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37. Paul’s Appeal to Agrippa (Acts 26:1-32)

Introduction

What a scene it must have been, with Paul standing before this august gathering of celebrities and leaders. They, having arrived and seating themselves, with all due dignity and solemnity; he, in his chains, accompanied, no doubt, by one or more guards. It was not to be as dramatic as in days yet to come, when the Romans would watch the Christians be devoured by the lions, but some of this same spirit may have prevailed. After all, this gathering was, at best, an informal hearing, a favor to Festus, and probably a matter of curiosity to those who attended. So it seems to have been for Agrippa. Paul was hardly to be taken seriously, nor did anyone come hoping or expecting to be converted. But perhaps hearing Paul would at least help them to understand the mindset of Judaism, and thus some of the cause for all the uprisings and disorder they were constantly fomenting.

For some men, this hearing would have dazzled them, standing before such a large gathering of “shakers and movers” of that day. Some might have entered into this occasion with apprehension, perhaps contemplating how to make the gospel more tolerable to such pagans as were gathered. For Paul, it was just one more of a long sequence of hearings, where his conduct, his ministry, and his gospel were scrutinized by public officials for some sign of wrong-doing.

It all began when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, and was engaged in worship in the temple. He was mistakenly accused of desecrating the temple, and a mob of Jews was quickly assembled, who were about to kill him. He would have been killed except for the prompt arrival of Claudius Lysias, who not only saved Paul’s life and sought (when informed) to protect his rights as a Roman citizen, but who also tried through various means to determine what Paul was being accused of, so that a trial could be conducted and Paul’s guilt or innocence could be pronounced. A plot to kill Paul let to his transfer to Caesarea, and to his unfinished trial under Felix. Festus, his successor, also attempted to decide the matter, but this only resulted in Paul’s appeal to Caesar. Now, in order to identify some charges against Paul, to include in a letter to Caesar, this group has assembled to hear from Paul and to give their advice to Festus.

While Paul always proclaimed Christ with “fear and trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5), knowing that the gospel was a “stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23), he must also have rejoiced at the opportunity to proclaim Christ before this audience of Caesarean dignitaries. It did not matter that they were powerful or influential, but only that they were lost. The gospel will be preached this day, and with great enthusiasm (see Acts 26:24-29).

We will endeavor to look carefully at this defense of Paul’s, especially in comparison to Luke’s account of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9, and also to Paul’s previous account of his conversion in chapter 22. We will seek to identify what is unique about this defense, and what point Luke is seeking to make by including it. We will attempt to identify and follow Paul’s argument here, and then to discover its meaning and application to us. I believe that we will find this record has a great deal to say to those who live in our own day and time.

The Structure of the Text

  • The Setting (25:23—26:1)
  • Paul’s Introduction (26:2-3)
  • Paul’s Judaism (26:4-8)
  • Paul’s Judaism and Jesus (26:9-11)
  • Paul’s Conversion and Commission (26:12-18)
  • Consequences of Paul’s Obedience to His Commission (26:19-23)
  • The Conversation of Paul with Festus and Agrippa (26:24-29)
  • The Conversation between Festus and Agrippa (26:30-31)

Characteristics of Paul’s Defense

Before we begin to look at our text in detail, following Paul’s argument verse by verse, let us begin by looking at some of the characteristics of Paul’s defense as a whole.

This is the third account of Paul’s “conversion” in Acts. Acts chapter 9 is an historical account, written by Luke; the second account occurs in chapter 22 and is Paul’s personal testimony, spoken to his Jewish opponents in Jerusalem. The third occurs here in chapter 26. There are both similarities and differences in the accounts. These differences will help us identify the unique emphasis of this account in chapter 26.

This is an eye-witness account of Paul’s defense. The account is undoubtedly an abbreviated one, with only selected details included, but the wording is such that we are informed that it is written by one who was there. How else could Luke write, “Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded …” (Acts 26:1)?

This is Paul’s defense of the gospel and of his ministry, more than a personal defense.527 This was not a trial, but an unofficial hearing, to help Festus determine what charges he should include on his report to Caesar. Paul is not trying to prove his innocence, to much as he is trying to explain the reasons for the opposition of the Jews to him and his ministry.

There is a strong “Jewish” emphasis here. Paul begins by indicating his pleasure that Agrippa is well versed in Jewish affairs. Throughout the emphasis falls upon Paul’s conduct as a Jew, and his opposition from the Jews. In all of this, Paul is asserting that Christianity is Jewish.

Paul’s Jewish opponents do not speak and appear not even to be present. How providential that his Jewish opponents are absent. Paul is not interrupted, and he is able to give his defense without hindrance. The only interruption will come from Festus.

Paul’s message is directed toward Agrippa. From beginning to end, it is evident that Paul’s words are addressed particularly to Agrippa. Luke tells us that this hearing was the result of Agrippa’s interest. It was Agrippa who was named in Paul’s introduction, and in his conclusion. It was also Agrippa (“O King,” verses 7 & 13) who was addressed in the middle of the defense.

Paul’s argument hinges on the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, and particularly on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The resurrection has been central in the teaching of Jesus, in the preaching of the apostles (in Acts) and in the opposition of the Jews. It is not the substitutionary atonement which Paul chooses to emphasis here, but the resurrection. We shall seek to see why later in the message.

Paul’s account is not really an account of his conversion at all. Only seven of seventeen verses describe the “Damascus road experience” of Paul. Of these seven verses, none of them really describes Paul’s conversion. A study of Acts 9 and 22 will indicate that Paul’s conversion took place over three days. To be more accurate, it seems incorrect to refer to Paul as being “saved” until the end of the three days, as a result Paul’s repentance and belief, based upon the words of Ananias. Ananias is not mentioned in Acts 26, nor is anything but Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord. The account of Paul’s experience on the Damascus road is that of his confrontation and correction (Jesus is alive; Paul has been persecuting Jesus by persecuting His church), and of his divine commission. His conversion is not even mentioned, as such.

This account is not only one of Paul’s encounter with the risen Jesus on the Damascus road, but is an account covering Paul’s whole life. The other accounts place more emphasis on Paul’s conversion experience (proportionately) than does Paul’s account here, which stresses the entire span of his life, up to this moment.

The Setting
(25:23—26:1)

It was a befuddled Festus who came away from the trial of Paul at Caesarea. It was perhaps the first trial at which Festus had presided. But this trial ended without a verdict, mainly because Festus did not want to offend the Jews. When Festus tried to persuade Paul to return to Jerusalem for yet another trial, he appealed Caesar. This left Festus in a tight spot. He did not have an acceptable explanation for the appearance of Paul. He knew Paul was innocent, and he had no charges to file against him. If Festus was caught off guard by the issues which surfaced during the trial of Paul before him at Caesarea, he was even more shocked when Paul appealed his case to Caesar. He was in more trouble than Paul. This would not look good on his record. He must think of something to put in his report to Caesar. He could hardly send Paul to Rome without an acceptable explanation.

It was a happy day when Herod Agrippa arrived in Caesarea, along with his sister Bernice. And when Agrippa expressed interest in hearing Paul personally, Festus leaped at the offer, arranging for a hearing on the following day. Along with Agrippa and Bernice, Festus invited the commanders and all of the influential citizens of Caesarea to help him determine the charges against Paul which should be reported to Caesar. It was with great pomp and circumstance that they all gathered in the auditorium. Paul was then brought in and Festus explained the purpose of the gathering to those present. Then, Festus turned to Paul and indicated that it was his opportunity to speak in his defense.

Paul’s Introduction
(26:2-3)

Paul began his defense by laying a foundation with King Agrippa, whom Paul understood to be in charge of the proceedings. Paul could hardly express his admiration and respect for a man like Agrippa,528 but there was good reason for Paul to be pleased that Agrippa was the one to whom he was speaking. Agrippa was a man with much experience and knowledge pertaining to Judaism. Paul believed him to be a Jew who, himself, believed in the Law and the Prophets (verse 27).

The issue at hand, in Paul’s mind, was not so much his own beliefs or conduct, nor even his alleged crime of attempting to desecrate the temple. The issue was the gospel. The issue was whether or not the gospel was legitimately to be considered a part of Judaism, or whether, as the Jews charged, it was a cult, distinct from Judaism and opposed to it (see the charge of Tertullus in Acts 24:5). Paul was setting out to show that the gospel he proclaimed was the fulfillment of the hope of Israel, as promised by God through Moses and the Prophets. Christianity, Paul asserted, is Jewish. Thus, at the outset of his defense, he expresses his delight that Agrippa understands such matters (unlike Festus). He also draws Agrippa’s attention to the “Jewishness” of his case, so that this factor will be prominent in his mind, and that he will be attentive to the Jewish issues Paul will raise. In the next verses, Paul will turn to his own involvement in and commitment to Judaism, from a very early age.

Paul’s Judaism
(26:4-8)

The Jews consistently attempted to disown Christianity in general, and Paul’s preaching in particular, as a “counterfeit Judaism,” as a sect which did not have their sanction and which was diametrically opposed to their faith. Paul chose to deal with the issues through his own example, because his life explained and illustrated the animosity between Judaism and the gospel. Would his Jewish opponents represent Paul as some out-of-town foreigner, who came to Jerusalem to stir up trouble for the Jews? Paul was a Jew, not born in Jerusalem, but a Jew who was brought up there, trained in the strictest order of Judaism. He was no stranger to Judaism or Jerusalem, but was, from his early days as a child, an active, dynamic, leader. And so Paul began his defense by starting at the beginning, with his own faith and practice as a Jew, in Jerusalem.

Those who represented Paul as a newcomer were willfully forgetful or dishonest about their acquaintance with him, his personal religious life, and his involvement with them in Judaism. Paul was a very public figure as a Christian, but he was also well known before his conversion. If Paul was now a viewed as the enemy of Judaism and as a traitor, it was not always so. He was once their national hero. They would have delighted to have him for a son-in-law. For a long time Paul was known to these Jews as a devout Jew, a Pharisee, no less. More than this, he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (see Philippians 3:5). He was one of the outstanding young men of Judaism.

Verses 6-8 are somewhat parenthetical. Was Paul a devout Jew, once, and now he is guilty of forsaking it all? Far from it! Paul, in his remarks in verses 6-8, muses that it is on account of his Jewish hope that he is now on trial. He is not really on trial for opposing Judaism, but rather for adhering to it. It is his opponents who have forsaken Judaism. Paul therefore claimed that he was standing trial “for the hope of the promise made by God to the fathers,” his and theirs (verse 6). Paul is guilty of hoping and believing in the promise which God gave to the twelve tribes of Israel, and which they think they are still looking for, as they go about their religious rituals of worship.529 It is for the same kind of hope and expectation—a hope which includes as a vital part the resurrection of the dead—that Paul is now being accused. Paul’s crime, for which he is being attacked by the Jews, if for being too Jewish.530

Paul now turns to Agrippa, a ruler, but also a Jew, and asks, “Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?” (verse 8). If belief in the resurrection of the dead is a fundamental premise of Judaism, how is it that the Jews condemn Paul for believing in the resurrection of Jesus? Why do they find believing in an actual instance of resurrection (namely, Jesus) so incredibly difficult? Judaism was not consistent with itself in its response to Paul’s proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Here is the key issue, the watershed, the bone of contention between Paul and his Jewish opponents—the doctrine of the resurrection, and especially the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is the fuel which fires the opposition of the Jews against Paul and Christianity. This is reason for the uprisings over Paul which the Roman rulers were trying to discover. Paul let Agrippa know, at the outset, what the issue was. Paul will now follow this matter through, showing how he, as an unbelieving Jew, opposed Christianity because of the same failure, and how, through a confrontation with the resurrected Christ, he was converted, from an opponent of the gospel to one of its most renowned proponents.

Paul’s Judaism and Jesus
(26:9-11)

The failure of the Jews to be consistent with their own faith was not foreign to Paul. As an unbelieving Jew, Paul found Christianity and the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus, an abhorrent thing, something to be violently and rigorously opposed. Could Paul understand and explain the opposition of his Jewish peers? Of course. He had done the same thing himself, before he was saved, and as a high calling thrust upon him by his own Judaism.

Paul felt obliged to attack and to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth, who was worshipped and followed by Christians as the risen Messiah of Israel (verse 9). He practiced his opposition in Jerusalem and far beyond, even to foreign cities (verse 11). With a vengeance, he sought to force Christians to renounce their faith in Jesus as Messiah, by blaspheming.531 Many, he cast into prison, and others he enthusiastically voted for their execution, as heretics. In his opposition to Jesus, he worked closely with the Sanhedrin532 and with the cooperation and support of the chief priests, the very ones who now took the lead in opposing him.

Paul understood his opponents well, and well he should. He understood them well because what they were to him, he once was to many other saints. His opposition to Christianity, to the gospel, was the result of his own misguided Judaism. This error was only to be exposed and corrected by a direct encounter with the risen Jesus, which Paul now goes on to describe as the turning point in his life and in his understanding and practice of Judaism.

Paul’s Conversion and Commission
(26:12-18)

Paul’s conversion is but one part of his defense. Seven verses describe his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, while his entire defense is contained in 17 verses. His conversion is not the only aspect of Paul’s life which is described in his defense, but this experience of being confronted by the risen, glorified, Jesus was the turning point of his life. The change from what he once was, a violent persecutor of the church, to what he had become, a powerful proclaimer of the gospel, is the result of his “conversion” and his “commission,” which took place as Paul was on his way to Damascus, to persecute the church there.533

Paul did not describe his conversion as some kind of evolution, but rather as a radical transformation, a change from darkness to light, from death to life, a change from persecuting Christianity to practicing and promoting it. He was actively opposing the church when Jesus stopped him dead in his tracks and turned him around. He was not seeking the truth; he was convinced that he knew the truth, and that Christianity was a lie. He was not acting independently in his persecution of the Christian community; he had the full consent and authority of the chief priests.534

At midday, when the sun would be at its brightest, Paul and those with him were smitten with a heavenly light, far brighter than the sun (verse 13). All fell to the ground, but only Paul heard the voice from heaven, spoken to him in the Hebrew dialect, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads”535 (verse 14). The light alone should have been terrifying to Saul, but the words which were spoken to him from heaven must have been even more troubling. The voice was a heavenly one, and Saul therefore rightly recognized the speaker as “Lord.” God was talking to Saul. And, God was somehow being persecuted by Saul. How could this be? Saul was persecuting Christians, followers of Jesus. The next words, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads,” are found only in this account, and not in the other two. These words seem to indicate that while Saul was strongly opposing Christianity, and at the same time persecuting the “Lord,” he was doing so in a futile effort, to his own loss. In our own vernacular, Paul was “shooting himself in the foot.”

Paul asked the inevitable and ultimate question, to make certain of the identity of the “Lord” who was speaking to him from heaven, “Who art Thou, Lord?”536 If Paul had not already figured it out, the voice supplied the answer: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Paul never argued this matter, not now, not ever. It was Jesus. He had been dead wrong. Jesus was alive! Therefore, Jesus was the promised Messiah, and the hope of Israel! And in persecuting the church, Paul was persecuting Jesus. In seeking to serve God according to his understanding of Judaism, he was actually opposing Him. The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead was now no longer a mere theory, but a reality. Jesus is alive. Jesus rose from the dead!

Paul is not concerned with reporting all of the details of his actions over the next three days, and of his conversion. For his purposes, the appearance of the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus was the cause of his conversion. It was the truth of the resurrection of Jesus which was the turning point in his life. No wonder the resurrection was such a crucial matter with Paul. And little wonder that the proclamation of the gospel (including the vital element of the resurrection of Jesus) was such a touchy point with the unbelieving Jews. To admit that Jesus was risen from the dead would not save one, in and of itself, but it would logically point to the fact that Jesus was who He claimed to be—Messiah—and that the Jews (as well as the Gentiles) were wrong to have rejected and crucified Him.

Paul now moves on to the “divine commission” which was given to him at the time of his conversion. Like every believer, Paul was saved for a reason, and that reason is expressed in the song which goes, “We’re saved, saved to tell others …” Paul was commanded to stand up, and was told that his commission was the purpose for which the Lord had appeared to him (verse 16). He was appointed to be both a minister and a witness, not only to the things which he had just seen, but also to those things which were yet to be revealed to him in subsequent appearances.

With this call to be a witness, was the promise of divine protection, both from the Jews, and from the Gentiles, for he was being sent as a witness to both groups (verse 17). He was called to be God’s instrument of salvation to men and women of both groups. The nature of this “salvation” is described in verse 18. His calling was to “open the eyes” of those who were blinded by their sin, so that they might “turn from darkness to light,” and “from the dominion of Satan to the kingdom of God.” The goal of this was the “forgiveness of sins” and the reception of “an inheritance,” by all who have been sanctified by faith in Jesus.537 What volumes of truth and encouragement are found in these few words, which only summarize that which occurs when one is saved. Books have been written on these matters. Paul, in his epistles, will have much more to say about these things himself.

What is important for us, here, is that the Lord has commissioned Paul to proclaim the gospel, so that what he has come to experience, may be the experience of countless others. His eyes have just been opened, to “see the light.” He has just been plucked from the clutches and control of Satan, and now is under the dominion of God. He has received the forgiveness of sins, and has the sure hope of an eternal inheritance. And he now has the privilege of introducing others to the same salvation.

The Consequences of Paul’s Obedience to His Commission
(26:19-23)

Paul now presses on to show the consequences of his conversion and commission. His encounter with the resurrected Jesus radically changed his life. He no longer persecuted the church but preached Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. His conversion and commission was the basis for the life which he now lived. He would not disobey his heavenly calling. His desire was to fulfill his calling.

It was the pursuit of this calling which brought about his persecution by the Jews. If Paul’s conversion and commission radically changed Paul, it also changed Paul’s status with the Jews. Was he once a “Hebrew of Hebrews”? Was he once a Pharisee of the strictest order? Was he once the hero, the bright and shining star of Judaism? No longer. His conversion made him a traitor to Judaism. Just as he once pursued Christians to the death, he was now pursued by the Jews to the death. They wanted him dead, and simply for believing in Jesus as the Messiah, raised from the dead. He now believed in Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes, and thus he became their “public enemy number one.” Would the Roman rulers wish to understand what all this intense anger and opposition was all about? Here is the reason.

It is because of this that Paul was seized in the temple, and the Jews sought to put him to death. It was not because he had desecrated the temple, but because he had believed in Jesus, and was now proclaiming Him as the Messiah. And, his deliverance from the Jews, while through the instrumentality of Roman officials, was ultimately the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to protect him from the Jews and the Gentiles. Neither the Jews nor the Gentiles could prevent Paul from fulfilling his commission.

This is why Paul is now standing before this group of prominent leaders, because he is still endeavoring to fulfill his calling, “testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (verses 22 and 23).

To this group of “great” people, Paul had nothing different to say than to the “small,” that the salvation of the world comes only through the “hope of Israel,” the Lord Jesus Christ, who was coming, death, and resurrection was foretold by the Prophets and Moses. These promises were fulfilled in the person of Jesus. Jesus was put to death by the Jews and Gentiles (with the help of Roman rulers), and by virtue of His resurrection from the dead, he was (on the road to Damascus) the first to proclaim “light” to the Jews and the Gentiles. And what Jesus first did, Paul and the church continued to do.

Paul’s message was a declaration of the gospel. This group, who thought they were judging Paul, and making some decision about his ministry, must make a decision about his message. They must repent and must believe that which the Jews rejected, that which Paul himself rejected, until he had seen the risen Lord himself. No report is given of any having come to faith that day, though some may have believed. But there is at least no question but what they heard the gospel, perhaps for the first and only time. Paul had fulfilled his commission this day.

The Conversation of Paul with Festus and Agrippa
(26:24-29)

The gospel controlled Paul, it dominated his life. The text does not tell us this in so many words, but I get the feeling at this point that Paul was getting excited about his presentation of the gospel. He was no longer talking about Christianity as some academic theory, or even as the topic of great debate and intense opposition. He was presenting the gospel as the means by which this audience could be saved. Paul was actually calling on this group to repent and to believe. He was not only trying to convert the Jews and the heathen, but them. He was not pleading with this crowd for understanding or sympathy; he was calling on them to believe and be saved. He was trying to convert them!

Festus could not stand it any longer. I can almost hear him mumbling to himself, “What next? Will this Paul give an invitation? Will he have an altar call? This is no defense, it is a crusade!” Festus broke in. He could stand it no longer. He accused Paul of being out of his mind. Was Paul a scholar? Festus would grant this. Was Paul correct in his understanding and interpretation of the “Jewish Scriptures”? Festus might even grant this. But leave off this invitation. Forget the altar call. Festus protests, “This is insane!”538

Paul defended his presentation. His message was nothing less than solemn truth. The words of an insane man cannot be taken seriously; the words which Paul spoke must be taken as a matter of eternal life or death. The gospel is both truth and reality.539 Paul quickly turned his attention to Agrippa, a Jew, whom Paul believed was convinced that the Old Testament revelation was the Word of God. Agrippa also knew from his own experience that Paul was speaking truthfully and accurately. These were not mad ramblings, the product of a confused mind. Paul’s words, Agrippa must know, were consistent both with Old Testament revelation and with events as they had taken place in Israel. And so, turning his attention to Agrippa, Paul pressed him for a commitment. Does he believe? Will he believe? Paul’s case is no longer in view, but Agrippa’s salvation. Where does he stand? What will he do? Even if Festus rejects Paul’s words as insanity, Agrippa has much more knowledge. Paul urges him to cross the line, to make the commitment, to see the light, to be saved.

Agrippa knows he is on the spot, and appears to be uncomfortable. He seems unwilling to believe, and yet unable to deny what has been said. His response to Paul has been understood in various ways.540 One thing we can all agree upon, however, Agrippa did not come to faith in that hour. He makes no confession of faith. Whether he speaks with “tongue in cheek” or with some sincerity, he does not profess faith in Jesus.

Paul is not taken back. He picks up the conversation where Agrippa left off. Would Agrippa accuse Paul of trying to convert him? Paul did wish to do so. It was Paul’s desire that Agrippa and all the others might be just as he was—saved by grace, through faith in Jesus as the risen Lord—except he would not wish his chains on anyone else. This seems to be said with a “twinkle in his eye.” And with this final statement (at least as reported by Luke) the interview is over. Things are getting uncomfortable, not for Paul, but for his audience. It was they, after all, who were on trial, not Paul.

The Conversation Between Festus and Agrippa
(26:30-31)

The reason for this meeting was not (in the minds of that crowd) to give Paul a chance to preach to them and to seek to convert them, but to hear Paul’s case so as to give Festus something to report to Caesar. And so as Paul left, those gathered together for this occasion turned to one another, expressing their unanimous conclusion: this man was not guilty of any crime. Agrippa had come to the same conclusion, when he expressed privately to Festus. There really were no charges against Paul that would hold up in court. Paul should never have been brought to trial in the first place.

This must have been an unsettling thing for Festus to hear. It was no compliment to his handling of the matter. The reason why Festus had a problem on his hands was because there were no valid charges against Paul. The Jews were wrong. Had Festus dealt with Paul justly, he would not have the problem which he now faces.

But Agrippa not only thinks that Festus was mistaken; he also indicates that Paul was foolish to have appealed to Caesar. Had Paul not made this appeal, Agrippa reasoned, Paul would now be a free man. Agrippa must not have been aware of the plot against Paul in Jerusalem, for he would have realized that to be free in Jerusalem (or even to be in Jerusalem under Roman guard) was to be in danger of assassination. It may have seemed foolish for Paul to go to Rome, but then Agrippa was not aware of the divine plan, which included Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, and then Rome.

Conclusion

As we conclude our study of Paul’s “appeal” to Agrippa, let me point out several important elements:

(1) Paul’s “appeal” to Agrippa was not an “appeal to be pronounced innocent” but an “appeal for him to be saved.” The conclusion of Paul’s address informs us of the fact that Paul did not care so much about his own condition as he was about the condition of those who stood before him. Paul may have been a prisoner, in chains, doomed to die, but he was saved, with the assurance of the forgiveness of his sins and the inheritance that awaited him in heaven. It was not Paul who was “in trouble,” but his audience. While all outward appearances were that they “had it made,” they were lost, headed for an eternity of separation from God and the agonies of hell. No wonder Paul was more concerned about his audience than himself.

(2) Paul’s best defense was his own life story. There is a sense, of course, in which Paul is giving his defense. I find it most interesting that the most powerful and convincing explanation Paul can offer his audience is the story of his own life. By describing what he once was and did, and the changes which took place at his conversion, Paul can prove not only his own innocence, but the power of the gospel to save and to change men. It also reveals the power of unbelief, to oppose and resist the gospel and those who proclaim it. Would that each of us who name the name of Christ could claim our own life story to be so powerful a defense for the transforming power of the gospel.

(3) Christianity is Jewish. Paul’s argument in this chapter is based upon a very important truth: Christianity is Jewish. Paul was once a religious Jew, a Pharisee, but as a Christian he is now a true Jew, enjoying and looking forward to the hope of Israel. If Paul’s defense proves anything, it is that the gospel which Paul proclaims and practices is the fulfillment of all that Judaism hoped for. Indeed, the gospel continues to be all that Israel still hopes for, even in its unbelief. Judaism desperately wanted to disown Christianity, as a cult or sect. This would have meant that it would not have received the protection of Rome which unbelieving Judaism enjoyed. Paul has, once again, shown that his faith is the fulfillment of Judaism, not the enemy of it.

(4) Paul’s defense explains the intensity of Israel’s unbelief, and the dramatic means which will be required to turn this nation to faith in Jesus. In spite of the fact that the Jews should recognize Jesus (and the gospel) to be the fulfillment of the promise of God through Moses and the Prophets, they vigorously oppose it. They do this contrary to the Scriptures, history, and logic. They do so because of the “hardness of their hearts.” Paul was just like them in this regard, before his conversion. I believe that our text strongly implies what other Scriptures teach—that all Israel will only come to faith in Jesus when He appears to them in His resurrected, glorified form. Then, they too will believe and be saved.

The conversion of the Gentiles is not really any different. Men do not evolve toward faith. They are predisposed to hate God and to oppose the gospel. Men cannot be logically convinced and converted, any more than Paul. In order for men to be converted, God must radically and powerfully intervene into their lives, convincing them that Jesus is alive, and that He is the Messiah. Our text is but one which reveals the deep-seated unbelief and hard-core opposition of men toward God, and of the dramatic, divine intervention required to save lost men.

(5) Paul’s defense here in Acts 26 reminds us of the crucial role which the resurrection of Jesus plays in the gospel and in the conversion of men. Note that in his defense of the gospel Paul places little emphasis on the death of Christ, or the substitutionary atonement, but rather the crucial issue is the resurrection. Why? Is it because the doctrine of the atonement is not true or not important? Certainly not! It is because the issue with the Jews and with men of that day was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. No one in that day argued about the fact of Jesus’ death. The Jews believed in substitutionary atonement because of the fact that is was woven into the fabric of the Old Testament sacrificial system. What Judaism rejected was the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead, and thus had to be the Messiah.

For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus was the crucial issue, the key to conversion, his own and that of others. The apostles, from the outset proclaimed Jesus as the Christ, raised from the dead. To grant the resurrection of Jesus was tantamount to granting His claim to be Messiah, and this was just as Jesus intended it (see Matthew 12:38-40). Thus, the resurrection of Jesus was emphasized by Paul because it was the watershed issue, the turning point, even as it had been for him in his conversion.

(6) The problem with Judaism then, and with Christian today, is that the things we believe in principle, we refuse to believe in practice and in particular. Paul claimed that his hope was a Jewish hope, a hope which required a belief in the resurrection of the dead, and which required, in particular, the Messiah’s resurrection from the dead. Any true Jew (this excluded a Sadducee) believed in the resurrection of the dead (see Hebrews 11:13-40). The Pharisees thus found themselves more in harmony with Paul over the resurrection than with the Sadducees (see Acts 23:6-9).

The failure for such Jews, who believed in the resurrection of the dead in principle, was that they refused to believe in it when it came to the resurrection of Jesus. Even though they could find no other explanation for the disappearance of His body, they would not grant His resurrection. To do so would require believing in Him, and admitting their sin and guilt in rejecting Jesus. But when the fact of Jesus’ resurrection is powerfully attested, whether by the personal appearance of Jesus to Paul, or by the power of Jesus manifested through the apostles, or by the illumination and conviction of the Holy Spirit through the preached Word, men are converted, and their lives turned around.

I would like to suggest that the same failure exists today, in Christianity. There are many truths, many doctrines, of which professing Christians are firmly convinced, in principle, but which they refuse to practice in particular. We say we believe in the goodness of God, in His omniscience (knowing all), and in His omnipotence (having all power), but when the chips are down, and when life seems to challenge these truths, we are not so willing to act upon these truths which we claim we believe.

Let’s take the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, for example. We profess to believe that because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised. But what happens when the doctor tells us we have a malignancy? What happens when we are required to take a stand which puts our life in danger? Where, then, is our faith in the resurrection of the dead?

If we fail to believe in practice what we claim to believe in principle, what is the solution? What is the cure? How can we develop a practical faith, a faith which not only believes, but which acts on this belief? I believe that the answer is much more simple than we would wish. We develop a living faith by living in accordance with the Word of God, and in obedience to the commands of our Lord (whether given personally by Jesus or through His apostles in the epistles of the New Testament).

I would encourage you to read through the entire New Testament, making note of all the commands that are given, either by our Lord in the gospels, or by the apostles in the epistles. Then, do them. I submit to you that it will be very difficult to obey these commands apart from believing in the doctrines on which they are based. I think that our practical faith is proportionate to our practice of our faith by our obedience to the commands of Scripture. Would we have a practical faith, and not merely a theoretical one? Then let us practice our faith, by obeying God’s commands.

One further thought on this matter. I would recommend a study in the gospels of those who recognized Jesus as the Messiah, in contrast to those who refused to recognize Him as such. What was it about those who recognized Jesus as Messiah which set them apart from the rest? The answer to this is the key to having a practical faith, rather than a theoretical one. The scribes knew (theoretically) that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, for example (Matthew 2:3-6), but they would not believe that Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem, was the King. Why not? The answers to this question will be fruitful.

(7) For Paul, every opportunity to speak to men was the opportunity to speak of Christ, and to seek to win men and women to Him by faith in Jesus. Even this hearing, which was Paul’s opportunity to convince his audience of his innocence, was, for him a greater opportunity—the chance to tell men of Christ. Oh that we would use our opportunities as well. Paul was faithful to his commission. May we be as well.

Afterthought

There is one thought that has occurred to me as I have been studying this chapter. I was reminded, once again, of the overall purpose of this book, indeed of both volumes which Luke has penned, Luke and Acts. It occurred to me that Luke wrote these two books to an unknown Gentile—Theophilus. Could it be that these books were written to answer the very questions for which the Roman rulers had been seeking the answers? Could it be that Luke/Acts was the “answer to the prayers” (so to speak) of Festus? What better background to Paul’s case before Caesar could be penned? And is it not interesting that Acts ends before Paul’s trial before Caesar? I am somewhat tempted to theorize (pure speculation, of course) that Luke may have been motivated to write these two books to answer the very questions for which the Roman rulers sought answers, so as to rightly inform Caesar of the issues involved in Paul’s case. Regardless of the purpose Luke had in mind, wouldn’t it be interesting if Luke finished his manuscripts before Paul’s trial, and submitted them into the court records as evidence in Paul’s support? Just a far-fetched thought.


527 “If his speech is called his “defense,” it is so called in no forensic sense; it is rather a defense of the gospel which he preached and of his way of life in conformity with it.” F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), p. 461.

528 “. . . he now made bold, even before Agrippa whose father had beheaded James and sought to execute Peter (Acts 12:1-6). Carter and Earle, p. 383.

529 You will notice that in the expression, “as they earnestly serve God night and day” (verse 7), the term “God” is in italics in the NASB. This is because the word has been supplied--I believe wrongly so. The term is used for the worship of God, but it is also used of worship which could include false worship. I do not think that Paul is here saying that they earnestly worship God, but that they earnestly go about their religious observances. The Amplified Version seems to agree, for it renders the text this way:

“Which hope {of the Messiah and the resurrection} our twelve tribes confidently expect to realize, as they fervently worship (without ceasing) night and day.” The New Jerusalem Bible renders it likewise. Other versions supply the word “God,” but with italics.

530 “In fact, it would appear that Paul was implying that the real controversy was one of the liberal Sadducean Jewish party against the orthodox Pharisaic party, rather than the Jews against him personally.” Charles W. Carter and Ralph Earle, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), p. 382.

531 “The best parallel to Paul’s activity is provided at a later date by Pliny, the Roman governor of Bithynia, who tells us that he brought people suspected of being Christians before his court: ‘Those who denied they were, or ever had been, Christians, who repeated after me an invocation to the gods, and offered invocation, with wine and frankincense, to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for that purpose, together with those of the gods, and who finally cursed Christ--none of which acts, it is said, those who are really Christians can be forced into performing--these I thought it proper to discharge’ (Epistles 10:96). This account is written, of course, with reference to a pagan court, but a similar kind of procedure will have taken place in a Jewish setting.” I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprint, 1987), p. 394.

532 Some believe that Paul was actually a member of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin:

“However, Conybeare and Howson state: ‘There are strong grounds for believing that if he was not a member of the Sanhedrin at the time of St. Stephen’s death, he was elected into that powerful senate soon after; possibly as a reward for the zeal he had shown against the heretics. He himself says that in Jerusalem he not only exercised the power of imprisonment by commission from the High Priests, but also, when the Christians were put to death, gave his vote against them. From this expression it is natural to infer that he was a member of the supreme court of judicature.’

The foregoing authority notes that membership in the Sanhedrin was restricted to fathers with children, since such would dispose them to mercy. Since it was customary for Jews to marry young, Paul may well have qualified, though it is not known what became of his wife and family. Dummelow is specific when he says, “The Gk. means ‘the vote of a judge’ and establishes the fact that at the time of the death of Stephen, Paul, though so young a man, was a member of the Sanhedrin. Thus we must be content to conclude that Paul was either a member of the Sanhedrin, or if he was not, then he was invested with very special authority by that body, before his conversion.” Carter and Earle (quoting Conybeare and Howson, op. cit., p. 12 and Dummelow op. cit., p. 851.), p. 384.

533 Technically, Paul’s conversion and commission were spread out over three days, as a reading of all the accounts will indicate.

534 This Saul, was commissioned by the chief priests, but he is about to be converted and commissioned by the risen Savior. It seems that Luke contrasts these two “commissionings.”

535 “A proverbial saying, found both in Greek and Latin, usually with reference to fighting against the will of the gods, but not yet paralleled from any Semitic source. The word . . . means, in this context, not “difficult” but “painful,” hence RSV, It hurts you . . .” Carter and Earle (quoting from The Interpreter’s Bible, IX, 326), p. 385.

“Another remarks of the expression: ‘It supplies an apt figure for resistance to God; and here it conveys an important intimation that Saul’s zeal for Judaism had not been according to knowledge, but rather against the driving of the divine will.’” Carter and Earle (quoting Rackham, op. cit., p. 468) p. 385.

536 Paul also asked the Lord, “What shall I do, Lord” (Acts 22:10), but this question is not repeated here. What Paul must do will be indicated--not his immediate actions, such as going into Damascus, but his life-long tasks, his calling, his divine “commission.”

537 “In summary it may be noted that Paul’s commission implies a series of spiritual transferences for the converted man: (1) from blindness to sight (2) from darkness to light; (3) from the kingdom and dominion of Satan to the kingdom and dominion of Christ (cf. Rom. 1:18-32); (4) from condemnation unto death to remission of sins unto eternal life; and (5) from spiritual poverty and moral pollution to a heavenly inheritance and moral purity.” Carter and Earle, p. 387.

“His task is defined more closely in language based on the description of the Servant’s commission in Isaiah 42:6f. He is to open eyes that are blinded by sin, to convert people and bring them out of the realm of darkness into that of light, i.e. from the power of Satan into the area where God reigns (cf. Is. 42:16 and especially Col. 1:13f. which gives a remarkably close parallel to the wording here.” I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprint, 1987), pp. 396-397.

538 Maine, thou art mad, meant first ‘to rage, be furious,’ then ‘to rave, be mad.’ It was often connected with demonic influence (cf. John 10:20). Here it perhaps means that Paul’s ‘enthusiasm seems to have overcome his better judgment.’ Carter and Earle, quoting Abbott-Smith, op. cit., p. 275 and Arndt and Gingrich, op cit. p. 487, p. 389.

539 “The word soberness answers Festus’ petulant accusation of insanity. The Greek word has no reliable English equivalent. It is sophrosune. To translate it, as the New Testament does, by ‘soberness,’ ‘moderation,’ ‘self-control,’ ‘temperance’ is to touch its meaning from various angles, but not to cover it. The word has two roots, an adjective root meaning ‘safe’ and a noun root meaning ‘mind.’ It meant in Greek that ideal balance of thought which never flew to extremes. It is implicit in Paul’s survey of Christian virtue in Romans xii where it may be rendered ‘Christian sanity.’ Notice, for example, verse 3: ‘For as God in his grace has enabled me, I charge every one of you not to think more of himself than he ought to think, but to cultivate Christian sanity, according as God has given to every man faith as a measure.’” E. M. Blaiklock, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company {photolithoprinted}, 1966), p. 188.

540 “Alford takes a somewhat more negative view of Agrippa’s seriousness. He declares: ‘Most of the ancient commentators take the words as implying some effect on Agrippa’s mind, and as spoken in earnest: but this I think is hardly possible, philologically or exegetically.’ Brown supposes that Agrippa’s reply was ‘a high compliment to the persuasiveness of the speaker.’

It does not appear that the question as to whether Agrippa was serious or sarcastic can be settled on the basis of the Greek text. The best that can be said is that the Greek of this verse seems to favor an insincere or cynical attitude on his part. Carter and Earle (quoting Henry Alford, op. cit., II, 283 and JFB, VI, 175), p. 390.

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