Our next unlikely witness to the gospel narrative is Herod Agrippa. Agrippa was born in 10 BC. After his father was executed by Herod the Great in 7 BC, he was sent to live in Rome with his mother Bernice. He grew up among the imperial family, making lifelong friends. As a playboy in his youth, he went so heavily into debt that he had to flee Rome in 23 AD to get away from his creditors. His uncle, Herod Antipas, offered him asylum in Tiberius. When Agrippa returned to Rome in 36 AD, he offended the Emperor and was put in prison. A year later, the Emperor Tiberius died. When Caligula became Emperor, not only did the new Emperor release Agrippa from prison, but he also made him King over the territories of Philip and Lysanias (portions of Palestine). When his uncle Antipas was banished, he was given his territory, too. When Caligula died in 41 AD, the new Emperor Claudius, a childhood friend of Agrippa, added Judea and Samaria to Agrippa’s territory. Eventually, Agrippa ended up ruling the entire kingdom of his grandfather, Herod the Great. However, this would not last long, as he died 3 years later at the age of 54.
As a ruler, he knew the Jewish masses hated the Herodian family line, so he worked very hard to earn their favor. He spared the Jewish people a major catastrophe by talking Caligula out of his awful plan to put a statue of himself in the Jewish Temple. He embraced the Jewish customs and participated in their festivals.
According to one Jewish tradition, the king was supposed to read a particular text from Deuteronomy 17 during one festival. Of Agrippa’s participation, the Jewish traditions say,
King Agrippa received it standing and read it standing (signs of respect, contrary to the practice of previous Roman rulers), and for this the Sages praised him. And when he reached, “Thou mayest not put a foreigner over thee which is not thy brother” (Deuteronomy 17.15), his eyes flowed with tears (because of his Edomite ancestry), but they called out to him, “Our brother art thou! Our brother art thou! Our brother art thou!”
As the Christian movement within the Jewish population began to grow, he viewed them as divisive and felt their activities could only disturb people and inflame antagonism. So, he aggressively persecuted the Christians, arrested believers, and had James (the brother of John, son of Zebedee) beheaded. Seeing how this please the Jewish leaders so much, he arrested Peter with similar plans.
But Agrippa would cross the path of the followers of Christ, and more importantly, Christ Himself. He might not have known it, but Herod Agrippa was crossing paths with the Exalted Christ, the One Who Is To Come.