AN EXPOSITION OF ACTS 26:27-32
The Historical Background
The Setting: A Courtroom Scene
As the prisoner was brought into the palace courtroom, there was a flourish of exited movement among the large crowd that had gathered. The nobility of the land of Palestine was present. The chief captains and the principle men of Jerusalem had gathered to present their charges of heresy, of sacrilege, and of sedition against the prisoner now standing before royalty. When the heads of the people turned, first one way and then another, straining to catch sight of the accused, there was disappointment.
The prisoner was hardly impressive looking. He was a Jew and as a Jew he was short, with balding hair. He was stooped over a little, as if the weight of the world rested upon his shoulders. People knew he had been in prison for two years because of Felix, the former Roman procurator of the region. The people also knew that Felix had been afraid of the prisoner called Paul.
With great courage Paul had spoken often with Felix concerning faith in Christ. (Acts24: 24)
Paul had reasoned with the ruler of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, and Felix had trembled.
The Law of God brought conviction. Felix knew he was not the man he ought to be. He had turned the grace of God into an opportunity for acts of cruelty and lust. Once a slave himself in Rome, Felix had been freed by the Emperor Claudius Caesar for some unknown service. Felix was then appointed, in AD 53, to be the procurator of Judea. But he exercised his regal power with the disposition of a slave.
Felix had no sense of royal dignity. For example, while in office Felix became enamored with Drusilla, a daughter of King Agrippa I. She was married, but Felix did not care. With the help of a magician, Felix prevailed upon Drusilla to leave her husband and live with him. This adulteress was seated by Felix when Paul spoke to them. If Drusilla blushed in rage at a gospel that condemned her, Felix trembled at the thought of an ultimate Day of Judgment. Blood was on his hands. Lust was in his heart, and blasphemy was upon his lips.
In the end Felix was summoned to Rome to answer charges of misconduct. Jewish leaders followed him with their accusations. Wanting to please the Jews, Felix left Paul in chains as a prisoner.
To replace Felix came Porcius Festus. In the autumn of AD 60, Festus was appointed by the Emperor Nero to be the Roman governor of Judea. Three days after his arrival at Caesarea, which was the political metropolis, Festus traveled up to Jerusalem where he was met by “the high priest and the chief of the Jews who informed him against Paul.” (Acts 25:2)
These spiritual leaders of Judaism wanted Paul to be brought before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem for trial. That was the official reason. The real reason for the request to move Paul from Caesarea to Jerusalem was to find a way to kill him while he traveled.
Festus refused the request, and told the Jewish leaders that they must meet with Paul to accuse him face to face at Caesarea. After eight or ten days Paul was summoned before Festus and asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem.
The apostle of Christ knew full well the dangers that waited for him on the open highway. He had to be careful. As a Roman citizen Paul had certain rights and one of them was to be tried by Caesar himself. Therefore, Paul boldly announced “I appeal unto Caesar!”
After some consultation Festus agreed that to Caesar Paul should go. It was about this time that Herod Agrippa II and his wife, Bernice, came on a political goodwill visit to Festus. Immediately the new governor consulted with his distinguished guests about the position of his famous prisoner called Paul.
King Agrippa II was intrigued with the case. He knew something about the Christian movement because it was his father, King Agrippa I who beheaded James, the brother of John and imprisoned Peter at Jerusalem. Now, here was another point of contact with the followers of the man called Christ Jesus. King Agrippa II thought it would be quite a show for a prisoner to speak in the midst of royal pomp and ceremony.
“I would also hear the man myself,” said Agrippa.
“Tomorrow,” replied Festus. “Tomorrow, thou shalt hear him.”
The next day came, and Paul was brought into the room. As soon as the crowd was hushed, Festus spoke. He addressed his royal guest King Agrippa II, and then acknowledged all others present. “You see,” said Festus, pointing to Paul. “You see this man, about whom all the multitude of the Jews have dealt with me, both at Jerusalem, also here [at Caeserea], crying that he [Paul] ought not to live any longer. But I have found that he has committed nothing worthy of death. Still, since he is going to appear before Caesar he should be charged with some crime.”
At this point King Agrippa spoke. “Prisoner Paul! You are permitted to say something for yourself.” When the king made that announcement, the people in the palace court began to react in angry protest.
“No! Never! Do not let the blasphemer speak! Do not listen to him!” But Paul was to have his opportunity. He had been granted permission to speak, and speak he would. The message Paul preached was anointed by God, as he presented the simplicity of the gospel.
The apostle began his defense with a personal word of testimony. From a youth he was a devout follower of his religion. As an adult he identified himself with, and lived as a Pharisee. Paul believed the Old Testament scriptures, and in particular those passages which spoke of a promised Messiah. When a group of people arose in Judaism claiming a man named Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, Paul rejected the claims, and moved to silence those who dared to undermine Judaism.
By bloody persecution, by false arrests and inprisonments, Paul put his cruel seal of approval on destroying Christianity.
But then one day on a road to Damascus, Jesus met with Paul personally, and in that meeting a man was changed. In a moment of time, the cruel became converted. With the brightness of Divine illumination Paul became convinced of the truthfulness of the gospel. Jesus died according to the Scriptures. He was buried and on the third day He arose from the grave and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
As Festus and Agrippa listened to Paul’s account the men had different reactions. Festus, ever the hardened pagan skeptic, interrupted the narrative. “Paul!,” he shouted with a loud voice. “Thou art beside thyself. Much learning doth make thee mad.” Or, as Joy Bahar would say as she did about all other Christians, “Paul, you are mentally ill!”
With firm courtesy, Paul challenged the slanderous ridicule.
“I am not mad most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” Festus had no response.
Something was happening in the courtroom in the hearts of those listening, and Paul discerned what it was.
“King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. 28 Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. 29 And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.”
As a student of human behavior, while he was speaking, Paul had been watching King Agrippa. With a perceptive spirit, Paul firmly pulled King Agrippa into the sphere of his defense. “Festus, I am not mad, for King Agrippa understands the things of which I speak.”
It was true. King Agrippa II was a scholar, and was very familiar with the life and death of Jesus Christ. King Agrippa was acquainted with the rise of the Christian faith. Now, filled with holy boldness Paul confronted Agrippa with the question of eternal life, and made his own observation.
“King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I KNOW thou believest.”
A physical gasp escaped from the crowd.
What? Was it possible that King Agrippa was a secret disciple of the Christ?
Immediately every eye in the room shifted from Paul to Agrippa. What would the king say? How would he react? The answer is given. “Paul,” said Agrippa, “almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Here it is. A man almost, but not altogether persuaded to become a Christian.
What does it mean to be almost a Christian?
First, it means that the soul is awakened to the gospel truth. There is a part of the gospel message that can be understood by the natural intellect. The historical facts are as plain as other historical events. There was a man born of a virgin named Jesus. He preached that He was the Son of God.
For three and a half years He went around doing good, only to be crucified for political reasons. On the third day He rose again from the grave. When the intellect of a man is presented with the historical narrative, the mind can either choose to believe or disbelieve the evidence. King Agrippa knew the historical facts. He had lived through most of them as they happened. He also knew what the prophets had said concerning the coming of Christ, and he believed the prophets. When responding to Paul in the spotlight of the moment, King Agrippa did not deny his beliefs. But neither did he fully embrace Christ. It is possible to be awakened to the gospel message, and to believe the historical facts, and still not be a Christian.
Second, to be almost a Christian, means it is possible to have an intellectual and emotional enjoyment with the things of Christ, and still not be converted. King Agrippa was not hostile to Christ. He sought out a gospel message. He exposed himself to the gospel message. He found the most stimulating preacher he could discover, and he subjected himself to the religious experience.
Unlike Festus, King Agrippa did not rudely interrupt the message, but listened thoughtfully. But he was not a Christian.
In the world today are many people just like Agrippa. They are almost, but not altogether a Christian. Like Agrippa, their souls have been awakened to the gospel message. They find themselves believing the prophets, and interested in preaching. But such souls are not of necessity converted. They have been almost, but not altogether persuaded, and the evidence is present in their lives.
For Agrippa, the thing that kept him from being altogether persuaded was personal sin. He would not give it up. Beside Agrippa sat his wife, who was also his sister. In order for Agrippa to become a Christian he would have to give up his incestuous relationship, and that he was unable and unwilling to do. When the fateful moment came between eternal salvation and his sin, his soul chose sin.
At the Great White Throne Judgment, it will not matter that King Agrippa II believed the Bible. It will not matter that he listened to gospel preaching. It will not matter that King Agrippa did not persecute the Christians. In the day of ultimate judgment, all that will matter is that King Agrippa was almost, but not altogether persuaded to love Christ, and to forsake his sin. There is one difference between King Agrippa and some who are in the visible church.
Today, there are individuals who go ahead and pretend they are altogether persuaded. But they are not. The evidence is sin in the soul. There is a darling sin that is loved. There is a particular sin that is protected. There is a sin that that brings secret satisfaction.
To be sure, sometimes this sin is hated, but then it is cultivated. Because this is true, it is necessary for the gospel message to be understood afresh. To be a soul in search of salvation, is not to have salvation. To be a soul awakened to the realities of Christ is not to have Christ. To be almost persuaded, is not to be altogether persuaded. To be left in the power of sin, is to be in the power of Satan, and not in the security of the Savior.
As every professing Christian reads the Bible, and stories like that of King Agrippa II, let the anxious question be raised and answered.
“Am I only a soul seeking salvation?”
“Am I only an awakened sinner?”
“Am I only almost persuaded?
“Do I love my sin more than I love a Saviour?”
If, in judgment day self-honesty, you find yourself almost, but not altogether, a Christian then flee to the Cross of Calvary, and there call upon Christ to truly save your soul. Christ will not save us to leave us in our sins. He has come to make the captive free. Sin must be forsaken. Do not be almost, but altogether a Christian. And do not pretend to be a Christian when the secret evidence is plain, that sin is really preferred. Come to Christ. Come now. Come quickly.
What will happen if you come to Christ, and Christ comes to you? The answer is found in Acts 26: 18. When Christ comes to a person, spiritual eyes are opened. When Christ comes into a person’s life, He enables that person to see spiritual things never seen before.
Second, the Lord turns the heart from darkness to light. Before a man meets Christ he is facing the wrong way, but Christ turns him around. He walks in the light and the way is clear.
Third, Christ transfers a person from the power of Satan to the power of God. Once evil held the soul captive, but Christ gives a person power to live in victorious goodness.
Fourth, there is the forgiveness of all sins, and a glorious inheritance with the sanctified.
Those who come to Christ also find themselves desiring to perform the gospel duties. The gospel calls upon men to repent.
To repent means to realize that the kind of life one is leading is wrong. To repent to known sorrow for sin and to have a resolve to forsake it.
Second, the gospel calls upon individuals to turn to God. So often God is turned away from. He is neither in our thoughts, nor our decisions. Dr. William Barclay notes, “Paul calls on us to let the God who was nothing to us become the God who is everything to us.”
Third, the gospel calls upon individuals to perform deeds to match their repentance. The proof of genuine conversion is to turn from sin to righteousness. The proof of salvation is to be not almost, but altogether persuaded.