We commented earlier in John 8 that Satan discussed a stark contrast between the Seed of Satan and the Seed of Abraham concerning the behavior of people and noted that Paul himself would have been considered among the Seed of Satan being discussed there. After all, Paul that, like the Jewish audience hostile to Jesus and accusing his mother of fornication, thought he was on the side of God and was shocked to find himself not to be. Indeed, Paul himself comments on this in Acts 26. Of particular note, though, is the fact that Paul himself comments on how one can move from belonging to the Seed of Satan to belonging to the Seed of Abraham and thus the children of God. It is worthwhile to discuss precisely how this can happen, and so it will be useful for us to explore Paul’s own self-defense for Agrippa II, the Herodian “king” who along with Festus chose to judge Paul’s case before sending him on to Nero.
The relevant section of Paul’s defense, where he discusses his own life history and how he became a Christian and also how it was that his efforts in evangelism were to turn people from darkness to a belief in the truth, can be found in Acts 26:1-18: “Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” So Paul stretched out his hand and answered for himself: “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, especially because you are expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews. Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently. “My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead? “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities. “While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’
Let us briefly note the structure of Paul’s message here. First, Paul opens with a gracious comment that befits the trial atmosphere as well as the need to be polite and as much as possible a courtier before such people as the Governor of Judea and the Herodian client king of Rome. After that Paul discusses that he had originally thought that in order to be godly that he would have to be hostile to Jesus Christ, and he details the hostility of having participated in the imprisonment and putting to death of Christian believers (like Stephen the Deacon) as well as efforts to coerce them into blaspheming Jesus Christ. And yet he found himself called to account by the risen Christ Himself, and called to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom by Him whose followers Paul had been so hostile to. Specifically, Jesus tells him that those who believe in the message Paul was to proclaim would cause them to be turned from the darkness to light and freed from the power of Satan to be obedient to God, so that they would receive forgiveness of sins and receive the inheritance of the faithful.
This provides an elegant and short description of the steps that are necessary for one to take in order to be changed from someone who is rebellious against and hostile to God’s ways. First one hears the truth and one’s eyes are opened from folly and deception. After that point we live and walk in the light rather than darkness, and we are freed from Satan’s power and turn towards God, from whom we receive forgiveness of sins and the wages of salvation rather than the wages of sin from our heedless prior walk. Paul notes that this salvation was open to both Jews and Gentiles, who were represented in Paul’s audience. Agrippa sought to present himself as a Jew, and was so viewed by Romans (if not by more rigorous Jews), while Festus was a Gentile Roman equestrian who served like many other corrupt people as Roman officials. It is striking that Paul not only speaks about the process by which evangelism turns people from the enemies of God and the servants of Satan to believers, but he actually seeks to evangelize his audience.
We see this, quite notably, in the rest of Acts 26, from verses 19-32: ““Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come— that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!” But he said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.” When he had said these things, the king stood up, as well as the governor and Bernice and those who sat with them; and when they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, “This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains.” Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.””
It is lamentable that Paul was unsuccessful in seeking to evangelize to Agrippa and his sister Bernice or to Festus. After all, the lives of all three of the elite members of the audience would have been improved had they paid more heed to doing works befitting repentance than the lives they lived. Bernice was a mistress of Titus but was unable to marry him because of Roman prejudices against Jews. Agrippa and Bernice were, in ancient times, widely accused of being an incestuous brother and sister couple. Festus, who was widely viewed (including by Josephus) as having been a much better governor than usual , only lived a couple of years before dying, and so met his maker, so to speak, far earlier than he may have thought. As it was, Festus was saved from a difficult dilemma of trying to appease the radical Jews of his time while also providing justice for the unpopular Paul, a dilemma that Paul saved him from by appealing to Caesar. Yet although Paul’s efforts at evangelism were unsuccessful, it is noteworthy that none of them thought the less of Paul for his having tried, or viewed him as anything more than a serious and devout person. One wonders the hearing that Paul or someone like him would gain in contemporary times by pointing out that most people live in darkness under the power of Satan. One can expect many people to be far more angry about such a truth than Agrippa and Festus to be, at any rate.