THE FIVE TRIALS OF PAUL
Part V - Herod Agrippa II
1 So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense: 2 “I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, 3 especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently. 4 “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. 5 They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! 8 Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? 9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. 12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 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.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 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, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 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.’ 19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” 24 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.” 25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26 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. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” 29 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.” 30 Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. 31 And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
— Acts 26:1-32, ESV
For the fifth text in a row in Acts, we have a man, the Apostle Paul, being put on the spot and forced to give a defense against accusations that could cost him his very life. First he appeared before a lynch mob, then a hypocritical religious council, then three successive Roman officials: Felix, Festus, and Herod Agrippa II. This fifth and final trial of Paul will mimic the first four in many ways, especially the last three, as we are presented once again with yet another middle man.
The man in the middle in this case is Marcus Julius Agrippa, better known as Herod Agrippa II. From the outset, this does not look good for our hero, Paul. Herod Agrippa II’s grandfather was Herod the Great, who tried to extinguish the infant Jesus by murdering baby boys in Nazareth. Herod Agrippa II’s father, Herod Agrippa I, killed the Apostle James and tried to do the same to Simon Peter before God saved Peter and struck HA I with a deadly disease. To further indict the bloodline, Herod Agrippa II’s uncle, Herod Antipas, falsely imprisoned and murdered John the Baptist, then helped oversee the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So, Paul, in the hands of another Herod, is toast, right?
This Herod was at least a little different. In spite of his Roman lifestyle (he had an incestuous relationship with his sister and traveling companion, Bernice), HA II held very Jewish beliefs. He is called upon by Governor Festus to use his religious expertise in weighing the charges made against the Apostle. Paul will seize upon this common heritage as he makes his defense, and I for one think HA II heard Paul with an open mind. He met him in the middle. But would he stay there?
A Review of the Charges
Once again, Paul is called upon to refute “all the accusations of the Jews.” Since this is the fifth and final trial, perhaps we should review the charges. He was accused of disturbing the peace (causing a riot), a crime for which the Romans, who brutally enforced the Pax Romana, could administer capital punishment by crucifixion. He was accused of profaning the Jewish Temple, a crime for which the Romans would allow local Jewish authorities to carry out the death penalty by stoning (remember the old Pharisee Saul had employed this against the deacon Stephen, and apparently a number of other early Christians). And, Paul was charged with leading and propagating a new religion some called the sect of the Nazarenes, some called The Way, which owe refer to now as Christianity.
Paul was patently not guilty of the first two charges and boldly guilty of the third. There was overwhelming evidence that Paul was a Christian. Paul made this case himself. But, it too could cost Paul his life. Remember, Jesus was crucified ultimately for claiming (rightly!) to be a king greater than Caesar. Paul preached the same thing.
A recurring question recurs one more time. If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
A Vigorous Defense
In his defense Paul easily dispatched the false charges of insurrection and blasphemy. He simply was not guilty and there were no credible witnesses who could testify otherwise. As for the charge of Christianity, Paul did not take the fifth, but spoke openly and honestly in an effort to persuade all to repent, believe, trust, and follow the Lord Jesus Christ, especially his newest judge, Herod Agrippa II.
Let us notice this time the Christocentric nature of Paul’s testimony. He had sinned, but his sin, like all sin, is primarily against Christ, against God. He had been saved, not by his own goodness or works, but by the grace and power of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ, who appeared to him on the Damascus Road. He had found a new life, not one to live for himself, but for the glory and good news of the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave him forgiveness, purpose, and the guarantee of resurrection from the dead and everlasting life.
As Paul pours out his heart, revealing his faith, hope, and love in Christ, he takes aim at another heart, that of Herod Agrippa II. Perhaps Paul had given up on his Jewish accusers, although he maintained a deep love for the Jewish people for all of his life. Perhaps Paul had given up on Governor Festus, who thought Paul to be crazy, which was the pot calling the kettle black. But Paul thought he could persuade HA II that Jesus of Nazareth is God incarnate, Messiah, and Lord. Paul knew that HA II knew the Old Testament Scriptures well, which contain a hundred or more prophecies concerning the Messiah, which Jesus perfectly fulfilled. Would it work?
A Verdict from the Judge
The fourth trial’s judge is also the fifth’s. Festus was the authority in charge. Herod Agrippa II served simply as an observer, an advisor, a Jewish expert to help Festus free Paul, execute Paul, or formulate charges against Paul to send him to Rome.
Festus, like Felix before him, could have set Paul free. Festus could have let the Jews kill Paul, or execute him himself. Festus made his stand in the middle. This was safe, politically. This was wise, socially. But the middle is no place to stand, spiritually, before God. You must be with the Lord Jesus Christ, or you are against Him (ref. Matthew 12:30).
A Condemning Confession
What about Marcus Julius Agrippa, King Herod Agrippa II, ruler of the Jews, appointer of the high priests, scholar of Old Testament texts? His confession to Paul has always been confusing and controversial. What did he say? Consider the various translations:
And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”
— Acts 26:28, ESV
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
— Acts 26:28, KJV
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
— Acts 26:28, NIV
Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”
— Acts 26:28, NASB
The ESV sounds sarcastic, the KJV heart-wrenching, the NIV agrees with the ESV, the NASB is very literal, but open to interpretation, as is the original Greek. One way or the other, HA II is either making fun of or making much of Paul. He is either sarcastically dismissing Christianity outright, or admitting that soon he, too, could become a follower of Christ.
At the end of the day, however, HA II does neither. He’s not really mocking nor magnifying Paul, nor is he Jesus Christ. He’s not for executing Paul, but he’s not for letting him go free, either. He is not against Jesus Christ per se, but he’s not following Him, either. He walks right into the middle of the road and makes his stand with Felix, Festus, and the vast majority of the human race, even the present day confessing church.
Herod Agrippa II steered his chariot down the middle of the road for the rest of his life. There is no evidence he ever heeded Paul’s gospel advice, given here in the early AD 60’s. He remained an advocate for the Jews, but not the Christians. When Jerusalem was sacked in AD 70, he showed loyalty to the empire and relocated to Rome. He associated with known Christ-haters Vespasian and Titus, but never endorsed their persecutions against the Christians. He lived, and died in AD 100, in the middle of the road. And, you know what happens to people who live and die in the middle.
“Almost persuaded,” harvest is past!
“Almost persuaded” doom comes at last!
“Almost” cannot avail;
“Almost” is but to fail!
Sad, sad, that bitter wail,
“Almost,” but lost!
— Philip P. Bliss