When a Roman governor came to his province, his first step would be to make himself acquainted with the habits and prevalent feelings of the people he was come to rule, and to visit such places as might seem to be more peculiarly associated with national interests. The Jews were the most remarkable people in all of Rome's many provinces. No city was to any other people what Jerusalem was to the Jews. We are not surprised, therefore, to learn that three days after his arrival, and before meeting Paul, Festus "went up to Jerusalem" (Acts 25:1).
In Jerusalem, Festus was immediately met by an urgent request against Apostle Paul, preferred by the chief priests and leading men among the Jews, and seconded, as it seems, by a general concourse of the people.
The Jewish religious leadership asked Festus, as a favor, if he would allow Apostle Paul to he brought up to Jerusalem. The plea, doubtless, was, that he should be tried again before the Sanhedrin. But the real purpose was to assassinate him on some part of the road over which he had been safely brought by the escort two years before. So bitter and so enduring was their hatred against the apostate Pharisee.
The answer of Festus was dignified and just, and worthy of his office. He said that Paul was in Rome's custody at Caesarea, and that he himself was shortly to return thither (Acts 25:4), adding that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up an uncondemned person as a mere favor (verse 16). The accused must have the accuser face to face, and full opportunity must be given for a defense. Those, therefore, who were competent to undertake the task of accusers, should come down with him to Caesarea, and there make their official accusations (verse 5).
Festus remained "eight or ten days" in Jerusalem and then returned to Caesarea. The accusers went down to the city on the same day. No time was lost after their arrival. The very next day Festus took his seat on the judicial tribunal, with Paul's accusers near him, and ordered the apostle to be brought before him. The Jews then leveled various heavy accusations against the apostle (which they could not establish) and clamorously asserted that he was worthy of death.
Festus, however, saw very plainly that the accusations were really connected with the religious opinions of the Jews, instead of relating, as he at first expected, to some political movement (Acts 25:18 - 19). He was soon convinced that Apostle Paul had done nothing worthy of death (verse 25).
A right of citizenship
Festus, in perplexity (Acts 25:20), and at the same time desirous of ingratiating himself with the provincials (verse 9), proposed to Apostle Paul that he should go up to Jerusalem, and be tried there in his presence. But the Apostle knew full well the danger that lurked in this proposal and, conscious of the rights which he possessed as a citizen of Rome, he refused to accede to it.
But Paul said, "I stand before the judgment seat of Caesar, where I have the right to be judged. I did nothing wrong to the Jews as you very well know.
"For on the one hand, if I am a wrongdoer and have done anything worthy of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is no truth in their accusations against me, no one can deliver me over to them. I appeal to Caesar" (Acts 25:10 - 11, HBFV).
Festus was probably surprised by this termination of the proceedings. He, however, had no choice open to him. Paul had urged his prerogative as a Roman citizen, to be tried, not by the Jewish, but by Rome's law. It was a claim which, indeed, was already admitted by the words of Festus, who only proposed to transfer him to the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin with his own consent.
Paul ended by availing himself of one of the most important privileges of Roman citizenship, the right of appeal. By the mere pronunciation of these potent words, "I appeal unto Caesar," he instantly removed his cause from the jurisdiction of the magistrate before whom he stood, and transferred it to the supreme tribunal of the Emperor at Rome.
Such was the state of things when Apostle Paul appealed from Festus to Caesar in Rome. If the appeal was admissible, it at once suspended all further proceedings on the part of Festus. There were, however, a few cases in which the right of appeal was disallowed; a bandit or a pirate, for example, taken in the fact, might be condemned and executed by the Proconsul, notwithstanding his appeal to the Emperor.
Accordingly, we read that Festus took counsel with his Assessors, concerning the admissibility of Paul's appeal. He then immediately pronounced the decision of the Court. Festus stated, "Thou hast appealed unto Caesar, to Caesar thou shalt be sent" (Acts 25:12).
Thus the hearing of the cause, as far as Festus was concerned, had terminated with the appeal. There only remained for him the office of remitting to the supreme tribunal, before which it was to be carried, his official report upon its previous progress. He was bound to forward to Rome all the acts and documents bearing upon the trial, the depositions of the witnesses on both sides, and the record of his own judgment on the case. And it was his further duty to keep the person of the accused in safe custody, and to send him to Rome for trial at the earliest opportunity.