About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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This Section - Chapters 25:23  to 26:32

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Paul Before Agrippa  (ch. 25:23 – 26:32)

The next day everyone met together.  The whole room was filled with high officials, dignitaries and their assistants, including King Agrippa and his sister Bernice.  All the important people in the city of Caesarea who were present had their eyes on Paul. 

The King Agrippa that is mentioned here is known as King Agrippa 2.
He was the son of Agrippa 1.  His father died when he was 17 years old and was then taken to Rome to be trained.  He later became governor or king of Syria.  He was in the family of the Herods that made him part Jew and part Gentile.  His wife was Bernice who had been married before, but, in actuality she was Agrippa's sister.

In verse 23 Festus says, "King Agrippa, and all who are present with us  … the whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him (Paul) in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live.  I found that he had done nothing worthy of death but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome".

In verses 23 to 27 we see Festus as one being in charge here.  He was the official person to open this gathering, but he doesn't have a real handle on what to do.  He admits that the reason why he wanted Agrippa to hear Paul was in order for him to be able to write a letter to the Emperor so he would have an understanding of the nature of the charges against Paul

We see that according to what Festus said the Jews in Ceasaera have now joined with the Jerusalem Jews in the charging of Paul.  They also wanted him dead.  It seems that as time goes on more and more Jews are standing with the Sanhedrin and against Paul.  It is as if a whole nation is trying to get rid of one man.

Festus says that he found nothing wrong with Paul deserving death.  In fact the only charges the Jews could accuse Paul of were concerning religious matters, which was not against any Roman law.  Yet to appease the Jews Festus was attempting to get to the bottom of this matter.  We see that Festus was really in a bit of a bind here.  He needed to appease the Jews, but how could he send a Roman who hasn't committed a crime to Caesar's court.  It made no sense.  

In Acts 26:, after King Agrippa gave Paul permission to speak Paul stood up to defend himself once again.  I've said this before, but it's worth saying again.  Christians are not door mats.  There is nothing unbiblical about standing up for yourself in your defense, as Paul is now doing here.  

Before we continue, this gathering was not a trial.  Paul had already appealed to Rome , and once that appeal was accepted by Festus the only trial that could take place would be in Caesars Court in Rome.  This was simply a fact finding mission on the part of Festus.

In verse 2 Paul begins his defense by telling the King that he feels fortunate to stand before him and give his defense against the charges of the Jews.  I am sure that Paul was exceedingly happy to be able to share the gospel of Jesus before such an important person.

In verse 3 we see that Paul knew that Agrippa understood the customs of the Jews.  He knew the Jewish religion because he was half Jew himself.    

In verse 4 Paul tells Agrippa that the Jews know very well how he lived, even as a child in his own country, which would have been the province of Cilicia.  This might be reading into things but if the Jews, especially those in Jerusalem,  knew of Paul as a child in Cilicia , Paul might have been raised in a prominent family.  This might be the case since Paul's family had the ability to send Paul to Jerusalem for his formal training. 

Verse 5 tells us that Paul was a Pharisee, which he says, was the strictest sect of Judaism.  Again, as an adult, Paul was a well known and important man in Judaism.  When Jesus chose Paul to carry His name to the world, He chose a very influential and well trained man.

In verses 6 through 8 Paul states the reason why he believes the Jews wa
nt him dead and he does so in very Jewish terms.   Paul asserts that the only reason why the Jews are after him is because of his hope in the resurrection.  This he claims was the hope of the fathers of Israel, a promise they received from God Himself. 

Paul is basically suggesting in his defense that the Jews accusations are not logical.  He states the fact that all of the twelve tribes are working hard as they wait for the resurrection to come.  If he is preaching about this resurrection, where is the conflict?  Besides, as Paul puts it, "why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead"?  That‘s a good question. If God is God, then what is the problem with Him raising the dead?  If He created all things, raising anyone from the dead should not present a problem to anyone.

In verse 8 Paul begins to relate his story before he met Jesus.  He was given authority by the chief priests to capture, imprison, and execute Christians.  I believe Acts 22:4 suggests that Paul might well have even killed some of these Christians himself.  If he didn't actually do the executing, he certainly was in favour of it or maybe even instructed others to kill Christians on his behalf.  Verse 10 tells us that Paul cast his vote to have Christians put to death.  The fact that Paul voted suggests to some people that he was a member of the Sanhedrin.     

In verse 11 Paul said that he went from synagogue to synagogue to punish these people and tried to force them to blaspheme their God.  There is one thing to note here.  When Paul was doing these things it was in the early days of the church.  We see that Paul went from one synagogue to another to find Christians.  At this point in time Christians were still gathering in the Jewish synagogues, and, because they were gathering in synagogues, this would suggest most of them were Jewish. 

In verse 11 Paul admits that his attempt to capture Christians was an obsession.  Imprisoning Christians in Jerusalem was one thing, but going beyond to other cities, as he puts it, was getting obsessive.  The implication is that the Jews opposing him now have nothing over him.  He was far more zealous then they ever were.

You might ask what Paul meant when he said he caused the Christians to blaspheme.  There would be two ways of looking at this.  If Paul is thinking of his present day meaning of blaspheming, then what he meant was that he tried to cause these new Christians to denounce Jesus.  If he was thinking of his old understanding of blaspheming, then he was trying to make these Christian says something bad against the God of Israel and the Law.  Most feel that the former is more likely.

In verse 12 Paul tells his audience about his conversion on one of these trips that were sponsored by the chief priests.  He says that he saw a bright light, brighter than the sun.  Of course this light came from Jesus.  It makes you wonder when Jesus returns to earth, we might see this same bright light.  This will most likely be so since Scripture teaches that every eye will see the return of Jesus as they would see lightning flashing across the sky.

We learn here from what Paul says in verse 13 that when Jesus spoke to him on the road, He spoke in Aramaic, or, at least that is what the NIV says.  I'm not sure why the NIV says that Jesus spoke in Aramaic at this point.  The Greek text says that He spoke in Hebrew.   

We should also note that all the men with Paul fell to the ground, along with Paul.  This is not mentioned in the other descriptions of this event in Acts.

Jesus said that "it is hard for you to kick against the goads".  This statement is a statement that had often been used in times previous to this.  This was a common statement.  When an ox was pulling a cart, a sharp spear like object was used to poke the ox to go faster or turn directions.  This is what Jesus was telling Paul, or, Saul as he was known then.  Paul was fighting off these pokes.  What actually were these pokes?  I am sure the testimonies of the Christians that Paul imprisoned and later killed constantly poked at Paul.  Jesus was telling Paul that he was beginning to have a hard time withstanding these pokes.  He was beginning to wear down.  This tells me that prior to Acts 9 and Paul's conversion, the Holy Spirit was convicting Paul in his heart. 

The NIV uses the word "goads". The KJV uses the word "pricks".  The Greek word simply means to sting.  It is also used in 1 Corinthians 15:55 in relation to the "sting of death".  It is clear that God had been poking Paul, or stinging him, trying to get him over to His side, but it didn't work so Jesus had to use more drastic measure as seen in chapter 9.

Paul asks, “Who are you, Lord”.  For commentary on this question and Jesus’ response see my commentary on chapter 9.

In chapter 9 we only see Jesus telling Paul that it is Jesus whom he is persecuting, and that he needs to go into town where a man named Ananias will speak to him.  But here, in this chapter Paul adds more to this conversation. It is thus possible that Jesus actually said more words than what is recorded in Acts 9.  The other possibility is that Paul is summarizing what Jesus told him directly and what Jesus told him through a prophetic word from Ananias.  Many feel that the latter is what is happening here, that Paul is only summing up all of what the Lord told him over the 3 days of his conversion.

Note what Jesus says in verse 16.  "I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and of what I will show you".  From the very beginning, Paul met Jesus directly and heard words from his mouth.  Then Jesus told him that He would speak to Paul again at another time.  Remember Paul went into the third heaven and heard things that he could not speak, that man should not hear.  Jesus told Paul that he would be a witness to these things.  The same is true concerning us.  We are to be witnesses of Jesus and the things we know about Him. 

In verses 17 and 18 Jesus goes on to tell Paul, the following.  "I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles".  I wonder if Paul really understood what these words meant at the time Jesus spoke them to him.  My guess is that he didn’t.  Yet as he stood before Agrippa that day, he certainly saw the fulfillment of these words, especially the next statement that Jesus makes in verse 18.  "I am sending you to them to open their eyes and to 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 in me".

There is a lot in these words of Jesus.  Jesus tells Paul that he will be used to open the eyes of both Jews and Gentiles, helping them to leave their darkness.  It is thus clear that Jesus feels that anyone apart from Him lives in darkness.  He goes one step further.  He tells Paul that he will be used in turning people from satan to God.  I conclude then that Jesus understands that all who are apart from him are under the influence of satan, something that many of us don't understand today.

Jesus gives two reasons for people to flee from darkness and satan.  Once leaving the darkness and the power of satan, they receive forgiveness of sins, and then they are counted as those who have been separated from the rest of mankind, and called children of God. 

Jesus says that this separation, or sanctification as the NIV puts it, comes through “faith” in Jesus.  Only when one trusts his life with Jesus can he be part of this sanctified or separated group. 

Jesus told Paul that He would rescue him from the Jews and Gentiles.  What did He mean?  Paul was standing before the very people Jesus told him that he’d be rescued from. Paul had suffered much, and would suffer even more in the future because of Jesus.  He would loose his life for Jesus.  So what did Jesus mean when He said that He would rescue Paul from the Jews and the Gentiles?  Well maybe Jesus’ definition of rescuing is different than ours.  When Paul was killed, you might say that Jesus finally rescued him by bringing him home to heaven.  It is clear to me that man’s definition of certain words and concepts is different than our Lord’s.

Verse 19 tells us that Paul specifically tells Agrippa that he “was not disobedient to the vision from Heaven”.  Remember, although there are many people present, the King is the important person in the room and it is to him that Paul is really addressing his words.

Verse 20 is important for 2 reasons.  The first reason is that we see the progression to which Paul preached the gospel to, which is evident as you read the book of Acts.  He says that he first preached to those in Damascus .  This makes sense because that is where he was when he gave his life to Jesus. From Damascus he preached to those in Jerusalem , then all of Judea, (the area around Jerusalem), then to the Gentiles, (northern shore of the Mediterranean  Sea ) 

The second point is to note what Paul preached.  This is his gospel in one short phrase.  In verse 20 he tells Agrippa, "I preach that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds".  Paul believed that people had to repent, that is, had to turn from their wicked ways.  You might suggest that all men are not wicked, only some.  Yet if you study Romans 1 and 2 you will see that Paul clearly teaches that all men are wicked, at least at heart level.  Then Paul says that once you repent, you turn to God.  The turning to God aspect of salvation is called faith.  Turning to God is trusting in Him for your life, as well as your salvation.

Paul adds an interesting point, something that James of Jerusalem would love.  Paul says that once you repent, your deeds should show that you actually have repented.  If your deeds don’t show it, then Paul would say that you haven’t repented, simple as that.  This aspect of the salvation message is now being left out when preached by many Evangelicals these days.  Repentance is important.

In Greek culture repentance meant to change you mind, thus, to change you mind about sin.  This is typically the definition that Evangelicals have given to the word repentance over the years, but repentance is more than that.  The Hebrew concept of repentance was to not only change you mind about sin but to turn from your sin.  Thus, this is the Biblical concept of repentance.  Evangelicals fall short when they teach repentance is simply changing your mind about sin.  They should preach that repentance is walking away from your sin.  Then, once preaching that, they should preach that you need to prove you have repented by doing good works.  The proof of repentance and faith is important.  That should be a part of our gospel message, but that's not always the case these days.     

Paul tells Agrippa that this is why the Jews seized him and tried to kill him.  The gospel is truly an irritant to people, and even more so these days when our culture is fast forsaking the Biblical consensus it was once influenced by.  

In verses 22 and 23 Paul says that what he preaches is exactly what the prophets and Moses preached.  Of course, this is not how the Jews saw his preaching, especially when Paul taught that the Gentiles were included in salvation.

Paul then expresses his feeling that God has helped him to date to survive the Jewish attacks.  Remember that the Lord told Paul that He would rescue Paul from both the Jews and the Gentiles.  This is most likely why Paul says what he says here.

All good Jews were expecting the Christ, or the Messiah, to come and save them from their enemies and set up His eternal Kingdom on earth.  Paul says that what he is preaching is exactly what the Old Testament Law and Prophets were speaking of.  He says that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.  This is where he comes in conflict with His accusers.  They don’t believe that Jesus is the Christ.  They saw the Messiah to be a king and Paul preaches from Scripture that the Messiah indeed was a king but would suffer and die, yet by rising from the dead, God has made Him Lord of all things, and thus the importance of Paul’s message is based on the resurrection of Jesus.  Since He has risen, He is Lord, and He is also the first to rise from the dead.  All those who trust in Him will rise as well.

Verse 24 says, "at this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense, ‘you are out of your mind Paul', he shouted.  ‘Your great learning is driving you insane'". You can tell that Festus was getting frustrated by what Paul was saying.  Luke says that he interrupted and actually shouted these words at him.  He acknowledged the fact that Paul was a learned man, but he says that all this learning was the thing that was driving Paul crazy.

With respect, in verse 25 Paul replies by saying that "what I am saying is true and reasonable".  Paul says 2 things here.  He says what he is saying is true.  As usual he backs up what he says by what he sees in the Old Testament.  But Paul also says that what he is saying is reasonable.  To me this is important.  Many Christians over the last few decades have by default taken the reasonableness out of the gospel.  By this I mean that they have laid aside the idea that you can explain the gospel from a reasonable and intellectual standpoint.  It is not something that should be accepted by mere blind faith.  The gospel is explainable and logical.

In verse 26 Paul continues to tell Festus that the King knows all about these things. Paul is implying that even though Festus doesn’t understand what he is saying, King Agrippa does because of his understanding of Jewish matters.  Remember, Agrippa is half Jew and half Gentile.   

In verse 27 Paul turns his face to look at the King and says, "King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets?  I know you do".  Paul is putting the king on the spot here, something he's clearly not afraid to do.   

There is a bit of controversy among Bible teachers concerning Paul's question to Agrippa.  Some suggest that Paul was simply attempting to get Agrippa to agree with him.  Others say that Paul was trying to convert Agrippa. 

In verse 28 Agrippa responds by saying, "do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian"?  According to Agrippa's answer in the NIV, Paul appears to be speaking directly to Agrippa in the attempt to lead him to Jesus.

In verse 29 Paul replies, "short time or long – I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains".  I have always liked these words.  Once again you see the heart of Paul.  No matter whom he was speaking to, whether great or small, he wanted them to know Jesus as he did.  He stands up as an example for people to follow, by suggesting that he hopes others will be as he is, except for his chains of course.

I see something happening in this event.  Paul was speaking directly to King Agrippa, although all the others in the room would be listening and hearing as well.  Paul’s words were beginning to reach Agrippa’s heart.  I believe the Holy Spirit was speaking to Agrippa.  Just when the intensity level began to rise, just when Agrippa seemed spell bound by what Paul was saying, Festus interrupts by telling Paul that he was crazy.  It was if Paul had a direct line to Agrippa’s heart, and Festus saw what was happening and so Festus jumps in to disrupt what was happening.  It was as if satan saw the effect Paul was having on Agrippa and had to try to spoil it.        

After these words from Paul the King and Festus get up, thus dismissing the meeting.  While leaving the room they confer with each other.  They conclude in verse 31 that Paul had not done anything that deserves death or imprisonment.  Paul may not have convinced these men to give their lives to Jesus, but he did convince them that what he was accused of was not worth death or being put in prison for.  The problem as Agrippa sees it is that Paul could have been set free, but since he has appealed to Rome, the appeal process must go forth.  It was too late to change at this point.

One might then ask the question, "Did Paul do the right thing in appealing to Rome "?  He could have been set free to go forth and preach anywhere he wanted.  In my thinking I believe Paul’s appeal was right for him.  Remember in the vision the Lord told Paul that he would go to Rome to witness to his name.  This was in the back of Paul’s mind.  See Acts 23:11.


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