The Trial Before King Agrippa

Tuesday: The Setting for Paul’s Address

Acts 25:13-26:32 In this week’s studies, Paul gives another defense before secular authorities, and presses upon them the need to become Christians.
The Setting for Paul’s Address

We have already heard the arguments put forth in Paul’s trial. Besides, since Paul’s defense was essentially his testimony, we have heard the parts that concern his early life and conversion even more than what is given in these formal defenses. We had an historical account of his conversion in Acts 9, for example. We might say at this point, “Why are we getting this all over again? We know what happened.” Apparently Luke thought they were worth repeating. And if he was right, as he must be, then the testimony that Paul gave on this occasion is something that we need to hear again, too. 

The setting is worth some attention. Beginning in verse 23, we are told that a number of very important people had gathered. 

They were important in terms of their position and power, and they came together with great pomp or pageantry. Luke is calling our attention to these things. 

Agrippa and Bernice are there, that is, the Jewish king and his queen. Festus the governor is there. The high-ranking officers are present. (These would be the commanders in charge of the Roman military divisions stationed in Caesarea. There were five of them at any given time. So there would have been at least five high-ranking officers of the Roman army.) There were also the leading men of the city, perhaps some of them retired military personnel, but most of them merchants, those who would have money and be in positions of influence. These important people all came together. 

Moreover, they collected with great pageantry. The word “pomp” is used in verse 23. It is an interesting scene, isn’t it? Here are the important people of the world with all their power and pageantry arrayed on one side, and here on the other side, brought out perhaps without even much warning or opportunity to prepare a special defense, is this little Jew from Tarsus, the apostle Paul. If he had bad eyesight, which we discussed as a possibility earlier, he may even have been squinting as he looked up into the faces of these important persons. What a lopsided contest: all of these great people, with their positions, power, pomp and pageantry. And on the other side, Paul, a poor prisoner. 

Here is an interesting thing. You do not have to know Hebrew or Greek to understand the Bible, but sometimes knowing the biblical languages contributes important insights to one’s study, and that is the case here. In Greek the word “pomp,” which I have referred to several times, is fantasia. It is the word from which we get our words “fantasy” and “fantastic.” It refers to something which is light, fleeting or passing, something which is of momentary interest only. In the context of this great public display by Agrippa, Festus and the others, the word was probably chosen carefully to suggest that these seemingly important things are only passing fantasies. I wonder if we understand that. We need to. It is an important insight. 

When we see the impressive things of this world—positions, power, and pageantry—they usually seem to be what is lasting or stable. Indeed, what could be more stable, more impressive, more weighty than the Roman Empire in the person of those who represented it? Yet Luke is suggesting that all that was seen were fantasies, things that even then were in the process of passing away. The pomp and pageantry passed away first. They did not even last out the day. The servants removed the flags, and it was all over. In time the people also passed away. They died. Eventually, even the great Roman Empire passed away. It was overrun by the barbarians. 

But the Gospel of Jesus Christ to which the apostle Paul was called to bear a witness prevailed. It prevailed not only on that day because it was the truth and it was spoken, but it also prevailed in the decade to come and the decade after that and the century that followed that and the millennium after that. So it is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is with us in power even today, when Rome is just a memory.

Study Questions
  1. Who was present for Paul’s trial? What contrast do we see between them and Paul?
  2. Explain the significance of Luke’s use of the Greek word fantasia.

Observation: The repetition of Paul’s defense and testimony in Luke indicates the importance of the message.

Reflection: What are some examples of the kinds of people, positions, and pomp that are admired today? Do you sometimes find yourself being impressed with these worldly categories? How will you counter this temptation by filling your mind with a deeper knowledge of the Lord and His Word?

Key Point: The Gospel of Jesus Christ to which the apostle Paul was called to bear a witness prevailed.

For Further Study: Download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “Who Is a Christian?” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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