17After three days [Paul] called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19 But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation.
So Paul says he was compelled to appeal to Caesar because the Jews objected his innocence.
Some of you might remember chapter 26 when Paul was on trial before King Agrippa. After Paul spoke to Agrippa and Festus, Agrippa made the comment, in 26:32, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
The Question, Then
The question then, is: Why did Paul appeal to Caesar if he could have been set free, and why does he say here in chapter 28 that the Jewish leaders’ compelled his appeal? In other words, is it the Jewish leaders’ fault or Paul’s fault that he is a prisoner in Rome?
It seems like, according to Agrippa in chapter 26, that Paul was the one who got himself into this. But Paul says here in chapter 28 that it was the fault of the Jewish leaders.
Well, there’s a clue in the story that tells us what’s going on. Let’s retrace the events and see it. Remember that after the Jews had Paul arrested in chapter 21, things were so violent for him that the Roman soldiers sent Paul from Jerusalem to Caesarea, which was the Roman capitol in that region. Caesarea was where Paul was being held as a prisoner.
Well, when Festus became the Roman governor over the region, he went down from Caesarea to Jerusalem to discuss the Jewish charges against Paul, to figure out why he was behind bars. This is chapter 25, and when Festus is talking to the chief priests and high-standing Jews, they tried to get him to release Paul and send Paul back to Jerusalem, and the reason why is because they wanted to kill him. Luke says in Acts 25:3, “they were planning an ambush to kill him on [his way back to Jerusalem].”
And so a little later, when Paul is speaking with Festus in Acts 25:11, Paul even says, “If there is nothing to the charges [the Jewish leaders have] against me, no one can give me up to them.” See, Paul didn’t want to be released to the Jews. He knew better. And therefore we see in Acts 25:11 that he appeals to Caesar.
So when Paul appealed to Caesar he wasn’t just trying to score a trip to Rome, he was trying to keep himself from being killed. Now, for sure, he wanted to go to Rome. He wanted to preach the gospel in Rome. But his appeal to Caesar in chapter 25 is because the alternative was to be released and delivered back into the hands of the Jewish leaders, and we know they would have killed him.
Bringing Us to 28:16
When Agrippa says that Paul would have been free if we had not appealed to Caesar, we get that. Paul gets that. But he didn’t want that. Instead, he wanted to stay in Roman custody, and go to Rome, which is what brings us to Acts 28:16 and the sermon for this upcoming Sunday.
Needless to say, it was an incredible turn of events.