An Appeal to Caesar

How do you, as a Christian, relate to the government? How do you conduct yourself, whether you live in a country that values freedom of religion or in one that opposes Christianity? That issue is not a new one, as you see in Acts 25:10–12.

Seek justice. In appealing to Caesar, Paul sought justice. After being rescued from a mob in Jerusalem by the Roman commander, Paul had been spirited away to Governor Felix in Caesarea. Although Felix found no violation of Roman law in the accusations made against Paul, he held him in prison for two years, hoping for a bribe. The next governor, Festus, conducted another hearing. Once again, clearly Paul had done nothing worthy of punishment. But unwilling to antagonize the influential religious leaders of his subjects, Festus talked about having Paul travel to Jerusalem for a hearing there. Against that background of exposure to another assassination attempt, Paul, who had appealed to his Roman citizenship on earlier occasions, exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to the emperor. A favorable decision before the emperor could have a positive impact, not just for Paul, but for the Christian church generally. Throughout Acts, its author emphasizes that, when due consideration was given, the gospel Paul preached was not seen as subversive of the proper administration of Roman law.

“[T]he right of others as well as our own must, according to Christ, be esteemed so highly that they may not in any way be subordinated to personal vindictiveness, hatred, self-interest, to the evil tendencies of the human heart. When we fight for them, we must do so out of love for God and our neighbor. Vengeance and recompense, also according to the Old Testament, are the Lord’s own cause (Deut. 32:35).”

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, p. 162

What Paul did has implications for you. Seek what is right and just. Paul is showing that that the gospel has nothing to fear from justice, if it is truly justice that is being administered. Neither Paul nor we are above the law. The powers that be are ordained by God, and for the Lord’s sake God’s people are to render obedience and respect (and even taxes). The exception is if Caesar requires disobedience. Paul is not unwilling to face judgment if he is guilty (Acts 25:11).

“Paul showed, by ap­pealing to the emperor, that the gospel did not fear justice in the world…. The gospel and jus­tice in the world are not in contrast to each oth­er. The government too has the power to ad­minister justice while remaining subject to Jesus Christ, the King of kings…. [T]he gospel teaches man to assume full responsibility for his actions, a far greatr snse of accountability than had ever been present in the consciousness of any Roman. The gospel put even a Roman’s sense of justice to shame”

S. G. DeGraaf, Promise and Deliverance, Vol. 4, p. 234

As a Christian, work for political process that reflects God’s justice, but remember where your hope is.

Behind Paul’s search for justice lies a more basic principle. Submit to the kingship of Jesus Christ. Even the kingdoms of this world are touched by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is on its way to Caesar’s court. God’s promise that Paul would testify about him in Rome (Acts 23:11) will be fulfilled. Paul does not change the church into a political action committee, but the nations cannot ignore the gospel. The commission of Acts 1:8 is being carried out.

“Paul’s hope for vindi­cation lay not in Cae­sar’s judgment seat but in the prospect that ‘we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ’ (2 Cor. 5:10). (Judgment seat is the same Greek word as in [Acts] 25:6, 10, ren­dered tribunal.) There, life’s injustices, which frustrate and hurt us now, will be set right, and we will rejoice in Christ’s righteousness, given by grace to all who believe (2 Cor. 5:21).”

Dennis E. John­son, Let’s Study Acts, p. 303

Our culture is moving increasingly in the direction of idolatrous worship of self. The moral decay is not the heart of the problem, it is a consequence and symptom, Romans 1. Give thanks for the impact the gospel has had, but keep the kingship of Christ central.

There is no escaping the kingship of Christ. The day will come when every knee bows to him. Bow willingly, while there is still time to turn to him as, not only your Savior, but also your Lord and King.