This short chapter mainly serves to set up the impassioned speech that Paul will give in Acts 26. Rather than look for a personal application today, I’m going to take a brief moment to discuss the historical context of the passage.
Festus and Agrippa are historical figures that appear on coins and in historical accounts from this era. They will later become enemies over a dispute about the Temple in Jerusalem blocking the view from Agrippa’s palace (yes, really). Paul’s trial before them would have occurred around 58 A.D.
Paul has mentioned several times throughout the book of Acts that he is a Roman citizen. During the early empire, citizenship could be purchased or inherited. The Roman government often gave citizenship to officials in cities that surrendered in war, or to those who served in the military or did favors for Rome. Status as a citizen of Rome granted an individual a number of rights - they couldn’t be crucified, couldn’t be punished without trial and, as we see, they could appeal a case to the Emperor himself if they believed they had been judged unfairly.
Incidentally, the Emperor during this time period was Nero. Even those who aren’t experts in Roman history have likely heard of him as the Emperor who “fiddled while Rome burned.” He would eventually blame that fire on Christians, rounding up as many as he could find and crucifying them. Peter and Paul were both executed in Rome during Nero’s reign.
So, what lesson can we take away from all this?
The Bible is often accused by non-believers of being a book of fables or myths. Those who haven’t read the Bible imagine that it is simply a collection of stories - sort of like those books of Greek myths that are given to children. “Why,” they wonder “would people actually believe something like that?”
Those who actually read the Bible - particularly the New Testament - quickly realize it is a book of history, not fables. Authors like Luke were careful to record the events they observed and learned about using the best techniques available to them. What we read matches documents and archeological finds from the time period. We are as confident in the historical existence of Jesus, Paul and Peter as we are of the Roman Emperors Claudius, Tiberius or Nero. We can be confident in basing our lives upon God’s Word, because it has shown itself to be morally, logically and historically reliable.
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