It can be difficult for Christians living in the 21st century to realise the intensity of the hatred of Jews against Christians in the 1st century. As we read through the book of Acts we find that the Jews were the ones who persecuted Christians. When Paul was preaching it was the Jews who stirred up opposition against him, to the point of pursuing Paul from town to town.
Perhaps it is ironic that one of the first persecutors was Paul himself, known as Saul of Tarsus. The persecutor became a proclaimer of what he had persecuted, and was then persecuted himself! The Jews wanted Paul dead. They had stoned him once and made plans to eliminate him several times. Perhaps they hated Paul intensely because, in their minds, he had switched sides and because they could not answer his arguments about Jesus from their own scriptures.
After he had been a prisoner in Caesarea for two years there was a change in the governor of Judea. Felix had been governor. He wanted to do the Jews a favour when his tenure was up so he left Paul in prison for his successor, Porcius Festus, to deal with. With a new governor the Jews seized on the opportunity to finally be rid of Paul.
“Now three days after Festus arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. So the chief priests and the most prominent men of the Jews brought formal charges against Paul to him. Requesting him to do them a favor against Paul, they urged Festus to summon him to Jerusalem, planning an ambush to kill him along the way.” (Acts 25:1-3 NET)
It would seem that the Jewish leaders did not trust Roman law to aid them to get rid of Paul. They devised a scheme to get Festus to bring Paul to Jerusalem for trial. On the way they planned an ambush to kill him. That they thought they could succeed against Roman troops may show the extent of their desperation to rid themselves of Paul!
“Then Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea, and he himself intended to go there shortly. ‘So,’ he said, ‘let your leaders go down there with me, and if this man has done anything wrong, they may bring charges against him.’” (Acts 25:4-5)
When they arrived in Caesarea, Festus convened a hearing with the Jews and Paul present.
“When he arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many serious charges that they were not able to prove.” Paul’s defense was simple: “I have committed no offense against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar” (Acts 25:7-8).
Festus, though, was a politician and wanted to placate the Jews – if the Jews were peaceful he would have an easier time as governor. So he asked Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and be tried before me there on these charges?” (Acts 25:9).
Paul realised that this would not be good. As a Roman citizen he had rights so he now made use of them – he appealed his case to Caesar (this would have been Nero).
Paul did not use his rights for himself. He realised that going to Jerusalem would hurt the cause of Christ. So he used the only recourse he had to stop such an action. We can see how God can take what looked like a hopeless situation and turned it into something to advance the cause of Christ. By Paul appealing to Caesar he was able to go to Rome and continue to proclaim Jesus in the heart of the Roman Empire.
There is a lesson here for us. When something seems to be bad and hopeless, we need to trust that God can work good out of what seems at the time to be bad situation (see Romans 8:28).
photo: Herod’s palace in Caesarea Maritima where Paul appeared before Festus
Readings for next week:
10 June – Acts 25
11 June – Acts 26
12 June – Acts 27
13 June – Acts 28
14 June – Revelation 1