Paul here speaks to a third ruler in Caesarea about the role he has as a servant of Jesus. As with the previous two – Felix and Festus – he shows respect for the authority of Agrippa. He tells his experience as a devout Jew who has discovered that Jesus, whom he once opposed very fiercely, is the fulfilment of the prophecies given in the Old Testament about the Messiah who would bring spiritual blessings to both Jews and Gentiles through his resurrection from the dead.
How did Paul know that Jesus was the Messiah? Because he had experienced an encounter with the risen Jesus that totally changed his career and led him to travelling the world on behalf of his risen Lord. In front of Paul was a dignified royal party composed of Agrippa and Bernice and their retinue, sharing the stately space with Festus and his officials, but their display was nothing in comparison to what the apostle had seen on the Damascus Road when the exalted Saviour appeared and spoke to him. When you have seen the Greatest, what effect will seeing the temporary great have on you?
If a Christian had been listening in to Paul’s defence, that believer would have regarded the apostle’s words as a masterly description and defence of his calling. Sadly, the two main listeners were not impressed: Festus thought that Paul had gone mad despite his great learning and Agrippa responded with disdain at Paul’s attempt to persuade him to become a Christian through a short address. The best sermon can fall on deaf ears and dull minds. Nevertheless, they agreed that Paul had not broken any laws and should not be punished.
This conclusion raises the issue as to the possibility that Paul had been hasty in making his appeal to Caesar. One could say in response that Paul did not know at that time that a third opportunity would be given to him, so what he did was the correct response in his circumstances. And it is also the case that Jesus the Lord, in his providence, could have arranged for Agrippa to have been present at the second hearing and shared his opinion then with Festus, and perhaps together they would have released Paul. The fact is that Jesus wanted Paul to go to Rome and bear witness before Caesar. It is good to know who is in control.