Paul’s trials before Festus and Felix have interested me. I have recently been learning about Roman history, and have learned some about their politics in the process. Needless to say, I’m thankful for the system we’re under today!
Felix was a liberated slave who happened to be friends with the right people and was given a governorship. He only made it a couple years before he was fired for, basically, incompetence (which makes the Jews’ flattery in Acts 24:2-4 all the more humorous). Extrabiblical sources tell us he was a very depraved, greedy, despicable man. Festus succeeded him, and we know very little about him except that he’s thought to have been a better man than Felix, but still treated Paul not as a human being who was guilty or innocent, but as a pawn that he could use to score political points with his new subjects, the Jews. Agrippa was a minor governor of a neighboring province; Paul’s “trial” before him was just to show off for this visiting dignitary one of the amusing cases that Festus had locked up in his dungeons. This is all pretty in keeping with how Roman politics (and judicial system) worked in that day.
What I’ve always found interesting, though, is that Paul doesn’t upbraid them for all this silly political posturing and game-playing. He was a Roman citizen (which, believe me, was a Big Deal in the Roman empire. It basically gave you a whole different level of rights and privileges), so he had some cards to play, but he doesn’t until it’s clear that these governors are never going to give him a fair trial. He doesn’t try to manipulate anyone, doesn’t play the games, doesn’t flatter or bribe or accuse. He actually uses each trial as an opportunity to witness. It challenges me that Paul was so single-minded and focused that he used even these judicial proceedings to preach the Gospel.
We need to be ready in every situation to share the Gospel and to bring glory to God’s name. Paul is an incredible example to us of someone who did that in every situation.