Before returning to Jerusalem from his third missionary journey, Paul was confronted in every city by those testifying by the Holy Spirit that he was about to be imprisoned and afflicted (cf. Acts 20:23). Even so, Paul was determined to return to Jerusalem and face whatever was going to befall him. Sometimes, our humanity asks, “Why?” Why would any person knowingly walk into a perilous situation? Paul did so because he was mindful of his commission. As he related to King Agrippa:
“And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ ” (Acts 26:15-18 NASB)
And as the Lord had related to Ananias before he met with Paul in Damascus:
“But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.’ ” (Acts 9:15 NASB)
Paul knew that as he had taken the gospel to the lost sons of Israel and to the Gentiles, he still had to speak of God’s good news to kings. As a Roman citizen, Paul knew that one of his rights was to appeal his case to Caesar. While true that he may not have known at what hour he would make such an appeal, he likely knew through the warnings given to him by the Holy Spirit that such an occasion would arise. After all, he had already utilized the privileges afforded him as a Roman citizen in the city of Philippi after his wrongful imprisonment and beating (cf. Acts 16:22ff). Once the mob attacked him in the temple (Acts 21:27ff), Paul likely knew that the door had been opened to those kings to whom he was to declare the power of God unto salvation.
Fortunately for Paul, the Romans upheld their obligations upon learning of Paul’s Roman citizenship. After learning of the murder plot against Paul (Acts 23:19ff), the chiliarch, Claudius Lysias, had Paul transferred to Caesarea where he would be held in the custody of Governor Felix. This had the advantage of not only saving Paul from such plots but also effectively changed the venue of any future trials to firm, Roman control. Caesarea was not a Jewish city. Herod had built it as a seaport dedicated to Caesar and a Roman fleet was stationed there. As such, it had the environment of a Roman city. Though troops were left in Jerusalem to enforce order, secular history shows us that the governors of Judea preferred to stay in Caesarea except for those times in which the Jews celebrated their various festivals. At those times, the governors would grudgingly go to Jerusalem because the city’s population would swell to over 2 million and an even greater Roman presence would be required to keep the peace.
It was in Caesarea that Paul would confront his accusers twice more. The new governor, Festus, however, wanted to “do the Jews a favor” and, thus, offered them the possibility that Paul would appear before them in Jerusalem (Acts 25:9). When he asked Paul about his feelings about such a trial, though, Paul responded that his place, as a Roman, was before Caesar’s tribunal (Acts 25:10-11). Festus, after conferring with his council, agreed that since Paul had appealed to Caesar that it would be to Caesar that he would present his defense (Acts 25:12). As it was clear that Paul would not appear before them in Jerusalem again, his Jewish accusers left and Paul awaited his opportunity to speak to the Emperor.
In the interim, Festus had an audience with King Agrippa II and his lecherous wife, Bernice. As Agrippa was more familiar with Judaism than himself, Festus granted Agrippa’s request to have Paul appear before him. He hoped that Agrippa might actually be able to discern a crime committed by Paul from his testimony so that he would have something to charge Paul with when he sent him to Caesar. This defense of Paul is presented in Acts 26. It concludes with Agrippa’s indignant response that Paul was not going to convert him to Christianity so easily (Acts 26:28). The saddest statement in this ordeal, though, is presented in Acts 26:32 when Agrippa tells Festus that Paul could have been set free had he not made his appeal to Caesar.
This brings us back to our original question of, “Why?” Why did Paul put himself into a situation that did not have to play out as it did? The answer is actually quite simple. Paul was a servant of Christ committed to the commission given to him. How could he preach to kings under “normal” circumstances? Though it is true that a Roman could choose to have Caesar hear his legal case personally, an average Roman citizen could not otherwise have access to the Emperor. Paul must have known that the only way to complete obedience was through the bonds and affliction of which his concerned brethren had warned him. Thus, as his brethren wept concerning his fate, Paul would reply: “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).
Are we as committed to the Great Commission given to us (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16)? If so, then we will not allow anything, even the threat of danger, keep us from complete obedience to God.