Jerusalem To Rome

The Acts of the Apostles

By Charles Fremont Sitterly


Advance from the Capital of the Province to that of the Empire A. D. 44 To A. D. 62

Chapter 26

Paul’s Address before Agrippa



Then Agrippa said to Paul,

“You are permitted to speak in your own behalf.”

Paul thereupon stretched forth his hand and began his defense:

“T think myself happy, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you to-day respecting all the accusations made against me by Jews, especially since you are well versed in all Jewish customs and questions. I pray you, therefore, hear me patiently. Now, my life from youth up was among my own nation and in Jerusalem. This all Jews know, and they have known from the first, if they would but testify, that I lived as a Pharisee in accordance with the strictest sect of our religion.”  


Agrippa, as higher in rank than the Procurator, now assumes authority in a sort of self-conscious way as he says,

“You are permitted by my favor to speak.”

Paul has been standing in respectful silence during the introduction by Festus, and now takes a step forward, sweeps a salutation to the king with his hand, and begins. He compliments Agrippa II with candor and grace as having interest and special insight with respect to Jewish problems and customs. This was true of all the Herods, but especially of this one, who besides being granted by the Emperor the title of king, was given the power to appoint the Jewish High Priests, and exercised this power without any regard save to his own ends. Paul refers to his indictment as brought by Jews, not “the Jews” as by the nation, but by some Jews, implying by not employing the article that Herod will understand their relative insignificance and unrepresentative character. He then gives a brief reference narrative of his life from boyhood as passed in the strictest tutelage of Pharisaic circles and as, therefore, shaping his ideas and tendencies along lines of the most prejudiced and narrow kind. Thus he lays a broad basis for showing how impossible it was that he should have changed his whole tendency and habit of thought without the most compelling reasons.  


“Even to-day I stand here charged as a criminal for my hope in the promise made by God to our forefathers— the promise which our twelve tribes hope to attain while earnestly serving God night and day. For this hope, O King, I am criminally indicted by Jews. Why is it judged unbelievable by you all if God raises the dead to life?

“In the same way, I myself once thought it my duty to do many things in opposition to the name of Jesus, the Nazarene. I even did them in Jerusalem and shut up many of the saints in prison, receiving my authority from the High Priests, and when they were about to be put to death I gave my vote against them. Moreover, throughout all the synagogues I often punished them and tried to force them to blaspheme and I was so frantic in my fury against them that I used to pursue them even to foreign cities.”

  Now he leaps to the chief issue, namely, his causing such offense to Jews whenever he proclaimed the doctrine of a resurrection of the dead. Again the article is not prefixed to “Jews” and thus he adds force to his surprise that Jews as such and as over against Gentiles should be so untrue to their peculiar heritage of hope as respects the future life. Disbelief in such a doctrine might be expected of heathen, but of Jews, who had the promises from time immemorial and the hope fully fledged from the days of Enoch, such skepticism as was shown in persistently refusing to accept the teaching was astounding. Yet there he stood in chains for teaching that truth. Everywhere there seemed to be a conspiracy of madness and senseless opposition to the idea even that God, who created man from the dust, should call him back again from the grave. Yet Paul himself was compelled to confess in all honesty that he had sinned just as inexcusably and against light just as clear. In all humility he had to acknowledge that his own case was even worse. When these Nazarenes became too notorious in Jerusalem he was so roused by his deep prejudices against irregularity and the very name “Jesus from Nazareth” that he bent all his powers as a rising rabbi and councilor to suppress the sect. He consented to their martyrdom in case nothing short of that should end them, and many a time he threw the most beautiful souls on earth, both men and women, into dungeons if possible to rid them thereby of their obsession for the name of Jesus. When this did not suffice he tortured them and hounded them out of the city, and then pursued them with warrants of arrest and dragged them back in chains, in his madness by all means to exterminate them.


Paragraph 3. A SKETCH OF HIS OWN CONVERSION. Verses 12-18.

“I was traveling one day toward Damascus in these pursuits with authority and commission from the High Priests, when at midday, O King, I saw on the road a light from heaven, more brilliant than the sun, flash all about me and those in my party. We all fell to the ground; and I heard a voice which said to me in Hebrew,

‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me? It is hard for you to kick against a goad.’

‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.

‘I am Jesus,’ said the Lord, ‘whom you are persecuting. But arise and stand on your feet, for I have appeared to you for the very purpose of taking you into my service and making you a witness both to the things you have already seen of Me and to those in which I will yet appear to you. I will deliver you from your own people and from the Gentiles unto whom I am sending you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the authority of Satan to God, so that they may receive remission of sins and a heritage among those who are sanctified through faith in Me.’ ”  


“It was on my last journey of this sort, O King Agrippa,” continued Paul, “when I was pushing my beast to his utmost to reach Damascus by noon one day, that an event occurred which became the turning point in my career. I had a considerable company of strong men about me, and was furnished with explicit warrants and orders from the High Priest to arrest and drag back to prison a group of refugees who had escaped to the purlieus of that great city which you so well know. Suddenly a burst of the most brilliant light flashed across our path and our mounts stopped so quickly that we were thrown heavily to the ground. In my soul a voice was heard, saying as clearly as though with audible lips,

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me? It is hard to kick against goads.’

“I asked in reply,

‘Who is it I am persecuting?’ and the word came quick and clear, .

‘I am Jesus. You are persecuting Me!’

“Then I realized fully for the first time that His followers were right; that He was the Lord; and I yielded Him full and abject obedience from that moment. He said to me:

‘Rise and receive My orders, for you must enter My service and join those who witness everywhere to My sovereignty and salvation. I will protect you from your own people, who will turn furiously against you, and I will keep you safely while I send you to spread the news of redemption among the Gentiles. This latter service will be your special and lifelong work.”  


“You see then, O King Agrippa, I did not disobey that heavenly vision, but, on the contrary, I began preaching, first to those at Damascus, and then to those at Jerusalem and through the whole of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn unto God, doing deeds worthy of their repentance. It was for this reason that some Jews seized me in the Temple and tried to kill me. Since, however, I obtained help from God, I have stood and stand to-day and testify both to small and great, declaring nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses predicted should take place, namely, that the Christ was to be a sufferer of death, and was then to be the first, by

rising from the dead, to proclaim a gospel of life both to our nation and to the Gentiles.”

As he was thus making his defense, Festus called out, loudly,

“You are mad, Paul! Your great learning is driving you into insanity.”

“I am not mad, most noble Festus,” said Paul, “but am speaking words of sober truth. For the king knows about these matters, and I am speaking to him without constraint. I do not believe that any of these things is obscure to him, for this has not happened in a corner. You believe the prophets, King Agrippa? I know you believe them.”



“Now, your Majesty, you see from this action here, which is only one of a long series of similar experiences since that day, that I have not proved recreant to my Master’s commands. Quite the contrary. I began at once right there in Damascus to proclaim my change of mind and to narrate my heavenly vision, and to beg all men, whether Jew or Greek, to seek the same experience which had come to me. I returned in due time to Jerusalem and I went about Judea, where I had been pursuing Nazarenes into their hiding places. I went to my boyhood home in Tarsus; in fact, I have been across sea and land in every Roman province this side of Italy itself, preaching this sole doctrine, namely, the fulfillment of Israel’s hope in Jesus as their Messiah, the complete answer to all that Moses and the prophets proclaimed, who predicted that the Son of David should not be a temporal and national, local and earthly king, but a servant and lowly sufferer, a sacrifice and atonement. He should die as a malefactor, though supremely innocent, and then rise again from death and rise to Heaven as the Model and Hope, the Redeemer and Lord of Jew and Gentile, great and small, bond and free, rich and poor.”

Festus could not endure such enthusiasm over so senseless a situation. We have already seen how hard and practical a mind he had, and he wearies under a speech which Agrippa apparently enjoys. At last he calls out:

“Paul, your head is turned. What with your visions and your

reading of old prophecies and your speculations on a life after you are dead, you'll be mad soon.”

“Not so, my noble lord,” replied Paul. “These are not recent vagaries of my own. I have tested their truth now for twenty-five years. There is no claim I have advanced which cannot be proved from our Scriptures book after book. King Agrippa has no doubt read our prophets, as I have presumed all along, and thus sees how true my interpretation really is; for these facts are not obscure nor hidden from the knowledge of any man.”

Then Paul feels that he must not presume too far on Agrippa’s sympathy, or, as some believe, that he sees in Agrippa a possible convert. So he exclaims,

“You believe the prophets, do you not, King Agrippa? Of course I need not ask the question.”  


“In a little while you will persuade yourself that you have made me a Christian,” said Agrippa.

“I would to God,” said Paul, “that whether in a little while or longer, not only you but all my hearers to-day, might become such as I am—except for these chains.”

Then the King arose and the Governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. When they had withdrawn they discussed the case among themselves and agreed,

“This man is doing nothing for which death or imprisonment is proper punishment.”

Moreover, Agrippa said to Festus,

“This man might have been discharged if he had not appealed to Caesar.”  


Now Paul is compelled to stop. Even Agrippa cannot be catechized before so mixed an audience by a state’s prisoner, especially on matters of personal belief. He could not answer truthfully that he believed the prophets in any sense comparable with Paul’s high belief, and as Festus his host has plainly become anxious to end the hearing, he replies with half seriousness and a trifle of irony:

“At this rate you'll be saying in a moment I’m a Christian! You are persuaded I’m a believer like you in the Prophets; with a little more effort you'll reach the conviction I’m a believer in the Nazarene!”

Paul is distressed, but he answers, sincerely,

“I deeply wish that whether by little or larger effort I might persuade both your Majesty and all who are here present this day to become indeed Christians like myself—not, of course, including these chains.” Thus with courtly courtesy, mingled with a touch of humor, Paul raises his manacled hands and says the last word.

With that Agrippa rises, then Festus, then Bernice, then the ladies and gentlemen of the court party. They assemble in the withdrawing room and discuss the situation, and one and all agree that, even if this man be an enthusiast, he certainly is not a criminal, and that no purer-minded or gentler soul had been seen in these parts, nor more courteous withal, than this Roman from Tarsus. Agrippa sums up his judgment in words which Festus reported to Paul:

“This man,” he said, “ could easily have been set free had he not persisted in his appeal to the Emperor.”

This closes the series of five separate hearings recorded by Luke in these five chapters—xxii-xxvi—granted Paul by the Roman authorities in Palestine since his arrest in the Temple courts. It is noteworthy that in none of them have his enemies established his guilt of any crime which in Roman law was worthy of imprisonment, much less death. But as he had written to the Romans, “All things work out for good to them that love God,” and as he wrote later from Rome, “the things which happened to me there fell out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel,” so if we mistake not these Caesarean experiences have a very necessary and refining effect upon the total character of the supreme apostle to the Gentile world.