Judicial Systems

Acts chapters 24 through 26 have an interesting portrait of judicial systems that existed in the First Century Roman empire. The gist of the litigation is that Jewish leadership brought charges against Paul as they had successfully done against Yeshua, (Jesus’ Hebrew name). The charges against Paul were that he should be executed, because, “We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him.” (Acts 24:5-6) The magistrate who first heard the charges and Paul’s defense was Felix, the Roman Governor. He was well acquainted with Jewish law and the Messianic movement, but was a coward and corrupt judge, “…he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him. When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.” (Acts 24:26-27)

Festus heard the charges and Paul’s defense. Festus was also corrupt, biased, and unwilling to render a just verdict. “Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, ‘Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?’ Paul answered: ‘I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!’ ” (Acts 25:9-11) 

The third hearing was before King Agrippa and Bernice, the Kings sister, and Festus. “Festus said: ‘King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write.’ ” (Acts 25:24-27) Festus seemingly admits his inadequacy as a judge and  futility of sending innocent Paul to Rome. An appeal is made when a judgment is rendered, not when a judge is too cowardly, corrupt, and incompetent to make a decision. After Paul gave an outstanding irrefutable defense they commented, “After they left the room, they began saying to one another, ‘This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.’ ” (Acts 26:31)

What we know is God destined Paul to go to Rome and testify to world leaders of that time. (Acts 9:15; 20:22-23; 21:10-13) However, it does not excuse the corruption and wickedness of biased judges, then or in our days. We can pursue justice, but ultimately our destiny, faith and hope is in God’s hands. While in prison Paul wrote many of the Bible’s epistles and understood God’s purposes in the chains he wore. (Phil. 1:7,13,14; Philemon 1:13; Col. 4:3; Eph. 6:20) Lord, you alone are just and we place our trust in you, may your will be done.

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