The Retelling of Much Ado About Nothing Doing: According to Festus

Acts 25:13-27

Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea, and paid their respects to Festus. And while they were spending many days there, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix; 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 upon him. And 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. And so after they had assembled here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal, and ordered the man to be brought. And when the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting; but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a certain dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive. And 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. 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.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.” And so, on the next day when Agrippa had come together with Bernice, amid great pomp, and had entered the auditorium accompanied by the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. And Festus said, “King Agrippa, and all you gentlemen here present with us, you behold this man about whom all the people of the Jews appealed to me, both at Jerusalem and here, loudly declaring that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death; and since he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. Yet I have nothing definite about him to write to my lord. Therefore I have brought him before you all and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the investigation has taken place, I may have something to write. For it seems absurd to me in sending a prisoner, not to indicate also the charges against him.”

Really, Festus, oh great Festus, the captain of obvious? Sorry for the sarcastic soliloquy, but come on, this is now Paul’s fifth or so defense and there are no solid charges against him; certainly nothing deserving death even under the strictest interpretation of the Mosaic Law. The reason that Festus has nothing to write to Nero is because there is nothing to write to Nero–not concerning Paul. Like Felix and Festus, we either become so enamored with the content that we don’t consider the context, or, we gloss over the content and miss the context. Paul should be set free and the Jewish leaders and assassins should be arrested, tried and convicted. But first-century Israel is bizzaro world. The guilty persecute the innocent and the innocent are scourged from city to city. The good news is that Jesus promised this, and promised to judge it. I know what you are thinking, “don’t we live in a bizarro world too?” Yes, but the bizarro curse has been reversed and we have it better than the first century, generally speaking. Because of the blood of the martyrs, the gospel has changed entire cultures and is changing entire cultures. The problem is, at least in the west, christianity has been watered down and even ruined, in search of health, wealth and happiness. Christians are no longer cultural activists but materialistic morons–Scripturally illiterate, self serving scribes and sages, seeking a spiritually aside from solid Scripture, such as speaking in not-so-strange tongues and prophesying. The absolute irony of all that the mega-church culture does, is that it is a parody of what Jesus did, to a wicked generation. It also is what the immature church did, amongst a wicked generation. Like the Sadducees and Pharisees, the modern mega-church pastors teach the precepts of man and in an idiotic and ironic parody of Jesus in the first-century, attempting to heal but never the paralyzed, never alzheimers, never down syndrome, never amputees. Amputees? Yes, the soldier who had his ear cut off by Peter. The “new apostles” look nothing like the true apostles if one zooms in. The apostle Paul, formerly the Pharisee, who we see repeatedly on trial, not for the hope of healings, the hope of a rapture rescue, the hope of tongues but for the hope of the resurrection, goes far out of his way to correct incorrect thinking. We have to see the sublime string and carefully consider the continuing cultural context and context of the Biblical content, considering the composition as it was composed–let the Bible interpret the Bible. Strap on your sandals and see what Luke saw. We will come back to this in greater detail.

“Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea, and paid their respects to Festus. And while they were spending many days there, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, ‘There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix; 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 upon him. And 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.'”

Rome, in 60 AD, some 1,940 years ago, had a greater claim to good jurisprudence, in some respects, than the United States of America in 2020. That is, a citizen had the right to meet his accuser face to face–in practice, not only on paper. King Agrippa and his sister, Bernice (who possibly was his wife as well), came to Festus to pay their respects. Agrippa was formerly the king of Judea but Claudius had reassigned him to Galilee and the neighboring nations. Agrippa was therefore well acquainted with Jerusalem as he was not only Jewish but also once ruled there. Nevertheless, like Paul, Agrippa, the great-grandson of Herod the great, was born a Roman citizen and was often on the side of Rome. Festus had an understanding ear in king Agrippa. History and the context bear witness to this. Notice that Festus confided in Agrippa; “Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, ‘There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix; 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 upon him. And 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. And so after they had assembled here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal, and ordered the man to be brought. And when the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting; but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a certain dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive. And 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. 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.’ And Agrippa said to Festus, ‘I also would like to hear the man myself.’ ‘Tomorrow,’ he said, ‘you shall hear him.'”

Agrippa no longer has any jurisdiction over Jerusalem, but he certainly has influence and Festus seeks his aid and advice, as if he was in over his head–he was but he shouldn’t have been. Notice how quickly Agrippa is to hear from Paul–the very next day. Festus admitted to Agrippa that he was at a loss concerning Paul, not even knowing what to write to Nero. The Jewish leaders want Paul condemned, meaning that they want him dead, because he is already a prisoner and because they have said it continually. Festus cannot imagine why and explained this to Agrippa. Festus said, “after they had assembled here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal, and ordered the man to be brought. And when the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting; but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a certain dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.” Again, quickly Festus heard from Paul’s accusers and also heard Paul’s defense and was baffled at the charges made against Paul. In the cultural context, tensions were mounting in Judea between the Romans and the natives. Festus, like Felix, wants to keep the peace. He therefore heard the charges against Paul quickly but couldn’t believe that they wanted Paul dead. Notice that Festus didn’t quite understand either parties’ claims. Festus said, “they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a certain dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.” Also notice that it’s all about Jesus being alive.

A few points of disagreement about their own religion and Jesus being alive–for this, they want Paul dead? As far as Festus was concerned, Paul and the leaders of Jerusalem had the same religion with a few points of contention, including a certain man, Jesus, who Paul claimed was alive even though they knew him to be dead. Of course they did, they killed him. But Festus isn’t aware of all the minutiae and surrounding, sundry details. Hence, the reexamination with Agrippa. This should be our approach as well. Although we sympathize with Paul because he has been tried over and over, we want the truth to come out. The truth is that: Jesus created the  world and Adam and Eve, called Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, gave the Law to Moses, had his hand on David, provided the people with prophets, was born under the Law, of a woman, fled to Egypt, returned from Egypt to the land of Israel, was baptized, was tempted 40 days in the wilderness, gave the law on the mountain and kept that law, performed a myriad of miracles and hundreds of healings, fulfilled a thousand prophecies, completing and exhausting all that Israel failed to do, feeding five thousand men plus women and children, feeding four thousand men plus women and children, he rebuked the Sadducees and Pharisees, rebuked and cursed Chorazin and Capernaum saying Sodom would rise up and judge them figuratively, rode to Jerusalem mounted on a donkey with the disciples’ shirts for a saddle, proclaimed 6 or 7 woes on the scribes and Pharisees, spoke in parables, told them he would take the kingdom away from them and give it to a nation producing the fruit of it (let the reader beware), overturned the tables in the temple, cursed the fig tree saying, “no longer shall there ever be any fruit from you” and not; “eventually, in 2000 years or so, there will be fruit from you,” promised the toppling of the temple to their generation; tribulation and persecution to their generation, his coming in judgment to their generation, sent prophets and scribes who they would scourge and kill from city to city and synagogue to synagogue, to their generation– suffered an injustice in their courts, was beaten, mocked, flogged and killed by crucifixion, buried in the earth as Jonah in the fish, and rose on the third day as he had literally and metaphorically promised, given all authority by his Father in heaven and on earth so that he reigns supreme from his throne as the King of kings and The Lord of lords.

This is the alleged dead-man to the leaders of Jerusalem but the alive and well God, who reigns supreme from heaven, to the apostle Paul. It’s not a matter of mere differences in their own religion– this is what separates the sheep from the goats. Jesus told Nicodemus, the Pharisee, “you must be born again,” pointing to the book of Numbers and the fiery serpents, using a proper exegesis to show that he must be lifted up on the cross and lifted up on his throne, exulted in heaven as “the ruler of kings on earth.” This is the long view of Scripture. We simply rip verses out of context, or gloss over the context and assume that Festus was correct, Paul and the Jewish leaders have nothing but a few differences in their religion–he can’t imagine why they want Paul dead and can’t believe that Paul would appeal to Nero. Paul and the self-appointed, high priest have more than mere differences; never forget that the high priest and the council and the 40+ assassins had a plan to ambush Paul and murder him. They “formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. And there were more than forty who formed this plot. And they came to the chief priests and the elders, and said, ‘We have bound ourselves under a solemn oath to taste nothing until we have killed Paul. Now, therefore, you and the Council notify the commander to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case by a more thorough investigation; and we for our part are ready to slay him before he comes near the place.” The “place” would be next to the temple; perhaps “between the temple and the altar” would be a good place to slay Paul? I highly doubt that this was the plan but I am absolutely sure that if they could have, they would have. That is, if the only opportunity they had to kill Paul, presented itself between the temple and the altar, on the way to the Sanhedrin, they would have killed Paul there. The point: dogmatic dispensationalism says that we have to support the nation of Israel because we worship the same God. While Festus would agree with this sentiment as far as religion goes, Paul and the Sanhedrin would both beg to differ. The Sanhedrin wants Paul dead and Paul, who has continually preached Jesus to them, now appeals to the ruler of Rome. They do not worship the same God, despite what the dogmatic dispensationalists and Festus suggest. Do not muslims also worship the God of Abraham? But what does John the Baptist say?

“You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father;’ for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Make no mistake, the Holy Spirit baptism is good but the fire baptism is not, the context is clear. The axe is already laid at the trees, his winnowing fork is in his hand and he will thoroughly clear his threshing floor, throwing the chaff into the fire. Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!'”

What is the application to us then, if all these things happened to them in the first century? We are forced by the flow of the content to consider the continuing context and examples. Paul wrote, before this certain situation in today’s text to the Roman church; “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more shall these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree.”

Antisemitism? Absolutely not, Paul prohibits this, as does the sublime string. We are a part of Israel and supported by the Jewish martyrs. Nevertheless, when asked if he was the Messiah, Jesus said, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Three things; one cannot lose their eternal life if they are truly the sheep of Jesus. They were not the sheep of Jesus, and Jesus and the father are one, meaning that Jesus is God. Therefore Paul and the Sanhedrin, despite the dogmatic dispensationalists’ and Festus’ opinions, they don’t worship the same God. Therefore what Paul wrote to the Romans cannot mean that one may lose their salvation. Here is the application.

Which God do we serve? Do we serve the true Jesus, who is the exact representation of the Father, who gives the Spirit, who is the exact representation of Jesus, or do we serve the religion as it was seen by Festus? Yes, what Festus said to Agrippa is contained in Scripture but it doesn’t make it doctrine. It is in the genre of a historical narrative. Much like the Bible contains the following: Judas went and hanged himself; go and do likewise; what you do, do quickly, assuming that Paul and the Sanhedrin worshipped the same God and only had a few differences in their theology, concerning whether Jesus was alive or dead, is ripping the verses out of the context and genre, not considering other examples. Like Abraham’s lies were lies, the opinion of Festus is just that, his opinion. Remember to utilize the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics, where; context is king, author’s aspirations to his audience are apex, genre is the general, expository exegesis of examples enlightens and dividing rightly the word of truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. Like Job’s idiotic friends, we regurgitate that which we are taught by the precepts of men. Job’s idiotic friends’ opinions are recorded in the Bible, as are Job’s, but that doesn’t make them doctrine. God (Jesus; because “no one has seen the Father at any time”) eventually corrects their precepts with a plethora of questions. “Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements, since you know? Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who enclosed the sea with doors, When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb; When I made a cloud its garment, And thick darkness its swaddling band, And I placed boundaries on it, And I set a bolt and doors, And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther; And here shall your proud waves stop?’ Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, And caused the dawn to know its place; That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, And the wicked be shaken out of it?  “Have you entered into the springs of the sea? Or have you walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you understood the expanse of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this. Where is the way to the dwelling of light? And darkness, where is its place, That you may take it to its territory, And that you may discern the paths to its home? You know, for you were born then, And the number of your days is great!”

We certainly see that we have a sarcastic Savior, he continues to question; “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, Or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, Which I have reserved for the time of distress, For the day of war and battle? Where is the way that the light is divided, Or the east wind scattered on the earth? Who has cleft a channel for the flood, Or a way for the thunderbolt; To bring rain on a land without people, On a desert without a man in it, To satisfy the waste and desolate land, And to make the seeds of grass to sprout? Has the rain a father? Or who has begotten the drops of dew? From whose womb has come the ice? And the frost of heaven, who has given it birth? Water becomes hard like stone, And the surface of the deep is imprisoned. Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, Or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth a constellation in its season, And guide the Bear with her satellites?”

…And many more…

“Then the LORD said to Job, ‘Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it.’ Then Job answered the LORD and said, ‘Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth. Once I have spoken, and I will not answer; Even twice, and I will add no more.’ Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm, and said, ‘Now gird up your loins like a man; I will ask you, and you instruct Me. Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified?” And many more questions; “then Job answered the LORD, and said, ‘I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.'” “And it came about after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has.'”

Are we Festus, Job’s friends, the Sanhedrin or are we truly the sheep of God? What Paul wrote to the Romans rings true, our western faith is not in the “King of kings and Lord of lords, the faithful witness, the first born from the dead and the ruler of kings on earth.” We have misplaced our faith on the teachings and precepts, presuppositions and preconceived notions of men–taught traditions and teachings, fairytales and fables. Mega-church pastors have become gurus and false prophets and apostles abound. Mired in misconceptions and misconduct, the masses are lead astray by wolves in sheep’s clothing. How can this be prevented? Consider the context and see the sublime string taking a long view of Scripture. But this is for us, the majority of wolves will wander as wolves, like the Pharisees. And as some Pharisees repented, some will repent, like Nicodemus and Paul but most will continue to destruction; avoid them; be like the Bereans and carefully search for the truth, considering the context, author’s aspirations to his audience, genre, examples and divide rightly, letting the Bible interpret the Bible. God has spoken and that is the truth, nevertheless he has spoken within the parameters of the context.

Therefore we see the context unfold as Paul wrote of the Olive tree of Israel and the severity of God he followed up by saying, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, aacceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith.”

Festus has nothing to write to Nero because he has no understanding of what was happening; his confiding in Agrippa is evidence of this. All of this was thrust upon Festus by Felix, who should have had the attempted assassins arrested and set Paul free–they had previously beaten Paul, a Roman citizen, without due process–he had the letter from Claudius. But that wasn’t God’s plan. God’s plan was to give the Sanhedrin and their followers 10 more years to repent. God is patient but always sticks to his plan, without parenthetical periods.

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