The Gospel Door Opens Among High Officials: Acts 25:13-22
“13) Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus. 14) While they were spending many days there, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man who was left as a prisoner by Felix; 15) and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. 16) I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges. 17) So after they had assembled here, I did not delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought before me. 18) When the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting, 19) but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20) Being at a loss how to investigate such matters, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these matters. 20) But when Paul appealed to be held in custody for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I send him to Caesar.” 21)Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he *said, “you shall hear him.”” Acts‬ ‭25‬:‭13‬-‭22‬
A lot was happening in the background and landscape of this passage. Let’s take a moment and explore the many dynamics that came together over time to make this providential meeting possible in Caesarea. The invisible hand of God was definitely at work.
King Agrippa and Bernice were from Jewish backgrounds. They were acquainted with the religion and customs of the Jews. As Caesarea was a resort town on the Mediterranean Sea, it was a popular vacation area.
Keep in mind, this is the very town where Peter had first been sent to share the gospel with Cornelius the Roman centurion in Acts 10. It boasted the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit on gentiles and a corresponding gentile Christian church. The city was no stranger to the gospel message.
It is reasonable to assume that during his two year stay in Caesarea, Paul may have had repeated interaction with Cornelius and many Roman soldiers. This may have enhances his acceptance and favor among them. (See Philippians 1:13)
As the new governor over the region, Festus was ignorant of not only Jewish customs, but also the Way. The trail of Paul left him baffled. He was expecting charges of clear civil crimes against Paul by the Jewish elders. Instead, a religious squabble unfolded before him that left Paul appealing to Caesar.
So, Festus was obligated to send Paul to Rome to stand trial before Caesar, but he had no clear charges against him. He was left baffled. It was utterly foolish to send a prisoner to Caesar for judgement with no capital charges against him.
The occasion of King Agrippa and Bernice arriving in Caesarea afforded Festus an opportunity for legal counsel into charges against Paul. That was his motivation in offering them a hearing with Paul. He needed help assembling and defining charges against Paul.
King Agrippa and Bernice were most likely aware of stories both about Jesus and Paul. They may have also been privy of the rift between the Jewish believers and the emerging Gentile church. Ironically, Caesarea was a city that afforded genuine religious freedom. There was little or no tension between orthodox Jews, Messianic Jews, Gentile believers or Roman religions in the city of Caesarea.
Cornelius himself as a Spirit filled Roman centurion may have contributed to the respectful and peaceful atmosphere that engulfed Caesarea. He more than anyone understood that true Christianity could not be forced. It was a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. The resulting baptism of Agape love produced a peaceful dignity and respect for all people.
This influence contributed to the perfect environment in Caesaria for free and open dialogue. Festus, King Agrippa and Bernice could afford Paul a lengthy hearing without threat of ridicule, prejudice or criticism.
It also fulfilled the prophecy of Acts 9:15 that Paul would bear the Name of Jesus before “the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.” The seeds of the gospel were about to be sown among royalty and government officials in a non threatening environment with no pressure or agenda. God was at work in a truly big way behind the scenes of this story.
We are hearing many reports of God working to grant nonthreatening hearings of the gospel by high government officials in communist, Hindu, Islamic and humanistic countries today. Never underestimate where and with whom God is working. Pray for kings and all who are in authority to grant a personal hearing of the gospel. (1 Timothy 2:1-8)
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global