Acts 25:1-26:30

A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds

December 3, 2009 


The Captivity of Paul – Part 2:  Caesarea

(Acts 25:1-26:30)


            In our nearly year-long journey through Acts, we are now in the final stages of Acts that deals with the captivity of Paul.  From Acts 21:17, where Paul is taken into custody by a mob at the temple in Jerusalem, to Acts 28:31 which is the last verse of Acts, where Paul is awaiting trial before Caesar, he is in constant custody.  This period of captivity lasted between four and five years, and it occurred in three major cities:  Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome.  The last part of Acts can be broadly outlined as follows:

  • Acts 21:37-23:11 – Captivity in Jerusalem
  • Acts 23:12-26:30 – Jerusalem to Caesarea
  • Acts 27:1-28:31 – Caesarea to Rome

In our last session we began looking at the captivity of Paul in Caesarea.  Paul was in Caesarea for more that two years (see Acts 24:27).  Acts 24, at which we looked in the previous session, tells of Paul’s captivity in Caesarea under the custody of Felix.  In A.D. 59 or 60, Porcius Festus succeeded Felix as governor.  Felix was recalled by Rome because of his corruption and ineptness.  Festus was a much better administrator and a kinder, nobler man than Felix.  Not much is said about him in the history books, but he was known as a man who was committed to Roman justice and who was a good politician.


In Acts 25-26 there are four major movements:

  • The initial visit of Festus to Jerusalem (25:1-5)
  • Paul’s hearing before Festus (25:6-12)
  • The arrival of King Agrippa and Bernice in Caesarea (25:13-22)
  1. Paul’s defense before King Agippa (25:23-26:32)


The Initial Visit of Festus to Jerusalem (25:1-5)

Verse 1 – One of Festus’ first official acts was to visit Jerusalem and meet with the Jewish leaders.  This was a good political move because these were the people with whom he would have to work to govern successfully.

Verse 2 – Amazingly, after at least two years, these people were still harboring great anger toward Paul.  One writer describes them as “Poor old hate-filled men!”

Verse 3 – They immediately used some of their political capital to ask a favor of the new governor.  They wanted him to bring Paul to Jerusalem for trial.  Their real intent was to complete the plot they had hatched years earlier to ambush and kill Paul.

Verses 4-5 – Festus, not being fully familiar with Paul’s case, put them off, telling them to come to Caesarea and there he would decide what to do with Paul.


Paul’s Hearing Before Festus (25:6-12)

            After more than a two year recess, the trial of Paul resumed.  It seems the purpose of this hearing was simply to layout the charges against Paul and to decide how to proceed with the trial.  From the statement of Paul in verse 8, it appears the Jewish leaders made three broad categories of charges against Paul:

  • That he had violated Jewish law
  • That he had desecrated the Jewish temple
  • That he had violated Roman law

That third charge had been added since the trial before Felix in Acts 24, and it was the charge in which Festus would have been most interested.

            Festus, ever the politician, tried to appease the Jews by convincing Paul to go to Jerusalem and stand trial before him there.  Paul had not forgotten the plot that had been planned against him by the Jews in Jerusalem, and he had no confidence that he could get a fair trial there.  So, he exercised his right as a Roman citizen to have his case heard by Caesar.  This was probably a great relief to Festus.  He knew that if he gave in to the demands of the Jews, a miscarriage of justice would take place.  However, if he did not give in to their demands, an adversarial relationship would exist with the most powerful people with whom he needed to work.  The appeal to Caesar by Paul gave Festus a perfect way out of the dilemma.


The Arrival of King Agrippa and Bernice in Caesarea (25:13-22)

Verse 13 announces the arrival of King Agrippa and Bernice in Caesarea.

“King Agrippa” – His full name was Marcus Julius Agrippa II, but he was known as Herod Agrippa II.  His family tree in interesting:

Father – Herod Agrippa I who put to death James in Acts 12

Grandfather – Aristobulus who was murdered by his father in 7 B.C.

Great-Grandfather – Herod the Great who murdered the babies in Bethlehem near the time of the birth of Jesus

      When his father died, Agrippa II was not immediately appointed to succeed him.  However, he was gradually given more and more territory to oversee until he eventually had as much, in not more, territory as his father had.  He was in the neighboring province to Judea (where modern day Lebanon is located).  He was recognized as an expert in Jewish affairs and was given the power to appoint high priests.  His sister was Drusilla, the wife of Felix who was governor of Judea before Festus.

“Bernice” – She was Herod Agrippa II’s sister.  She initially married her uncle, but later moved to Rome to live with Agrippa II while he was being educated there.  Rumors began to float around about them having an incestuous relationship, and to keep down scandalous talk, she married a second time.  When Agrippa II became king, she left her second husband and began living as her brother’s wife.

Verses 14-22 – Festus describes Paul’s case to Agrippa II.  He correctly ascertained the real issue had to do with Jesus and Paul’s claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  Perhaps Agrippa II had heard of Paul.  He certainly was aware of the Christian movement.  He expressed a desire to hear Paul’s story firsthand and Festus readily agreed.


Paul’s Defense Before King Agrippa II (25:23-26:32)

Chapter 25:23-27 tells us two significant things about Paul’s appearance before Agrippa:

  • It was an occasion of “great pomp.”  No doubt Agrippa and Bernice were wearing their royal purple robes and crowns.  Festus was probably wearing the red cape worn by Roman governors.  The key leaders—military, political, and religious—were all present, dressed in their “Sunday best.”  Then, Paul, the prisoner, is brought in probably wearing a very plain robe.  One writer says of this scene:  “The contrast between the dazzling garb of the high and mighty and the humble clothes of the chained prisoner suddenly became meaningless, for Paul displays the quiet dignity of a man with a message.”  [The Book of Acts:  The Smart Study Guide to the Bible, p.303] 
  • The purpose of the occasion was not to determine Paul’s guilt or innocence.  That decision had been taken out of the hands of Festus and Agrippa when Paul appealed his case to Caesar.  However, Festus was required to send a letter to Caesar summarizing his case and the charges against him.  This meeting was for the purpose of helping Festus know what to include in that letter and also to satisfy Agrippa’s curiosity about Paul.


Chapter 26:1-29 contains a summary of Paul’s defense before Agrippa.  This speech is similar to the one Paul made at the Tower of Antonio when he was arrested in the temple complex (see Acts 22:1-21).

Verses 2-3 contain the introduction.  Paul expresses his pleasure at being able to present his case before King Agrippa.  He commends the king because of his knowledge of Jewish affairs and asks for patience from the king as he tells his life story.

Verses 4-11 contain the story of Paul’s life up to the time of his conversion.  He speaks of:

·        His training in Judaism from his early childhood (v.4)

·        His strict religious life as a Pharisee (v.5)

·        His commitment to the very thing (the hope of the resurrection) that was deeply embedded in the history of Israel (vv.6-8)

·        His persecution of Christians (vv.9-11)

Verses 12-20  contain a graphic description of Paul’s conversion experience and commission to ministry.  This is the third time in Acts this story is told (see chapters 9 and 22).

Verses 20-23 contain a summary of Paul’s life and preaching after his conversion.  In this section Paul is not merely defending himself; he is preaching to Agrippa and all who would listen.  He lays out the main points of his preaching:

·        That God calls all people to repent and give evidence of that repentance by their actions (v.20)

·        That Jesus fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament (v.22)

·        That Jesus suffered (on the cross) to pay for human sin (v.23)

·        That Jesus rose from the dead (v.23)

·        That Jesus gives light (reveals God) to both Jews and Gentiles (v.23)

Verses 24-29 contain an appeal directly to Agrippa.  The king on the judgment seat suddenly becomes the defendant!  The phrase “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian” is the subject of much debate.  Was Agrippa speaking seriously or sarcastically?  It is impossible to know for sure, but there is no historical evidence that Agrippa ever became a Christian.


Chapter 26:30-32 – Obviously feeling uncomfortable, the king and his entourage withdrew.  They all agreed that Paul had done nothing deserving imprisonment.  Agrippa pointed out that if he had not appealed his case to Caesar, Paul could have been released.


Practical Lessons from Acts 25:1-26:30:

1.      Bitterness and resentment detracts from the quality of our lives.  The Jewish leaders were consumed with jealousy and anger toward Paul (see Acts 25:2-3) and it was having a negative impact on their lives.  That is why the Scripture instructs us to leave vengeance to God (Romans 12:17-21).

2.  We are called to be witnesses for Christ in all circumstances.  And our witness involves our attitude, demeanor, and words (see Paul’s example before Agrippa).

3.  Our witness must include our personal experience with Christ.

4.  The opportunity will not always be present for one to accept Christ.