Acts 25:23 begins Paul’s trial before King Agrippa. Previously Governor Festus had acknowledged Paul’s innocence. Festus also confessed in 25:19-20 his ignorance of the religious issues involving Paul. He knew it had something to do with “a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive”. What a sad state to be in when the wonderful work of God is reduced to such confusion and a man remains in the darkness of ignorance and unbelief.
Agrippa was the great grandson of the Herod who had killed the young boys of Bethlehem as well as being the son of the Herod who had killed James and arrested Peter. Paul knew that this Jewish king knew that Old Testament prophets and so he speaks to Agrippa of God’s past revelation.
The key verses are in 26:6-8 where Paul says: “And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?”
What is the promise God made in the past to which the twelve tribes are longing as they earnestly worship night and day? In Luke 1-2 it was people such as Anna and Simeon who were praying day and night while Zechariah and Mary sung hymns praising the fulfilment of the promise in the birth of Jesus. The promise and longing were for the restoration of Israel as a nation. A restoration in which the people would not longer be bound in sin and under the oppression of the covenant curse of foreign domination. This restoration of the nation of Israel was also linked to the idea of resurrection. How?
When Adam and Eve sinned, they were exiled from the land of Eden. They were exiled from life in God’s presence and from the place where life flourished. They were exiled into a land where living was a struggle and where they would eventually die alienated from the place of God’s presence.
This story is paralleled in the story of Israel. Israel in the Promised Land experienced all the blessings associated with life in God’s presence. When they sinned, they were sent into exile – away from the place of God’s presence, no longer experiencing the blessing associated with life, having no distinctive inheritance, being scattered among the nations, and becoming like Gentiles themselves. The Old Testament prophets described this in language that expressed the death of the nation.
A key passage is Ezekiel’s vision in exile of a valley of dry bones. Ezekiel sees a valley filled with dead bones. He is told that these dead bones represent the nation, that is, the nation is dead. God then asks of these bones can live i.e. can the nation be restored? Ezekiel claims not to know. God them commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones that they might live – he does so and standing before him is a great multitude of persons i.e. the nation lives.
So, the hope of Israel is for their restoration which metaphorically is a resurrection. But the prophets also indicated that this restoration of the nation would be through a king from David’s family who would not see corruption in the grave. Isaiah spoke of a servant who would suffer death for the nation and then be raised. The physical resurrection of Israel-reduced-to-one (i.e. Jesus) would be the restoration of the nation. And by necessity to participate in the restoration of the nation would be required the raising of individuals from the dead e.g. Daniel 12:13.
Paul stand trial because of his hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?”