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This is the last ‘waiting’ section before we get to Paul’s longest discourse in the Book of Acts. I was tempted to skip over it today and just focus on the more meaty Chapter 26, but I think Luke is doing this to us with a purpose, to build up the tension before the final climactic speech. Having thought in the previous section that Paul could finally move out of Caesarea and onto Rome, we discover that still several more days had passed. I find it amusingly ironic that in the context of these chapters, Festus tells Agrippa in verse 17 that he ‘did not delay’. But back to the beginning of our story, and the introduction of today’s characters.
Festus, we know, is the new Roman governor of Judea. Agrippa is the Jewish ‘puppet-king’, son of the Herod Agrippa I who persecuted the early church (12:1-3) and then died during a public ceremony (12:23), and great-grandson of Herod the Great, who persecuted the Jews during the time of Jesus’ birth (Matt 2:1-16). Agrippa II would have been yet a young man, just 17, when his father, Agrippa I, died in Judea in 44 AD. He was raised and educated in the imperial court in Rome, but was always interested in the welfare of the Jews and their state. In the late 40s and early 50s, he moved to the area as ruler, doing all he could to keep the peace between Rome and the Jews. Berenice is an interesting character; she was Agrippa II’s sister, but suspected of being his lover also, along with many other leaders of the time. Luke doesn’t mention any of this romantic political soap opera, however.
So, here we have Agrippa and Berenice coming to stay with Festus for ‘many’ days, learning about what is going on with the Jews in Judea. Festus tells them about Paul, left as a prisoner by his predecessor, Felix. We already know the story which Festus explains in verses 15-21. The main sticking point seems to be this contention that Jesus died and yet, according to Paul, lives. Agrippa wants to hear Paul for himself.
So the next day, the meeting is arranged in the auditorium, with all pomp (the Greek word is actually phantasia) and circumstance, with the commanders – that is, of a thousand soldiers each – and the prominent men of the city of Caesarea. And believe it or not, Luke trots out the context again (!) via Festus’ speech before the court in verses 24-27. Bored as we may be to hear it once more, take a moment to picture the scene: a great hall, the king and queen of the region, the governor, all the local area commanders, and other important men. In comes Paul. Look at him, says the governor, about whom all the Jews in Jerusalem and Caesarea are crying out, passionately, that he must no longer live. And yet the governor has found in him nothing worthy of death. Festus is going to send him to the Emperor, Nero, but he doesn’t know what to write, or what charges he can lay against the prisoner. He asks all the assembly, especially the king, for advice.
Luke is asking his readers to sit in that hall and get ready to respond to Paul’s self-defense. What should Festus write about him?
Prayer: Lord God, give me a heart of discernment. Help me to hear and judge wisely.