Full Assurance of Hope (Acts 25:1—26:32)

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In this study, I want to make a seemingly ambitious attempt to deal with two entire chapters, comprising some 59 verses. Clearly, we will not go into great detail, and we will return for some detailed exposition in future studies. For now, however, my goal is much simpler: to see Paul’s final defences before political leaders.

There are a total of five defences recorded by Luke: First, before the Jewish mob (22:1-21); second, before the Sanhedrin (23:1-10); third, before Felix and the Sanhedrin (24:1-21); fourth, before Festus (25:1-12); and, fifth, before Agrippa (26:1-32). The latter is the longest and the most detailed.

As during the ministry of Jesus, the “city of God” (Jerusalem) was at Paul’s time the most dangerous place for the truly God-fearing. Like Jesus, Paul faced a corrupt high priest and unscrupulous Sanhedrin. Like Jesus, he faced (somewhat) sympathetic Roman officials, yet they were politically expedient. Like Jesus, the prisoner was the most principled. We see this again in the passage before us.

Bear in mind that this is history, and because it is inspired history, we know that these episodes happened. Further, episodes like this are not unique, for church history records many such things. And in a very real sense, we can find ourselves in similar, though not identical, situations. And when we find ourselves in such situations, we can learn and take encouragement from texts like this. That is, after all, one stated value of Scripture (Romans 15:1-4; 1 Corinthians 10:1-14).

As a concrete example, consider the fact that the battle that has raged in recent times in the United States and the United Kingdom has also hit South African shores. I am speaking, of course, of the battle over homosexuality. I recently read the following article on the News24 website:

A preliminary investigation is being conducted into alleged discrimination against a gay couple by the Kilcairn Farm wedding venue, the SA Human Rights Commission said on Friday.

Spokesperson Isaac Mangena said the SAHRC was looking into the matter on its own initiative, after Leanne Brown-Waterson and her partner Christelle were told they could not hold their wedding at Kilcairn, as the owner did not approve of same-sex marriage.

Mangena said: “It is very worrying that despite the progressive laws prohibiting violence or any form of discrimination against persons based on their sexual orientation, we still have incidents where gays and lesbians are discriminated against.”

As part of its investigation, which was in its initial stages, the SAHRC would interview the couple and the owner of the wedding venue.

“While we have several other similar cases related to discrimination against gays and lesbians, for now this investigation will be dealt with separately.”

Website shut down

Kilcairn, in the Riebeek Valley of the Western Cape, could not immediately be reached for comment and the venue’s website appears to have been shut down.

Website Mambaonline reported that a number of people began campaigning against Kilcairn, and those associated with it.

Brown-Waterson was quoted as saying that the woman who rents and manages the wedding venue, as well as the caterers, Two Food Fundies, had received hate mail, despite the fact that it was the venue owner who would not allow the couple to marry there.

“Both parties are receiving hate mail, threats via correspondence and telephone, and are being asked to explain themselves to the public,” Brown-Waterson told Mambaonline.

This condemnation was misplaced, however.

“Both are innocent parties, and being lambasted by the public in itself is a criminal act,” she said.

She appealed to anyone who had done so to apologise.

When I read that, I immediately thought, “Here it comes!” The battle has now reached South Africa. The question is, how will we respond? Many so-called “Christians” or “religionists” argue that to oppose gay marriage is “sectarian,” “sacrilegious” and even “seditious.” And certainly the state will make the claim that our religious convictions are a form of sedition.

It is at such a time that we would do well to pay careful attention to how Paul handled himself, and how he handled truth. This will be of tremendous principled and practical benefit.

Paul’s Appeal

In 25:1-12, we read of Paul’s appeal.

Now when Festus had come to the province, after three days he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem. Then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they petitioned him, asking a favour against him, that he would summon him to Jerusalem—while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him. But Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was going there shortly. “Therefore,” he said, “let those who have authority among you go down with me and accuse this man, to see if there is any fault in him.”

And when he had remained among them more than ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day, sitting on the judgement seat, he commanded Paul to be brought. When he had come, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood about and laid many serious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove, while he answered for himself, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.”

But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favour, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?”

So Paul said, “I stand at Caesar’s judgement seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know. For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!”

(Acts 25:1-12)

In this passage Paul is compelled to appeal to a higher human court: Caesar. Some interpreters criticise him for this, but I fail to see how it was in any way an unwise move.

We have already been introduced to several political leaders in recent chapters, and here we are introduced to another: Festus. History tells us that Festus ruled for only two years before he died. The previous governor, Felix, “wanting to do the Jews a favour” had “left Paul bound” (24:27). Festus inherited the problem.

We know that some two years had elapsed between chapters 24 and 25, but the Jews hadn’t forgotten their case against Paul. As Festus arrived in Jerusalem, “the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they petitioned against him, asking a favour against him that he would summon him to Jerusalem—while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him.” Furneaux notes, “This renewal of the charge after two years, on the very first opportunity, is a measure, not only of their unsleeping hatred, but of the importance which they attached to Paul’s influence.”1

Wisely, “Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, that that he himself was going there shortly.” He invited Paul’s accusers to travel with him to Caesarea to bring a case against him. This was a sagacious move. Like other Roman rulers, he faced the challenge of maintaining control without sparking a riot. He did not want to flatly refuse them, but he realised the potential trouble that could be invited by moving Paul to Jerusalem. Harrison notes, “He was prepared ‘to do the Jews a favor’ in order to get his regime off on the right foot. The Jews were notoriously difficult for a foreigner to govern.”2 And Longnecker writes, “Politically no newly arrived governor would have dreamt of antagonizing the leaders of the people he sought to govern by acquitting one against whom they were so vehemently opposed. It was more apolitical than legal decision Festus had to make.”3

Perhaps Felix had informed him of the situation regarding Paul. Regardless, he knew that he needed to appease the Jews by keeping Paul in prison while not causing a riot by moving him back to Jerusalem.

Two years earlier, these same Jews had made a vow not to eat until they had killed Paul (23:12). Time had not abated their bitterness. They had presumably broken their vow—or else they were very hungry—but they were as intent as ever on killing Paul. Festus, it seems, had some doubts about their accusations, but he was willing to preside over a fresh trial.

Some ten days later, Festus returned with Paul’s accusers to Caesarea, where he sat on the “judgement seat.” Paul was called, and the Jews were given opportunity to accuse him. The accusers “laid many serious complaints against Paul,” no doubt the same serious charges of sacrilege, sectarianism and sedition. Of course, “they could not prove” the accusations, for the accusations were in fact false. There was no evidence to substantiate their claims. And since the case was to be settled in a court of law (19:37), Festus at this point ought simply to have acquitted him.

Sadly, that was not to be. Festus was intent on doing “the Jews a favour,” and this resulted in political expediency and a gross miscarriage of justice. Jerusalem was a boiling pot, which could at any moment erupt into full blown riot, and the governor realised that throwing the Jews a bone would greatly enhance the potential of maintaining peace. Of course, good men do not deflect their responsibility, but Festus was more than willing to do so.

Paul’s response was forthright: “I stand at Caesar’s judgement seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know.” He was direct with Festus. Festus had no excuse: He knew that Paul was innocent. Paul was aware that the governor was simply playing the political game. “It is perfectly evident that the Jews had no case against the apostle but were mad with hatred because of his bold and unwavering allegiance to Christ.”4

Paul continued, “For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.” If a Roman citizen felt that he was being unfairly tried, he could appeal directly to Caesar. Paul knew his political rights, and realising that he was not having a fair hearing before Festus, he took advantage of the right to appeal directly to the highest court of the land. Though some have questioned the wisdom of this appeal, I think we learn here that Christians are not doormats. We have legal rights. And it is not inherently wrong to stand on them.

In response, “Festus . . . conferred with the council” before concluding, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!” There is a sense of relief in his words. He was finally pleased to be rid of this problem.

Shifting Responsibility

In 25:13-27, we find Festus passing the buck. What he did here was not technically wrong, but neither was it noble.

And after some days King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to greet Festus. When they had been there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying: “There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix, about whom the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, when I was in Jerusalem, asking for a judgement against him. To them I answered, ‘It is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning the charge against him.’ Therefore when they had come together, without any delay, the next day I sat on the judgement seat and commanded the man to be brought in. When the accusers stood up, they brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed, but had some questions against him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. And because I was uncertain of such questions, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there be judged concerning these matters. But when Paul appealed to be reserved for the decision of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I could send him to Caesar.”

Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.”

“Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.”

So the next day, when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command Paul was brought in. And Festus said: “King Agrippa and all the men who are here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer. But when I found that he had committed nothing deserving of death, and that he himself had appealed to Augustus, I decided to send him. I have nothing certain to write to my lord concerning him. Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to specify the charges against him.”

(Acts 25:13-27)

As we approach these verses, we should note that Festus had plenty of grounds to acquit Paul. As we have seen, however, he was intent on doing the Jews a favour. On the other hand, he was in something of a pickle, because there was certainly no ground for Paul’s case to be taken to Caesar. How would Caesar feel about such a frivolous case being brought to him? But when Agrippa came to visit Festus, he saw an opportunity to evade responsibility. The key was the religious card.

Agrippa was a Jewish authority in charge of small regions (modern-day Lebanon). He had a major responsibility, however: appointing the high priest and temple jurisdiction. He was the great-grandson of Herod the Great, who had tried to murder Jesus as a child, and the son of Herod Agrippa who, in Acts 12, had executed James. He was the father of Drusilla, whom we met in chapter 24. There was a strong rumour that he was involved in an incestuous relationship with his sister, Bernice. Harrison notes that “Emperor Claudius eulogized Agrippa in a letter to the Jewish nation and its rulers, calling him a man of the greatest piety. So Festus was understandably hopeful.”5

The arrival of Agrippa was perfectly timed, for the case before Festus was a religious, not civil, matter (v. 19). Agrippa had religious jurisdiction, and therefore he was the right man to hear the case. The appeal to Caesar, which Festus mentioned to Augustus (v. 21), was actually irrelevant. Caesar was not interested in religious disputes.

Festus’ comments regarding his understanding of the case are sad. Though he sought to ascertain what the complaint was against Paul, all he could understand from the accusers that it was a matter “about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.” Festus was “uncertain of such questions,” so much so that, when Paul appealed to Caesar, “I have nothing certain to write to my lord concerning him.” Jesus Christ was the most important person to ever walk the earth, and Festus was completely clueless.

Sadly, Festus was not alone. Even today, much of the world is just like him. There are some 3.9 billion people in the world who know nothing about Jesus Christ, and they need to be told.

Paul gloried in the truth about Jesus. “His story and his witness were not of someone who had lived and died but of One who was gloriously present and alive for evermore. For Paul every day in life was Easter Day.”6 Paul was passionate about telling others about Jesus.

Agrippa, like his uncle (Mark 6:20; Luke 23:6-12) was religiously curious. MacArthur notes that the word translated “would like” suggests “that Agrippa had been wanting to hear Paul for a long time.”7 He had heard about Paul and was eager to meet him.

Festus immediately granted Agrippa permission to hear Paul. He admitted that he had found no guilty in the apostle (v. 25), and was hoping that Agrippa could clarify the charges, because it was “unreasonable” to send the prisoner to Caesar without specifying the charges (v. 27). He was making it Agrippa’s problem.

In all of this, Paul’s humble confidence trumped the pomp of the pagan rulers (v. 23).

Paul and Agrippa

As noted above, chapter 26 contains the longest of Paul’s five defences. Clearly, this defence was of particular interest to Luke. It affords wonderful insight into Paul’s godliness. Jesus had promised to give His servants wisdom in times such as this (Matthew 10:18-19), and before us is a case in point. And while Paul was not legally bound to offer a hearing to Agrippa, already having appealed to Caesar, he clearly saw this as a wonderful gospel opportunity (see v. 28).

A Dramatic Picture

The picture painted for us in vv. 1-3 is a rather dramatic one. As Agrippa sat before Paul in all his pomp, he said to the prisoner,

“You are permitted to speak for yourself.”

So Paul stretched out his hand and answered for himself: “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, especially because you are expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews. Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently.”

(Acts 26:1-3)

We can picture Paul stretch out a manacled hand and boldly proclaiming Christ. “He has no word of censure of his enemies or of resentment, but seizes the opportunity to preach Christ to such a distinguished company which he does with ‘singular dignity.’”8 Stott adds, “Wearing neither crown nor gown, but only handcuffs and perhaps a plain prisoner’s tunic, he nevertheless dominated the court with his quiet, Christlike dignity and confidence.”9 And Barclay writes,

Paul was a prisoner. At that very moment he was wearing his fetters, as he himself makes clear. And yet the whole atmosphere is that he is the dominating personality in the scene. . . . The whole incident is an outstanding example of the power of personality. This one man Paul has in him a power which raises him head and shoulders above all others in any company.10

We have already seen, by his own admission, Festus’ woeful ignorance of Judaism, but Paul begins his address to Agrippa by politely acknowledging his knowledge of Judaism.

A Dynamic Proclamation

In vv. 4-23 Paul offers his defence before Agrippa, which takes the form of a personal testimony.

He begins, in vv. 4-5, with a recounting of his boyhood and early life: “My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” He had been widely recognised as a Pharisee of the Pharisees, with strict adherence to the Mosaic law.

In vv. 6-11, the apostle gets to the heart of the matter—the reason for which he was accused.

And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?

Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

(Acts 27:6-11)

The root of the accusation was “the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers.” This is an anomaly, of course. The Jews were claiming that he was apostate, but in fact he had grasped what they were all waiting for. The “hope” is defined elsewhere as the resurrection of Christ (see 23:6; 24:15). The matter before Agrippa, then, was a spiritual, gospel issue—nothing more, nothing less.

In reality, Paul was the orthodox Jew. He had believed the promises of the Old Testament concerning Messiah, and yet he was persecuted for it. We should expect the same. Standing for the plain truth of Scripture will invite persecution.

The crux of the matter was the resurrection of Jesus, which Paul’s accusers denied. And yet, as Paul asked, “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?” (cf. 23:6, 8; 24:15, 21). The Old Testament, which the Jews affirmed, contains several accounts of resurrection, and there were plenty of eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. It was, therefore, perfectly consistent with the Jewish religion to affirm the lordship of Jesus Christ. “It was not in spite of his Jewish heritage but because of it, Paul insisted, that he believed and proclaimed what he did. . . . Why should any of his audience think it ‘incredible that God raises the dead’ (v. 8), particularly when God had validated the truth of the resurrection by raising Jesus from the dead?”11 Or as Stott puts it, “Why should anybody think resurrection to be incredible? The Pharisees believed in it. And now God demonstrated it by raising Jesus from the dead.”12

There was a time when Paul, like his accusers, was also confused and guilty. The guilty confusion of the Jews over the identity of Jesus Christ is illustrated in Matthew 12:27-32, and Paul writes of his own former confusion in 1 Timothy 1:12-13. God had graciously opened his eyes to realise that he, professing to be orthodox, was in fact persecuting the truly orthodox. God had healed his spiritual blindness and enabled him to see the light of God’s truth.

Paul moves in vv. 12-18 to the record of his actual conversion:

While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So I said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.”

(Acts 26:12-18)

The Damascus Road encounter occurred “at midday,” which is significant because it was rare to find noontime travellers in that part of the world. The hottest time of the day in that part of the world was not conducive to travel. The fact that Paul was travelling at noon highlights the zeal with which he was persecuting the church. Nothing would stop him!

As he travelled to Damascus, he was blinded by a light brighter than the noonday sun and heard a voice speaking “in the Hebrew language.” As a professing orthodox Jew, it is no doubt significant that Jesus spoke to Paul in the Hebrew language.

Jesus identified with His church, noting that to persecute Christians was to persecute Him. He then said, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” This was an ancient metaphor used to describe the futility of defying the gods. Paul was seeking to defy the true God, but his attempts were ultimately futile. Jesus would build His church, and neither the gates of hell nor the wrath of a Pharisee would prevail against it.

In vv. 15-18, Paul received his commission, which was a gospel commission to the blind—both Jew and Gentile.

Paul’s Obedient Response

Confronted by Jesus Christ Himself, Paul willingly obeyed:

Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.

(Acts 26:19-20)

The proof of transformation was redirection and proclamation. Paul believed, and therefore he spoke (cf. Psalm 116:10). Obedience is the essence of saving faith (Romans 6:16; 1 Peter 1:14), and Paul’s entire post-conversion life was marked by obedience.

Paul’s Conclusion

The apostle concluded his defence in vv. 21-23:

For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come—that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.

(Acts 26:22-23)

The consequence of his obedience was persecution and trumped up charges. He was neither sacrilegious, sectarian nor seditious. On the contrary, he was faithful. He had been set apart to the gospel. Any God-fearing Jew ought to have seen that. The accusers were the guilty ones, not the accused.

Paul concluded with a powerful gospel declaration: Jesus is the Christ. Such a conclusion is provocative. He exhibited astonishing, remarkable boldness. This is the kind of Christian we should imitate (see Hebrews 6:11-12).

By way of application, we must note the full assurance that Paul had. Such assurance is rooted in hope and it makes one bold. Paul expounded hope because he had hope. His worldview was a gospel worldview: All have sinned and Christ is the only hope for sinners. His example is certainly worthy of emulation, and those who emulate it ought not to be surprised when false accusations and other forms of persecution arise.

Undaunted Yet Respectful Courage

In vv. 24-29, Festus and Agrippa each interrupt Paul. The apostle admirably—with great self-control—responds to his interruptions.

The Interruption of Festus

First, Festus interrupted. “Now as he thus made his defence, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!’” (v. 24). He recognised that Paul had given himself to “much learning” and it seems that he respected Paul for it. It was clear to him that this man took seriously the Jewish Scriptures and studied them. Nonetheless, Festus himself had no regard for those Scriptures and so he concluded that Paul was insane.

Of course, the apostle was in good company, for Jesus had likewise been accused of insanity (Mark 3:21; John 8:48, 52; 10:20). Those whose minds are yet darkened naturally conclude that belief in the gospel is insanity. Longnecker observes,

Paul, Festus concluded, was so learned in his Jewish traditions that he had become utterly impractical. Such talk was the height of insanity. Down through the ages Festus’s response has been echoed by men and women too trapped by the natural to be open to the supernatural, to confined by the “practical” to care about life everlasting.13

Paul’s response to this reproach was utterly respectful:

I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.

The matters of which Paul spoke were public record, as Agrippa’s knowledge of them testified. The apostle used the opportunity to draw the king into his evangelistic appeal. Regardless of his circumstances, he always saw himself as an ambassador of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)—at present, an “ambassador in chains” (Ephesians 6:20).

The Response of Agrippa

The second interruption takes the form of Agrippa’s response to Paul’s appeal. The NKJV translates Agrippa’s words, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” (v. 28). This is not a very good translation. The ESV gets it better in this instance: “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” Did Paul really think he could convert Agrippa in such a short time?

The apostle’s response is at once gracious and bold: “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.” As Stott observes, “Paul made no attempt to ingratiate himself with the authorities. He wanted the king’s salvation, not his favour. So he did not stop with the story of his own conversion; he was concerned for Agrippa’s conversion too. He wanted everybody to be like him, including the king—everybody a Christian but nobody a prisoner.”14

It is clear that Paul’s greatest motive in this entire episode was to preach Christ. While Paul was held in chains, it was actually his audience who were the real prisoners! They were bound in sin, and Paul’s passion was to free them from this bondage through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Conclusion of the Matter

The account concludes in vv. 30-32:

When he had said these things, the king stood up, as well as the governor and Bernice and those who sat with them; and when they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, “This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains.”

Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

(Acts 26:30-32)

It was clear to both Festus and Agrippa that Paul was free of guilt. Though they unequivocally declared him to be innocent, they both wanted to wash their hands of him. Agrippa’s conclusion—“This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar”—again betrays this. If Paul was innocent, there was no need for him to go to Caesar. He could be declared innocent by a lower court and set free, but both Agrippa and Festus wanted him to be rid of this nuisance.

As we draw this study to a close, I want to highlight a few points of application from these chapters.

First, we need to be faithful with the gospel at all times. We need to live hopefully and be prepared to answer hopefully (1 Peter 3:15). If we find ourselves up against conflict for our stance on biblical nonnegotiables—like the pressing issue of gay marriage—let us stand in the gospel and proclaim the gospel.

Second, the promises of God must serve as fuel for our hope. We are invincible until God is finished with us. Paul had Christ’s clear promise that he would arrive safely in Rome (23:11), and so he knew that the Jews had no power over him. No doubt this promise fuelled his bold proclamation of the gospel.

Third, the Christian is called to be both bold and respectful. Paul was bold, but at no point did he exhibit any disrespect. Paul would later write of the need for this in his letter to the Colossians:

Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.

(Colossians 4:2-6)

Fourth, let us understand that a fruitful Christian will be a persecuted Christian. “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus drew the parallel between fruitfulness and persecution when He gave the illustration of the true vine and the branches:

You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, “They hated Me without a cause.”

(John 15:16-25)

Fifth, we must never be ashamed of the gospel of Christ. Paul preached the unadulterated gospel of Christ. He preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We must do the same.

Sixth, and finally, when dealing with kings and other authorities, we must keep our eyes and our heart focused on the King. Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and it ultimately Him to whom we must give account.

The faithful and fruitful Christian must expect to face opposition. When we do, let us learn from the example of faithful servants like Paul to respond in a Christ-honouring manner.

Show 14 footnotes

  1. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1930), 3:426.
  2. Everett F. Harrison, Interpreting Acts: The Expanding Church (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1986), 390-91.
  3. Richard N. Longnecker, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1981), 9:546.
  4. Charles R. Erdman, The Acts: An Exposition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966), 179.
  5. Harrison, Interpreting Acts, 396.
  6. William Barclay, The Acts of the Apostles: The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1955), 194.
  7. John F. MacArthur Jr., Acts: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 2:??.
  8. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 3:442.
  9. John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), 369.
  10. Barclay, The Acts of the Apostles, 198.
  11. Longnecker, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 9:552.
  12. Stott, The Message of Acts, 371.
  13. Longnecker, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 9:554.
  14. Stott, The Message of Acts, 379.