Herod Agrippa I died suddenly in 44 AD, after a five day infestation of intestinal worms (see Acts 12.23). His seventeen year old son, Agrippa II, was the heir to the throne, but the Emperor of Rome decided that he was too young to rule. So, the territory of Agrippa I was broken up into smaller territories and became a Roman province. As Agrippa II became older, territories were slowly given to him for him to rule. However, Agrippa II never ruled over Judea or Galilee like the previous Herods. In fact, this particular Herod would have passed unnoticed to the gospel reader if not for two reasons.
First, the Emperor appointed Agrippa II as the curator of the Temple in Jerusalem. This meant that it was his responsibility to appoint (and depose) the high priest, to oversee the temple treasury, and to oversee the priestly vestments. As a result of this office, he was considered by Rome to be an expert on the Jewish religion.
Second, after Festus became the king of Judea, Agrippa II traveled to Caesarea to “pay his respects” (Acts 25.13). Little did Agrippa II know that while he was in Casesarea, he would be drawn into a drama much larger than himself. Several days earlier, the chief priests and Jewish leaders had appeared before Festus to charge a certain man with being a trouble maker, stirring up riots, and desecrating the Temple. However, during the trial, the prisoner took advantage of his Roman right to appeal to Caesar. Festus had no choice but to send the man to Caesar. However, it was the responsibility of Festus to specify the charges against the accused, and he thought the man to be innocent. Fortunately for Festus, the “expert on the Jewish religion” had just arrived in town. So Festus arranged for the prisoner to appear before him and Agrippa II.
By now you know, the prisoner’s name was the apostle Paul. The appearance is recorded in Acts 26.1-32. What the writer of Acts provides for us is a detailed account of Paul’s presentation before Festus and Agrippa. Agrippa hears Paul tell, in great detail, of the Jewish hope of the resurrection from the dead (26.4-8), of his experience on the road to Damascus (26.9-18), and his ministry to the preach the gospel to the Gentiles (26.19-23). Paul finished his defense with the following summary statement:
22But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—23that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26.22-23)
Upon hearing Paul speak of the resurrection, Festus thought him to be out of his mind, but Paul knew that Agrippa was familiar with everything that he had just said. And the encounter ends with the following dialogue between Paul and Agrippa:
25“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 King Agrippa is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
28Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
29Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” (Acts 26.25-29)
That was enough for Festus and Agrippa. Court was dismissed, and it was decided that Paul could have been set free had he not appealed to Caesar. But Paul was not the only one on trial that day. The gospel was on trial before Agrippa. Agrippa had been confronted with the gospel story, and he was going to render his personal assessment about the craziness of the gospel. What judgment would he make?