here today. They’re cowards, too cowardly to accuse me in front of you.
20-21 “So ask these others what crime they’ve caught me in. Don’t let them hide behind this smooth-talking Tertullus. The only thing they have on me is that one sentence I shouted out in the council: ‘It’s because I believe in the resurrection that I’ve been hauled into this court!’ Does that sound to you like grounds for a criminal case?”
22-23 Felix waffled. He knew far more about the Way than he let on, and could have settled the case then and there. But uncertain of his best move politically, he played for time. “When Captain Lysias comes down, I’ll decide your case.” He gave orders to the centurion to keep Paul in custody, but to more or less give him the run of the place and not prevent his friends from helping him.
24-26 A few days later Felix and his wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish, sent for Paul and listened to him talk about a life of believing in Jesus Christ. As Paul continued to insist on right relations with God and his people, about a life of moral discipline and the coming Judgment, Felix felt things getting a little too close for comfort and dismissed him. “That’s enough for today. I’ll call you back when it’s convenient.” At the same time he was secretly hoping that Paul would offer him a substantial bribe. These conversations were repeated frequently.
27 After two years of this, Felix was replaced by Porcius Festus. Still playing up to the Jews and ignoring justice, Felix left Paul in prison.
An Appeal to Caesar
25 1-3 Three days after Festus arrived in Caesarea to take up his duties as governor, he went up to Jerusalem. The high priests and top leaders renewed their vendetta against Paul. They asked Festus if he wouldn’t please do them a favor by sending Paul to Jerusalem to respond to their charges. A lie, of course—they had revived their old plot to set an ambush and kill him along the way.
4-5 Festus answered that Caesarea was the proper jurisdiction for Paul, and that he himself was going back there in a few days. “You’re perfectly welcome,” he said, “to go back with me then and accuse him of whatever you think he’s done wrong.”
6-7 About eight or ten days later, Festus returned to Caesarea. The next morning he took his place in the courtroom and had Paul brought in. The minute he walked in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem were all over him, hurling the most extreme accusations, none of which they could prove.
8 Then Paul took the stand and said simply, “I’ve done nothing wrong against the Jewish religion, or the Temple, or Caesar. Period.”
9 Festus, though, wanted to get on the good side of the Jews and so said, “How would you like to go up to Jerusalem, and let me conduct your trial there?”
10-11 Paul answered, “I’m standing at this moment before Caesar’s bar of justice, where I have a perfect right to stand. And I’m going to keep standing here. I’ve done nothing wrong to the Jews, and you know it as well as I do. If I’ve committed a crime and deserve death, name the day. I can face it. But if there’s nothing to their accusations—and you know there isn’t—nobody can force me to go along with their nonsense. We’ve fooled around here long enough. I appeal to Caesar.”
12 Festus huddled with his advisors briefly and then gave his verdict: “You’ve appealed to Caesar; you’ll go to Caesar!”
* * *
13-17 A few days later King Agrippa and his wife, Bernice, visited Caesarea to welcome Festus to his new post. After several days, Festus brought up Paul’s case to the king. “I have a man on my hands here, a prisoner left by Felix. When I was in Jerusalem, the high priests and Jewish leaders brought a bunch of accusations against him and wanted me to sentence him to death. I told them that wasn’t the way we Romans did things. Just because a man is accused, we don’t throw him out to the dogs. We make sure the accused has a chance to face his accusers and defend himself of the charges. So when they came down here I got right on the case. I took my place in the courtroom and put the man on the stand.
18-21 “The accusers came at him from all sides, but their accusations turned out to be nothing more than arguments about their religion and a dead man named Jesus, who the prisoner claimed was alive. Since I’m a newcomer here and don’t understand everything involved in cases like this, I asked if he’d be willing to go to Jerusalem and be tried there. Paul refused and demanded a hearing before His Majesty in our highest court. So I ordered him returned to custody until I could send him to Caesar in Rome.”
22 Agrippa said, “I’d like to see this man and hear his story.”
“Good,” said Festus. “We’ll bring him in first thing in the morning and you’ll hear it for yourself.”
23 The next day everybody who was anybody in Caesarea found his way to the Great Hall, along with the top military brass. Agrippa and Bernice made a flourishing grand entrance and took their places. Festus then ordered Paul brought in.
24-26 Festus said, “King Agrippa and distinguished guests, take a good look at this man. A bunch of Jews petitioned me first in Jerusalem, and later here, to do away with him. They have been most vehement in demanding his execution. I looked into it and decided that he had committed no crime. He requested a trial before Caesar and I agreed to send him to Rome. But what am I going to write to my master, Caesar? All the charges made by the Jews were fabrications, and I’ve uncovered nothing else.
26-27 “That’s why I’ve brought him before this company, and especially you, King Agrippa: so we can come up with something in the nature of a charge that will hold water. For it seems to me silly to send a prisoner all that way for a trial and not be able to document what he did wrong.”
“I Couldn’t Just Walk Away”
26 1-3 Agrippa spoke directly to Paul: “Go ahead—tell us about yourself.”
Paul took the stand and told his story. “I can’t think of anyone, King Agrippa, before whom I’d rather be answering all these Jewish accusations than you, knowing how well you are acquainted with Jewish ways and all our family quarrels.
4-8 “From the time of my youth, my life has been lived among my own people in Jerusalem. Practically every Jew in town who watched me grow up—and if they were willing to stick their necks out they’d tell you in person—knows that I lived as a strict Pharisee, the most demanding branch of our religion. It’s because I believed it and took it seriously, committed myself heart and soul to what God promised my ancestors—the identical hope, mind you, that the twelve tribes have lived for night and day all these centuries—it’s because I have held on to this tested and tried hope that I’m being called on the carpet by the Jews. They should be the ones standing trial here, not me! For the life of me, I can’t see why it’s a criminal offense to believe that God raises the dead.
9-11 “I admit that I didn’t always hold to this position. For a time I thought it was my duty to oppose this Jesus of Nazareth with all my might. Backed with the full authority of the high priests, I threw these believers—I had no idea they were God’s people!—into the Jerusalem jail right and left, and whenever it came to a vote, I voted for their execution. I stormed through their meeting places, bullying them into cursing Jesus, a one-man terror obsessed with obliterating these people. And then I started on the towns outside Jerusalem.
12-14 “One day on my way to Damascus, armed as always with papers from the high priests authorizing my action, right in the middle of the day a blaze of light, light outshining the sun, poured out of the sky on me and my companions. Oh, King, it was so bright! We fell flat on our faces. Then I heard a voice in Hebrew: ‘Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me? Why do you insist on going against the grain?’
15-16 “I said, ‘Who are you, Master?’
“The voice answered, ‘I am Jesus, the One you’re hunting down like an animal. But now, up on your feet—I have a job for you. I’ve handpicked you to be a servant and witness to what’s happened today, and to what I am going to show you.
17-18 “‘I’m sending you off to open the eyes of the outsiders so they can see the difference between dark and light, and choose light, see the difference between Satan and God, and choose God. I’m sending you off to present my offer of sins forgiven, and a place in the family, inviting them into the company of those who begin real living by believing in me.’
19-20 “What could I do, King Agrippa? I couldn’t just walk away from a vision like that! I became an obedient believer on the spot. I started preaching this life-change—this radical turn to God and everything it meant in everyday life—right there in Damascus, went on to Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside, and from there to the whole world.
21-23 “It’s because of this ‘whole world’ dimension that the Jews grabbed me in the Temple that day and tried to kill me. They want to keep God for themselves. But God has stood by me, just as he promised, and I’m standing here saying what I’ve been saying to anyone, whether king or child, who will listen. And everything I’m saying is completely in line with what the prophets and Moses said would happen: One, the Messiah must die; two, raised from the dead, he would be the first rays of God’s daylight shining on people far and near, people both godless and God-fearing.”
24 That was too much for Festus. He interrupted with a shout: “Paul, you’re crazy! You’ve read too many books, spent too much time staring off into space! Get a grip on yourself, get back in the real world!”
25-27 But Paul stood his ground. “With all respect, Festus, Your Honor, I’m not crazy. I’m both accurate and sane in what I’m saying. The king knows what I’m talking about. I’m sure that nothing of what I’ve said sounds crazy to him. He’s known all about it for a long time. You must realize that this wasn’t done behind the scenes. You believe the prophets, don’t you, King Agrippa? Don’t answer that—I know you believe.”
28 But Agrippa did answer: “Keep this up much longer and you’ll make a Christian out of me!”
29 Paul, still in chains, said, “That’s what I’m praying for, whether now or later, and not only you but everyone listening today, to become like me—except, of course, for this prison jewelry!”
30-31 The king and the governor, along with Bernice and their advisors, got up and went into the next room to talk over what they had heard. They quickly agreed on Paul’s innocence, saying, “There’s nothing in this man deserving prison, let alone death.”
32 Agrippa told Festus, “He could be set free right now if he hadn’t requested the hearing before Caesar.”