The account of Paul’s appearance before King Herod Agrippa II begins at Acts 25:13 and continues to the end of Acts 26. It is a large section of the book, so large that it would be desirable to divide it, were it not so clearly a single story. These verses recount the third of three formal defenses of the apostle Paul before the secular authorities subsequent to his arrest in Jerusalem.
Agrippa was the grandson of the Herod of the gospels and the son of the Herod who had arrested Peter. This was not an illustrious ancestry, but compared with his two immediate predecessors, this was a pretty good king. There is not too much to say about him, though the fact that he was not guilty of the atrocities his father and grandfather had been guilty of is significant. True, he was living in an incestuous relationship with his sister Bernice, which hardly commends him as a model of virtue. But, as far as we know, he did not go around killing people. And there was at least this in his favor: he understood the situation regarding Paul, which is how he got involved in his trial.
Festus, the new Roman governor, had inherited Paul from his predecessor Felix. Festus was “the new kid on the block,” whose duty it was to establish and maintain Roman justice. But he did not understand the ways of the Jews very much, and when the case involving Paul was handed over to him he did not know how to think about it. Paul had been arrested because of accusations made by his countrymen which, when he investigated them, turned out to be of such a confusing religious nature that Festus could not understand what the trouble was about.
Furthermore, as the trial had been drawing to a close, Paul appealed to Caesar, and Festus, somewhat opportunistically, had seized upon his appeal and granted it. It got him out of a fix.
“You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go,” he said (Acts 25:12). But now he had to send Paul to Rome.
Furthermore, the testimony of Felix, his predecessor, was that Paul had done nothing wrong, nothing that would merit his being put to death. It seemed to him that this was the situation also. So what was he going to do? Did he dare send Paul to the emperor, saying, “There is no real accusation against him, at least none that we can understand, and as far as what we do goes, well, there is nothing that merits either your attention or his death”? That was not a way to be popular with Caesar.
It was at this moment that King Agrippa and Bernice arrived from their capital north of Caesarea to pay respects to the new Roman governor. Festus, recognizing that here was a man who at least understood something about Jewish law and the customs and spirit of the people that it was now his responsibility to govern, recognized this as a significant opportunity. He said to Agrippa, “I am glad you’ve come, because we have a man here who has been accused of certain things. The Jews want him put to death. But as I have looked into it, I can’t find anything that merits death. I can’t understand what this is about. I wonder if you would take time, since you are in Caesarea, to listen to him. Then, afterward, you can tell me what this is about, and I can formulate a letter of appropriate charges when we send him to Rome”? Agrippa said he would be glad to hear Paul. So the scene was set for Paul’s defense.
In Acts 25 we have a unique defense, before a man who was on the side of the Jews and yet, at the same time, was obviously on very good terms with Rome. This may be why Luke records the trial so completely.