“Paul Testifies Before King Agrippa”
Lesson Text:Acts 26:19-32
Background Scripture: Acts 25:23 – 26:32
Devotional Reading: Acts 23:1-11
Acts 26:19-32 (KJV)
19 Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
20 But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
21 For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.
22 Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:
23 That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
24 And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.
25 But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.
26 For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.
27 King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
28 Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
29 And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.
30 And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them:
31 And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds.
32 Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.
To recognize that our personal testimonies reflect the Gospel of Christ in our lives.
To understand that we have to be faithful in taking a stand for God.
To know that God will direct our lives so that our light may shine the way to Him.
A Good Reputation—With Whom?
How important is a good reputation? In one of Shakespeare’s plays, a character exclaims, “O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial” (Othello, Act 2, Scene 3). Most would say a good reputation is important, but just how important?
For the person of faith, obedience to God is always more important than a good reputation with others. Human reputation is based on limited information, but God knows all. Human opinion can vacillate, but God’s judgment is unvarying. In the end, human reputation counts for little, but God’s estimation counts for everything.
The first-century church had a problem with its reputation. Worshipping a man crucified as an insurrectionist, upsetting the social order by inviting people of all backgrounds to adopt their faith, Christians were regarded as foolish, insane, or even dangerous. In the book of Acts, the story of Paul-the-prisoner addresses this issue. Yes, Paul was indeed a prisoner of Rome. But, says Acts, he was imprisoned not because he was a genuine evildoer, but because he so faithfully testified to the good news of Jesus. Many dismissed him and his message. But because he had seen the risen Jesus and had heard the voice of God, Paul could do nothing other than give voice to the truth of the gospel.
Paul, formerly known as Saul, is the focus of the second half of the book of Acts. The one who approved of Stephen’s murder (Acts 8:1) was changed forever on the road to Damascus (9:1-9). Converted from opposition to Jesus, Paul traveled throughout Asia Minor and Greece to preach the good news of Jesus and to establish churches.
Having returned to Jerusalem, Paul was arrested by the Romans after a disturbance in the temple (Acts 21:27-33; 23:26-30). Paul had to wait in prison for months. He was questioned in hearings to establish charges on which he could be tried. But there is more to Paul’s imprisonment than meets the eye. God used Paul’s imprisonment to protect him from those trying to kill him (23:12-24). To avoid trial in Jerusalem, Paul appealed to be heard by the emperor in Rome (25:11), as was his right as a Roman citizen. That legal maneuver became the means by which God not only foiled Paul’s opponents but also enabled Paul to testify in Rome, as God had promised (23:11).
So Festus, the Roman governor of Judea from about A.D. 58 to 62, was obliged to send Paul to Rome. But Festus needed charges to send with him (Acts 25:23-27). Thus, Paul appeared before Festus again, this time joined by King Herod Agrippa II, great-grandson of the infamous King Herod who ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth. King Agrippa was a reliable advisor to the Romans on Jewish affairs, knowing the Jewish Scriptures well (26:3).
Paul began his speech before this court by recounting his early life as a faithful Jew. A strict Pharisee, Paul was so opposed to the followers of Jesus that he traveled to Damascus to arrest them (Acts 26:2-12). But on the way he saw the risen Jesus, who commanded him to testify to people of all nations (26:13-18). And so we come to the conclusion of Paul’s speech, which is our text.
Paul’s Defense Before King Agrippa (Acts 26:19-23)
1. Why point did Paul make by explaining his obedience to the “heavenly vision” of Jesus before the court (Acts 26:19)?
Paul has previously described his life as thoroughly devoted to serving the God of Israel. When one day on his way to Damascus, a heavenly vision came, and he saw the Lord, he himself and his whole life were absolutely changed (Acts 26:12-18). When someone who wants nothing more than to obey God receives a vision that comes from God, what can he do but obey it?
In framing his story this way, Paul makes an important point. He does not follow Jesus because he wants to upset the traditions of his people or disturb the civil order. Rather, he follows Jesus because Jesus’ appearance to him has convinced him that Jesus is the divine Son of God, risen from the dead. Because Jesus specifically has sent Paul to preach, Paul, as one striving to obey God, can do nothing less than obey that divine commission.
2. Where did Paul’s ministry first begin (v. 20)?
Paul now summarizes his career as a preacher of the gospel. It began in Damascus. What was first his destination for arresting followers of Jesus became his first forum for declaring that Jesus is Lord (Acts 9:20-22).
“The coasts of Judaea” refers to the Jewish territory outside Jerusalem; we can infer that Paul took his message to the surrounding regions while in Jerusalem.
Finally, Paul mentions preaching to the Gentiles, that is, non-Jews. God had promised that one day He would make himself known to the Gentiles and bring His blessing to them (Genesis 22:18; Isaiah 42:6, 7). Paul intends for his audience to understand that his preaching to the Gentiles has not been a cause of dissension, but is part of God’s plan. Anyone who longs to see God’s promises fulfilled should rejoice that pagan nations are coming to know the true God through Paul’s ministry.
We see that emphasis in the way Paul describes his preaching. Its aim is to provoke the pagan nations to repent and turn to God, to abandon a life of rebellion against their Creator. Their repentance will then produce works—actions that express obedience and submission to God.
Paul’s preaching provoked violent opposition in both Damascus and Jerusalem (Acts 9:23, 29). But Paul insists that the message of the gospel is nothing dangerous. In fact, it turns the rebellious nations back to submission to their Creator, ready to do His will. If Paul is controversial, then he is so because so many are unwilling to turn back to the one who made them.
3. What did Paul say was the real reason behind his arrest “in the temple” (vs. 21-23)?
Paul explained that some antagonistic Jews arrested him in the temple courts of Jerusalem because he proclaimed the Good News about the Messiah. These enemies of the faith charged the apostle with teaching against the Mosaic law and the temple. They also falsely accused him of defiling the holy place by bringing Gentiles into where they were not allowed to go (see Acts 21:27-36). For these reasons, religious fanatics in Jerusalem attempted to murder Paul (26:21). Despite their efforts, God protected the apostle (v. 22).
Paul continues to talk about faithfulness: his to God and especially God’s to him. Through Paul’s missionary travels and hardships, God has assisted and protected him, even through his current imprisonment. Paul’s preaching has not been aimed at impressing the powerful or at stirring up the vulnerable. He has preached to all, from slaves to kings. All stand equal in their need for God’s mercy. Paul’s message has not denied or deviated from the Jewish Scriptures. Rather, his message has announced the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets. To be specific, the apostle said that Scripture prophesied the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Messiah. In fact, Jesus’ rising from the dead would be like a beacon of light shining the truth and glory of God “unto the people, and to the Gentiles” (v. 23).
Paul’s Bold Message (Acts 26:24-29)
4. Why did the Roman Governor Festus suddenly interrupt Paul (v. 24)?
As the Roman Governor Festus listened to the proceedings, he grew increasingly uncomfortable with Paul’s assertions. So, in an adroit maneuver, Festus interrupted the entire proceeding by suddenly retorting, “Paul, thou art beside thyself” (Acts 26:24). Festus also accused the apostle of becoming insane from excessive religious study. Festus had not interrupted because he really thought Paul was mad. Had that been the case, he would have treated Paul gently and ordered some of his guards to escort him to a place of rest and safety. Furthermore, what official would send a raving madman to be tried before the King? No, the governor was only giving evidence of conviction in his heart. Paul's words had found their mark, and Festus was trying to escape.
The apostle could have been paralyzed by fear or silenced by feelings of intimidation. Instead, deliberately and sanely, Paul denies Festus’s allegation. Still addressing Festus respectfully despite the insult, Paul asserts that his message reflects both truth and soberness (v. 25). It reflects truth because it is fully in accord with what Paul and others have witnessed: that God raised Jesus from the dead. Soberness is the opposite of insanity; it is behavior that reflects self-control, wisdom, sound judgment.
5. Why did Paul appeal to King Agrippa (v. 26)?
Paul now shifts his address from Governor Festus to King Agrippa. The king is present as an expert in Jewish religious affairs, so Paul appeals to his expertise. Agrippa certainly knows about the Christian movement, which is about 30 years old at this point and has thousands of adherents within the historic territories of Israel.
The controversy about the gospel is the most important issue within Judaism of that time. Surely none of this has escaped Agrippa’s attention! The gospel is not based on secret events or private revelations, but on the things that God has done in full view. Paul’s boldness is not madness; it is the necessary consequence of what God had done publicly in Jesus (compare John 18:20).
6. What question did Paul ask King Agrippa (vs. 27-29)? Why?
When Paul asked if Agrippa believed the prophets (who spoke about a Messiah who would suffer, die, be raised again, Psalms 16:8-11; 22; Isa. 53…), he was forcing him to take a stand. Certainly the king would not repudiate what every Jew believed! But Agrippa knew that if he affirmed his faith in the prophets, he must then face the question, "Is Jesus of Nazareth the one about whom the prophets wrote?"
Festus avoided decision by accusing Paul of being mad. King Agrippa eluded Paul's question. The dialogue evidently was becoming too personal for Agrippa and thus it was expedient for him to redirect the focus back to the apostle. The King James Version understands a phrase in the original language to mean “almost,” in which case Agrippa is saying that he is not quite ready to make a commitment in becoming a “Christian” (Acts 26:28). Followers of Jesus were first called Christians in the city of Antioch (see 11:26). Evidently, the people in that city made a joke by calling Jesus’ disciples “Christians,” namely, followers and soldiers of Christ. The name Christian occurs three times in the New Testament (see Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16), which indicates that the label took hold early in church history.
What originally was meant as an insult became a badge of honor. The name officially distinguished Christians from other Jewish sects and made it clear that the Lord Jesus was the object of His disciples’ faith. In contrast; Agrippa’s evasion of Paul’s question with a question suggests that the king was not serious about becoming a genuine follower of the Lord Jesus. Paul evidently sensed this, but that did not seem to stop him from urging the king and the rest in attendance to commit their lives to the Savior. That’s why the apostle responded so openly and frankly with his listeners. Paul wanted everyone in the chamber to become disciples of the Lord (Acts 26:29). (Cook)
Innocent but Imprisoned (Acts 26:30-32)
7. What was the verdict after Paul’s public hearing (vs. 30-32)?
At that point in the proceeding, Agrippa and the rest of the dignitaries arose and left the auditorium (Acts 26:30). They jointly acknowledged that Paul had not done anything to warrant capital punishment or imprisonment (v. 31). Agrippa noted to Festus that if Paul had not appealed to the Caesar, he could have been set free (v. 32). The dignitaries did not realize, however, that God was using these series of events to bring about the apostle’s proclamation of the Gospel in Rome.
Ironically, what Agrippa and Festus did not understand was that Paul had been the judge and they had been the prisoners on trial. They had been shown the light and the way to freedom, but they had deliberately closed their eyes and returned to their sins. Perhaps they felt relieved that Paul would go to Rome and trouble them no more. The trial was over, but their sentence was still to come; and come it would.
What a wonderful thing is the opportunity to trust Jesus Christ and be saved! What a terrible thing is wasting that opportunity and perhaps never having another.
POINTS TO PONDER
1. We must be obedient and faithful in taking a stand for Christ. (Acts 26:19-21)
2. It is one thing to have a great beginning, with visions and voices, but quite another thing to keep on going, especially when the going is tough. The fact that Paul continued was proof of his conversion and evidence of the faithfulness of God. He was saved by God's grace and enabled to serve by God's grace. You can be saved and serve too! (Acts 26:22-32; 1 Cor. 15:10).
Free in Spite of Circumstances
Even unbelieving magistrates who had their own agendas could see that Paul was no criminal. But beyond Paul’s innocence was another truth: as a follower of Jesus, he was experiencing something like Jesus had. Paul was imprisoned because of his bold proclamation of the gospel. Speaking about the crucified Jesus made Paul a prisoner of the very government that had carried out the crucifixion.
Faithfulness will put us at odds with many around us. It will lose us some of what the world holds dear. But when our faith costs us, we are richest. When our faith makes us a prisoner, we are most free.
Lord Jesus, may we be as captivated with You as was Paul, and so may we like him be bold witnesses for You. In Jesus’ name; amen!
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Recognize where true freedom lies.