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Defending Gospel – Paul before Festus and Agrippa (Acts 25 & 26)



Paul spent two long years in prison since Felix could not decide his case. When he was called back to Rome, he left Paul in prison in order to please the Jews. Festus replaced Felix around AD 60. Festus was a dynamic man. As soon as he took his position as procurator of Judea, he put first priority to meet the Sanhedrin to settle all the open issues.

Festus knew that many of his predecessors were banished by Rome because of their lack of skills to keep the region calm. Particularly what happened to Felix (Festus’s predecessor) and Ventidius Cumanus (predecessor of Felix) might be fresh in his memory. Both were banished after they were recalled back to Rome from Caesarea. The job he was holding was a risky job with many long sour histories behind. Hence, he wanted to move quickly and meet the major stakeholders in the region. He met the Jewish high priests three days after he arrived at Caesarea and took his position. When the high priests brought the case of Paul, Festus invited them to join him in Caesarea and press the charges.

After Festus reached Caesarea, very next day he convened the court and brought Paul to face the trial. But the charges Jews pressed against Paul was a matter specific to the Jewish belief system, names, and their laws. They could not prove in the court that Paul had breached the laws of Jews or caused the disturbance in Jerusalem because of his behavior. When Festus offered a choice to Paul, whether he wants to go to Jerusalem and face Sanhedrin, Paul appealed to Caeser. Hence Festus was forced to send Paul to Rome but he needs to provide justification based on the trial Paul faced locally in Caesarea and the reason he was being sent to emperor Nero.

Another major stakeholder for Festus in the region was King Agrippa II. Agrippa II was the son of Agrippa I, who killed James (One of the disciples of Jesus) and arrested Peter. His great grandfather was Herod the great. His sister Drusilla was the wife of Felix (predecessor of Festus). Agrippa II had an unnatural relationship with his sister Berniece. Since Agrippa II did not have any child, the genealogy of Herod the Great stopped with him.

The trial before Agrippa II

Agrippa II visited Festus after he took his position in Caesarea. When Festus asked Agrippa II to help in the case against Paul, he readily agreed. The very next day it was arranged. Agrippa II entered the court along with his sister Bernice with all the pomp. The high priests wanted Paul to be killed but Paul as a Roman citizen appealed to emperor Nero. Now Festus needs to arrive at the documentation of charges against Paul before sending him to Rome.

The trial setting was different compared to Paul’s previous trial against high priests. Here there was none to accuse him. Agrippa was there to listen to his defense and help draft the documentation for Festus. Hence, Paul chose to share his powerful personal testimony to Agrippa II.

When Paul got permission to speak, he started his defense by explaining about the promise God has given to the Jews. The promise was given to twelve Jewish tribes and they were hoping to see it fulfilled day and night for many centuries. The promise was about the Messiah. Paul’s hope in the promise is the major reason why the Jews were accusing him. Paul hoped the promise on Messiah was fulfilled through Jesus Christ and he believed Jesus came back alive after he was crucified and buried.

He goes ahead and explains how he started to believe, it was Jesus who fulfilled the promise. He was a Pharisee and a strong believer in the Jewish laws and prophecies. He did everything to oppose those who believed Jesus. He wanted to stop the Christian movement. He put them to death and cast his vote against them. Forced them to blaspheme. He was obsessed in persecuting those who were followers of Christ. He hunted for them from place to place. As a passionate Pharisee, Paul strongly believed Jesus was not a messiah and he had a great responsibility to eradicate the Christian movement.

On one of those journeys to Damascus during the noontime, he had a direct encounter with the Lord. He saw the bright light brighter than the noon sunlight. Paul and all the men along with him fell down. He heard a clear voice in Aramaic, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”.

Now Paul had a clear confirmation that Jesus is alive that means he is resurrected. He is Lord based on the supernatural encounter he went through. Paul was given a specific call to go to gentiles to turn them from darkness to light. He realized his hope was misplaced as Pharisee. What he saw was real. Paul received the heavenly call and decided to obey it. He started preaching what he saw and heard to those in Jerusalem, Judea and to gentiles. Paul’s message was simple. He requested everyone to turn back from sin and demonstrate it through their life and deeds.

Paul tied everything on his trail before Agrippa, that his hope was based on Jesus the messiah and on the promises given to the forefathers of twelve tribes. As it was mentioned in the book of prophets (i.e Isaiah) the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead. Now the story will hit Agrippa II more than anyone. His grandfather Herod Antipas met Jesus face to face when Pilate during the trial of Jesus decided to sent Him to Herod Antipas since Antipas was governing Galilee at that time. But it was Festus who made the first reaction to Paul’s defense by saying Paul’s great learning is driving him insane. But Paul kept his focus on Agrippa II and try to persuade him based on the old testament prophesies and promises. Though Herod the great was an Idumean (from the clan of Esau) and the Agrippa II came in Herod’s genealogy the family of Herod was well aware of customs of Jews.

Agrippa II openly resisted Paul’s persuasion and walked away from the court. Thus he was the fourth and the last generation in the Herodian dynasty, who came so close to the Gospel of Jesus and but refused to obey the call. All his previous generation members including Herod the Great, Herod Antipas and Agrippa I lived in the period of Jesus or had an encounter with one of his apostles or Jesus himself. But their ears were closed as they were chasing the political glory.


Paul did an excellent job of presenting the gospel before Festus, Agrippa II, and Bernice. After this Festus immediately sent Paul to Rome. Within two years Festus died. The Jewish Sanhedrin utilized the opportunity to kill James, brother of Jesus Christ and other prominent Christian leaders before the next procurator was installed from Rome. Agrippa II lived through difficult years. He went through the war against his own people from AD 66-70. Sent his army against Jerusalem who fought along with Roman soldiers. Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70 and Agrippa II died around AD 94. Paul did not live long enough to see the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.

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