BEFORE KING AGRIPPA (ACTS 25:23-26:32). Festus was completely unsettled and perplexed by Paul’s appeal to Rome, for he realized the weakness of the case against Paul and was at a loss to know what to write to the Emperor.
A few days later King Agrippa II and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. Festus was not a subordinate to Agrippa; this was a courtesy call of one neighboring ruler to a new procurator of an adjoining province.
Agrippa was the son of Herod Agrippa I. When his father died in A.D. 44, Agrippa was only seventeen, and was regarded as too young to assume his father’s reign. Later Claudius gave him the territory of his uncle Herod king of Chalcis (at his death), which carried with it the right of appointing the Jewish high priest and the custody of the high priest’s garments which were used on the Day of Atonement. Thus, he was the nominal head of Jewish religion. Nero added other areas to his reign and his capital was Caesarea Philippi, northeast of the Sea of Galilee. His realm was quite small, Galilee and Perea.
Bernice was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I, and sister of Drusilla and Agripa II. She had been married to her uncle, Herod king of Chalcis, and since his death she had been living with her brother Agrippa in a relationship widely rumored to be incestuous. She also married Polemon king of Cilicia, but deserted him. Later she became the mistress of both Vespasian and Titus, and lived in Rome.
Festus took the occasion to mention Paul’s case to Agrippa. In his explanation, he showed how little he really understood of Jewish affairs and of the Christian movement. He knew the real issue was about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive.
Agrippa, being part Jewish, expressed an interest in hearing Paul. Festus arranged a glittering state function and brought his puzzling prisoner Paul before his royal visitors along with socially prominent dignitaries who had assembled for the occasion. The governor faced the embarrassment of sending a prisoner to the Emperor without really knowing why it was necessary; he hoped that Agrippa could find the underlying cause of this matter.
The meeting was arranged by a governor and king, yet all the while, they were actually fulfilling prophecy even though they were unaware of it. Paul was to appear before kings as the Lord said.
One can imagine the pomp and circumstances of this meeting. Every one in royal robes and official dress; Paul bound in chains. His outward appearance nothing to look at, yet the apostle is energized by the Holy Spirit with the attraction of grace. To look at Paul was to see Christ.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
Paul was not on trial. All trials in the provincial courts had ceased the moment his appeal to the Emperor was allowed. Paul could have refused this interview, but he seized the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. This is the second formal defense of Paul’s career that Luke records in Acts. It is considered one of the great orations of history.
Although there were probably several hundred people present to hear this message, Paul is speaking to only one man, King Agrippa. Paul is trying to win this man for Christ.
The apostle’s gracious introduction was tactful and polite. He was truthful and expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to defend himself against the accusations of the Jews. He explained his past life as a Pharisee and persecutor of Jesus of Nazareth as well as the circumstances surrounding his apostleship to the Gentiles. He is not prejudiced against Judaism but became a Christian in response to a direct manifestation of Jesus Himself.
Here we learn more about what was said by Jesus at the time of Paul’s conversion:
Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:16-18).
The exact opposite happened when Jesus came to the Jews:
This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “`You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them’ (Matthew 13:13-15).
What Jesus said about light, darkness and Satan influenced Paul’s theology; for example, he wrote:
Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:12-14).
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).
Agrippa listened intently to the matters of the vision, resurrection, salvation for Jews and Gentiles, and the testimony of the prophets. But such talk contained little hope for Festus. All Festus heard was a fanatic. He interrupted Paul’s defense, “Your are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” Festus would not send a mental incompetent to Rome. For a person of Paul’s education to believe such things, he must be out of his mind.
Paul was not afraid to appear out of his mind. Many preachers have been afraid they will not appear intellectual, but considered fanatical, so they do not declare the great truths of the Gospel.
Festus erupts—he is on the hot seat, not Paul! The preacher calmly says, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” Now Paul had put the king on the spot and Festus felt sure Agrippa would acknowledge the validity of his own claim. The king, however, was not about to be maneuvered into an embarrassing corner. He said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Agrippa realized that the apostle was trying to make a Christian out of him; and Paul confirmed it with his prayer.
The wonder of God’s grace! He gave Festus, Agrippa and Bernice an opportunity to hear His preacher of grace. The palace became a church; their thrones almost a mourner’s bench. It was the hour of salvation.
The door of the kingdom was opened and they had their opportunity to enter. Psalm 2:10, “therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth,” was fulfilled.
Agrippa was an “almost Christian”—he understood the Word, heard the truth, but refused to do anything about it. His intellect was instructed, his emotions touched, but his will was unyielding!
The interview was becoming too personal and too uncomfortable for the king so Agrippa ended it by rising along with Festus, Bernice, and the others. The innocence of Paul was readily admitted by these officials, and Agrippa indicated that only the pending appeal to Caesar prevented Paul’s release.
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And say His work is vain.
God is His own interpreter.
And He will make it plain.
Now there was only one-way to go and that was to Rome—God’s way!