Acts 24–26. Paul at Caesarea. Preaching to Sinners in High Places.
Key Notes: Paul in chains talked to Felix and his Jewish third wife Drusilla. Under Festus, he preached to Herod Agrippa II and his sister / wife Bernice. Another plot to kill Paul. He appealed to Caesar's jurisdiction to escape Jewish threats.
24:1–10 Paul escaped from Jerusalem under guard, with the Romans protecting him against the Jews. But the pressure was not at an end. Ananias the high priest, some elders and a Roman-speaker came to Caesarea to prosecute Paul before Felix the governor. Paul was a pest, an agitator among Jews all over the world, a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes, and one who tried to profane the Temple when they seized him.
24:10–21 Paul easily refuted these accusations and said that his conduct in Jerusalem was peaceful. He had even brought an offering of money for his people. He worshipped God, however, according to The Way, which is entirely compatible with Old Testament Scripture, believing in the resurrection of the just and the unjust. He was on trial because of the resurrection.
24:22–27 Felix knew about Christianity, and put him off. He did not render a verdict, but promised to do so when the tribune arrived. He did not. But Paul was permitted some liberties. Felix and Drusilla, his Jewish wife, wanted to hear Paul, so several other meetings were arranged. Paul spoke of faith in Christ, justice, self-control, and future judgment. Part of Felix's motive for these meetings was hope for a bribe. Sadly, Felix left office with Paul left in prison for two years as a favor to the Jews.
Comment: Felix had been a slave who rose to power with the help of his brother's connections with the Caesar. He was ruthless in putting down rebellions and won the disapproval of both Romans and Jews. The Roman historian Tacitus said Felix was "a master of cruelty and lust. He exercised the power of a king with the mind of a slave." He was married (his third wife) to the daughter of Herod Agrippa I, Drusilla, who was less than 20 years old, and had been pulled away from marriage to another king.
25:1–12 Festus succeeded Felix and Paul's case was reopened. The Jews of Jerusalem tried to get Paul remanded back to Jerusalem so that he could be ambushed on the way. Paul refused to go back to Jerusalem, and appealed to Caesar.
Festus was an unknown novice at this time, but was considered a responsible Roman governor. He was least acquainted with Christianity of the characters in this study.
25:13–27 Herod Agrippa II and his sister Bernice came to Caesarea to greet Festus, and Festus took the occasion to have them review Paul's case. Festus explained that Paul had strange ideas about a dead Jesus coming to life, but that there was no substantial charge against him. Festus would have to write a brief to the Caesar explaining why Paul was being sent to Rome, and hoped that Paul would give him material for the document. The next day Agrippa and Bernice came into Herod's palace with military and civic display.
26:1–23 When Paul was given the floor; he stretched out his arm [with the chain attached] and gave his testimony. He had grown up as a strict Jew. As an adult he persecuted "the saints" with raging fury. Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and told him that his attacks were on Jesus Himself. He was sent to open the eyes of Jews and Gentiles, turning them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins and a place among the sanctified. Paul obeyed the mandate and went out preaching that people should repent, turn to God and do deeds appropriate to their repentance. According to the Old Testament, Christ must suffer, be the first to rise from the dead, and proclaim light to Jews and Gentiles.
26:24–32 Festus burst out that Paul was crazy, having taken his learning to the extreme. Paul replied that this was sober truth, and rather well-known. He appealed to Agrippa's knowledge of the prophets. Agrippa dismissed Paul with a sarcastic remark: do you think you can make me a Christian in such a short time?
The officials left the room and Agrippa observed that Paul could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.
In order to understand the proceedings, it is important to know who the audience was. The family of Herod had been in opposition to God since Jesus was born.
•Herod the Great was a Jew with Edomite (Esau) background, married into the family of the high priest. He was an architectural genius: he built the Third Temple, cities and villas (Masada). He was ambitious, paranoid and violent. He had five wives and killed some of them and their children whom he felt threatened him. He tried to kill Jesus at his birth and slaughtered many innocent babies in the process. Matt.2:1–22
•Herod Antipas was one of his sons. He killed John the Baptist when John rebuked him for stealing his brother Herod Philip's wife Herodias. (Matt.14:1–10). He was husband, and uncle, to Herodias; so John the Baptist was right on two grounds--adultery and incest--that it was not legal for Herod to have her. Herodias was daughter of Herod Aristobolus, another of Herod the Great's sons. Her daughter Salome secured John the Baptist's execution.
•Herod Agrippa I was Herod the Great's grandson. He executed the apostle James, brother of John, to please the Jews, and in turned was destroyed by God after he was worshiped as a god. Acts 12:22–23
•Herod Agrippa II was Herod's great grandson. He was 27 years old and living in an incestuous relationship with his sister Bernice at the time of Paul's hearing. Bernice later became the mistress of Titus, then emperor of Rome.
Paul addressed mainly the two couples: Herod Agrippa II and his sister, Bernice; Felix and Drusilla). Three of the four were Jewish and siblings (Herod Agrippa, Bernice and Drusilla). Lust, incest, violence and cruelty were common in this family. All except Festus were acquainted with Christianity. Paul's main objective was evangelism of these five high-ranking political figures. He did not use the occasion to get free but to give a powerful defense of the Christian faith by his testimony. There is no evidence that any of them responded but he had done his job.
Faithfulness is the standard, rather than success.