Lesson 97

Acts 23–26

“Lesson 97: Acts 23–26,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2016)


Introduction

Jewish leaders questioned Paul, and a band of Jews conspired to kill him. Paul was taken to Caesarea, where he defended himself against false charges before several Roman leaders. He recounted his conversion and testified of Jesus Christ.

Suggestions for Teaching

Acts 23–25

Paul is persecuted, tried, and imprisoned

Before class, write the following on a piece of paper: God’s commandments and blessings. Use tape or string to mark off an area of the classroom, and place the paper on the floor within this designated area. When class begins, invite a student to stand in the area that represents God’s commandments and blessings.

  • As we come closer to God by following His commandments and teachings, what are some of the blessings we can receive?

Invite the student to walk out of the area that represents God’s commandments and blessings.

  • What are some influences of the world that might entice someone to turn away from and stop living according to the commandments and teachings of God?

  • What can happen when people distance themselves from God?

Thank the student, and invite him or her to be seated. Ask students to ponder which direction they are currently facing and how close to or far away from Heavenly Father they feel. Invite students to look for truths as they study Acts 23–26 that will help them when they feel they have distanced themselves from God and His blessings.

Remind students that Paul was arrested outside the temple in Jerusalem and brought before Jewish leaders (see Acts 21:30–33; 22:23–30). Summarize Acts 23:1–10 by explaining that Paul was questioned by these Jewish leaders and imprisoned.

Invite a student to read Acts 23:11 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what happened while Paul was in prison. Invite students to report what they find.

  • What did the Lord tell Paul in prison?

Remind students of the promise recorded in Acts 18:9–10 that the Lord would be with Paul and protect him as he did the Lord’s work. Invite students to consider marking the phrase “the Lord stood by him” and writing Acts 18:9–10 as a cross-reference in the margin next to verse 11.

Invite a student to read the following summary aloud:

In Acts 23:12–25:27 we learn that the Roman captain who had arrested Paul sent him to Caesarea to prevent a band of Jews from killing him. Paul declared his innocence before the Roman governor Felix. Although convinced of Paul’s innocence, Felix continued to keep Paul under house arrest for two years. Festus replaced Felix as the Roman governor of Judea. King Herod Agrippa, who ruled an area located northeast of the Sea of Galilee, visited Festus and desired to hear Paul’s case. Paul was brought before King Agrippa.

Acts 26

Paul recounts his conversion and testifies of Jesus Christ before King Agrippa

Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from Acts 26:4–11. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how Paul described his past to King Agrippa.

  • How did Paul describe his past to King Agrippa?

Explain that Paul then recounted his vision of the Savior. Invite a student to read Acts 26:16–18 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the mission the Lord gave to Paul on the road to Damascus.

  • What mission did the Lord give to Paul? (You may want to suggest that students mark phrases that describe the mission the Lord gave to Paul.)

Explain that in this context the word inheritance (verse 18) refers to entrance into the celestial kingdom of God.

  • What can help someone turn away from darkness and the influence of Satan and turn toward the light and the commandments and blessings of God?

Invite a student to read Acts 26:19–23 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Paul said he had taught both Jews and Gentiles they must do to receive the blessings mentioned in verse 18. You might explain that the phrase “do works meet for repentance” in verse 20 can mean to live righteously in order to demonstrate you have truly repented.

  • According to verse 20, what had Paul taught both Jews and Gentiles to do?

Write the following incomplete statement on the board: If we repent and turn to God …

  • Based on what we learn in verse 18, how would you complete the statement on the board? (Summarize students’ responses by completing the statement on the board so it reads as follows: If we repent and turn to God, we can overcome Satan’s power in our lives, receive forgiveness for our sins, and qualify for the celestial kingdom.)

To help students understand this principle, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (consider providing students with a copy of the statement):

Elder Neil L. Andersen

“When we sin, we turn away from God. When we repent, we turn back toward God.

“The invitation to repent is rarely a voice of chastisement but rather a loving appeal to turn around and to ‘re-turn’ toward God [see Helaman 7:17]. It is the beckoning of a loving Father and His Only Begotten Son to be more than we are, to reach up to a higher way of life, to change, and to feel the happiness of keeping the commandments” (“Repent … That I May Heal You,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2009, 40).

  • According to Elder Andersen, what can we achieve as we repent and turn back toward Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ?

Invite students to look as they continue to study Acts 26 for what prevented Festus and King Agrippa from repenting, turning to God, and becoming converted to Jesus Christ. Write the following incomplete statement on the board: To become converted to Jesus Christ …

Divide students into pairs. Invite students to read Acts 26:24–28 with their partners. Ask them to identify and compare the ways in which Festus and King Agrippa each reacted to Paul’s teachings and testimony of the Savior. As students read and discuss with their partners, copy the following chart on the board (do not include the statements under each heading):

Reactions to Paul’s Teachings

Festus

King Agrippa

Spoke in a loud voice

Said Paul was beside himself

Accused Paul of being mad

Almost persuaded to become a Christian

After sufficient time, invite several students to come to the board and write what they found (responses should be similar to the phrases in the chart above).

  • What does Festus’s reaction reveal about his opinion of Paul’s teachings? (Add the word Disbelief to students’ responses under the heading “Festus.”)

  • According to verse 27, what did Paul say he knew about King Agrippa? (Add Believed the prophets under the heading “King Agrippa.”)

  • What can we learn from Agrippa’s comment to Paul about Agrippa’s commitment to be a Christian (see verse 28)? (Add Not willing to fully commit under the heading “King Agrippa.”)

Invite a student to read Acts 26:29 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how Paul responded to King Agrippa’s comment that he was almost persuaded to be a Christian.

  • What did Paul desire for the king and all those who had heard his teachings?

  • What do you think prevented Festus from becoming converted to Jesus Christ?

  • What do you think prevented King Agrippa from becoming converted?

  • What can we learn from Festus and King Agrippa about what we must do to become converted to Jesus Christ? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following principle: To become converted to Jesus Christ, we must choose to believe in and be fully committed to living the gospel.)

To help students understand this principle, invite a student to read aloud the following account by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency:

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

“Two young brothers stood atop a small cliff that overlooked the pristine waters of a blue lake. This was a popular diving spot, and the brothers had often talked about making the jump—something they had seen others do.

“Although they both wanted to make the jump, neither one wanted to be first. The height of the cliff wasn’t that great, but to the two young boys, it seemed the distance increased whenever they started to lean forward—and their courage was fading fast.

“Finally, one brother put one foot at the edge of the cliff and moved decisively forward. At that moment his brother whispered, ‘Maybe we should wait until next summer.’

The first brother’s momentum, however, was already pulling him forward. ‘Brother,’ he responded, ‘I’m committed!’

“He splashed into the water and surfaced quickly with a victorious shout. The second brother followed instantly. Afterward, they both laughed about the first boy’s final words before plunging into the water: ‘Brother, I’m committed.’

“Commitment is a little like diving into the water. Either you are committed or you are not. Either you are moving forward or you are standing still. There’s no halfway. …

“Those who are only sort of committed may expect to only sort of receive the blessings of testimony, joy, and peace. The windows of heaven might only be sort of open to them. …

“In some way, each of us stands at a decision point overlooking the water. It is my prayer that we will have faith, move forward, face our fears and doubts with courage, and say to ourselves, ‘I’m committed!’” (“Brother, I’m Committed,” Ensign, July 2011, 4, 5).

  • How is committing to living the gospel like diving into the water?

  • According to President Uchtdorf, why is it important to be fully committed rather than “sort of committed” to living the gospel?

  • How has your commitment to living a commandment or principle of the gospel helped strengthen your conversion to Jesus Christ? (Consider sharing an example of your own.)

Invite students to write in their class notebooks or scripture study journals a list of commandments or gospel principles that they feel they are fully committed to living. Ask them to consider any principles of the gospel that they feel “almost” but not “altogether” (Acts 26:29) committed to living. Invite students to write a goal of what they can do to increase their understanding of and commitment to one of these principles. Encourage students to pray for help as they strive to become converted to Jesus Christ by more fully living the gospel.

Summarize Acts 26:30–32 by explaining that Festus and King Agrippa found Paul innocent and would have freed him, but because Paul had appealed his case to Caesar they were required to send him to Rome.

Conclude by reviewing and testifying of the principles taught in Acts 23–26.

Commentary and Background Information

Acts 25:13. Who was Herod Agrippa?

For a helpful chart showing the relationships between the various members of the Herodian family mentioned in the New Testament, see the entry “Herod” in the Bible Dictionary.

“Herod Agrippa II (also called Marcus Julius Agrippa) was the seventh and last king in the Jewish Herodian dynasty. He ruled the territory northeast of the Sea of Galilee from about A.D. 55 to 93. He was the son of Herod Agrippa I, who ordered the death of James and imprisoned Peter (see Acts 12:1–4); the grandson of Herod Antipas, who had John the Baptist beheaded (see Matthew 14:1–12); and the great-grandson of Herod the Great, who ordered the slaughter of the infants of Bethlehem (see Matthew 2:16).

“Agrippa’s kingdom lay to the north of Festus’s territory. Agrippa and his sister Bernice … visited Festus in Caesarea while Paul was imprisoned there. Because Agrippa was a Jew and was therefore more familiar with Jewish affairs than Festus, who was a Roman, Festus hoped that Agrippa could help him understand the accusations against Paul and also help draft his letter to Caesar (see Acts 25:24–27; 26:3)” (New Testament Student Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2014], 326).

Acts 26:24. “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad”

The Prophet Joseph Smith compared the persecution he experienced after his First Vision to the experiences of the Apostle Paul (see Joseph Smith—History 1:24–25). Both Paul and Joseph Smith saw the Savior and heard His voice. Both testified that they had seen a vision. As a result, both were persecuted and reviled, yet they remained true to their witness and testimony of Jesus Christ. In addition, there are multiple accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, just as there are multiple accounts of Paul’s vision of the Savior (see Acts 9:3–9; Acts 22:6–11; Acts 26:13–18). Despite minor differences in detail, their multiple accounts agree in the essential truth that each of them saw and spoke with Jesus Christ.

Acts 26:28. “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian”

While serving as a member of the Seventy, Elder Bruce C. Hafen taught:

“If we must give all that we have, then our giving only almost everything is not enough. If we almost keep the commandments, we almost receive the blessings” (“The Atonement: All for All,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2004, 98).

President Harold B. Lee applied the words of King Agrippa to members of the Church who attempt to excuse themselves from keeping the commandments:

“A good bishop made an interesting comment about what he called the saddest words that he knows of a man in high station. He read from the words in the days of the Apostle Paul when Paul before King Agrippa had borne his powerful testimony of his conversion. King Agrippa’s reply was, ‘Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.’ (Acts 26:28.) Then the bishop said, ‘The king knew the truth but he lacked the courage to do that which would be required. …’

“And then [the bishop] characterized some things that he discovered in his own ward in a short but powerful sermon. ‘In response to the Master, “Come … follow me” (Mark 10:21), some members almost,’ he said, ‘but not quite, say, “thou persuadest me almost to be honest but I need extra help to pass a test.”’ …

“[The bishop continued,] ‘Almost thou persuadest me to keep the Sabbath day holy, but it’s fun to play ball on Sunday.

“‘Almost thou persuadest me to love my neighbor, but he is a rascal; to be tolerant of others’ views, but they are dead wrong; … to go home teaching, but it’s so cold and damp outside tonight; to pay tithes and offerings, but we do need a new color TV. … Almost! Almost! Almost!’” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1964, 23–24).