On his last trip to Jerusalem, James suggested that Paul take part in a ritual in order to appease some of the Jews. (Acts 21:18-26) Paul agreed and, along with four other men, purified himself according to the Jewish tradition and presented himself in the temple. While in the temple, some Jews from Asia accused Paul of bringing Gentiles into the temple and roused up the crowd to drag Paul out of the temple in order to kill him. (Acts 21:27-31)
While the crowd was trying to kill Paul, the tribune who led the Roman armies in Jerusalem heard about the commotion and went to investigate. (Acts 21:31-32) Assuming that Paul was some kind of revolutionary, the tribune arrested him and took him into the barracks. (Acts 21:33-36)
Eventually, the Roman tribune discovered that Paul was not a revolutionary and was, instead, a Roman citizen. (Acts 21:27-39) Paul spoke to the crowd of Jews, but they rioted again when he said that he took the gospel to the Gentiles. (Acts 22:1-22) The tribune took Paul into protective custody, and tried to bring Paul to the Sanhedrin (the Jewish council) in order to determine what was causing the problem. (Acts 23:1-11)
Paul’s nephew overheard a plot by some of the Jews to ambush Paul. He told Paul, who told the tribune. The tribune then shipped Paul off to Caesarea so that he would be protected by Felix, the Roman governor. (Acts 23:23-35). Felix listened to the charges brought against Paul by Tertullus, a Jewish lawyer and then listened to Paul’s defense. (Acts 24:1-21) Felix decided to postpone his judgment until he could hear from the Roman tribune in Jerusalem. Before that could happen, Felix was succeeded by Festus, and Paul remained in custody in Caesarea. (Acts 24:22-27)
Again, Festus heard the charges that the Jews were bringing against Paul, and he heard Paul’s defense. This time, Paul appealed to Caesar. (Acts 25:1-12) Luke records Paul’s appeal and Festus’ response as follows:
But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. 11If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.” (Acts 25:10-12 ESV)
Next, while Agrippa was visiting, Festus asked Paul to address them both. (Acts 26:13-27) They heard him, discussed his message with him. Festus concluded that Paul must be out of his mind probably because of Paul’s insistence that Jesus was raised from the dead. Paul said that he was perfectly sane and then asked Agrippa to consider what he said when compared to the Hebrew Scriptures. (Acts 26:1-29)
After they had heard him, Festus and Agrippa discussed the case:
Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (Acts 26:30-32 ESV)
According to Festus and Agrippa, Paul had made a major blunder. If he had left the decision up to them, then Paul would have been released – he would have been set free. However, Paul had appealed to Caesar, and so he would be shipped to Rome to be tried by Caesar – Nero, to be exact. To Festus and Agrippa, this was a bad move on Paul’s part.
But, Paul knew something that Festus and Agrippa did not know. He knew that he was not his goal to be set free. No. It was his goal to go to Rome. In fact, God had told him earlier that he was going to Rome. While Paul was being held in the Roman barracks in Jerusalem, Luke tells us that the following occurred:
The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” (Acts 23:11 ESV)
No, Paul did not make a major blunder. In fact, Paul used the laws of the Roman Empire and his position as a Roman citizen to help him obey God and testify to Jesus Christ in Rome. It may have looked like a stupid move from the outside, but Paul knew exactly what he was doing.
Paul did not give up his chance at freedom by appealing to Caesar; he was following the course that God had laid out for him.