We pick up now at the point where Festus has succeeded Felix as governor, and the first part of the chapter is essentially a repeat of the hearing before Felix, as Festus conducts one for himself. It then intensifies as Paul’s case begins to move “up the chain” all the way to the highest Roman official.
25:1 Festus begins his time in office and, appropriately, doesn’t hesitate to go to Jerusalem to consult with the leaders there. We would expect any new leader to “get the lay of the land”, and he does so here.
25:2-3 And when he consults, he finds the Jewish leaders continuing their evil. Not only do they “stick to their story” of accusing Paul with various charges (remember from 24:5-8), but they add a plot of murder into it, under the guise of trying Paul in their own court.
25:5 Whether Festus became aware of their plot or not, we’re not told. (It’s possible that maybe he learned of the prior attempt from Felix (ref. 23:19-27). But if not, it was a savvy political move to not grant their request, but to continue things on his “home turf”. Either way, the Jewish leaders’ plans are foiled again.
25:6-7 Here was have a repeat of the “prosecution’s arguments” from chapter 24, including the comment from Luke that they were empty accusations with no proof.
25:8 We get a very brief answer/defense/apologia from Paul, again consistent with chapter 24. But this time, he includes something that wasn’t in the previous chapter: not only has he not broken any Jewish laws, neither has he broken any Roman laws. This becomes a lynchpin through the rest of his story in Acts.
25:9-10 Festus is still wanting to curry favour with the Jews; it could be that, politically, he wishes to avoid the unrest that marked Felix’ time in office. So he says to Paul, we can do this trial in Jerusalem. But Paul throws it back at him, knowing his rights as a Roman citizen, saying, in essence, “you know I haven’t broken any Jewish laws, so if there’s any convicting to be done, you do it here in Roman court”. This puts Festus into a bind: he rightly should release Paul (and probably knows it full well, otherwise he likely would have punished Paul for this statement) but he still wants to curry favour with the Jews and so can’t release him for political reasons.
25:11-12 Paul is so confident in his innocence that he openly states that he won’t oppose being executed if he’s actually guilty. But knowing that he hasn’t, and knowing from his experience so far that he won’t be acquitted outright, Paul does what he needs to do: appeal to a higher Roman court, that of the emperor in Rome.
Before Paul can be sent to Rome, the King of Israel, Herod Agrippa II comes for a state visit. Historians tells us that this is the son of Herod Agrippa I, who we read about in Acts 12, and that he had connections to the Roman emperors Claudius and Nero. Festus takes the opportunity to consult a Jewish leader on the case, one who wasn’t part of the Sanhedrin and could potentially be more objective about it. We now hear about a conversation between Festus and Agrippa, revisiting the case again, this time from Festus’ perspective. It’s evident that Luke got this from one of his sources, since it’s unlikely he was personally present (ref. Luke 1:1-4).
25:17 Festus emphasizes that he’s dealing with this in a timely manner (a not-so-subtle reference to Felix leaving Paul in custody far too long, see 24:22-27).
25:18-21 Festus now characterizes this case as a simple squabble internal to the Jews, not some kind of evil that would need to be punished by him. And he characterizes his failure to release Paul by being “at a loss/puzzled” (25:20) about how to proceed. We might evaluate that statement as “self-serving”, since he himself just admitted that he had no reason to convict Paul of some crime.
25:22-23 Agrippa, predictably, wants to hear this for himself. And—as we might surmise from the description in verse 23—not only to hear it, but to be seen hearing it as an authority figure. He wasn’t about to make it appear as though the Romans were the only ones who could hold court!
25:24-27 Festus introduces the case to Agrippa, and we “go to court” yet again. Festus declares that he needs to tell the emperor something about Paul because Paul appealed his case to Rome, even though he’s already judged that Paul has nothing deserving death. And so he wants Agrippa’s opinion about it.