|Topical Bible Study||August 1958|
The People of the Bible
Article XXXVI—Acts 25:13 – 26:32
Paul in Protective Custody—Part 2
PAUL proved to be a problem prisoner to each of the Roman governors before whom he appeared for a hearing. Festus offered the apostle an opportunity to return to Jerusalem to appear before his accusers, but instead of doing this, he appealed his case to Caesar. Being a lawyer, he knew that as a Roman citizen this appeal could not be denied; and Festus, glad to be free from further responsibility with respect to Paul, replied, “Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shalt thou go.”—Acts 25:12
Actually, Festus had no alternative. Even so, after assuring Paul that he would be taken to Rome, he realized that he still had a problem on his hands; for, while he was planning to send Paul to Caesar, as far as the Roman law was concerned, there was no charge against him. Before there came a convenient opportunity to send Paul on his way to Rome, King Agrippa and his sister Bernice “came unto Caesarea to salute Festus.”
Festus took this opportunity to tell Agrippa about his problem prisoner, and Agrippa asked to see and hear Paul. Festus gladly consented, thinking, no doubt, that this additional hearing might furnish him with some information that he could send on to Caesar that would be in the nature of a charge against him. Festus knew that Paul had committed no crime worthy of death and said so to Agrippa when presenting him to the apostle. “It seemeth to me unreasonable,” said Festus, “to send a prisoner [Paul], and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.”—vs. 27
If, when the knowledge of the Lord fills the earth as the waters cover the sea, the restored world of mankind looks back through the pages of history during the reign of sin and death, they will find much that is unreasonable, particularly in the areas of human relationship where religion has been involved. When created, man was endowed with the desire and ability to worship his Creator. This was a priceless heritage, but it is an endowment which Satan has been very successful in distorting and misdirecting.
Loyalty to the Creator is essential to all who would be pleasing to him, and usually it is a very strong and determined attitude. But when it is misguided and takes the form of prejudice, intolerance, and persecution, there is nothing that makes one more unreasoning. Festus, judging solely from the legal standpoint, saw that it was most unreasonable to demand that a man die simply because he held a religious viewpoint different from that of his enemies. He believed that Caesar would feel the same way; yet the Jewish religionists who were seeking Paul’s life believed that if they could kill Paul they would be serving and pleasing the God of Israel.
If we are inclined to rejoice that the days of religious persecution are past, let us not be too sure. Here is a matter in which it might be well to examine our own hearts. How tolerant are we toward those who disagree with us religiously? How do we feel about those in our own fellowship who may not use our exact phraseology to express the doctrines of the truth? Do we try to understand them, or do we start rumors about them? Every consecrated child of God should be willing to die for the truth. But loyalty to God and to the truth does not call for intolerance and slander against those who are equally loyal but who may not use the same form of words that appeals to us.
When the opportunity came, Agrippa said to Paul, “Thou art permitted to speak for thyself.” (ch. 26:1) Paul replied: “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews: especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.”—vss. 2,3
Knowing all the circumstances involved, Paul certainly must have realized that nothing he could say to Agrippa would change the status of his case; so here we find the great apostle “happy” simply because he was to have an opportunity to witness for the truth. He knew that Agrippa was well acquainted with the viewpoints and customs of the Jews. In fact, although he was not a Jew himself, Agrippa’s family for several generations back were believers in the Jewish religion.
First Paul recounted his preconversion manner of life as a Pharisee. The Jews at Jerusalem, his persecutors, knew this. “If they would testify,” he told Agrippa, and tell the truth, they would have to say “that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” “And now,” Paul continued, “I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.”—vss. 5-7
The Hope of the Resurrection
Paul left no question in Agrippa’s mind regarding what “hope” it was to which he referred. It was the hope of the resurrection of the dead. The Jewish sect known as the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, but the Pharisees did; and since Paul had been an ardent Pharisee, there seems little doubt that in the years prior to his conversion he had been an able protagonist of this glorious doctrine of the Scriptures. His contemporaries would know this.
How logical, then, and to the point, was his question, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” he asked Agrippa. (vs. 8) Certainly it should not have been considered “incredible” by Paul’s former associates, the Pharisees. But he was not so much concerned with this now as he was in presenting an effective witness to Agrippa personally.
The doctrine of the resurrection is, of course, thought to be “a thing incredible” by practically the whole world, even to this day. Of all the religions of the earth the Christian religion is the only one that teaches the resurrection. And even here, the satanic falsehood of inherent immortality has voided the pure truth of the resurrection in the minds of nearly all professed Christians.
Certainly the teaching of the resurrection should not be thought “a thing incredible,” not when we take into consideration that it is the great Creator of all life who has promised to raise the dead. But for some reason it seems to be easier for most people to believe that a person doesn’t really die at all, when he seems to die, than to accept the reality of death and believe that the great God of the universe will restore life.
Doubtless every Pharisee in Israel at the time would have loudly reaffirmed his belief in the resurrection of the dead. Not one of them would have said that it was “a thing incredible.” Their animosity toward Paul was aroused by his teaching that the God of Israel had raised Jesus from the dead.
This was more than the religious rulers of Israel could tolerate. They had hated Jesus and persecuted him unto death. They professed to believe that he was an outcast from divine favor. They considered him to be a blasphemer of God. Certainly their God, the great Jehovah of Israel, would not raise a blasphemer from the dead. With them, as it often happens, it was a case of one erroneous viewpoint leading to another; and the jealousy and hatred in their hearts had led them from one degree of darkness to another until they had become completely blinded.
Yes, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead; but, as Peter discovered, they were unwilling to accept the fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead and that through him all would be resurrected. When Peter preached his sermon on “restitution” and declared that it had been foretold by all God’s holy prophets since the world began, the religious rulers and Sadducees were grieved that he “preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.”—Acts 3:15 – 4:2
Paul Also Persecuted
Paul related to Agrippa how, as a Pharisee, he had persecuted the disciples of Jesus. He said, “Being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.” (ch. 26:9-11) Here we are reminded of the possibility of being wrong, yet sincere. Just being a Pharisee did not make one insincere. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and he sought earnestly to know the truth concerning Jesus, risking his reputation to do so.
Paul was a Pharisee according to the “most straitest sect” of the Jewish religion, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, as it were, and he was sincere. He verily thought he was serving God by persecuting the disciples of Jesus. Being a Pharisee and a student of the prophecies, he would thoroughly believe in the coming of Israel’s Messiah, but he did not believe that Jesus was that Messiah.
Born in Tarsus, Paul was brought up and received his religious education in Jerusalem. While the Bible does not clearly indicate, traditionally Paul was approximately the same age as Jesus. Whether or not he was in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus’ ministry we do not know. But even if he was, there is little likelihood that he ever saw the Master. Paul’s father was a Pharisee, and Paul received his religious training from Gamaliel, during which time he would be kept well sequestered from outside influences.
Under these circumstances, whatever he heard about Jesus would not be good. Having confidence in his elders, he would naturally believe what he heard; so his zeal in persecuting these “heretics,” as he understood them to be, is understandable. In his case it was not jealousy, but a genuine belief that this was his duty toward his God, the God of Israel.
He related to Agrippa his never-to-be-forgotten experience on the Damascus road, when he saw that blinding light and heard Jesus asking, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” and learned that the One speaking to him was Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps to Paul one of the most surprising aspects of this experience was that, having mistakenly been a persecutor of the followers of the Messiah, he should at once be commissioned to represent him. As Paul related it to Agrippa, the resurrected Jesus said to him:
“Rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”—vss. 16-18
Paul then added, “Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” (vs. 19) Not being “disobedient,” Paul had witnessed to the Gospel of Christ, as he explained to Agrippa, in “Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.”—vs. 20
“For these causes,” Paul explained, “the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.” (vs. 21) Paul was absolutely guiltless of any wrongdoing. He was hated and persecuted only because he espoused the cause of Christ; and Christ had done no wrong. Jesus had spent his life doing good—preaching glad tidings and healing the sick—but he was put to death; so now Paul was threatened with the same punishment and for the same “crime.”
To make it still more apparent to Agrippa that his persecutors were moved against him by blind prejudice, Paul explained that his message of the Gospel consisted only of those truths which had been set forth by the Old Testament prophets, the very truths which his enemies professed to believe. But again Paul came to the real point of the issue, when, explaining the essence of the message of the prophets, he said it was the fact that “Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.”—vs. 23
With this, Festus, who was sitting with Agrippa, could no longer restrain himself and “said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.” (vs. 24) During the reign of sin and death fallen human nature does not improve. Often today those who have a definite belief in the Word of God and its teachings and are fearless in proclaiming their faith are considered something less than mentally normal. They are called religious fanatics, or “cranks,” who should not be listened to seriously.
“I am not mad, most noble Festus,” said Paul “but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” (vs. 25) Paul was not a man to be carried away with emotion. He was not a religious fanatic. He had always been a zealous servant of God, but his service was based on reason and conviction. This was true even before his conversion. His difficulty then was that he did not have all the facts upon which to base his reasoning. But now he did.
His experience on the Damascus road was a fact. The witness of the Holy Spirit in his life since then was a fact. The marvelous manner in which the Lord had directed him in his service of the truth was another fact. That he should be testifying before kings was in itself a confirmation of his position, for the Lord had foretold that this should be among his experiences. (Acts 9:15) No, Paul was not “mad.” He was factual and fearless.
As if to add weight to the truthfulness of his presentation, Paul then declared that the “king,” referring to Agrippa, knew of the things whereof he spoke. In the opening of his speech, Paul had complimented Agrippa on being “expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews,” and apparently he had reason to believe that this knowledge included the issues in his own case and the experiences through which he had passed. “None of these things are hidden from him,” Paul said, “for this thing was not done in a corner.”—ch. 26:26
But Paul was not nearly so interested in vindicating himself as he was in presenting an effective witness to Agrippa. So, addressing the king directly and personally, he inquired, “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.” (vs. 27) The king’s full name was Herod Agrippa. He was the great-grandson of Herod the Great. While this family was not Jewish, it held to the Jewish faith. Knowing this, Paul took full advantage of it in his effort to reach Agrippa’s heart with the Gospel.
And Agrippa was impressed. He replied to Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” (vs. 28) The word “almost” is a translation of a compound of two Greek works which the Revised Version renders “with but little.” In Paul’s reply he used the same Greek compound, saying, “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.”—vs. 29
Since Paul thus uses the expression “almost” in the sense of degree, in comparison with “altogether,” it would seem that what Agrippa replied to Paul was that to a certain extent, or in some respects, he had been persuaded to accept Christ. This was not satisfactory to Paul; hence his reply that he would like to see the king accept the Gospel, not partially, but “altogether,” and give himself unreservedly to Christ. But this was a greater step than Agrippa was prepared to take.
The fact that Paul’s presentation influenced Agrippa to the extent that it did suggests that he had previously given some serious thought to the circumstances associated with the coming of Jesus into the world. Being the great-grandson of Herod the Great, he would certainly know of the decree to slaughter the infants of Judea in order to destroy Jesus, and he would know that the effort failed.
It was Herod Agrippa I—father of the Agrippa before whom Paul appeared—who ordered the execution of James and directed the same treatment for Peter. (Acts 12:1-10) While his father succeeded in having James put to death, Agrippa II must have known of the miraculous circumstances in connection with the deliverance of Peter from prison and from execution.
Agrippa would also know of the confident claims of the disciples that their Master had been raised from the dead, which Paul reminded him should not be thought a thing “incredible.” So, professing to believe the Jewish faith, this background of circumstances concerning Jesus and his followers had doubtless given Agrippa cause for serious reflection; and then, hearing Paul’s eloquent testimony, he became somewhat convinced.
Unlike the Jewish religious leaders, Agrippa held no hatred in his heart for the followers of Jesus and could see no reason why Paul should be put to death simply because he had espoused the cause of Christ and because his conscience would not permit him to be “disobedient unto the heavenly vision.”
The hearing ended, Festus, Agrippa, and his sister Bernice went aside with the “chief captains, and principal men of the city,” who also heard Paul’s “defense.” (Acts 25:23) They held a conference and decided that Paul was not guilty. Then Agrippa, for whom the hearing had been called, said to Festus, “This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.”—ch. 26:32
There were certainly many disadvantages and hardships involved in being held a prisoner. Without doubt Paul took this into consideration before appealing to Caesar. He knew that the way to Rome as a prisoner would be a difficult one; but he also realized that if he undertook to make the journey without the protection of Roman soldiers he would probably be ambushed and killed by his enemies.
Paul knew that the Lord wanted him to go to Rome, and to Rome he would go. His consecration to the Lord was so complete that not only was he willing to go where the Lord wanted him to go, but also in the way the divine will was indicated to him. Just as he was willing to die at Jerusalem, so now he was willing to continue on to Rome as a prisoner.