Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus. And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix, and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews laid out their case against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed. Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them. But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.” Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” said he, “you will hear him.”
So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.”
So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense:
“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
“My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
“I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
Paul Tells of His Conversion
“In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your 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 power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
In this passage Luke introduces King Agrippa and Bernice. Agrippa was Herod Agrippa II (AD 27-92/93). He was the son of Herod Agrippa I. Luke mentioned the elder Agrippa in chapter 12. He was the one who imprisoned Peter. When the people proclaimed him a god, God also struck him dead and worms ate his body. (Acts 12:23)
King Herod Agrippa II ruled over parts of Palestine from A.D 53 until his death. His visit gave Festus the opportunity to get some advice. Agrippa was loyal to Rome so he became a trusted adviser. (Josephus, J. W. 2.16.4 [2.345-401]).
Bernice was Agrippa’s sister. She was the widow of another Herod. He had been the king of Chalcis. He died in A.D. 48. From that time on she lived with Agrippa her brother. There were rumors of an incestuous relationship between the two. To end the rumors she married Polemo of Cilicia. But she soon left him and returned to her brother. According to Josephus their incestuous relationship was the talk of Rome. (Ant 20.7.3[20.145-147]) Herod often presented her as his queen at official events.
Festus brought to light the evil Paul suffered. Paul was innocent. The Jews knew it. The tribune Lysias knew it. Felix knew it. Festus knew it. And at the end of chapter 26 Agrippa admits knowing it.
Paul was innocent. Yet he was in prison. But he had more liberty to proclaim Christ in prison than if he were a free man.
After Agrippa was with Festus for several days. Festus asked Agrippa his advice about Paul. Paul was a problem inherited from Felix. He laid out Paul’s case. In doing so Festus outlines the evilness of the chief priest and leading Jews. Festus admitted Paul’s innocence to Agrippa. He said he suspected Paul’s innocence when they asked him to bring Paul to Jerusalem. “When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed.” (Acts 25:18)
Paul was not only innocent, the charges against him were not even valid. Festus had no charges he could send to Caesar. (Acts 26:26-27) Yet Paul remained in prison.
Paul’s story intrigued Agrippa. He asked to see Paul. Festus agreed. Since Festus had no charges to send to Caesar at least he could show he was diligent.
The hearing began with great pomp. Festus was gracious to his guests. He allowed them to make a great show of their entrance. A parade of people entered the hall. Military tribunes and prominent men of the city paraded in. After everyone took their places Festus called for Paul.
Festus stood, addressed Agrippa and everyone in the room. He outlined his problem. There stood a man before them whom the Jews wanted dead. But he was innocent. Not only was he innocent there are not even valid charges against him. To prevent Festus from sending him to Jerusalem for trial. The man appealed to Caesar. But Festus had no charges to send to Caesar.
Agrippa gave Paul permission to speak. Paul started his address by saying he was glad to speak to Agrippa. Agrippa was influential in Jewish religious affairs. He had the political authority to appoint the high priest. But because of his incestuous relationship with his sister, he was very unpopular
This was not a trial. Paul was there so Agrippa could tell Festus what to write. So Paul did not give a normal defense. Rather he gave a historical account. Up to this point Paul only spoke to authorities who had no clue what was going on. Lysias, the tribune, Felix, and Festus had no clue what was happening. But Agrippa was familiar with Jewish law and traditions. He knew about Christianity. Paul had hopes of being able to proclaim Christ to someone who could listen.
Paul started by stating who he was. Paul had nothing against the Jewish people, or religion. Paul was a Jew. From his youth he lived in Jerusalem. He was a member of the most strict adherents to Jewish law. He was a Pharisee. The whole reason he was on trial was that he believed what the Law and the Prophets taught. He believed in the resurrection. In particular, he believed in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
The start of this whole mess was some Jews from Asia accused him of defiling the Temple. They accused him of bringing Gentiles into it. That was a specific charge. Since it was specific, they could present evidence for or against. But that had gotten lost in the mix. The charges had morphed into “Paul is a bad man.” That charge was non-specific. It was vague. It was unprovable. Their hatred of Paul was so great the Jewish leaders could not see their error. The Jewish leaders wanted to end this Jesus thing. They had killed Jesus. And now it was time to kill His apostle Paul.
Since Paul was innocent, and everyone knew it, why were the charges brought? Why did the Jewish leaders fight so hard to kill Paul? Paul was one of them. How could someone as zealous as Paul convert? The Jewish leaders were scared. If Christianity went unchecked it would undermine their authority. The ramifications of Jesus being the Christ were vast. They had condemned Jesus. If Jesus rose for the dead. They had opposed God. They had fought against their own messiah. Their sin was vast. They could not allow themselves to believe it.
Isn’t that the case for us all. We deny our sin because the ramifications are so devastating. We refuse to believe we are that bad. We compound sin on top of sin. But God who is full of mercy and grace will forgive us of our sins. We only need to repent and trust in Jesus. Yet we refuse. We can’t or won’t believe we are that bad. We want to believe down deep we are good. We ignore all the evidence. We deny the truth because we cannot withstand the truth. Repent and believe. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. And you will be saved. (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9)
The facts were Paul’s defense. He did not need to spin them. He did not need to have them looked at in a different way. There was no evidence against him. He showed he was a Jew’s Jew. He believed the law and the prophets. Paul did not need to call witnesses. His accusers were his witnesses.
Paul knew Agrippa’s background. So Paul stressed his dependence on the God of his fathers and being a Pharisee. This showed the legitimacy of his Judaism.
Paul argued that God had promised the resurrection of the body. The Jews kinda sorta believed in a general resurrection. The Pharisees held it as a strong belief. But the belief in a particular resurrection was the basis of charges against him.
Paul could believe in the resurrection all he wanted. And no one would care. Sure they may argue about it. The Sadducees and Pharisees argued about it all the time. No one was put in jail for believing in the resurrection. They did not condemn anyone to death for believing in the resurrection. Belief in the resurrection was fine. But let it remain theoretical, spiritual, or sometime in the future. The problem was Paul really believed it. Paul claimed not a general resurrection but a particular resurrection. Jesus of Nazareth had risen.
Paul asked a reasonable question. Why would anyone think it incredible God raises the dead. God created life. He could re-instill life into an already created body. The error we often make is we assume what has been, is all that can be.
Paul was a Jew. Paul’s conversion to Christianity was not a conversion to a new religion. It was a repentance of his sins. He remained a Jew. He remained a Pharisee. He remained zealous for God. But, now his zeal was directed by God.
The conversion from killing Christians to proclaiming Christ was dramatic. Paul showed why it was so. It was not his opinion. It was not an insight. It was not an epiphany moment. It was something Jesus did. There was evidence for it. Paul had witnesses.
Paul does not waste time with trivial things. He goes straight to the resurrection. Christ’s resurrection is central to Christianity. Without the resurrection, there is no Christianity. If there is no resurrection, Christianity is a lie. Christianity is not a set of moral teachings. Christianity is the only religion where empirical evidence can prove it false. Find the body and that is the end of Christianity.
Paul focused on the resurrection. It was the hope in God’s promise. Nothing else compared to it. It was not a theoretical or spiritual resurrection. It was a physical resurrection. God’s promise was a resurrection of the body.
Paul gave his personal testimony as evidence. Now this is not the personal testimony so many think of today. It was not subjective. It was objective. It was not a confession of inner peace. It was not a statement of how “Jesus came into his heart.” Paul did not ask Jesus into his heart. He did not accept Jesus as his Lord and savior. NO! This was testimony about objective truths. Yes, it was personal. But it was objective and verifiable. This was not subjective. It was objective.
The second thing to notice about Paul’s testimony is this was about what Christ had done. Paul was in the story but he was a bit player. It was about Christ’s grace and mercy. I once told a friend I do not think God gives the same amount of grace to everyone. For example I believe He gave more grace to Paul than He gives to me.
My friend responded. You mean He hasn’t knocked you to the ground and blinded you? I had not thought about it in those terms. But yes, that is what I meant.
God’s appearance to Paul was an act of sheer grace and mercy. And Paul knew it. Paul was not seeking Christ. He was seeking the death of Christians. He had imprisoned many Christians. He had caused the death of many Christians. He felt no remorse. He felt justified and righteous.
But not that Christ had shown him grace and mercy he felt shame. He knew he was unworthy of Christ’s love. The memory of his sin remained with him for the rest of his life. (1 Corinthians 15:9 Ephesians 3:8, Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6; 1 Timothy 1:13-14)
Paul told Agrippa Christ appeared to him. Christ’s words were, “Why are you persecuting me?” Paul was imprisoning and killing Christians. As Christians we are the body of Christ. We dwell in Him and He in us.
When someone assaults us they assault Christ. But the ramifications of that thought are chilling. When we assault another Christian we assault Christ himself. When we bring sin into our lives, we bring sin into the body of Christ.
Christ called Paul to send him to the Gentile. There was another point of contention with the Jews. It was OK to go to the Gentiles as long as you were making them Jews. At this point in history the Jews were very evangelical. (Matthew 23:15) The Jews believed they were special. They confused having a special role with being special. God had called them to be a blessing to the nations.
Paul said God sent him to “open their eyes.” That is the eyes of the Gentiles. Paul spoke as if he was doing what only God can do. It is the Holy Spirit alone who opens men’s eyes. Christ alone redeems men. God alone vanquishes our sin and adopts us to be His.
But He uses men to spread the good news. He uses men as the means to dispense His mercy and grace. But we depend on the power of His Spirit. Our preaching is only effective when used by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works through men. It is the Spirit who gives the increase. It is in this sense Paul spoke. He was the means God used.
He told Agrippa he was not disobedient. He obeyed God’s voice. Paul preached to the Gentile. Paul declared they should repent and turn to God. And then perform deeds consistent with their repentance.
The tension between Paul and James is settled in Acts 26:20. In Romans 3:28 Paul states, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” James writes “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” James 2:24
Luke clarifies the confusion. In Acts 26:20 we see an order, repentance, trust, action. True repentance will manifest itself in deeds. It is not the deeds that save but they indicate rather or not there is true repentance. If we are trusting in Christ our behavior is different then if we are not. Can faith without works save us? Nope (James 2:14) Faith that does not produce works is no faith at all.
Paul turns into the home stretch. Paul pointed our he preached noting new. He preached the same thing as Moses and the prophets. They preached the Christ must suffer and die. Christ would rise from the dead. Paul proclaimed that to Jews and Gentiles.
It was at that point Festus could stand no more. Rise from the dead! Paul you are nuts! Dead men stay dead. You are not even rational any more.
To which Paul responded he was very rational. The problem was not Festus’ logic. It was his premises. Why would anyone think God could not raise the dead? God had created life in the first place. Why could he not recreate it in a dead man? There is no violation of logic. It is only irrational if you assume God did not create life. Only if you assume God is not God.
That was Festus’ assumption. Dead men stay dead. That is the way it has always been. And that is the way it always will be.
It was not only Festus, but the Jews also made incorrect assumptions. They were reasonable assumptions. But they were incorrect. Why would the Messiah die? God can’t die. How can that be? Even though scripture taught the messiah would die the Jews could not understand it. Since they could not understand it. They rejected it. They held to their reasonable assumptions rather than scripture.
There is another lesson for us. Do not reject scripture because you do not understand. Let the scriptures inform you. Challenge your assumptions rather than scripture.
After Paul responded to Festus that he was not crazy. His words were totally rational. Paul went back and addressed Agrippa. “King Agrippa do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
Agrippa cut Paul off. He knew where Paul was heading. If you believe the prophets, you must trust in Christ of whom they spoke. Agrippa had too much pride to allow himself to change his mind. And to do so in public.
“Paul do you think I am going to become a Christian so quickly?” In the first century the term Christian was a term of contempt.
Paul’s response was time has nothing to do with it. The truth was the truth. Paul had a short period of time with Agrippa. So he had to proclaim the good news fast.
The need to proclaim the gospel drove Paul. He wanted everyone to be a Christian.
In the end everyone agreed, one more time, Paul was innocent.