Acts Lesson Fifty-three: Acts 25:23-26:32 – Paul Before Agrippa
23 So the next day, Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the auditorium with the commanders and prominent men of the city. When Festus gave the command, Paul was brought in. 24 Then Festus said: “King Agrippa and all men present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish community has appealed to me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he should not live any longer. 25 Now I realized that he had not done anything deserving of death, but when he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. 26 I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore, I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after this examination is over, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems unreasonable to me to send a prisoner and not to indicate the charges against him.”
26 Agrippa said to Paul, “It is permitted for you to speak for yourself.”
Then Paul stretched out his hand and began his defense: 2 “I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that today I am going to make a defense before you about everything I am accused of by the Jews, 3 especially since you are an expert in all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
4 “All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem. 5 They had previously known me for quite some time, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now I stand on trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 the promise our 12 tribes hope to attain as they earnestly serve Him night and day. King Agrippa, I am being accused by the Jews because of this hope. 8 Why is it considered incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? 9 In fact, I myself supposed it was necessary to do many things in opposition to the name of Jesus the Nazarene. 10 I actually did this in Jerusalem, and I locked up many of the saints in prison, since I had received authority for that from the chief priests. When they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 In all the synagogues I often tried to make them blaspheme by punishing them. I even pursued them to foreign cities since I was greatly enraged at them.
12 “I was traveling to Damascus under these circumstances with authority and a commission from the chief priests. 13 King Agrippa, while on the road at midday, I saw a light from heaven brighter than the sun, shining around me and those traveling with me. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice speaking to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
15 “Then I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’
“And the Lord replied: ‘I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet. For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness of what you have seen and of what I will reveal to you. 17 I will rescue you from the people and from the Gentiles. I now send you to them 18 to open their eyes so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that by faith in Me they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified.’
19 “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. 20 Instead, I preached to those in Damascus first, and to those in Jerusalem and in all the region of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple complex and were trying to kill me. 22 To this very day, I have obtained help that comes from God, and I stand and testify to both small and great, saying nothing else than what the prophets and Moses said would take place — 23 that the Messiah must suffer, and that as the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light to our people and to the Gentiles.”
24 As he was making his defense this way, Festus exclaimed in a loud voice, “You’re out of your mind, Paul! Too much study is driving you mad!”
25 But Paul replied, “I’m not out of my mind, most excellent Festus. On the contrary, I’m speaking words of truth and good judgment. 26 For the king knows about these matters. It is to him I am actually speaking boldly. For I am convinced that none of these things escapes his notice, since this was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe.”
28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?”
29 “I wish before God,” replied Paul, “that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am—except for these chains.”
30 So the king, the governor, Bernice, and those sitting with them got up, 31 and when they had left they talked with each other and said, “This man is doing nothing that deserves death or chains.”
32 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (HCSB)
I’ll split this lesson into three parts, with the last two being further divided.
- Paul’s introduction to King Agrippa – 25:23-27.
- Paul’s testimony – 26:1-23.
- Introduction – 26:1-3.
- Paul’s faithfulness to the Jewish hope – 26:4-8.
- Paul’s persecution of Christ – 26:9-11.
- Paul’s commission from Christ – 26:12-18.
- Paul’s witness for Christ – 26:19-23.
- The outcome – 26:24-32
- Paul’s appeal for conversion – 26:24-29.
- Paul headed to Rome – 26:30-32.
Paul’s Introduction to King Agrippa
Before diving into this passage, let’s take a moment to consider the first verse in this passage. One Jewish man who had been in confinement under false charges for over two years was drawing quite a bit of attention from the upper circles of society. Consider those who were gathered for this meeting.
- King Agrippa and Bernice.
- Key military men.
- Officers of the Roman government.
- Likely some of the Jews.
- Since Paul had been under house arrest for two years, it’s likely the vast majority of those present were aware of some of the details of the case.
- Jesus had promised Paul he would witness before “Gentiles and kings” in Acts 9:15. It was now coming to pass.
Let’s look at Festus’ introduction of Paul to King Agrippa.
- Festus was exaggerating when he said that the whole Jewish community appealed to him.
- It made Festus appear important in the eyes of the Jews.
- It also would make the Jews who were present feel better about the situation.
- Festus declares that Paul is innocent of any wrongdoing, at least in regard to Roman law.
- However, since Paul had appealed to Caesar, Festus was now obligated to send him.
- Festus is implying that he is absolved of any consequences regarding Paul.
- Paul is now responsible for the whole situation because he appealed to Caesar.
- Festus now gives the agenda for the meeting. He needed something to put in the report that would go to the emperor regarding Paul.
- But Festus had no specific charges against Paul.
- Festus needed Agrippa’s background and knowledge of Jewish religious matters to assist him in crafting a message to the emperor. It would make no sense to send Paul to Rome without any specific charge.
- These reports were not optional.
- It could be fatal to Festus’ career if he failed to support his decision to send Paul to the emperor.
- There’s a bit of irony in Festus’ statement in verse 27. The whole situation was unreasonable, and Paul should have been set free.
Introduction – 26:1-3
The first three verses are the formal introduction to Paul’s speech. The king now formally gives permission for Paul to address the assembly. Paul continues the solemn atmosphere set by the circumstances and audience who had gathered.
- Paul begins his address by stretching out his arm to begin his defense.
- This was not a gesture intended to quiet the assembly. Such a move would have been offensive to the king.
- Instead, it was the typical outstretched arm of a Greek philosopher presenting his argument.
- Of all the speeches recorded in Acts, this one is presented in the most elevated and cultured language.
- This was not a defense in a formal sense. The hearing was designed to assist Festus in determining what to write in the report that would accompany Paul and be presented to the emperor.
- Paul was not defending himself against any charge. Instead, he was giving his personal testimony as a Christian.
- Paul then continues by saying he is fortunate to make his case before Agrippa.
- As the Jewish king, Agrippa would be familiar with Jewish customs and issues of dispute.
- He was also a Hellenistic king living a Roman lifestyle.
- This unique combination gave him perspective on the situation from both viewpoints.
- It was also the reason Festus was eager to have Agrippa hear the case.
- By this point, there is only one accusation left that was brought by the Jews.
- Festus has already found Paul innocent of sedition and stirring up political unrest.
- The charge that Paul defiled the temple had vanished due to a lack of witnesses.
- The only charge left is that Paul was teaching against Jewish law.
- Festus knew Agrippa was a better judge on those matters.
Paul’s Faithfulness to the Jewish Hope – 26:4-8
Paul begins his witness by outlining his early life and education in Judaism.
- He grew up among his own people.
- He lived and was educated in Jerusalem.
- He was a member of the Pharisees and had lived according to the strictest requirements of Jewish religious law.
- Just as Paul had done before the Sanhedrin, he states the real issue behind his arrest is his belief in the resurrection and that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah.
- The hope of the promise made by God to Israel was the resurrection.
- The hope Paul spoke of aligned perfectly with Judaism but was missed by the religious leaders.
- Let’s consider Paul’s “Jewishness.”
- He was born a Jew.
- He was raised a Jew.
- He was trained in the strictest Pharisaic interpretation of Judaism.
- He was still a Jew.
- It was his faith in the resurrection that pointed to his loyalty to Judaism.
- Israel’s hope in God’s promises was fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus.
- The hope of the resurrection is something about which the Jews were passionate.
- They prayed for it night and day.
- It was shared by all of Israel, the twelve tribes.
- Yet it was this very hope that caused the Jews to hate Paul, make false accusations against him, and attempt on several occasions to kill him.
- Paul then turns from addressing primarily Agrippa to addressing the entire crowd. Was Paul aiming for the Jews or the Gentiles?
- Gentiles couldn’t understand the idea of a resurrection.
- Except for the Sadducees, the Jews believed in the resurrection.
- It was Christ’s resurrection that Paul always pointed to.
- However, all of them, Jew and Gentile, found it incredibly hard to believe.
Paul’s Persecution of Christ – 26:9-11.
- Not only had Paul been a strict Pharisee, but he had also been a persecutor of Christians.
- Paul had once felt it was God’s will for him to do everything possible to oppose Christ and His followers.
- Paul had received official documents from the Sanhedrin to find and arrest Christians.
- In this address, Paul changes the title for followers of Jesus. He now calls them saints.
- Paul also adds that he was actively involved in the execution of Christians, “I cast my vote against them.”
- Paul’s retelling of his actions now gets darker.
- Paul attempted to make the saints blaspheme the name of Christ, most likely under duress.
- Paul would route out the Christians in the synagogues.
- Paul then expanded his activity to cities other than Jerusalem.
- Either Paul doesn’t mention them, or Luke feels it unnecessary to record them.
- We do know it was on the way to Damascus where Paul’s persecution ended with his personal encounter with Jesus.
Paul’s Commission From Christ – 26:12-18
This is the third time in the book of Acts where Paul’s conversion is recorded. However, this one has the fewest details.
- Paul’s blindness is not mentioned.
- The visit with Ananias is not mentioned.
Instead, Paul’s emphasis is on his commission from Christ. But it’s not only the commission; it’s the connection of the commission with the location on the Damascus road. On his way from Jerusalem and Jewish territory to Damascus and Gentile territory, Paul receives his commission to bring the Gospel to all people. Paul wanted to place the emphasis of the encounter on the commission and not the experience.
There are several significant differences in the Damascus road encounter in this passage.
- Paul saw a “heavenly light.”
- This occurred around noon and outshone the sun. In previous accounts, the light was associated with Paul’s blindness.
- Here, the heavenly light is associated with Paul’s commission to witness the light of the Gospel.
- In addressing Agrippa and the Gentile audience, Paul wasn’t concerned with relaying the miracle of recovering his sight. He was attempting to bring them the light of the Gospel he had received on the road to Damascus and the commission to carry it to all people.
- This is the only account that says all those traveling with Paul fell to the ground.
- The purpose of stating that is to emphasize the reality of what happened.
- Although everyone fell to the ground, only Paul experienced the conversion and calling.
- The message Paul heard was in Hebrew.
- Although all three accounts list the question Jesus asks Saul, “Why are you prosecuting me,” this is the only one that adds, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
- This statement was a common proverb at the time, especially among Greeks and Romans.
- It would be understood to mean, “why are resisting your destiny or fighting the will of the gods.”
- It fit the context of what Paul was doing.
- Paul was fighting against God’s will of Paul being set apart from birth, Galatians 1:15, to accomplish His purposes.
- It was futile and senseless to fight against God.
- Christ’s commission to Paul is given in a format that reminds us of how Old Testament prophets were commissioned by God.
- Paul was directed to rise and stand on his feet – Ezekiel 2:1.
- Paul was being sent to proclaim the Gospel – Ezekiel 2:3.
- Jesus would rescue Paul from his enemies – Jeremiah 1:8.
- Paul’s task is contained in two words.
- This emphasizes Paul’s relationship with Jesus.
- He would serve his Master.
- He would be faithful to his Master.
- Paul would testify to what he had seen and heard.
- Paul had seen the risen Lord.
- Paul had heard His commission.
- Paul’s entire story in Acts demonstrated his faithful witness before Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and Romans, the poor, the educated, and kings.
- The role of witness is key for every disciple.
- Everyone who has encountered the risen Christ is commissioned to be a witness.
- Christ was the servant of God who opened the eyes of the lost and bring light to the nations.
- Those who proclaim Jesus brought the light of the Gospel.
- The turning from darkness to light is to turn from Satan to God.
- The idea of two extremes, light and darkness, is found throughout the New Testament and is a metaphor for divergent ways of living.
- To live in darkness under the dominion of Satan and apart from God; to live a self-centered life.
- To live in the light under the direction of the Holy Spirit following God’s will; a life marked by righteousness and not self.
- Paul concludes his summary of the Gospel by describing two results of responding to Jesus.
- The forgiveness of sins and the removal of the barrier that separates us from God.
- A place among the saints in God’s eternal kingdom.
- Paul had effectively used this hearing to preach the Gospel to Agrippa and the Gentiles who were gathered.
Paul’s Witness for Christ
Paul now continues with his personal history as a witness for Christ.
- Paul had been obedient to the heavenly vision he received.
- Paul had not “kicked against the goads.”
- Paul had been faithful to preach the Gospel wherever the Holy Spirit led him.
- All the regions of Judea.
- There is scholarly disagreement on what this means as Acts doesn’t specify this in detail.
- It could mean Paul preached in every region among both the Jews and Gentiles.
- This understanding would fall in line with Paul’s pattern of preaching first in the synagogues before turning to the Gentiles.
- Paul followed this pattern in Acts 13-19.
- To the Gentiles.
- Paul then states the reason for his missionary work.
- People would repent.
- People would turn to God.
- These two actions go hand-in-hand. True repentance is evidenced by turning from sin and turning to God.
- The proof of repentance is a life characterized by good works. The works don’t lead to salvation but are evidence of salvation.
- Paul then gives details about the opposition he faced on his return to Jerusalem while carrying out the Lord’s commission.
- A mob seized him and was intent on killing him because of his witness of Christ.
- However, through this event and previous ones, Paul was kept safe by God.
- There were no boundaries in Paul’s ministry.
- He traveled far and reached many different people.
- He witnessed to both the poor and the rich.
- There were no social boundaries.
- Paul preached the same message to the peasant farmers of Lystra and the Jewish king.
- Now Paul gives his final reference to the Gospel in this speech; the key to salvation.
- It was the death and resurrection of Christ.
- This is a typical pattern throughout Acts.
- Referring to the Old Testament and demonstrating from “Moses and the prophets” that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead.
- Paul doesn’t reference the Old Testament texts in this passage.
- Paul was the servant of the Servant. He was fulfilling his commission to be a witness to Christ.
- As Paul was witnessing for Christ, it was allowing Christ to be the light to all nations and enabling anyone who responded in faith to share in the resurrection life.
Paul’s Appeal for Conversion – 26:24-29
When Paul spoke about the resurrection, it was too much for Festus. Previously, Festus had told Agrippa about his lack of understanding regarding Paul’s claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. In a way, Festus’ response of “Too much studying is driving you mad” was a compliment. Festus was showing genuine respect for Paul’s knowledge while at the same time showing a level of prejudice that is often directed at scholars. Paul politely tells Festus he is far from crazy; he is speaking the truth to the gathering.
Paul then directs his following remark to the king. We need to remember this meeting was held for the benefit of Agrippa, and Paul had consistently addressed the king with his speech.
- The content of the speech would have resonated with the Jewish king.
- Paul emphasized his complete Jewish background.
- The roots of the Gospel as the hope of Israel.
- Agrippa knew the Jewish hope in the resurrection.
- Agrippa would have been familiar with Scripture.
- Agrippa would understand what Paul was talking about when he referenced the prophets.
- Agrippa would have at least some understanding of Christians and their belief in the resurrection “since this was not done in a corner.”
- The phrase “not done in a corner” could have a couple of meanings.
- It wasn’t hidden from public view.
- It wasn’t a small or insignificant movement.
- Most likely, Paul meant it as a combination of both.
- Paul had been open in his evangelism wherever he went, and Christianity was not some small movement. It was expanding and reaching many in that region of the world.
- Paul then becomes even bolder in his remarks.
- He states he knows the king believes in the prophets.
- If Agrippa believed the prophets, why didn’t the king believe Christ was the Messiah?
- Paul’s direct message to the king put him in an awkward position.
- Agrippa didn’t want to deny the prophets.
- But he wasn’t prepared to become a Christian.
- Agrippa followed the expedient political decision; he evaded Paul’s question.
- Paul was not discouraged at all by the king’s response.
- He left the invitation open to accept Christ.
- Paul didn’t care whether or not it was an easy or difficult decision to convert.
- Paul didn’t care how long it would take for them to come to a decision.
- Paul wished that everyone present would become a Christian.
- It is reasonable to believe that Paul would have continued his message if the king had not stood up.
- Agrippa had heard enough of the matter.
- He knew Paul was innocent of any wrongdoing.
- He knew he wasn’t ready to become a Christian.
- In a way, he was the most civilized of the Jews Paul encountered in Acts.
- There was no sense that Paul deserved to be stoned for his position.
- He listened to Paul politely, even showing interest.
- In the end, Agrippa was not persuaded to repent and convert to Christianity.
- In a way, Agrippa’s lack of decision tragically summarizes the Jews in Acts.
- They were God’s people.
- The prophets were their prophets.
- Christ was their Messiah.
- His resurrection fulfilled their hope.
- They were still not persuaded.
Paul Headed to Rome – 26:30-32
The delegation who heard the exchange between the men now got up and left the meeting. The phrase “those sitting with them” likely referred to Agrippa’s advisory council on the issue with Paul. If that is true, this only enhanced the position that Paul was innocent of all charges because Luke states they all declared they couldn’t find anything which deserved death or imprisonment. For the fifth time, Paul has been declared innocent.
- By the Pharisees – Acts 23:9.
- By the Roman commander Lysias – Acts 23:29.
- Twice by Festus – Acts 25:18, 25.
- By Agrippa and the council.
Agrippa then states that if Paul hadn’t appealed to Caesar, he could’ve been released. However, when Paul made his appeal, he started a process that couldn’t be undone.
- Festus couldn’t stop the appeal as this would have been an insult to the emperor and an admission he was incompetent by letting the entire process occur.
- However, Festus now had enough information to craft a letter that accompanied Paul.
- Paul was innocent of all charges.
- Consider the parallels with Jesus.
- Both the governor and the king declared Jesus innocent, yet he went to the cross – Luke 23:14f.
- Both the governor and the king declared Paul innocent, yet he went to Rome in chains.
- No matter the circumstances, be respectful in your conduct and plead your case with truth and restraint. Paul displayed remarkable qualities as he spoke to the gathering. Granted, this wasn’t the unruly Jewish mob he was addressing. Still, his conduct was above reproach.
- Always base the words you say on the truth. Paul didn’t need to embellish anything. He spoke a powerful and truthful message. The recipients of the message were not offended by Paul.
- Never miss an opportunity to present the Gospel. It took great courage to speak so boldly to Agrippa, yet Paul never wavered. Each person, regardless of their position, wealth, education, or social status, will be judged before God. Each will either enter heaven to spend eternity in God’s presence or be banished to hell to spend eternity apart from God.