The Apostle Paul Appeals to King Agrippa
[Acts chapter 25, verses 16-27]
by Minister Paul J. Bern
Last week as we left off at part one of Acts chapter 25, we found Paul defending himself once again in the presence of his former compatriots in the Sanhedrin, as well as the Temple priests at Jerusalem. First, it was Lysias at the barracks at Jerusalem, then Felix and Festus in that order. Paul could have been set free had he not appealed to Caesar as he did, but the Lord had already told him in a dream that he would testify before kings and governors. That would include Caesar himself, but before that he would testify before King Agrippa. His full name was Herod Agrippa II, (born 27 Ce—died c. 93), king of Chalcis in southern Lebanon from 50 Ce and tetrarch of Batanaea and Trachonitis in south Syria from 53 Ce, who unsuccessfully mediated with the rebels in the First Jewish Revolt (66–70 Ce). He was a great-grandson of Herod I the Great. For additional info simply click this link.
This week as we kick off the second half of Acts 25, Paul continues to defend himself – and the Christian faith – with fervor and the greatest of vigor. In this first portion of the text, there is a conversation between Festus and king Agrippa that takes place 1 day prior to Paul’s chance to testify. So lets take up where we left off starting at verse 16. “16) ‘I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges. 17) When they came here with me, I did not delay the case, but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in. 18) When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 19) Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. 20) I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. 21) But when Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.’ 22) Then Agrippa said to Festus, I would like to hear this man myself.’ He replied, ‘Tomorrow you will hear him.’”. (Acts 25, verses 16-22)
In verse 16, it is Festus, who has already heard Paul’s testimony, speaking to King Agrippa about the matter. Evidently Festus, who was Felix’s successor, had some misgivings about continuing to hold Paul prisoner. But he had still more misgivings about releasing Paul to the Jews who wanted to kill him, since Paul the apostle was a Roman citizen. If such a thing ever occurred, there could be political repercussions as well. So Festus accelerated the proceedings, since he had no legitimate reason to hold Paul from the standpoint of Roman law. And, since the entire Middle East was Roman territory at that time, Roman law was the last word, no matter how much the Jews in Jerusalem said otherwise. That’s why those first 3 verses read the way they do. In verses 18 and 19, it is clear that Festus had no knowledge of, and probably lacked belief in the risen Lord and Savior. And so, said Festus to the king, that was how Paul had ended up in his care.
Festus continues to relate to King Agrippa how things ended up as a result of the hearing that had recently occurred, as we see in verse 20 and 21. That is when he decided to allow Paul to appeal to Caesar. But, as we see in the following verse, when king Agrippa says he wants to hear Paul’s testimony, he gets his wish granted to him right away (see verse 22). One good thing about Festus, he was all about business and keeping things moving. So now let’s finish up this week’s lesson starting at verse 23. “23) The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24) Festus said: ‘King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25) I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. 26) But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. 27) For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him‘.”
Festus, having hastily convened that morning’s hearing, opened the proceedings by addressing king Agrippa to ask for a ruling in this matter of Paul the apostle versus the Hebrew religious establishment. This was the rough equivalent of asking the court for a “summary judgment” in today’s legalese. To explain himself to those who didn’t know the whole story of Paul’s conversion, Festus opened with this statement: “24) ….’King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25) I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. 26) But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him….”
The apostle Paul’s accusers, who were the Jewish religious establishment of that day, had managed to put Festus in a pickle, to borrow a baseball term. If he ruled in favor of the Jews and gave Paul over to them, the Roman authorities might begin to question his loyalties. If Festus ruled in favor of Paul, the Jews would be furious and may well foment revolt against him for setting Paul free. That could potentially make him look bad to his Roman paymasters, as it could well portray Festus as a weak and ineffective leader who was not always able to control the population. “Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him‘.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” So, what will Paul say, and how will he say it? To find the answer to this question, plus hopefully at least one or two more from my audience, be sure and come on back next week for part one of Acts chapter 26. See you then!