There are certain "defining moments" that forever change the identity and destiny of an individual, a movement, a nation. The moment may be as commonplace as the birth of a child or as unique as the extraordinary British defeat of the Spanish Armada. The defining moment for all of human history and for every individual is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Prisoner Paul boldly proclaims this before Festus, Agrippa and Bernice in the final missionary preaching in Acts. To embrace this proclamation is to permit the purpose of Luke-Acts to be fulfilled in one's life (Lk 1:1-4).
The King Agrippa who comes to pay his respects to Festus was Marcus Julius Agrippa II (A.D. 27-100), son of Agrippa I (Acts 12:1-25) and great-grandson of Herod the Great (Mt 2:1-23). Brought up in Rome in the court of Claudius, he was a favorite of the emperor, though too young to immediately succeed his father at his death in A.D. 44. In A.D. 50, following the death of his uncle (Herod of Chalcis, A.D. 48) he was granted the petty kingdom of Chalcis, northeast of Judea. He later exchanged it for the tetrarchy of Philip, Abilene (or Abila), Trachonitis and Acra (the tetrarchy of Varus) in A.D. 53. In A.D. 56 Nero added to his kingdom the Galilean cities of Tarichea and Tiberias with their surrounding lands and the Perean city of Julias (or Betharamphta) with fourteen villages belonging to it (compare Josephus Jewish Wars 2.220-23, 247, 252; Jewish Antiquities 20.104, 138, 159; Longenecker 1981:547). He had supreme power in Jewish religious life, for the Romans gave him the right to appoint the high priest and custodianship of the temple treasure and the high priest's vestments (Josephus Jewish Antiquities 20.213, 222). He was the last of the Herodian line.
Accompanying him now is his sister Bernice, a year younger than he. She had been engaged to Marcus, a nephew of the philosopher Philo of Alexandria. Then she married her uncle Herod, king of Chalcis. At his death she returned to live with her brother Agrippa II and engaged in an incestuous relationship with him. This gained her notoriety both in Palestine and in Rome (Josephus Jewish Antiquities 20.145-46; Juvenal Satires 6.156-60).
Festus discusses Paul's case with Agrippa, laying it before him so he could get his opinion on it. In the process Paul is described in four ways.
1. He has been left as a prisoner (Acts 25:14). Luke's verb form (the perfect periphrastic) stresses the continuing results of Felix's past decision. Paul as prisoner lives out a paradox that persecution brings. Though he is innocent (23:29; compare Lk 23:4, 15, 22), he is treated as a criminal--in bonds, without freedom, knowing all the shame brought by incarceration and implied guilt (Acts 23:18; 26:29; 28:16; compare Lk 22:37; 23:32). Yet Paul's status has resulted from fulfillment of prophecy and obedience to the path of suffering that all faithful witnesses to the truth must tread (Lk 21:12; Acts 20:23; 21:11, 13; also see Lk 22:37, 42).
2. Paul was opposed yet protected (Acts 25:15-16). Now it becomes clear: it was not just a change of venue that the Jerusalem Jews sought (vv. 2-3); they wanted a change of jurisdiction, as Paul had asserted (v. 11). They wanted Festus to agree that Paul was guilty of a capital offense against their law and that he should be handed over to them for summary execution. Had they taken the time to explain to Festus about crimes that merited "death at the hands of heaven" and how the Romans had accommodated the Jews' concern about "temple defilement" offenses (see comment at 21:30)? Festus's reliance on a basic principle of Roman justice was Paul's protection. "Our law, Senators, requires that the accused shall himself hear the charge preferred against him and shall be judged after he has made his own defense" (Appian Roman History: Civil Wars 3.54; compare Ulpian Digest 48.17.1, cited in Haenchen 1971:672). So it was not only a desire for convenience but also a commitment to justice that preserved Paul's life. That justice is also the biblical way (Deut 19:15-21).
3. Paul was tried, but no punishable charges resulted (Acts 25:17-19). Festus with customary efficiency convened the court (compare 25:6). Taking a hostile stance, the accusers surprised the governor by making religious charges: some points of dispute . . . about their own religion (compare 25:7). This was the consistent understanding of Roman officials about the nature of Jewish opposition to Christianity (18:15; 23:29). Evidently Festus has concluded there is nothing to the sedition charges; Paul has indeed done nothing wrong . . . against Caesar (25:8). Paul is not guilty of violating Caesar's decrees against creating disturbances in the Jewish community. Festus has not decided about Paul's culpability in the temple defilement matter, an issue of dual jurisdiction.
The main point of dispute is a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive (v. 19). The phrasing reveals Festus's attitude toward Christ's resurrection and innocently communicates the prominent role it played in Paul's defense. Though more general references to "resurrection of the dead" have peppered Paul's defense (23:6; 24:15, 21), we now know that Jesus' resurrection is the central point of contention. Paul certainly made that clear in his speech before the temple mob (22:7-10, 14-15, 17-21).
Paul began with the objective historical fact of the resurrection, and so must we. It is the essential foundation for any supernatural working whereby we come to our "defining moment" of meeting our risen Savior and entering into a personal relationship with him.
4. Paul was offered a change of venue but instead appealed to Caesar (25:20-21). Festus was at a loss--perplexed--about this testimony to supernatural events (compare Lk 24:4; Acts 2:12; 5:24; 10:17). Not only the nature of the evidence but also the limits of his sphere of authority rendered Festus incompetent to judge these matters (Lk 20:25). This trial was about "God's" sphere, not "Caesar's." But Festus's perplexity did not keep him from trying, as his offer of a change of venue shows.
Festus and all governmental officials following him do well to learn the limits provided by a biblically grounded distinction between the proper spheres of authority of church and state. The state's judicial wisdom is never competent to decide matters of theology. Its power is never a valid enforcer of church/temple decisions.
The way Luke describes Paul's request as an appeal to be held over for the Emperor's (literally, "His Majesty's") decision shows that he was asking not only for removal from a Roman provincial tribunal to the imperial court but also for protection during the process. Festus' order was, literally, "to send him up to Caesar" (anapempo, a technical term for transfer to a superior tribunal; Josephus Jewish Wars 2.571).
With some curiosity, possibly disdain, Agrippa says he would like to hear "the person." The imperfect eboulomen is either a true past indicating a wish he had entertained for some time (compare Lk 9:9; 23:8) or a desiderative intended to soften the remark and make it more polite, diffident or vague (Williams 1985:414). Festus accedes to his desire: Tomorrow you will hear him.
To hear a messenger with the word of God is the first step on the path to saving faith (Lk 8:8, 15, 18; Acts 4:4; 10:22, 33; 13:44; 18:8). Agrippa and Festus at this point unwittingly appear to model two essential prerequisites for receiving the gospel: a teachable spirit and a desire to hear the message.
As Luke sets the scene, a majestic court in full regalia assembles. In come Agrippa, Bernice, . . . high ranking officers (Festus's tribunes, who commanded the cohorts stationed at Caesarea; compare Josephus Jewish Antiquities 19.365) and leading men of the city, a group mainly, if not entirely, Gentile. What a contrast when prisoner Paul is led in chained! Does Luke want us to look beyond the trappings of earthly, temporal power and see where the real power lay, in the manacled hands of a Spirit-filled witness to an eternal gospel, "the power of God for salvation"?
Festus articulates his dilemma by setting side by side the Jewish and Roman assessments of Paul, including the prisoner's appeal, and then presenting his need (vv. 24-27). Either by command or by exclamation Festus invites all present to consider Paul. As someone observes an unusual sight, whether the supernatural/miraculous (3:16; 4:13; 7:56; 8:13; 10:11; 28:6) or the innocent suffering (Lk 23:35, 48), so the assembled dignitaries should look at this man. This one whom Festus will shortly declare innocent has aroused the hostility of the whole Jewish community. What was previously presented as a request for a change of venue or a statement of charges and request for a death penalty we now learn was a petition delivered with bloodthirsty shouting (boao, "to cry or shout with unusually large volume"; Louw and Nida 1988:1:398) that he ought not to live any longer (compare 22:22). The same zeal for the purity of the temple and the sanctity of Jewish religious identity that fired the arresting mob and the plotters continued unabated throughout Felix's tenure and greeted Festus (21:27-36; 22:22; 23:12-22). Little did Paul's opponents realize that their "ought not" (me dein) stood in direct opposition to the divine "ought" (dei) of Paul's mission to Rome (23:11; 27:24).
All persecution in the final analysis is born of religious, ideological or ethnic pride or fear. It is a blind, irrational hostility against the truth of the gospel, which seeks to frustrate the purposes of God but in the end only finds itself "kicking against the goads" (26:14).
Festus now gives us for the first time his assessment of Paul's status before Roman law: I found he had done nothing deserving of death. Like his Lord, Paul has been declared innocent three times, a full exoneration in a judicial system where the accused was given three opportunities to defend himself (Lk 23:4, 15, 22; Acts 23:29; 25:25; 26:31). Festus fails to mention the political pressure and perplexity that led to his offer of a change of venue and in turn to Paul's appeal to Caesar (25:9-11, 20-21). Rather, he proceeds directly to the matter of Paul's appeal, leaving the impression, which is made explicit at the end of the hearing, that Paul is to blame for his continuing incarceration (26:32). Neither the governor nor the king explicitly takes into account that the decision to send an innocent man to Caesar, once he has appealed, is as much a political as a judicial decision. In Paul's case, not only would Caesar be insulted but the Jews would be infuriated if this prisoner were set free.
When persecutors use the state to further their ends and the result is a failure in the administration of justice, Christians must live in such integrity that even then their innocence before the laws of the state will be apparent to all.
Festus needs to find charges that may accompany the prisoner (Ulpian Digest 49.5-6, cited in Bruce 1990:494). With his search for things definite [asphales] to write, Festus joins Claudius Lycias in the desire to get at the truth about the Jewish opposition to Christianity (21:34; 22:30). He also models the stance that Luke desires all his readers to take toward the Christian gospel (Lk 1:4).
An informal hearing before Agrippa should help. He is well acquainted with Judaism. In a face-saving expression, Festus again affirms Paul's innocence and states his dilemma: it is unreasonable (alogon; Josephus Jewish Antiquities 1.24)--in the sense of "illogical, absurd," not "unfair"--that a prisoner be sent on to Caesar without prosecutable charges. Doing the right thing, even after a failure of judicial administration, will put Festus in a position to hear and respond to the truth of the gospel.
Agrippa, in the chair, directs Paul to speak. The apostle "stretches out" his hand in the stance of an orator commencing his speech. The captatio benevolentiae of Paul's exordium places Agrippa in the right frame of mind for hearing him by declaring the "good fortune" he reckons he has in making his defense before one so well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies (see 21:21; 23:29; 25:19 to see how such relate to Paul's case). Further, with polite address (deomai; 21:39) Paul "begs" the king's "patience" in listening to him (compare 24:4). By this introductory appeal in Paul's exordium Luke emphasizes not only the apostle's respectful demeanor, worthy of emulation by all who are judged for their faith, but also that what is at issue is a theological matter.
As Paul moves in his exordium from introductory appeal (26:2-3) to the presentation of his ethos, himself (vv. 4-5), he affirms that his background as a strict Pharisee places him in continuity with his Jewish religious roots. Within his nation, particularly in Jerusalem, he has consistently lived out the Old Testament and Jewish ideal of piety ever since I was a child (1 Kings 18:12; Ps 70:5, 17 LXX; Lk 18:21; Sirach 6:18). He has done this publicly; the Jews, who have known it for a long time (anothen; Lk 1:3), can so testify if they are willing (compare Acts 23:1; 24:16, 19). He has practiced piety strictly, according to the Pharisee sect of our religion. Josephus says of them, "There was a group of Jews priding itself on its adherence to ancestral custom and claiming to observe the laws of which the Deity approves" (Jewish Antiquities 17.41). Luke uses threskeia, which means "religion, esp. as it expresses itself in religious service or cult" (Bauer, Gingrich and Danker 1978:363). He may have particularly in mind the Pharisees' laws of ritual purity and their regulations for the performance of temple worship. This life of piety has continued up until this day (ezesa, culminative aorist, "I have lived"). Paul places himself squarely within Jewish orthopraxy. The accusers' charges are baseless (21:28; 24:5-6).
In a reverse parallelism construction that begins and ends with a statement of the charge Paul believes is the reason for his trial, the apostle commences his narration, the statement of the facts of the case (26:6-8). The point at issue is the hope for messianic end-time salvation (23:6; 24:15; 28:20). In the middle of this articulation Paul states that the twelve tribes also are hoping to arrive at that same goal. Thus he affirms a continuity of his gospel message with Jewish orthodoxy.
Paul is certainly on solid ground when he claims that "the hope" for the Old Testament saint and the Intertestamental Jew was messianic end-time deliverance (Is 25:6-12 [see v. 9 LXX, elpizomen]; 51:5 LXX; 2 Macc 2:18; 1 Enoch 40:9; Testament of Benjamin 10:11; 2 Baruch 30:1). Indeed, the Jews looked forward to the fulfillment of the promises made to the fathers in the end time (2 Baruch 51:3). They did see the end-time salvation as commencing with a resurrection of the righteous, though admittedly the Sadducees did not (2 Macc 7:11, 14, 23; compare Acts 23:6; 24:21). Luke does not hesitate to populate his narrative with pious Jews living expectantly for that deliverance (Lk 2:25, 38; 7:19; 23:51). Paul emphasizes the way they live out their expectation: in fervent (en ekteneia, often descriptive of prayer; Lk 22:44; Acts 12:5), consistent (day and night, at morning and evening sacrifice; Lk 2:37) corporate worship of God (latreuo; Acts 24:14; 27:23). It is certainly a "living hope," a goal which they were expecting to attain (compare Phil 3:11-14, where Paul shows the same stance toward the full manifestation of the hope).
If Paul has such strong continuity with pious Jews, why is there such opposition to him and his message of hope? Paul declared that in the risen and exalted Lord Jesus the promises have been fulfilled and the hope is now a present reality (Acts 13:32/2 Sam 7:11-17; Acts 13:23). This Paul will explicitly proclaim at the climax of the proof section of his speech (26:22-23).
This is the main question for every individual, whatever his or her religious, ideological or cultural heritage: Is Jesus your hope? The Christian message asks, Will you repent of your false hopes--the American dream for the next generation, the Hindu's Nirvana, the Muslim's paradise--and let Jesus be your true hope?
Paul concludes his narratio by stating the point for the judge's decision: Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead? Though Paul thinks of Jesus' resurrection in particular, he puts the point as a general question. In so doing he reveals what a challenge the resurrection of Christ is to any human worldview. To Agrippa, if he is under the influence of aristocratic Sadducean thought, God's raising the dead is unbelievable (23:8). Festus has already declared himself on this subject (25:19). If, in general, resurrections do not happen, then what is claimed about Jesus did not occur. But if it did happen to Jesus, then a central feature of one's worldview, belief about what happens after death, must be radically reoriented. Here there is certainly a radical discontinuity between Paul's claims about Jesus' resurrection and the assumptions of Jew and Gentile alike. Yet there is continuity with the Old Testament faith and Israel's living hope (26:6-7, 22-23). And for all humankind, because of this resurrection's saving significance, it is our defining moment.
Paul begins his probatio (proof) by removing any suspicion that he was positively disposed to belief in Jesus as the crucified and risen Messiah. He details the scope, extent and intensity of his opposition to Christians as Christ's persecutor (26:9-11). Pharisee though he was, Paul did not believe that a resurrection had occurred in the case of Jesus. It seemed to him that it was his moral duty (dei) to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth--that is, Christ's presence and power among his people (Polhill 1992:500) or the message about Jesus, especially his resurrection (O'Toole 1978:49). The scope of his persecution target was large: he pursued many of the saints, . . . many a time, going from one synagogue to another. His persecution of Christians extended from synagogue punishment intended to get them to recant (this Paul relates from a Christian perspective in his reference to "blaspheming"; compare Pliny Letters 10.96.5) to imprisonment to consenting to their deaths. So intense was Paul's opposition that he pursued Christians to cities outside Palestine. An "exceedingly furious rage" drove him to do it (NIV obsession against may not be strong enough). Yet even such strong persecution was not outside the sovereign plan of God; and Jesus has promised such for all true disciples (Lk 12:4, 8-12; 21:12-19).
Paul's conversion and commissioning transformed him from Christ's persecutor into Christ's apostolic convert (26:12-18). Here we meet not only the most telling evidence that Jesus is risen but also the clearest exposition of that resurrection's significance.
In this third recounting of his conversion (compare 9:1-9; 22:5-11) Paul, traveling with the high priest's authority and commission to arrest Christians, is himself arrested by Christ on the Damascus Road. In this account of the light that drove him to his knees, Luke, following Paul, emphasizes its power and its concrete or objective nature. Its brilliance is brighter than the sun, and that at noontime. It "shines around" not only Paul but his companions (perilampto; NIV's blazing around renders periastrapto present in 9:3; 22:6). As in the other two accounts, we are reminded that although part of the experience--seeing the risen Lord and receiving the message--occurred personally to Paul and no one else, it was an objective experience in space and time, for the companions heard a voice, though not the message. They saw a light, though not Jesus (9:7; 22:9).
Light is appropriate to the theophany of the heavenly risen Lord in his divine mode of being (Ex 20:18; Deut 4:12; Is 60:1-3; O'Toole 1978:63). It is a fitting metaphor for the revelation and salvation he brings (Is 42:6; 49:6; Lk 2:32; Acts 26:18, 23; Krodel 1986:461). Our Lord's dealing with Paul here teaches us that to get the attention of those who are self-confident enough in their religion to persecute others, God may take extraordinary steps to literally bring them to their knees.
Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? This question at the same time declares Paul's guilt and opens the way for him to be free of it. To this point in his life Jesus was just the name of a dead messianic pretender, which Paul did everything in his power to make his followers renounce (26:9-11). Now he is overpowered by Jesus' living presence; indeed, he had been in a losing battle with Christ all along. It is hard for you to kick against the goads. Did Ecclesiastes 12:11, "The words of the wise are like goads," come to his mind? To change the metaphor, the word of the Lord had kept growing and spreading like wildfire, especially in the time of persecution (Acts 8:3-4). Those who tried to stamp it out simply sent more sparks into the wind to ignite hearts in many more places. Paul learned, as does anyone who consistently says no to the faith, that it takes work to resist the truth of the gospel and the life of the Spirit.
Paul's response of humble submission, Who are you, Lord? places him in the only position that can turn the condemnatory accusation into an answer full of hope. I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. In these simple statements from heaven Jesus declares that he is risen from the dead and exalted to the Father's right hand. He proclaims his supremely triumphant salvation victory. Paul cannot successfully oppose Christ and his mission--and why would he want to anyway? Jesus further announces that Christians are peculiarly the Messiah's people. To persecute them is to persecute him.
These truths are the light Paul needs to be converted. And any conversion involves that defining moment when we enter into a personal relationship with the risen Jesus Christ by embracing the good news that this suffering and risen Messiah is mighty to save those who repent of their rebellion against him (Lk 24:46-47).
Paul's conversion is at the same time a commissioning to a lifework of gospel witness (Acts 26:16-18). In words reminiscent of the call of the Old Testament prophets, Jesus commands him, Get up and stand on his feet, for he is to bear a divine message that will place him in danger. Hence a promise of divine protection must be added (Jer 1:7-8, 17-19; Ezek 2:1-2).
What is distinctive in the appointment, though not necessarily unique, is the nature of the mission and the nature of the audience. The Lord appoints Paul a servant (hyperetes). With this term for "assistant" Jesus stresses that Paul is to do exactly his master's bidding (Lk 1:2; 4:20; Acts 13:5). And he further specifies the service as witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you (compare 22:17-21). He will proclaim a message that he is convinced of and that is based on "direct personal knowledge" (Strathmann 1967b:476; Acts 23:11; 26:22). His audience is both Jews (Luke refers to them by that spiritually significant term, laos, "the people"; the NIV rendering obscures this; see 13:15, 31; 28:26-27) and Gentiles. The direct Gentile mission, so offensive to his fellow Jews, is so necessary in God's saving plan that it is even part of the gospel message (Lk 24:46-47). It must ever determine the target audience of Paul's mission and ever be the flash point of opposition to it (9:15; 13:46-50; 22:15, 21-22). All who will answer Christ's call to be witnesses will face the challenge of responding with courage and confidence.
Never missing an opportunity to fulfill his ministry, Paul climaxes his report of Jesus' commissioning by proclaiming its purpose in terms of outcomes (26:18; compare Col 1:12-14). He winsomely lays before his audience the salvation blessings that can be theirs if they too will but trust in this risen Savior. With a healing metaphor Jesus tells Paul he is to open their eyes. This stands for "the spiritual health of those who find salvation in Christ and receive his revelation" (O'Toole 1978:74). Luke will use the metaphor of "closed eyes" for a sinful condition (Acts 28:27/Is 6:10; compare Lk 19:42) and "seeing eyes" for those blessed to witness of God's saving purposes (Lk 2:30; 10:23; compare Is 42:7).
Paul further enlarges on the transformation that this salvation brings: those who receive Paul's witness will turn . . . from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. They can abandon the gloom, ignorance and evil of an environment without the messianic Savior (Lk 1:79; 11:33-36; 22:53; Acts 13:11) for the light of hope, revelation and goodness found in the living presence of the Risen One (Lk 2:32; Acts 13:47/Is 49:6). The bondage of Satan's power ("authority"; Lk 4:6; 22:53) can be exchanged for the gracious sovereignty of God, who is greater (Lk 4:36; 5:24; Acts 8:19).
The positive blessings that flow from this transformation encompass one's past, present and future. There is forgiveness of sins, one of Luke's favorite ways of describing what salvation provides for us (Lk 4:18/Is 61:1; Lk 24:47; Acts 2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38). And there is a new eternal destiny grounded in a new identity. We have a place (kleros, a lot or portion of an inheritance, Ps 77:55 LXX; compare Acts 1:17; 8:21) among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus (16:31; 20:32; 20:21; 24:24). Trust in Christ is our defining moment.
As further proof of the reality of this encounter and in order to bring its significance to bear on his present circumstances, Paul now portrays himself as Christ's obedient witness (26:19-23). As a faithful witness, he follows the risen Lord's command by preaching in Damascus (9:19-22), in Jerusalem (9:26-28; 22:17-21), in all Judea (9:28-30) and to the Gentiles also (11:25-26; 13:46; 14:27; 22:21). Paul stresses the radical about-face involved in embracing the good news. "To convert is not just to give one's life a new direction but in practice to reorientate oneself continually to the goal by the radical setting aside of evil" (Behm and Wurthwein 1967:1004). With conversion, repentance and the new life that proves the genuineness of that repentance, there is no room to drive a wedge between Jesus as Savior and Jesus as Lord. If one is not truly committed to him as Lord, one cannot rightly claim he is one's Savior.
Paul's faithful witness has also been a contested witness. Paul preached the same gospel to Jew and Gentile alike, inviting both to receive salvation blessings in the same way: by repentance and faith in Messiah Jesus. This obliterated the religious distinction between Jew and Gentile that ethnic pride had so carefully preserved. On account of this mission and message the Jews seized him in the temple and tried to kill him (21:30-31). And so today, the universal offer of salvation based on grace received by repentance will still be resisted.
Paul gives one final proof that his mission is from God. He was arrested and beaten by a bloodthirsty mob, and while he was in Roman custody the Jews hatched ambush plots, even involving newly arrived Festus. But with God's help he is still alive and bearing witness to small and great alike.
Now he wants to engage Festus, Agrippa and the rest in a consideration of the truth of the message, especially its fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Lk 24:46; Acts 3:18). With an introductory ei, with its implication "that the proposition which follows is denied and must be argued out" (Lake and Cadbury 1979:321; compare Acts 17:3), Paul lays out two central propositions of the gospel: the Messiah's suffering and, since the resurrection, his provision of salvation blessings to Jew and Gentile alike. Both stand in continuity with the Old Testament but move beyond the current Jewish understanding of it. A Messiah who suffers is possible only if he is the same person as the Suffering Servant (Lk 22:37/Is 53:12). Only a Messiah who rises first from the dead can be the source of salvation blessings: light now proclaimed through his disciples to all (Acts 2:25-36/Ps 16:8-11; 110:1; Acts 13:46-47/Is 49:6). The point is clear. Without the resurrection of Christ, the defining moment in human history, there is no future hope for anyone. But when we let Christ's resurrection be our defining moment, the lights come on for our past, present and future.
The Roman governor's "commonsense" outburst shows that he sees neither Jesus' resurrection nor the salvation blessings that flow from it as fit topics for rational discussion (compare 25:19). Such notions can come only from one who is out of his mind, whose great learning and exploration of such mysteries are driving him insane.
Paul is preaching for a decision with convincing conviction, and the only way Festus can rationalize his rejection is to declare the messenger mad and his message gibberish. Festus's reaction is instructive for Luke's audience. Their initial response might well be the same. And how many today, with their "commonsense" approach to life, would react as Festus did? It is obviously not the response Paul or Luke is looking for.
Paul answers Festus calmly but firmly. He denies the governor's estimate of his mental condition. He declares that what he is saying (rhemata apophthengomai implies Spirit-filled speech; 2:4, 14; 10:44; 13:42) is true and reasonable. Its veracity (1 Kings 17:24; Lk 20:21) and rational soundness commend it as reliable (note "reasonable" [sophrosyne] contrasted with "mania" in Greek literature: Xenophon Memorabilia 1.1.16; Plato Phaedrus 244D; Protagoras 323B). In fact, Paul can make such an assertion because his message is about an objective historical fact, a public event of which even King Agrippa is aware.
In the post-Enlightenment secularized West, where religion has for some generations been removed from the arena of public discourse and confined to private feelings and opinion, Paul's ringing defense of the gospel as true and reasonable utterances of things not done in a corner should give us courage to bring gospel truth back into the public arena. Christianity does make sense. It will stand up to public scrutiny. In response to "commonsense" dismissals of the faith as insanity, we must call for patience and a judicious assessment of the facts. Christians have nothing to fear from such scrutiny. Indeed, we believe because of, not in spite of, the facts.
Paul turns to Agrippa, seeking common ground in acceptance of the Old Testament prophets' authority. But Agrippa will not be drawn into a discussion of spiritual matters. His sophisticated avoidance of the slightly embarrassing prospect of discussing matters of religion in public is expressed in the dismissive: "Do you want to convince me that in such a short time you have made me a Christian?"
But Paul won't let him off the hook. Time is not the issue. Paul doesn't care how long it takes. So important is this salvation for Agrippa and all who hear Paul that he prays God they may receive it, "become what he is." Then, with a touch of humor or nobility, he adds, Except for these chains.
How tragic is Agrippa's sophisticated avoidance of a confrontation with the risen Christ! At least Festus looked at it directly and called it madness. Agrippa sets conditions that the evangelist cannot meet. To all those who say, "It will take more than this to make me a Christian," Paul warns, "Your conditions are irrelevant in the light of the supreme importance of the salvation this gospel offers. Don't let your requirements prevent you from receiving God's provision."
The hearing is over. The dignitaries exit and in private discussion agree on Paul's innocence: This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment (compare 23:29; 25:18). And as if to explain the anomaly of an innocent Roman citizen in chains, Agrippa adds, This man could have been set free, if he had not appealed to Caesar. This is not a matter of Roman jurisprudence but of Roman politics. Even though a person could be acquitted and released after an appeal to Caesar (Sherwin-White 1963:65), not to honor such an appeal would be to slight the emperor's prestige. These declarations of innocence make it clear that Paul and Christianity cannot be charged with sedition against the state. Nothing in the conduct of the messenger calls into question the truthfulness of the message. Luke's Roman audience and we must come to terms with the gospel and the defining moment it offers by dealing directly with its truth claims.
Click the button below to continue.
Three easy steps to start your free trial subscription to Bible Gateway Plus.