“So Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You have permission to speak for yourself.’ Then Paul held out his hand and began his defense” —Acts 26:1
Agrippa clearly takes charge here. Festus had ordered for Paul to be brought in, and after explaining the purpose of this gathering, he seems to yield the floor to King Agrippa, who was more than willing to take charge. From here on out, we are witnessing Paul’s proclamation of the gospel to Agrippa. Now everyone there heard this presentation of Paul’s, but it was first and foremost intended for Agrippa. Agrippa took pride in his “Jewishness,” and it is a very “Jewish-oriented” gospel that Paul proclaimed to him.
“Regarding all the things I have been accused of by the Jews, King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate that I am about to make my defense before you today, because you are especially familiar with all the customs and controversial issues of the Jews. Therefore I ask you to listen to me patiently. Now all the Jews know the way I lived from my youth, spending my life from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem. They know, because they have known me from time past, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain as they earnestly serve God night and day. Concerning this hope the Jews are accusing me, Your Majesty!
“Why do you people think it is unbelievable that God raises the dead? Of course, I myself was convinced that it was necessary to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus the Nazarene. And that is what I did in Jerusalem: Not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons by the authority I received from the chief priests, but I also cast my vote against them when they were sentenced to death. I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to force them to blaspheme. Because I was so furiously enraged at them, I went to persecute them even in foreign cities” —Acts 26:2-11
Do you know what has been bugging me about Paul’s adventure? I keep asking, “W hat is it about Paul that the Jews want to kill him?” That is what the roman authorities are wondering. Claudius Lysias (the Roman commander who rescued Paul from the angry mob) couldn’t figure it out; Felix, nor Festus couldn’t answer that question. What is about him that motivated the Jews so much that they wanted him dead? Now, Felix was more experienced and may have had a good idea, but he wanted to make the Jews happy. In fact, that is the whole reason for putting Paul in front of this group of dignitaries. When invited to speak on his own behalf, what does Paul do? He proclaims the gospel. This isn’t just because Paul wants these folks to come to faith in Jesus; it’s also because the gospel is the reason the Jews want Paul put to death. The gospel is the answer to their, as yet, unanswered question, and the answer to their need of a Savior.
For me, Paul’s words to Agrippa in the verses above were like someone turning on a light in a dark room. The first thing you will notice is that darkness flees, just like cockroaches and rats. Now, I do not know why I missed this earlier in Acts, but Paul’s explanation suddenly brought everything into focus. It was not (as Festus indicated) “the entire Jewish populace” who wanted Paul dead; some of them were Paul’s former colleagues; Jewish men who grew up with Paul—not strangers; some of them were probably Paul’s classmates when they sat under Gamaliel’s teaching. They shared the same belief in the resurrection of the dead and in the supernatural working of God (which included visions). These folks shared Paul’s zeal for persecuting and killing Christians.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Story of Acts