Paul’s situation had grown dire. Accusers slandered him at every opportunity. Yet now he would tell of what God accomplished through Jesus and in him before governors and kings.
Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem and had made his defense before the Israelites and the Sanhedrin (Acts 21:17-23:11). Some among the Jews hatched a plan against his life, and it was made known to him; Paul was then given a strong military escort from Jerusalem down to Caesarea where Marcus Antonius Felix, the Roman procurator of the land, maintained his residence (Procurator from 52-60; Acts 23:12-35).
Before Felix the Jewish people made their accusations against Paul: they considered Paul a pestilence, one who caused insurrection among the Jewish people, a ringleader of the Nazarean sect, who profaned the Temple and was only by Roman violence spared from their hands (Acts 24:1-9).
Paul then made his defense before Felix (Acts 24:10-21). He began by clearing his name: he informed Felix that he had only gone up to prostrate in Jerusalem within the past twelve days, and he did not dispute with anyone in the synagogues or in the city, and they cannot prove the accusations which they have made against him (Acts 24:10-13). Paul then made his confession: he followed the Way which his accusers had called a sect, and in that Way he served the God of their fathers, fully believing the Law and the prophets, maintaining hope, as did his accusers, in the resurrection of the just and the unjust; to this end he lived with a good conscience (Acts 24:14-16). He again explained what happened: he had returned after a few years to bring gifts and offerings to his nation, and some Jewish people from Asia found him purified in the Temple, without crowd or contention, and those Jewish people from Asia should have been present to make accusation against him (Acts 24:17-19). He then indicted those who brought the accusations against him, asking them to declare what wrongdoing was found against him when he stood before the Sanhedrin, save that he cried out among them that he was on trial in their midst regarding the resurrection of the dead (Acts 24:20-21; cf. Acts 23:1-11).
Felix had a more exact knowledge of what God accomplished in Jesus; he did not make a determination at the time, but delayed, hoping to gain material benefit from Paul’s associates (Acts 24:22-26). As a favor to the Jewish people Felix left Paul in prison throughout the rest of his procuratorship, leaving the matter for his successor, Porcius Festus (Procurator ca. 59-61; Acts 24:27).
As soon as Festus came to Caesarea the Jewish people brought accusations against Paul again; Luke summarized Paul’s defense similarly to much of Acts 24:10-21: he had not sinned against the laws of the Jewish people, the Temple, or Caesar (Acts 25:1-8). Festus asked Paul to stand trial in Jerusalem; Paul said he stood before Caesar’s judgment seat as was appropriate for his station, and that if he were guilty, he would accept punishment, but if not guilty, he would not be given over to the Jewish people of Jerusalem, and to that end he appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:9-11). Festus agreed to send him to Caesar, but wanted to be able to explain to Caesar why he was being sent; to this end, he set Paul’s case before Marcus Julius Agrippa, also known as Herod Agrippa II, King of the Jews, who himself had wanted to hear Paul (Acts 25:12-22). The stage was set with great fanfare (Acts 25:23-27).
Paul then made his defense before King Herod Agrippa II, Queen Berenice, and the Roman procurator Porcius Festus (Acts 24:1-29). Paul had confidence in Agrippa’s understanding in the ways of Israel, and so told his story: he had been raised a Pharisee, and was now judged for the hope of the promise which God made to their fathers which the twelve tribes hope to attain in their service to God (Acts 24:1-7). Paul asked if Agrippa thought it incredible that God would raise the dead (Acts 26:8). Paul testified regarding his persecution of the name of Jesus: imprisoning Christians in Jerusalem by the authority of the chief priests, voting for their execution, punishing them in synagogues, compelling them to blaspheme, and in great zeal persecuting even unto foreign cities (Acts 26:9-11). Paul then recounted the story of his conversion: the journey to Damascus; the great light from heaven; the voice asking in Aramaic why he, Saul, was persecuting him, and how hard it is to kick against the goad; the identification of the person as Jesus; Paul’s commission to be a servant and witness of what Jesus had and would show him, to deliver him from the Jewish people and the Gentiles, and to go to the Gentiles to open their eyes to turn from darkness to light, from Satan to God, to receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among the holy ones (Acts 26:12-18). Paul spoke of how he proved obedient to the vision, proclaiming in Damascus, Jerusalem, Judea, and then among the Gentiles the call of repentance and turning to God in Jesus (Acts 26:19-20). Paul declared it was for this reason the Jewish people seized him in the Temple and wanted to kill him (Acts 26:21). To this end Paul testified how, through God’s help, he stood and spoke nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come, that the Christ would suffer and in His resurrection would proclaim light to the Jewish people and also to the Gentiles (Acts 26:22-23).
At this point Festus cried out loudly that Paul had gone mad by his great learning (Acts 26:24). Paul countered that he was not mad but spoke truly and soberly, and appealed to the knowledge of Agrippa; Paul was persuaded Agrippa had heard of these things, because they had not been done in secret (Acts 26:25-26). Paul asked if Agrippa believed in the prophets; Agrippa responded, likely sarcastically, that Paul was trying to make him a Christian in such a short time (Acts 26:27-28). Paul did not deny it; he wished that all who heard him would become as he was, except for his chains (Acts 26:29).
Paul’s apologies in Caesarea demonstrate his agendas and purposes well. Before Felix he was accused in the setting of a more formal trial; to this end most of his speech was a pure defense of his conduct, yet even in so doing he made sure to “confess” his faith in the Way of Jesus as the fulfillment of the hope of Israel in the resurrection of the dead (Acts 24:15-16). In his defense before Agrippa we get a clearer idea of what Paul was intending to do before the Israelites in Jerusalem: he was telling the story of what God had accomplished in him to explain why he had returned to make offerings, and in the process, to testify regarding God’s work in Christ in and through him (Act 26:4-21; cf. Acts 22:1-21). Yet in all these apologies Paul worked diligently to establish the points of continuity: in Paul’s telling, he had not deviated away from Israel, or had “converted” to Christianity; instead, he perceived in Jesus’ death and resurrection the fulfillment of all God had promised Israel (Acts 24:14-15, 26:6-8, 22-23).
Thus Agrippa was not wrong: Paul might have been making a defense of his conduct, but he was really trying to convince them to become Christians (Acts 26:28). We have no evidence that any converted, but they all were convinced of Paul’s innocence, and he would have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar (Acts 26:29-32). Yet the Lord Jesus had told Paul he would testify of Him in Rome, and so to Rome Paul would go (Acts 27:1-28:31). Paul had accomplished the Lord’s purposes in testifying regarding what Jesus had done in and through him, and how Jesus was the fulfillment of all the promises God had made to His people Israel. May we also proclaim the work of God in Christ in and through our lives, and share in the inheritance of the saints!
Ethan R. Longhenry