ACTS – CHAPTERS 25-26 – PAUL BEFORE FESTUS AND AGRIPPA
Tuesday Morning Bible Study
August 2, 2022
Pastor Carolyn Sissom
Last week we finished out story of Paul’s trial before Felix. To this point, Paul has been through three trials, (1) before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem; (2) before Commander Claudius Lysias in Jerusalem; (3) before Governor Felix in Caesarea. In chapter 25, Felix has been called back to Rome. Felix was accused of using a dispute between the Jews and Syrians of Caesarea as a pretext to slay and plunder the inhabitants. But through the influence of his brother, secretary of the treasury during the reign of the Emperor Claudius, Felix escaped unpunished.
Even though Felix knew Paul was innocent of the charges against him, he was politically vulnerable because of his corrupt practices and could not risk setting Paul free. However, it was a protection for Paul because the Jews would have attempted to kill him.
Porcius Festus succeeded Felix as governor of Judea. He was governor from about 59-62a.d. During his administration, Jewish hostility to Rome was greatly inflamed by the civic privileges issue; as well as a controversy between King Agrippa II and the priests in Jerusalem regarding the wall erected at the temple to break the view of the new wing of Agrippa’s palace.
In the midst of this political and religious hotbed, Festus arrived in the province to take office. Three days after he arrived, he left Caesarea to go to Jerusalem. We can see how it would be to his advantage politically to please the Jews with a prompt visit. No sooner did he arrive in Jerusalem, however, than he found himself caught in a Jewish plot. The chief priests and other influential Jews had lost none of their bitterness against Paul. They saw in the new governor’s inexperience a way to get their hands on the apostle.
25:2-5: The high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul, and they petitioned him, asking a favor against him, that he would summon him to Jerusalem---while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him. But Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was going there shortly. Therefore, he said, “let those who have authority among you go down with me and accuse this man, to see if there is any fault in him.”
Though Festus was new on the job, whether by his own good judgment or the divine intervention of the Lord, he was not taken in by the Jews. He refuses their request, but offers for them to accompany him back to Caesarea and there he would hear the case. This plot of the Jews is totally conspired by Satan. It is in opposition to the will of God. They are not fighting Paul; they are fighting God. It is the LORD who will send Paul to Rome, not the Roman government.
25: 6-7: When he (Festus) had remained among them more than ten days, he went down to Caesarea. The next day, sitting on the judgment seat, he commanded Paul to be brought. When he had come, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood about and laid many serious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove.
The charges are not mentioned, but it would be my conclusion, there were additional made-up charges since there were obviously more than the three which were presented to Festus. There were “many serious complaints.” A lying spirit has no problem manufacturing more lies. As a nation, we are dealing with a “lying spirit,” presently in control of the Executive Branch and Legislative Branch of our government. Proverbs 28:5: Evil men do not understand judgment; but they that seek the Lord understand all things
25: 8: Paul answered for himself, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.”
Whatever the charges, it appears to be in the three categories of (1) the law of the Jews; (2) the Temple; (3) the emperor.
Luke doesn’t go into the details of Paul’s defense. The most serious charge, as far as Festus was concerned, was that of the fomenting unrest in the various provinces of the empire.
25:9: But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?”
Now we behold the politician in Festus. He didn’t get that far in the Roman Empire without some sort of sly and slick maneuvers. But for the sake of ingratiating himself with the Jews, he was willing to put Paul through another—trial this time at Jerusalem. This is placing popularity over justice. I am very grateful to God that the six supreme court justice who overturned Roe vs Wade did not put popularity over justice. I am afraid this happens often in churches, federal, state and local government, corporations, and wherever people gather. As followers of Christ Jesus, let us never compromise justice for popularity or money.
25: 10-12: Paul said, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know. For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying, but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council answered, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go.!”
Paul knew it was the plot of Satan to send him back to Jerusalem. This was one less problem for Festus. The Caesar was the young emperor Nero. At this time, Nero’s record as an administrator was good. He had able men under him. However, as we know from history, he became one of, if not the evilest ruler in history. As we will learn in Chapters 27 and 28, Paul was taken to Rome and kept under guard for two years before Nero finally heard his case. It is incorrect to say: “it is unknown whether Nero took any personal part in the Apostle’s trial.” We know this because an angel explicitly informed Paul: “You must stand before Caesar.” Paul won his first appeal before Nero only to be later condemned and beheaded by the mal-evo-lent ruler.
However, I am getting ahead of our story and we will face Nero in chapter 28. At this time, the Jews are out of favor with Rome. Paul will now face King Agrippa and Bernice. Wikipedia calls her Berenice.
25: 13-16: After some days, King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to greet Festus. When they had been there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “there is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix, about whom the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, when I was in Jerusalem, asking for a judgment against him. To them I answered, ‘it is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning the charge against him.’
As we discussed last week, Bernice was an extremely beautiful Herodian princess. She was the sister of Herod Agrippa, II (as was Drusilla, wife of Felix). She and Agrippa lived together in an incestuous relationship. She had previously been married to her uncle who was also a Herod and ruler of Chalcis, Syria. History records three short lived marriages before her marriage to her brother. She was living with him at Caesarea Philippi when Festus arrived as governor of Palestine. Later she became the mistress of emperor Vespasian (ruled from 69-79). She left him to become the mistress of his son, Titus. As Vespasian’s son, Titus was the military commander who destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Agrippa, II was the last Herodian king.
Festus continues with his narrative to Agrippa of the trial of Paul.
25: 17-22: When they (the Jews) had come together, without any delay, the next day I sat on the judgment seat and commanded the man to be brought in. When the accusers stood up, they brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed, but had some questions against him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. Because I was uncertain of such questions, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there be judged concerning these matters. But when Paul appealed to be reserved for the decision of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I could send him to Caesar.”
The emperor, Augustus Caesar, died in A.D. 14. He was the Roman emperor at the time of Jesus’ birth. Augustus means “exalted, venerable” meaning “to increase.” Augustus was the title given to Octavian, the first Roman emperor, the adopted son of Julius Caesar. In 26 BC, the senate officially gave him the name, Augustus, and after his death it was used as a title for subsequent emperors. August as an adjective means distinguished, respected, prestigious, exalted, etc.
Festus was astute enough to pick up the central issue of the Jews’ charges. It was “one Jesus” (K.J.V.). But Agrippa would know about both Jesus and Paul. He was known to be a zealous Jew, regardless of his sinful life. He had often heard of these men. What may have seemed trivial to Festus appears as a unique opportunity to Agrippa. He was the titled king of the Jews with much interest in Jewish matters.
25:23-27: The next day when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command, Paul was brought in. Festus said: “King Agrippa and all the men who are here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer. But when I found that he had committed nothing deserving of death, and that he himself had appealed to Augustus, I decided to send him. I have nothing certain to write to my lord concerning him. Therefore, I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place, I may have something to write. It seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to specify the charges against him.”
The pomp and pageantry are the pomp of the world. These officials were great in their own eyes, the prisoner great in the eyes of God. For a brief time, they stood before one of God’s great men. Now they are known only as people who threw away the greatest opportunity of life. How shocked they would be to see how history has reversed their status. Later generations venerated their prisoner and pitied them.
Festus makes two significant confessions: (1) His strong testimony to Paul’s innocence. (2) Paul appealed to Caesar. It was out of Festus’ hands. But it was his duty to specify the charges against him. That was the problem. He could find no crimes.
Chapter 26 – Paul Before Agrippa.
26: 1-3: Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Paul stretched out his hand and answered for himself. “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all things of which I am accused by the Jews. Especially because you are expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews. Therefore, I beg you to hear me patiently.”
This is Paul’s fifth defense of himself and his faith. He is also continuing to testify of Jesus Christ before rulers and kings for a testimony against them. (Mk. 13:9). Paul defends his Jewishness. His life, from boyhood on, was not spent in an obscure province, but in the heart of Jewry. He insists he was well known by the Jews of Jerusalem. In addition, known as one of the strictest Pharisees. Agrippa was not surprised to hear that Paul believed in a Messiah. He knew all Pharisees staunchly believed God would one day keep His promise made to the fathers of the nation centuries ago. It was this hope that gave life and meaning to the whole sacrificial system. So, Paul is asking the king, why am I on trial for declaring something that is believed by Jews? Paul made the resurrection of Jesus the central point of his defense issue. Why, he asks, should any Jew be on trial for believing God had kept His promise? Paul describes torturing the Christians to make them curse Jesus’ name. when that wasn’t successful, they were killed. The Christians preferred death to apostasy.
We’ve met the wonderful story of Paul’s conversion thrice before, but this time we gain additional details. Here we find that the light not only shone upon Paul, but upon his companions as well. We observe too that his companions also fell to the earth with him. It is here, and not in the other accounts that we have the Lord’s reference to the proverb, “kicking against the goad.” Speaking in Aramaic, (the Hebrew dialect), the goad proverb was based on agricultural life. The plowman would carry a goad (long pointed stick to guide the beast) in one hand and steer the plow with the other as he walked behind the oxen. When the ox rebelled against his master and kicked against the goad, he merely punished himself further. The Lord’s words reveal that Paul was already half convicted that the Christian cause was true.
26:12-18: While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. When we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” I said, “who are You Lord? He said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you. To open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.”
Paul was ordered to rise from the dust. He is not being punished for persecuting the church. The purpose of the manifestation, as Jesus explains it, is to present him with a divine commission. Instead of punishment, he finds himself appointed as a personal minister of Jesus with the special task of carrying His exciting news to the gentiles. He is to tell everyone, including the Jews what he had seen that day, as well as other revelations to come. Simultaneously with his commission, Paul received a guarantee of divine protection whenever his ministry exposed him to danger. In his testimony before Agrippa, he merges the details supplied him by Ananias as well as those things told him by the Lord.
He is to do four things for the Gentiles:
- Open and awaken their minds to God’s truth.
- The good news would deliver them from the power of the devil.
- Once they receive Jesus Christ as their Savior, their sins are forgiven.
- Once they receive Christ, they become God’s own people.
26: 19-23: “King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come---that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles."
His ministry asks men to repent and back up their repentance with a changed life. Good works were the natural consequences of being saved. If no works followed a person’s profession of faith, then Paul regarded his testimony as suspect, James called such a profession, “dead faith” (James 2:17). God, faithful to His promises, delivered him out of the hands of the Jews who tried to kill him. So, that he was now alive to tell the king of the Lord’s delivering power.
Paul’s statement would not make sense to Festus, but Agrippa knew what Paul meant. The apostle had shown how he had remained completely loyal to the faith of Israel. He had not gone beyond the prophecies of the prophets or Moses.
As we understand the anointing on the Word, the message must have been so powerful that Festus thought Paul had gone mad.
26:24: As he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!”
The Holy Ghost took over the message!
The matters of which Paul spoke were known to every Jew. The life and death of the Lord Jesus had received the greatest publicity. His miracles had been heralded from one end of Israel to the other. His resurrection had been amply attested by hundreds of witnesses. Ever since the advent of Jesus, the gospel had been openly proclaimed in His name. The conversion of the apostle Paul was also a matter of notoriety. He was well known before he turned to Christ. What happened to him on the Damascus Road was so extraordinary that it was the subject of universal talk. King Agrippa not only knew of these things; he was listening to Paul because he was familiar with them. He wanted to hear the “prime minister of Christianity,” who may have also been the top Jewish scholar of the day.
26:25-27: Paul said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things, for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since these things were not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.”
Paul deliberately put the king on the spot. Paul shrewdly asked, “do you believe the Prophets?” the apostle had clearly preached nothing that wasn’t found in the Prophets. If the King said yes, he would be backing Paul’s words. If he said “no” then he could no longer claim to be orthodox and would lose his power over the people of Israel. Remember the court where they were gathered was filled with prominent people, guards and servants who were witnessing this trial.
26:28: Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”
K.J.V. “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”
I am reminded of the song, Almost Persuaded (Philip P. Bliss, pub. 1871).
“Almost persuaded” now to believe;
“Almost persuaded” Christ to receive;
Seems now some soul to say,
“Go, Spirt, go Thy way,
Some more convenient day
On Thee I’ll call.”
“Almost persuaded,” come, come today;
“Almost persuaded,” turn not away;
Jesus invites you here,
Angels are ling’ring near,
Prayers rise from hearts so dear;
O wand’rer, come!
“Almost persuaded,” harvest is past!
“Almost persuaded,” doom comes at last!
“Almost” cannot avail;
“Almost” is but to fail!
Sad, sad, that bitter wail---
“Almost,” but lost!
26:29-32: Paul said, I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am except for these chains.” When he had said these things, the king stood up, as well as the governor and Bernice and those who sat with them; and they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, “this man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains.” Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
Once again, Paul was declared innocent by a Roman court. However, since his appeal to the emperor had been accepted, it could not be withdrawn. Paul was to go to Rome. All that remained was how to frame the charge letter to be presented to Caesar. Agrippa was a favorite in Nero’s court. It could work to Paul’s advantage; for Agrippa undoubtedly recommended clemency for the apostle. At this time (A.D. 59), the official policy of Rome was favorable toward Christians. It was not until A.D. 62, that any significant policy change occurred and the Romans became hostile toward Christianity.
Next week – Paul’s journey to Rome.