Paul Before Festus and Agrippa

Acts 25:23 – 26:32

Once again Paul is given an opportunity to speak for Christ and in a setting that could have been orchestrated only by God. Under no other circumstances and in no other setting would Paul have been able to speak as personally and pointedly as he did to Herod Agrippa II. Of all the significant individuals in the Herodian dynasty, this one appears to be the most receptive to the Gospel message.

Throughout the Gospels and Acts, the writers of Scripture show the reaction that members of the Herodian dynasty displayed toward Christ or his cause. Herod the Great wanted to kill the infant Jesus (Matt. 2:13, 16). In the next generation, his son Archelaus ruthlessly ruled Judea, thereby forcing Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus to settle in Nazareth instead of Bethlehem (Matt. 2:22–23). Another son, Herod Antipas, beheaded John the Baptist (Matt. 14:10). One generation later, Herod the Great’s grandson King Agrippa I killed the apostle James and arrested Peter (Acts 12:2). And in Acts 25, Luke depicts the great-grandson, King Agrippa II, participating in the investigation of Paul’s case. Unlike his forebears, this king was kindly disposed toward the cause presented by Paul. He heard the gospel and subsequently declared that Paul should have been set free. Hendriksen

What were the means God used to bring about his purpose with regard to Paul and the Kingdom?

A. Official preliminaries 25:23-27

1. the dilemmas

Festus has two significant issues which he must address: keeping peace with the Jews who want Paul’s blood, and, keeping the law with regard to Paul and his appeal to Caesar without looking foolish. He can’t find any reason to keep Paul in custody but since Paul has appealed to Caesar, to Caesar he must go. To expend the resources for an armed escort, to fail to give a plausible reason for the expense and trouble to Caesar would be viewed as irresponsible.

2. the solution

Festus probably breathed a sigh of relief when he heard that Herod Agrippa II was coming to town. Agrippa was well-educated, had a reputation for being a thoughtful individual and could be counted on to give good advice to Festus. Festus was hopeful that Agrippa would offer some sort of solution – a way out of the situation without further embarrassment.

B. Apology Before Agrippa 26:1-23

Paul may have been an eminent theologian and apostle but he was by no means uninformed with regard to the state of affairs in the culture. He was acquainted with the qualifications Agrippa brought to his office, acknowledging him to be an expert ( γνώστην, gnōstēs, expert or connoisseur ) regarding Jewish custom and tradition. Even though Agrippa’s personal heritage was not strictly Jewish (on his father’s side, he was Idumean, descended from Esau), Paul speaks to him as if they shared a common hope; he speaks to the king in a respectful yet warmly personal and engaging manner.

In Paul’s address he weaves together elements of his personal life and gospel truths, providing clear witness to God’s sovereign direction in all the affairs of men. He emphasizes two aspects of his apologetic – the Jewish hope and the evidence of its fulfillment, that is, complete salvation in Christ. Paul’s motive in giving this testimony before Agrippa was the same motive he had in all his dealings – not to bring advantage to himself but rather to bring honor to Christ Act_26:29.

1. hope vv. 4-15

Paul was a committed Pharisee, living a life consistent with his profession, well-known and recognized by his fellow countrymen. A major motivation for Paul was the hope that inspired all good sons of Abraham – the promise made by God to the fathers. Having confidence in God’s promise is synonymous with being a Jew. Perhaps a good description for the apostle would be “religious patriot” – a love of country coupled with a commitment to religion that made him stand out from the crowd. His testimony here is reminiscent of similar statements given in his epistles – 2Co_11:12-22 Php_3:4-6

Paul indicates he thought it necessary to be involved in making the hope happen (v. 9). Not only did he have confidence God would keep his promise, Paul was determined to remove any and all obstacles that might hinder progress toward fulfillment of the ancient prophecies. Since he was convinced that Jesus was an impostor, focusing attention on him rather than the true Messiah would prevent recognition of the genuine Promised One when he did finally arrive.

Paul presents himself as one who is unshakable in his commitment to the goal and is absolutely convinced he is right. From all the evidence given, he never once gave any thought he might be wrong about how God would fulfill his promise. In keeping with that mindset, Paul never doubted that he had identified Jesus correctly. Given Paul’s determination as evidenced by his treatment of the saints, only something clearly miraculous would serve to change his mind.

And that is precisely what happened on the way to Damascus. A light from heaven, a commanding voice, a heavenly vision – Paul uses these ways to describe his experience. Not only did it stop Paul in his tracks, the effect was similar on his traveling companions. What Paul saw and heard was unmistakably extraordinary and of divine origin. Based on his understanding of Old Testament promises and what he knew of God, the supernatural was not beyond belief.

2. fulfillment vv. 16-23

It is intriguing that Paul throws in a question seemingly unrelated to what he was saying back in verse 8 – “why do you think it is unbelievable that God raises the dead?” In Paul’s mind, belief in the resurrection is inextricably linked to belief in the Jewish hope, the promises made to the fathers. Yet it was a face-to-face encounter with the risen Christ that convinced Paul that he was the fulfillment of the Jewish hope. God had indeed kept his promise and here was incontrovertible proof of a sort designed to change the mind of Paul from that of terrorist to apostle.

Paul goes on to declare that his message is not new or innovative, nor should it be unexpected. He is simply declaring that what Moses and the prophets said would take place had in fact done so. The resurrection of Christ was the proof, the validation of their message. Here in verse 23 we have the essence of the Gospel that Paul maintained as of first importance and proclaimed to all who would listen – Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day, all according to the Scriptures.

Paul couches his Gospel presentation in the language of personal experience. At the start he was possessed with a bitter hatred, not only for the followers of Christ but also for Christ himself. He describes himself as having a raging fury (v. 11) against the saints and persecuting them to the fullest extent. In an instant, his raging fury was changed to an attitude of humble service as the Christ he had persecuted converted his soul. From Paul’s perspective, and from ours, this remarkable transformation is explainable only as a work of God alone.

It is plain from Paul’s testimony that God had overruled human intentions on more than one occasion.

1. his conversion
2. his deliverance from his people (the Jews) in Jerusalem
3. his deliverance from the Gentiles in Lystra and Derbe, Ephesus, etc., etc.

Paul boldly declares that it is on account of God’s help (deliverance) that he was able to stand before Agrippa testifying to the truth of God’s Word.

C. Official response 26:24-28

1. You’re nuts! v. 25

Festus shows again that he was determined to continue in his unbelief; presented with powerful evidence by a credible witness, one who has nothing to gain by such testimony, Festus declares for all the world to hear that he refuses to be convinced. In the process of maintaining his denial he resorts to the subterfuge of trying to discredit Paul as a reliable witness.

But something rather shocking takes place when Mr. Stein asks Mr. Dawkins about the possibility that intelligent design might be useful in the area of genetics. Mr. Dawkins responds by laying out the “intriguing possibility” that life may have come into existence elsewhere in the universe and that this unknown intelligence seeded life on earth. Mr. Stein skillfully exposes the stunning contradiction in the foundation of Mr. Dawkins’s thesis. That is, Mr. Dawkins is “intrigued” about the possibility that there could be an intelligent designer in the universe—just so long as that designer isn’t God. Anyone who would suggest that there is a God designer is stupid, ignorant or evil.

…The controversy isn’t about the science; it’s about the atheistic, materialistic philosophy of the elitist establishment. If the Darwinists discovered evidence of an alien designer they would be giddy. If they discovered evidence of God, they would be crushed, and would do everything in their power to dismiss the evidence as fraudulent or inconclusive. Mark Mathis, Producer, Expelled

Is that not the response of Festus, seeking to dismiss the evidence and the one giving it? Paul gently but firmly reminds Festus that the things of which he testified were not done secretly. They were matters of public record, accomplished before many witnesses, and well-known among the Jews and those familiar with Jewish history. It was on that basis that Paul spoke so freely and confidently to Agrippa, certain that the king had first hand knowledge of the facts, although he was probably quite young at the time of Jesus death (born ca. 27 AD).

2. You’re not convincing! v. 28

Agrippa suffers from a different affliction, outright skepticism. No matter how compelling the evidence, it will require more than legal proof or logical argument to turn Agrippa into a follower of Christ. He also has an image to maintain and in so doing he cannot afford to alienate either Jews or Romans. Rather than acknowledge Paul’s statement about his belief in the prophets, he deflects the question and asks a safe one of his own – “would you persuade me to become a Christian”. This served to keep him in safe territory while at the same time denying just treatment of Paul. It seems that if either Festus or Agrippa truly had the will to do so, they could have released him from his bonds on the basis that he truly had committed no chargeable offense. At this juncture, Paul’s appeal to Caesar was a useful device to make Paul Caesar’s problem to deal with, far away from Caesarea.

D. Paul’s heart

1. The resurrection is of first importance – vv. 6 & 8

The resurrection was not important merely in what it accomplished – the coming back to life of a “good man”. In fact, that wasn’t even it’s greatest significance. The mind-blowing message of the resurrection is that God has kept his promise, the one made to the fathers and intended for them, their children, and all the nations.

Acts 2:39 “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” NASB

Acts 13:23 “From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, NASB

Acts 13:32 “And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘YOU ARE MY SON; TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU.’ NASB

The content of the good news had changed tense – the message to the fathers was that God will send a Savior, a deliverer to release them from captivity in sin. The message the apostles declared was that God has sent a Deliverer whose name we know to be Jesus of Nazareth. The proof is that Jesus is no longer dead, he lives, and I have encountered him who is my living Savior.

2. Declaring the Gospel message is worth any cost v. 29

It was the encounter with the risen Lord Jesus that fired Paul’s heart with an unquenchable passion to see souls saved, hearts converted to Christ. Whenever he had the opportunity to speak about that which was his very life, he poured all he had into declaring in as winsome and persuasive a way as possible Gospel truth.

Paul labored as if the conversion of all his hearers depended on him while at the same time depending on God to accomplish saving work. It is apparent from his prayer (in which he had the last word before Festus and Agrippa!) that his labor apart from the attending work of the Holy Spirit would be insufficient to bring about conversion.

his steady and constant belief [was] that none but God could incline people to become altogether Christians. Paul knew well that there was nothing that would overcome the reluctance of the human heart to be an entire Christian but the grace and mercy of God. He had addressed to his hearers the convincing arguments of religion, and he now breathed forth his earnest prayer to God that those arguments might be effectual. So prays every faithful minister of the cross. Barnes, Notes

Oh, that our zeal for the Gospel would be like Paul’s, that we would work as if it all did depend on us while knowing that “[u]nless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor over it in vain.” Psa_127:1 HCSB



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