19. “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,
Paul now assures King Agrippa that he did not disobey this heavenly vision. One might have expected him to, considering the hatred he had borne to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ before this time. Yet he completely turned around at this time, and obeyed the orders he had received from the Lord.
20. 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.
Paul specifies how he had obeyed. He had done this first of all by declaring his message in Damascus, the city in which he currently found himself. Later, he proclaimed this message in Jerusalem. From there, he spread to declaring it throughout all the region of Judea. Finally, he went out and proclaimed it to the nations, even as the Lord had commanded him. This is interesting, for we have no record of Paul proclaiming throughout all the region of Judea, yet here he testifies to the fact that he did this, and we have no reason to doubt his testimony. Since in Galatians 1:22, we know he did not meet the ekklesias of Judea face-to-face during his first visit to Jerusalem, this must have taken place during his second visit to Jerusalem in Acts 11:30 and 12:25. This could not have been during his third visit there in Acts 15, for by then he had already been proclaiming to the nations.
Now Paul reveals what he declared in these places. First of all, he told them to repent. Yet this is the bad translation we have talked about previously in Acts of the Greek word metanoeo, which means to submit. Paul’s message was that they should submit and turn to God, and that the result of this should be that they will do works befitting those who are submissive.
21. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.
It was for these reasons, Paul reveals, that the Jewish leaders seized him in the temple and tried to kill him. They did not like the message he was proclaiming, nor did they wish to personally be submissive to God or do the works that would accompany that attitude.
22. 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—
It would seem that, with powerful leaders seeking your life, in all likelihood you would be killed before very much time passed. Indeed, we know that Paul never would have made it this far if the Lord had not been taking care of him, and even raising him from the dead. So with God’s help he had continued to stand and proclaim his message even to that day in which he was standing before King Agrippa. During all this time, he had been testifying both to common people and to rulers. Yet the things he testified, he insists, were no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come.
Now this is very significant. We know that in the book of Ephesians, Paul revealed completely new things, which he called a mystery or secret. This secret, according to his testimony, “in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets.” He was setting forth truth that had not been made known in the past when God flowed out with truth to His prophets. Yet now it was made known, and was something new. Yet Ephesians was written after Paul’s words to Agrippa here in Acts 26. This shows us that this new revelation, this new secret, had not been proclaimed yet by Paul at the time he said this to Agrippa.
This is very important when we realize that Paul at this time had already written Galatians, I and II Thessalonians, I and II Corinthians, and the book of Romans. According to his testimony here, we cannot expect to find the secret of Ephesians in these books. Instead, we should find Paul only proclaiming the things which the prophets and Moses had, in other eons, predicted would come. Those who insist that they find the secret of Ephesians in Paul’s earlier books are shown to be incorrect. Paul up to the time he was talking to Agrippa here had not yet proclaimed anything that the prophets and Moses had not already declared would come to pass.
23. 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.”
Now Paul lists the things he said which were completely in harmony with what the prophets and Moses said. First of all, they said that Christ or Messiah would suffer. We can see passages like Isaiah 53 that predict this very thing. Yet they also said that he would be the first to rise from the dead, and we know this came to pass as well, even as the Old Testament said it would. Then, they stated that Messiah would proclaim light to the People, (that is, God’s people Israel,) as well as to the nations. This is exactly what we have seen happening in the book of Acts as we have studied through it to this point. Christ through His apostles did proclaim light to the people of the land, as well as those of other nations. The prophets and Moses were right, as we would expect them to be.
24. Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!”
Though this address is targeted at Agrippa, the others are still there listening in, one of them being Festus. We have already seen how Festus misunderstood Paul’s teaching regarding the resurrection earlier. Now, it seems, he at last grasps what Paul is talking about, and that he really means that dead people rise to life again. So at this point he breaks into Paul’s address with an outburst. He is certain Paul must be completely mad. He can clearly see that Paul is well-educated, a man of letters, but it seems to him that his great education has corrupted in Paul into a mania. Yet what was it about resurrection that so convinced him, and made him so certain Paul must be out of his mind?
The Greeks held, along with their ancient philosophers, that many of a person’s problems have to do with his body, and that death therefore is a desirable thing for the shedding of that body, in order to exist from then on as a pure spirit form. In this form, they thought, one would be free to contemplate the universe without the limiting restraints of the body. To their way of thinking, then, there could be nothing more counterproductive than to be raised from the dead to be saddled with a body all over again. Because of this system of beliefs, God’s truth of resurrection was completely foreign to their minds and thinking. To them, a man would not want to live again once he had died. Not only did this seem impossible to them without the power of God, it did not even seem desirable to them because of their false philosophy.
So when Festus realizes that Paul is truly teaching resurrection of dead people, he is convinced that Paul must be completely crazy. No one in his right mind, Festus thinks, could possibly believe in rising from the dead. Therefore, he breaks into Paul’s proclamation with this outburst. He can see Paul is very learned, and his words seem to be those of one with high intelligence. Yet he concludes that Paul’s great intellect has been too much for him, and his learning is driving him mad. At least, this is the quick conclusion he comes to, and is the accusation he throws at Paul in this outburst. In Festus’ mind, Greek philosophy reigned supreme, and no one but a madman would believe in rising from the dead.
25. But he said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason.
Paul, speaking with the help of the Holy Spirit, is not the least bit ruffled by Festus’ outburst. God’s words through him had not been mainly addressed to Festus, but to Agrippa. Agrippa knew of the Jewish belief in resurrection. This was nothing new to him. Yet he, too, thought it incredible, and apparently did not believe it, as Paul pointed out back in verse 8. But this was something that all the Jews who were well versed in the Scriptures believed, and was no sign of madness. Therefore, Paul flatly denies Festus’ charge calmly and yet respectfully, speaking to him as “most noble Festus.” He is not mad, but speaks the words of truth and reason. There has been nothing of the madman in the things he has said. Instead, no matter how hard Festus might find it to believe, Paul had spoken the truth.
26. 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 this thing was not done in a corner.
We have to remember that Festus was new in the province. He was not aware of the history that had taken place before he arrived. So Paul appeals to King Agrippa. Agrippa has been in the land. He knows the things that have gone on. As a ruler of the people, it has been his business to know every significant event in the land, and this would certainly include those events that surrounded the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. He would know the reports of Christ rising from the dead, as well as the many witnesses who saw Him afterwards. He would know of the eager young persecutor Paul, and how he was miraculously changed from his former course to serve the One he once persecuted. These things were not done in a corner where no one could see. They were done out in the open where all could view and consider them. Though Festus has no knowledge of them, Agrippa does, and he can confirm that what Paul has said is true. What he has spoken has been no fable, nor the babblings of a madman.
27. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.”
Now the Holy Spirit through Paul takes the challenge right to King Agrippa. He asks him if he believes the prophets? But he does not wait for him to answer. He assures him that he knows he does believe. The Holy Spirit could peer into this man’s heart, and He knew that Agrippa did genuinely believe the words of these ancient men that he had read in the Bible.
So what is the real content of this challenge? The prophets themselves had spoken of the sufferings and death of Christ, and of his rising from the dead. The prophet Ezekiel, in his vision of the valley of dry bones, had spoken of all the house of Israel rising from the dead. Agrippa believed the prophets on other things. Would he now swallow his doubts and believe them on this? Would he acknowledge that if they said there is resurrection, it must be true? For that is what a man of faith would do in Agrippa’s place.
28. Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”
Agrippa answers Paul, and he does not rise to the challenge. Maybe the thought of looking a fool in front of Festus, who thought what Paul said was mad, was too much for him. Perhaps his desire to be thought intellectual by the world around him held him back. Yet it could be that his problem was the same problem that many have had. That is, they could believe a prophet who spoke God’s words a long time ago and far away. Yet when it came time to believe God’s prophet standing right before them in the modern day, they simply could not believe his words. They might believe a prophet when he lived far off and long ago, but they cannot believe one who stands right in front of them and proclaims God’s Word right to them. So it was with Agrippa. He could believe the writings of the old prophets contained in the Hebrew Scriptures, but he could not believe a modern-day prophet standing right in front of him. How sad this was!
Yet many are the same way. They can believe God’s words only so long as they are long ago and far away. Yet if God’s words speak to them in the here and now, they cannot manage to bring themselves to believe them. We may not have modern day prophets to stand before us and deliver God’s words to us, but we too have words that were written especially to us in our day. Will we believe them? Or will we be like Agrippa, and only believe God’s words if they do not affect us directly?
So Agrippa answers Paul somewhat flippantly. There has been much debate over what exactly he meant. His words literally were “in short you persuade me to become a Christ.” What he meant by “in short” is debated. Some have suggested it means “to sum up,” like when we say, “Briefly.” In other words, “Briefly, you are persuading me to become a Christian.” Others suggest it means, “In such a short time?” As if Agrippa is insulted Paul would think him that easy to convince. At any rate, what is clear is that he is rejecting what Paul is saying, not accepting it.
This is a rare occurrence of the Greek word “Christian.” The way this word is used today, one would imagine that it must be all over in the Bible, but it is not. The word is actually only used three times in Scripture. Yet the word only occurs three times in the Bible. This is the second time we come upon the word in the book of Acts, the first time being in Acts 11:26, when the disciples were first called “Christians” in Antioch. The name appears to have been a mocking one placed upon them by the Gentiles in that city. The word should perhaps have been “Christans,” but the addition of the “i” would seem to make it diminutive. The idea then would be that of “little Christs,” as if the disciples thought they were little Messiahs running around saving everyone. Agrippa seems to use the word in a similar, mocking way here. The only other occurrence is in I Peter 4:16, where Peter suggests that if anyone suffers as a Christian, he should not be ashamed (by the insult,) but glorify God that he is counted worthy to suffer shame for this name, as the apostles did in Acts 5:41. There is no indication in Scripture that the followers of Jesus Christ ever called themselves this. That appears to have come about in the second century, when men started accepting this title as a badge of honor.
29. And 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.”
Paul replies solemnly to Agrippa’s flippant remark, asserting that, except for the fact that he was in chains, he wishes to God that not just Agrippa, but also all his hearers, were like him and believed in Jesus Christ as he did. The way he puts this in Greek is not “almost and altogether,” but rather “in little and in much.” He was playing off of Agrippa’s response to express to them the sincere desire of his heart.
30. When he had said these things, the king stood up, as well as the governor and Bernice and those who sat with them;
The king has heard enough. Like Felix before him, he finds himself becoming uncomfortable at Paul’s words, feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit regarding the things Paul is saying. Rather than responding to this conviction by submitting, however, he simply cuts himself off from the word of God by standing up to put an end to the interview. When he does this, the governor Festus and Bernice follow his lead, as well as all those who sat with them. Perhaps some of these others had a more open attitude towards what Paul had said, and would have liked to hear more. Of course, we cannot tell if this was so. But once Agrippa put an end to the interview, the others had little choice but to comply, since he was the one for whom this assembly had been made. Probably most of them were just as happy to escape the convicting words of God as Agrippa was.
31. and when they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, “This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains.”
It seems they gather outside the courtroom to discuss this away from the hearing of Paul. Though the trial had turned around to them actually being the ones on trial before God, they are acting as if they are still the judges, and are making their assessment of Paul’s case. The conclusion they come to is that Paul has done nothing deserving of death, or even of being a prisoner. This was no new conclusion for Festus, for he had come to the same conclusion himself when Paul appeared before him the first time. However, his desire to do the Jews a favor caused him to ask Paul to appear before them anyway, and brought about the situation he is now in, where Paul must appear before Caesar with no real charges against him. Pulling Agrippa and the others into it has not helped him at all. He was hoping they might find something they could actually charge Paul with, but there was no such thing, so of course they didn’t find it. Paul must be sent a prisoner to Rome without any indication of a crime committed to justify him being brought there.
32. Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
It seems that the others spoke first and gave their conclusion in the verse above. Now Agrippa speaks and gives his conclusion to Festus. In his opinion, Paul might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar. So Festus is stuck, and Agrippa is not able to help him at all.
Now some people here get carried away with the words of Festus and start coming to the conclusion that Paul made a mistake in appealing to Caesar. If he had not done so, they say, he would have been set free here. Therefore, he never should have made the appeal to Caesar that he made. He only increased the time of his imprisonment by doing so. Yet those who argue this are demonstrating that they are not careful students of the Word. It is amazing what short memories some people have when doing Bible study, or how quickly they forget in one chapter what they had just read in a previous chapter. In Acts 25:3, we learned that the reason the Jews wanted Paul sent to Jerusalem for trial is that they were lying in ambush along the road to kill him. If Paul had not appealed to Caesar, Festus was going to send him to Jerusalem to please the Jews. In that case, he would have been killed in ambush along the road, and this interview before Agrippa never would have happened. I wonder if those who charge Paul with making a mistake here would like to be charged themselves with crimes, only to be cleared of all charges after they had already been executed? If they would like to volunteer for such a thing, I wish them luck.
It seems obvious that some seem almost eager to charge the apostles with any and every mistake they can. Their motivations in doing this may vary, but I would suggest that for many it is the desire to make the apostles less than they were, so that they can claim there are men like them today. By reducing them in every way they can, they can then exalt themselves to claim they might be on the same level. Yet Paul was God’s apostle, and whenever he was put on trial, God gave him exactly the words to say, even as Christ promised his disciples in Matthew 10:18-20, Mark 13:11, and Luke 21:12-15. He made no mistake. It is those who charge him with error, and perhaps unwittingly also therefore charge the Spirit Who spoke through him with error, who prove themselves sadly mistaken.