During his final visit to Jerusalem, the apostle Paul was falsely accused, arrested, and brought to trial. They claimed he was rabble-rousing (Acts 24.1-9), but the man of God proved he was innocent of the charge.
Ironically, it was his accusers who had “stirred up” the crowds (Acts 21.27ff), while Paul had been acting peacefully and benevolently before the people (Acts 24.17-18).
In his defense before the authorities, Paul demonstrated that his accusers were motivated by contempt for his faith in the Messiah (Acts 25.19; 26.20-23). The whole case, therefore, involved religious matters; it had nothing to do with civil law (Acts 25.8).
Because he had won the case, the apostle knew that Festus and Agrippa “wanted to let him go” (Acts 28.18). Indeed, if Paul had let them decide the case, he would have been “set free” — acquitted of all indictments (Acts 26.32).
But that is not what Paul did. Instead, he appealed to Caesar (Acts 25.11). This meant he would be bound by chains for years to come before his case could be resolved. Eventually, his appeal led sadly to his execution a few years down the line.
Had he not appealed to Caesar, he knew he would have been a free man, vindicated in a court of law! If that is so, why on earth did he go that route?
Two motives explain the reason; one primary, the other secondary.
The Primary Motive
First, Paul was not merely pursuing legal vindication for himself. Nor was he concerned about defending his freedom or rights, per se. If that were his objective, he would have let Festus and Agrippa render the verdict and went on his way.
Instead, the apostle (“one sent”) was on a nobler mission. Christ sent him to defend the “hope of Israel” (Acts 23.6; 26.6; 28.20) — i.e., the Christian faith — before “governors and kings” (Mt. 10.18; cf. Acts 9.15). Government harassment would serve "as an occasion for testimony" on Christ's behalf (Lk. 21.13).
Men like Festus, Felix, Agrippa, and Nero had a wide sphere of influence — families, friends, servants, etc. — and many resources to bout. Even though the kings and governors themselves rejected the gospel, preaching to them meant the word of Christ could spread like a wildfire to all their associates and beyond (cf. Phil. 4.22).
Later, Paul explained that his arrest and trial cleared the way “for the furtherance of the gospel” (Phil 1.12). “Furtherance” translates the word, prokopen (“to cut forward”), which describes a pioneer blazing a trail by cutting forward through a forest.
Conversely, if Paul had been set free earlier, he, as a common citizen, could hardly have been able to procure an audience with the emperor. But an accused criminal standing trial for his faith in Christ was a most natural way for such a man to present the case of Christ to scores of influential pagans in the imperial capital.
Hence, the attempts of the Jews to thwart Paul’s message (i.e., by pressing criminal charges against him) became the catalyst by which that very message spread abroad! The providence of God is breathtaking.
The Secondary Motive
In addition, Paul’s appeal was also calculated to avoid being “delivered” into the hands of the Jews (Acts 25.11), who would have hindered his mission.
Both Felix and Festus were far too cozy with the Jewish authorities (Acts 24.27; 25.9). The Jews twice attempted to take advantage of this by requesting that the trial return to chambers in Jerusalem, while, unbeknownst to the Roman authorities, several assassins were ready to ambush Paul and kill him on the journey (cf. Acts 23.12f; 25.3).
Ironically, then, though his chains were unjust and disagreeable, as a prisoner of the Roman authorities, Paul was at least secure from his most aggressive enemies for the time being. And though the Roman government was also an "enemy" (cf. 1 Cor. 15.24-25), which eventually put him to death, their opposition would not be immediate or aggressive enough to interfere with his goal. If he had been set free from Roman custody at that time, however, he knew that the Jewish authorities would not allow him to complete that mission (Acts 28.19).
So he allowed one enemy to take away his liberty, unjustly mistreat him, and, ultimately, kill him so that another enemy could not prevent him from accomplishing his mission first.
Thus, by appealing to Caesar, the gospel was safely transported to the shores of Rome, into the palace of the imperial tyrant, spreading through the upper echelons of Roman society, all under the guard of sinful pagan soldiers!
In short, Paul used his Roman citizenship to advance the kingdom of God — the only “citizenship” that mattered to him (Phil 3.20) — even if that meant he had to endure the injustice of having his liberty (and, eventually, his life—Acts 21.13) cruelly stripped away.
In a world so obsessed with self — my rights; my liberty; my property — how refreshing it is to learn about a man who was willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the salvation of others!
May we all develop the wisdom and character to use the wrongs perpetrated against us to “spend and be spent” for the betterment of the souls of others (2 Cor 12.15; cf. 1.6; 2 Tim. 2.10).