1 Agrippa said to Paul, “It is permitted for you to speak for yourself.”
Then Paul stretched out his hand and began his defense: 2 “I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that today I am going to make a defense before you about everything I am accused of by the Jews, 3 especially since you are an expert in all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
4 “All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem. 5 They had previously known me for quite some time, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now I stand on trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 the promise our 12 tribes hope to attain as they earnestly serve Him night and day. King Agrippa, I am being accused by the Jews because of this hope. 8 Why is it considered incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? 9 In fact, I myself supposed it was necessary to do many things in opposition to the name of Jesus the Nazarene. 10 I actually did this in Jerusalem, and I locked up many of the saints in prison, since I had received authority for that from the chief priests. When they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 In all the synagogues I often tried to make them blaspheme by punishing them. I even pursued them to foreign cities since I was greatly enraged at them.
12 “I was traveling to Damascus under these circumstances with authority and a commission from the chief priests. 13 King Agrippa, while on the road at midday, I saw a light from heaven brighter than the sun, shining around me and those traveling with me. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice speaking to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
15 “Then I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’
“And the Lord replied: ‘I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting.16But get up and stand on your feet. For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness of what you have seen and of what I will reveal to you. 17 I will rescue you from the people and from the Gentiles. I now send you to them 18 to open their eyes so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that by faith in Me they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified.’
19 “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. 20 Instead, I preached to those in Damascus first, and to those in Jerusalem and in all the region of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple complex and were trying to kill me. 22 To this very day, I have obtained help that comes from God, and I stand and testify to both small and great, saying nothing else than what the prophets and Moses said would take place — 23 that the Messiah must suffer, and that as the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light to our people and to the Gentiles.”
24 As he was making his defense this way, Festus exclaimed in a loud voice, “You’re out of your mind, Paul! Too much study is driving you mad!”
25 But Paul replied, “I’m not out of my mind, most excellent Festus. On the contrary, I’m speaking words of truth and good judgment. 26 For the king knows about these matters. It is to him I am actually speaking boldly. For I am convinced that none of these things escapes his notice, since this was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe.”
28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?”
29 “I wish before God,” replied Paul, “that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am—except for these chains.”
30 So the king, the governor, Bernice, and those sitting with them got up, 31 and when they had left they talked with each other and said, “This man is doing nothing that deserves death or chains.”
32 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
"But get up and stand on your feet. For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness of what you have seen and of what I will reveal to you. 17 I will rescue you from the people and from the Gentiles. I now send you to them 18 to open their eyes so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that by faith in Me they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified.”
Things aren’t always what they seem. The Roman governor Felix had heard Paul’s rebuttal of the Jewish leaders’ charges against him, but more importantly, Felix had heard the gospel.
In fact, Scripture says “Felix was accurately informed about the Way.” Though he failed to find any cause for formal charges, Felix had kept Paul under arrest for over two years, often conversing with him. Felix had his own problems—he was being removed from office because of ineptitude, and his replacement, Festus, lost no time in hearing from Paul himself.
Festus wasn’t in the best position either. Upon arrival at his new post, he quickly determined that the charges brought against Paul by the Jews really had no merit; there was simply no proof of their serious allegations. He was tasked with drawing up formal charges against Paul before sending him to Rome, since he had appealed to Caesar.
The trouble was, Festus didn’t know what to write. Yet he had to write something, or get off on the wrong foot in his new post, since the appeal to Caesar had already been lodged. It would have been difficult if not impossible to reverse the process already under way.
Festus placed his hopes on the pending visit of the weak, figurehead king of the Jews, Agrippa. Banking on Agrippa’s superior knowledge about “all things Jewish,” Festus hoped to be able to latch onto something he could put in writing to send to the Emperor.
Those in attendance the day that Paul was summoned to give an account likely felt he was there on trial for his life. But things are not always what they seem. In point of fact, all those in attendance were on trial for their own spiritual lives.
There was nothing new in Paul’s defense. Felix and Festus had both heard how his life as an exemplary Pharisee was well documented and his zeal for Judaism could not be disputed. He testified that he was on trial “for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers….”
After his dramatic encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road, Paul’s message was one of repentance, urging everyone he encountered to “do works worthy of repentance.”
At issue, of course, was that Paul proclaimed Jesus to be the promised Messiah (the hope of Israel), the One who was crucified and resurrected from the dead. Even though the Pharisees believed in resurrection, they could not accept the resurrection of Jesus.
It wasn’t the concept they objected to, it was the person of Christ—the One who had seen them for what they were—hypocrites and “whitewashed sepulchers.” They had simply invested too much in not believing, in proving Him false, than to be able to swallow their collective pride and confess Christ as Messiah. Their goal was not so much to defend Judaism as to defame Christ. And so it continues today.
For those of us who truly believe that Jesus is Messiah, there are two powerful messages here that we’ll want to note. The first is that when the Lord speaks, as He did Paul, He does so for good reason! It is His invitation to join Him in the work He is doing.
“I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness of things you have seen and of things in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from the people and from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes 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 share among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
This is the gospel, pure and simple.
The second message is that He expects faithful obedience. With Paul, we need to be able to declare, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” Paul was able to not only endure, but to thrive in a ministry so powerful, so diverse and so challenging that few of us could imagine following in his footsteps.
Yet he believed Jesus’ promise of “rescue” knowing that every day, every breath, every challenge was in the hands of God. Though at times Paul’s very existence appeared precarious, things were not always as they seemed! Paul was taken home at the exact moment his work was done, just as you and I will be.
- Do you think Felix, Festus and Agrippa had any idea it was they who were on trial, and not Paul? Why?
- None of them disbelieved Paul and said as much. Why then could they not accept the gospel message?
- Can you think of some instances in Paul’s life when he had to remind himself that “things are not always what they seem?” Jot down one or two instances.
- What might have been some of the objections to the gospel expressed that day at Paul’s hearing? Do you hear those same objections today?