Paul sets an example in defending the good news
Based on Acts 25:1–26:32
1, 2. (a) In what circumstances does Paul find himself? (b) What question arises regarding Paul’s appeal to Caesar?
PAUL remains under heavy guard in Caesarea. Two years earlier when he had returned to Judea, within days the Jews had tried to kill him at least three times. (Acts 21:27-36; 23:10, 12-15, 27) Till now, his enemies have been unsuccessful, but they do not give up. When Paul sees that he may yet fall into their hands, he tells Roman Governor Festus: “I appeal to Caesar!”−Acts 25:11.
2 Did Jehovah support Paul’s decision to appeal to the emperor of Rome? The answer is important to us, who are bearing thorough witness about God’s Kingdom in this time of the end. We need to know whether Paul set a pattern for us to follow “in the defending and legally establishing of the good news.”—Phil. 1:7.
“Standing Before the Judgment Seat” (Acts 25:1-12)
3, 4. (a) What was behind the Jews’ request to have Paul brought to Jerusalem, and how did he escape death? (b) How does Jehovah sustain his modern-day servants, as he did Paul?
3 Three days after taking office, Festus, the new Roman governor of Judea, went to Jerusalem.a There he listened as the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews accused Paul of serious crimes. They knew that the new governor was under pressure to keep peace with them and all the Jews. So they asked a favor of Festus: Bring Paul to Jerusalem, and try him there. However, there was a dark plan behind this request. Those enemies were scheming to kill Paul on the road from Caesarea to Jerusalem. Festus turned them down, saying: “Let those who are in power among you . . . come down with me [to Caesarea] and accuse him if, indeed, the man has done something wrong.” (Acts 25:5) Therefore, Paul escaped death yet another time.
4 During all of Paul’s trials, Jehovah through the Lord Jesus Christ sustained him. Recall that in a vision, Jesus told his apostle: “Take courage!” (Acts 23:11) Today, God’s servants also face obstacles and threats. Jehovah does not shield us from every difficulty, but he gives us the wisdom and strength to endure. We can always count on “the power beyond what is normal” that our loving God provides.—2 Cor. 4:7.
5. How did Festus deal with Paul?
5 Some days later, Festus “sat down on the judgment seat” in Caesarea.b Before him stood Paul and Paul’s accusers. In answer to their baseless charges, Paul countered: “Neither against the Law of the Jews nor against the temple nor against Caesar have I committed any sin.” The apostle was innocent and deserved to be freed. How would Festus decide? Wanting to gain favor with the Jews, he asked Paul: “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and be judged before me there concerning these things?” (Acts 25:6-9) What an absurd proposal! If Paul were remanded to Jerusalem, his accusers would become his judges and he would face certain death. In this instance, Festus was choosing political expediency over true justice. An earlier governor, Pontius Pilate, had acted similarly in a case involving an even more important prisoner. (John 19:12-16) Modern-day judges may also give in to political pressure. Therefore, we should not be surprised when courts decide contrary to evidence in cases involving God’s people.
6, 7. Why did Paul appeal to Caesar, and what precedent did he thereby set for true Christians today?
6 Festus’ desire to indulge the Jews could have put Paul in mortal danger. Therefore, Paul used a right he possessed as a Roman citizen. He told Festus: “I am standing before the judgment seat of Caesar, where I ought to be judged. I have done no wrong to the Jews, of which you are also becoming well-aware. . . . I appeal to Caesar!” Once made, such an appeal was usually irrevocable. Festus emphasized this, saying: “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you will go.” (Acts 25:10-12) By appealing to a higher legal authority, Paul set a precedent for true Christians today. When opposers try to frame “trouble in the name of the law,” Jehovah’s Witnesses avail themselves of legal provisions to defend the good news.c—Ps. 94:20.
7 Thus, after over two years of incarceration for crimes he did not commit, Paul was granted the opportunity to present his case in Rome. Before his departure, however, another ruler wanted to see him.
“I Did Not Become Disobedient” (Acts 25:13–26:23)
8, 9. Why did King Agrippa visit Caesarea?
8 Some days after Festus heard Paul’s appeal to Caesar, King Agrippa and his sister Bernice paid “a courtesy visit” to the new governor.d In Roman times, it was customary for officials to make such visits to newly appointed governors. By congratulating Festus on his appointment, Agrippa was undoubtedly trying to cement political and personal ties that could be useful in the future.—Acts 25:13.
9 Festus told the king about Paul, and Agrippa was intrigued. The next day, the two rulers sat down on the judgment seat. But their power and pomp were by no means more impressive than the words that the prisoner before them was about to speak.—Acts 25:22-27.
10, 11. How did Paul accord Agrippa respect, and what details about Paul’s own past did the apostle reveal to the king?
10 Paul respectfully thanked King Agrippa for the opportunity to present a defense to him, acknowledging that the king was an expert on all the customs as well as the controversies among Jews. Paul then described his past life: “According to the strictest sect of our form of worship, I lived as a Pharisee.” (Acts 26:5) As a Pharisee, Paul had hoped in the coming of the Messiah. Now, as a Christian, he boldly identified Jesus Christ as that long-awaited one. A belief that he and his accusers had in common—that is, the hope of the fulfillment of God’s promise to their forefathers—was the reason that Paul was on trial that day. This situation left Agrippa even more interested in what Paul had to say.e
11 Recalling his past outrageous treatment of Christians, Paul said: “I, for one, was convinced that I should commit many acts of opposition against the name of Jesus the Nazarene. . . . Since I was extremely furious with them [the followers of Christ], I went so far as to persecute them even in outlying cities.” (Acts 26:9-11) Paul was not exaggerating. Many people knew of the violence he had done to the Christians. (Gal. 1:13, 23) ‘What could have changed such a man?’ Agrippa may have wondered.
12, 13. (a) How did Paul describe his conversion? (b) How had Paul been “kicking against the goads”?
12 Paul’s next words provided the answer: “As I was traveling to Damascus with authority and a commission from the chief priests, I saw at midday on the road, O King, a light beyond the brilliance of the sun flash from heaven around me and around those traveling with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice say to me in the Hebrew language: ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? To keep kicking against the goads makes it hard for you.’ But I said: ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said: ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”f—Acts 26:12-15.
13 Before this supernatural event, Paul had figuratively been “kicking against the goads.” Just as a beast of burden would injure itself unnecessarily by kicking against the sharp end of an oxgoad, Paul had hurt himself spiritually by resisting the will of God. By appearing to Paul on the road to Damascus, the resurrected Jesus caused this sincere but clearly misguided man to change his thinking.—John 16:1, 2.
14, 15. What did Paul say regarding the changes that he had made in his life?
14 Paul did indeed make drastic changes in his life. Addressing Agrippa, he said: “I did not become disobedient to the heavenly vision, but to those in Damascus first and then to those in Jerusalem, and over all the country of Judea, and also to the nations, I was bringing the message that they should repent and turn to God by doing works that befit repentance.” (Acts 26:19, 20) For years, Paul had been fulfilling the commission that Jesus Christ had given him in that midday vision. With what results? Those who responded to the good news that Paul preached repented of their immoral, dishonest conduct and turned to God. Such ones became good citizens, contributing to and showing respect for law and order.
15 Those benefits, however, meant nothing to Paul’s Jewish opposers. Paul said: “This is why the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. However, because I have experienced the help that is from God, I continue to this day bearing witness to both small and great.”—Acts 26:21, 22.
16. How may we imitate Paul when speaking to judges and rulers about our beliefs?
16 As true Christians, we must be “always ready to make a defense” of our faith. (1 Pet. 3:15) When speaking to judges and rulers about our beliefs, we may find it helpful to imitate the method Paul used in speaking to Agrippa and Festus. By respectfully telling them how Bible truths have changed lives for the better—our own life as well as the lives of those who respond to our message—we may touch the hearts of these high officials.
“You Would Persuade Me to Become a Christian” (Acts 26:24-32)
17. How did Festus react to Paul’s defense, and what similar attitude is seen today?
17 As they listened to Paul’s persuasive testimony, the two rulers could not remain detached. Note what took place: “Now as Paul was saying these things in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice: ‘You are going out of your mind, Paul! Great learning is driving you out of your mind!’” (Acts 26:24) Festus’ outburst may have betrayed an attitude seen even today. To many people, those who teach what the Bible really says are fanatics. Worldly-wise ones often find it hard to accept the Bible teaching of the resurrection of the dead.
18. How did Paul respond to Festus, leading to what response from Agrippa?
18 But Paul had a reply for the governor: “I am not going out of my mind, Your Excellency Festus, but I am speaking words of truth and of a sound mind. For a fact, the king to whom I am speaking so freely well knows about these things . . . Do you, King Agrippa, believe the Prophets? I know that you believe.” Agrippa responded: “In a short time you would persuade me to become a Christian.” (Acts 26:25-28) These words, sincere or not, show that Paul’s witness had a profound effect on the king.
19. What decision did Festus and Agrippa make regarding Paul?
19 Then Agrippa and Festus stood, signaling an end to the audience. “As they were leaving, they began saying to one another: ‘This man is doing nothing deserving of death or prison bonds.’ Agrippa then said to Festus: ‘This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.’” (Acts 26:31, 32) They knew that an innocent man had stood before them. Perhaps they would now look with greater favor on Christians.
20. What results did Paul’s witness to high officials produce?
20 Neither of the powerful rulers in this account seems to have accepted the good news of God’s Kingdom. Was there wisdom in the apostle Paul’s appearing before those men? The answer is yes. Paul’s being “brought before kings and governors” in Judea resulted in a witness reaching areas of the Roman government that might then have been inaccessible. (Luke 21:12, 13) Also, his experiences and faithfulness under trial encouraged his brothers and sisters in the faith.—Phil. 1:12-14.
21. By pressing on with the Kingdom work, what positive results may we see?
21 The same is true today. By pressing on with the Kingdom work despite trials and opposition, we may see a number of positive results. We may give a witness to officials who might otherwise be difficult to reach. Our faithful endurance may be a source of encouragement to our Christian brothers and sisters, moving them to show even greater boldness in the work of bearing thorough witness about God’s Kingdom.
b “The judgment seat” was a chair placed on a dais. The elevated position was viewed as giving weight and finality to the judge’s rulings. Pilate sat on a judgment seat when he weighed the charges against Jesus.
c See the box “Appealing on Behalf of True Worship in Modern Times.”
f Regarding Paul’s words that he was journeying “at midday,” one Bible scholar noted: “Unless a traveller was in a really desperate hurry he rested during the midday heat. So we see how Paul was driving himself on this mission of persecution.”