Caesarea

Read Acts 25:13–26:32.

Paul is giving his defense. He stands in Caesarea before both the Roman-approved Jewish king Agrippa with his wife Bernice and the new Roman governor Porcius Festus.

Some Jews have accused Paul of heresy and temple-defilement, theological offenses for which they sought political repercussions (24:6). Festus sees little reason to condemn Paul, but Paul appeals to Caesar (25:25). The governor is loath to send Paul to the emperor without a reasonable explanation of the charges. So Festus presents Agrippa with the case, hoping that as a Jew, the king will be able to interpret the issues.

Paul knows that Agrippa is already familiar with Jesus’ claim to be Messiah, his execution, the growth of his followers, and their assurance of his resurrection (26:26). Instead, Paul declares the personal impact of his Damascus-road encounter with Jesus. As he tells the story, Paul references two particularly Hebrew phrases that changed everything for him.

First, Paul identifies the lord who knocked him down as “I am Jesus.” “I am” is the ancient formula for God’s holy name, which God gave to Moses at his commissioning (Exod 3:13–15). The Lord answers Moses’ fears of his own inadequacy and the people’s unbelief with God’s unique, holy, “family” name.

As with Moses’ commissioning, so with Paul’s. God came down to earth to free a people for himself, and it is his character, not Paul’s, which accomplishes this. “I am” (Hebrew “Yahweh”) is not static. Rather, he is a powerful God, who is always at work for his own glory.

At Paul’s conversion, the Lord couples the holy name of God with the name Jesus, which means “Yahweh saves.” Paul confesses to Agrippa that he arrested and approved the murder of saints who refused to blaspheme this very name (26:9–11). But the Lord, who knocked him down, is both the One, the “I am who I am” of Israel and the Messiah, the “Yahweh saves” of Israel. This Lord is “I will save whom I will save.”

This Lord raises Paul from the ground with a second Hebrew phrase. Paul and Agrippa know the phrase “get up and stand on your feet” from several texts in the Old Testament, most notably Ezekiel’s commissioning (Ezek 2:1–2; cf. Rev 11:11). These ordinations involve (a) the Spirit entering messengers and causing them to stand to their feet, (b) a message concerning Israel’s rebellion, and (c) the promise/fulfillment of persecution directed at the messengers because of their message.

Paul’s commissioning is of the same order and it is fulfilled here in Caesarea. In chains, Paul stands on his feet, full of the Spirit, before a Jewish king, sharing the message: The God of Israel saves whom he will save and he wants to save you (26:27)!

Recall your own story. How was/is it for you when you encountered the bright light of God’s character? What does it mean for you to be filled with his Spirit for his work?

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