25:1-12 As a Roman citizen Paul exercised his right of appeal to the emperor
Soon after Festus arrived to take over as governor (58 AD) he went up from his residence in Caesarea on the coast to visit Jerusalem (about 100 miles up into the hills of Judea). The religious authorities there had not forgotten their determination to ambush and assassinate Paul (23:12-24). Festus made them come down to Caesarea (25:5) to present their accusation against Paul. But then he decided to do them a favor by having Paul sent among them to be tried by their law. If this had happened, Paul knew he would be killed. He remembered Jesus' words to him "Just as you have testified to me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome" (23:11). The solution was to appeal to Nero, the emperor.
Historical note Nero (emperor 54-68) had begun well with an impressive rebuilding of the slums of Rome. It was only after he murdered his mother (59 AD) and his wife (62 AD) that he turned viciously against Christians, and accused them of setting the fire (that he had probably set for a further building project) which destroyed half the city (64 AD). According to Eusebius, the Christian historian, Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified at that time (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 1:25). Nero committed suicide in AD 68, and that was followed, as Jesus had predicted, by two years of wars and confusion (Matthew 24:6-7) all over the empire. This time of terrible tribulation for the Jewish people (Matthew 24:21) ended with the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD) and their removal from the land for 1900 years.
25:1 Festus's palace and the headquarters of his army were in Caesarea. His first visit was to Jerusalem, the continual trouble spot in his province.
25:2-5 The chief priests and elders of the sanhedrin still wanted to assassinate Paul, as they had failed to do two years before (23:12-24). They asked for him to be transferred to Jerusalem for a hearing, but Festus insisted on the religious leaders coming down to Caesarea (a hundred miles away on the coast).
25:6-8 When they arrived they swarmed angrily around Paul in Festus' tribunal and brought serious charges against him. Evidently the apostle defended himself by asking for proof of their accusations (as in 24:13) which they could not give. He proved that he had done nothing against either Jewish or Roman law.
25:9 The religious leaders were still asking for a favor (as in 25:3) from Festus to mark the beginning of his governorship. All they wanted was for Paul to be brought to Jerusalem. They would make sure he never got to a trial. So when Festus asked Paul if he would be willing to be tried by him in Jerusalem, Paul knew the plan was for him to be assassinated on the way.
25:10-11 To avoid this Paul immediately appealed to be tried in Rome in the emperor Nero's tribunal. This would save him from the murderous hands of the Jewish leaders, and also fulfill Jesus' promise that Paul would witness for him in Rome (23:11, as in fact happened, 28:30-31).
Paul always made clear that he did not fear death (20:24, 21:13, 2 Corinthians 5:1-5), but he knew he still had work to do in Rome.
25:12 So Festus checked with his legal advisors what Roman law would be in such a case, and discovered there was no way for him to have Paul tried in Jerusalem. Paul would be sent to Rome (as described in 27:1 ff.).
25:13-27 Festus asks King Agrippa for advice about the wording of the charge
After Paul had appealed to the emperor Nero, Festus the governor consulted with Herod Agrippa II (who reigned 44-70 AD in the area north of Galilee). First he went over carefully what had happened (25:13-21). Having heard this, King Agrippa decided he wanted to hear Paul in person, and this was arranged by laying on a major state occasion (25:22-27). Festus' problem was that if Paul was to be sent to Rome to be tried by the emperor, what was he to be charged with? (25:25-27).
25:13-14 When King Agrippa and his wife Bernice came from their puppet kingdom in northern Galilee to welcome Festus to his new appointment as governor, Festus took the opportunity to explain and ask about Paul's case.
25:15-17 First Festus went over what had happened when he took over from Felix, the previous governor (as described in 25:1-12).
25:18-19 Festus said that, instead of crimes against Roman law, the Jewish leaders had charged Paul with what seemed to be theological questions (e.g. those between the Sadducees and Pharisees in 23:6-8 and Jesus' alleged resurrection).
25:20-21 Festus had wanted Paul to go up to Jerusalem for a hearing before the sanhedrin, but he had insisted on his right as a Roman citizen to refuse this, and he appealed for a hearing before the emperor of Rome.
25:22-23 Having heard this, King Agrippa expressed a desire to hear Paul in person. But instead of having Paul come to be questioned by the king privately, Festus decided to impress him by calling a great gathering (in India this was called a darbar) with all the pomp and circumstance he could muster. This included all the senior army officers, civil servants, judges, wealthy merchants, and other leaders of the city. As a result they were all forced to attend this ceremonial occasion to hear Paul's witness (given in chapter 26). We can imagine what the church in Ceasarea (21:8-16) thought about this event in their city, and how they prayed.
25:24-27 Festus then introduced Paul as a person the Jews hated and wanted killed. But he had personally examined him and found he had done nothing against Roman law. The problem was that Paul was a Roman citizen, and he had appealed to the emperor, and he as governor had nothing to write by way of charges against him. So he wanted all the dignitaries of Caesarea, and especially King Agrippa, to hear Paul's defense and advise about the covering letter he should send with him when he was sent to Rome.
As we will see in the next chapter, Festus did not get the advice he wanted, and we wonder what he wrote in the letter to Nero - perhaps it got lost in the shipwreck (27:43-44)? By the time Paul arrived, and was awaiting his trial in Rome (28:16), Festus had died at his post in Caesarea (AD 62). So it seems very likely that Paul's case never came before the Emperor. Paul was probably beheaded as a ringleader of the hundreds of Christians who were martyred after the great fire of Rome (probably set by Nero for his next building project) in AD 64.
In the introductory note to the previous chapter (24:1-9) we suggested that Luke might have written these lengthy accounts of Paul's defense before Roman governors as a preparation for Paul's trial before Caesar. It seems that Paul sent Luke back to Ephesus at the end of two years with the Acts manuscript that ends without an account of what happened to Paul's hearing. Having heard of Paul's martyrdom two years later, the early Christians must have treasured Luke's account as unanswerable evidence that Paul was innocent of the charges trumped up against him by the religious leaders in Jerusalem.