For an introduction to this series, click here.
June 29, 2007
This chapter tells about Paul's testimony before Agrippa. I don't have the information in front of me, but Agrippa was a descendant (probably a grandson) of Herod the Great, the man who tried to kill Jesus when He was a baby.
Paul basically recounts his life once again. He was trained as a Pharisee and was persecuting the early Church. And then one day he was traveling to Damascus to persecute more Christians when he saw the Lord Jesus. Paul actually adds some words to what Luke records in the original story in Acts 9: "And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles--to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'" (26:14-18)
Agrippa, as a member of the family that ruled the Jews for over 100 years, would have been more familiar with Jewish customs than Festus, who was probably Roman. That partially explains this exchange: "And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, 'Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.' But Paul said, 'I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.' And Agrippa said to Paul, 'In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?' And Paul said, 'Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am--except for these chains.'" (26:24-29)
Agrippa did know the Jewish traditions, but he was not going to be persuaded by anyone to abandon what he believed in, which was doing whatever was necessary to retain his power.
"Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, 'This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.' And Agrippa said to Festus, 'This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.'" (26:30-32, ESV) This passage still makes me wonder if Paul did the right thing by appealing to Caesar. It is tough to conceive how Paul would have been convicted by an honest judge. And I doubt that Paul was afraid of the Jews and what they might do to him. And the Lord already promised Paul that he would preach in Rome. Was this the best way to get there? I doubt it.
As an aside, how Luke found out about this conversation is another interesting story that we will never know, at least this side of heaven. I really can't conceive of how this might have happened.