Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 26, 1956

Five Men And The Gospel


One of the most interesting stories in all Biblical history is the account of Paul's arrest in Jerusalem, and the successive trials and examinations he underwent thereafter both from his own countrymen and from the Roman officials. As he was examined first by the council, and then before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa, several strange and revealing factors emerged — particularly in reference to his various judges, and their attitudes toward the prisoner and his preaching. These men were in a way typical of the attitudes men were to take toward the gospel of Christ through all ages to follow.

Ananias. (Acts 23:1-10.) This man was a religious bigot or fanatic. His mind was closed. He commanded that Paul be smitten on the mouth when the Apostle began to preach that which was contrary to what he believed. It must be remembered that Jesus Christ received his bitterest opposition, his strongest antagonism, from religious people. Nothing can be quite so destructive and malevolent as religion gone awry. As man's reach and hunger for God is the noblest and greatest of his attributes, for that very reason it becomes cruel and dangerous when misguided. There is cold logic behind the savagery of primitive religious rituals, the murderous hatred of the persecutors of the early Christians, the bloody fanaticism of the Catholic Inquisitions — and the present day violence and unreasonableness of those who propagate error. Tragically enough, the more completely in earnest a man in error is, the more likely he is to be unreasonable and destructive in his efforts to oppose that which he considers a threat to the things he accepts as true. (This is certainly one reason for the bitterness and extremism of "church fights" — those involved in them are dealing with the things closest to their hearts; they cannot be indifferent and unconcerned as to the outcome.)

Felix (Acts 24.) Here is a guilty man, who recognized the truth and the awful import of what Paul preached, but was able to resist the first impact of that preaching. He was indeed "terrified" at what Paul said, but he did not repent. And having once steeled himself against doing what he knew he ought to do, he was able to harden his heart increasingly against the truth. Through the centuries there have surely been multitudes who have followed the same course. They have heard the truth, recognized it as truth, yet, having some interest contrary to the truth (sensual indulgence, as with Felix; financial or social position; "the glory that is of men," as the rulers in John 12:42) they have rejected the truth, and sought some excuse or "argument" to justify them in such rejection. Sometimes the significant factor may have been the desire to "save face," the unwillingness to acknowledge error out of pride or vanity. So treacherous is the human heart, that when a man wants justification for a certain course, he is almost certain to find it. When he "seeks" argument to prove a position which he has publicly espoused, he will find arguments that seem simply overwhelming to him — however weak and pitiable and childish they may appear to others.

Festus. (Acts 25; 26:24.) Ramsay says that the preaching of Paul "seemed so absurd and incredible to the rough Roman officer, that Festus rudely interrupted the speaker by loudly calling out, 'Paul, you may be a great philosopher, but you have no common sense.' Festus had no prejudice against Paul; but regarded him with good-humored contempt as an unpractical enthusiast." This is the typical reaction of the man who is worldly-minded. Particularly in our materialistic age we see on every hand the attitude of Festus — a discounting of Christianity as an unrealistic dream of fancy, harmless perhaps, but likewise worthless.

Agrippa. (Acts 26.) There has been much dispute as to the significance of Agrippa's' comment, "Almost thou persuaded me to be a Christian." Did he mean that he was "almost persuaded," as one of the most familiar of all hymns says? Or is he replying with a bantering, sarcastic jeer, as the American Standard Version has it? "With but little persuasion thou wouldst fain make me a Christian." We believe this latter meaning is more probably the correct interpretation. Farrar says, "'You are trying to persuade me off-hand to be a Christian', said Agrippa, with a half-suppressed smile; and this finished specimen of pleasantry was his bantering answer to Paul's appeal. Doubtless his polished remark sounded very witty to that distinguished company, and they would with difficulty suppress their laughter at the notion that Agrippa, favorite of Claudius, and friend of Nero, should succumb to Paul. That a Paul should make the king of a Christian would sound too ludicrous."

Paul. The attitude of Ananias was one of hatred and opposition; that of Felix was terrified conviction, turning into a seared and hardened conscience; that of Festus was good-natured indifference to a foolish and harmless fancy; that of Agrippa was bantering contempt. Only Paul had the true understanding of the eternal significance of his message. Taking full advantage of the cryptic and ambiguous words of the king, Paul replied with perfect dignity and with all the sincerity of a man who knows his words are the truth of God, "I would to God, that whether with little or with much, not thou only, but also all that hear me this day, might become such as I am, except these bonds."

Five men. And five differing attitudes toward the gospel. Four were wrong; only Paul was right. Let every reader examine his own heart, search his own conscience, and honestly evaluate his own attitude. In whose company are you?

— F. Y. T.