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Acts 26

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Verses 1-3

Beginning of Paul’s Defense

After the introduction by Festus, Agrippa takes over the leadership of the hearing. He gives the floor to Paul. As a greeting Paul stretches out his shackled hand. On other occasions where he was going to speak, he also stretched out his hand, but there it was to obtain silence (Acts 13:16; Acts 21:40; cf. Acts 19:33). Then he starts his defense.

In this defense he tells what happened to him. Here he will speak extensively about his meeting with the Lord Jesus. To Festus, and also Felix, he has done this more succinctly, but here he stands before someone who knows all the customs and contentious questions of the Jews. For that fact he expresses his gratitude.

This is not flattery, but a justified observation. Agrippa will understand what he is saying, it will even appeal somewhat to his conscience. Moreover, Agrippa is favorable to him. It is pleasant for anyone who has something to say that his hearer will at least understand him.

Paul speaks in the Name of God. While he respects the position of the great ones of the earth, we see that he is morally far above them. The more than two years he has been imprisoned have not been able to oppress his heart or faith. He vigorously testifies to what the Lord has done to him, even if it does not have the fervently desired effect on Agrippa and Festus. And there are others present. Maybe it has impressed one of them. Eternity will reveal it.

Paul does not repeat his conversion history just like that. Each of the two times he tells this history, it is in view of the audience he has in front of him. In Acts 22 he stands before the Jews (Acts 21:40; Acts 22:1-Exodus :). Here he stands before one who knows Judaism, of whom he even says further on, that he believes the prophets (Acts 26:27). From everything we read of Agrippa, it is clear that for him, faith is only an external matter.

Verses 4-8

Paul’s Youth as a Jew

Paul tells his life story, what happened to him. He came to Jerusalem quite young. There he excelled in the strictest sect, that of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were already strict, but he put a little more on top of it. His enormous zeal was so striking that all Jews knew about it. He remarked that he could call them to testify if they wanted to.

He has not been a one-day fly, but he has lived by it consistently. Paul was not just any Pharisee. Opposite Agrippa, who knows the Pharisees, he presents his background as a fanatical Pharisee, so that he will be impressed by the tremendous change that has taken place in him.

As a Pharisee, he believed in the fulfillment of the promises made by God to His people in the Old Testament. Those promises were still not fulfilled. Therefore, all “twelve tribes” were still looking forward to that fulfillment. Paul speaks of the twelve tribes. It is clear to him that the ten tribes that are in the scattering will share in the same promises.

There is no question of any of these tribes being lost. For the faith they are there – Anna, the prophetess, for example, came from Aser (Luke 2:36) – and in God’s time these tribes will also appear. By the twelve tribes that earnestly serve God night and day, Paul does not mean the unbelieving mass of the people, but the true Israel of God, the Jews who believe in the Messiah Who has come.

Precisely the hope that the Jews themselves had as a nation was the basis of the accusation against him. That accusation was made by the unbelieving leaders. They rejected Him with Whom the hope of Israel’s future is indissolubly connected. That hope is the Messiah. That hope the believing Jews found in the coming of the Lord Jesus and that is the reason for the attacks of the unbelieving Jews.

To the hope of the fulfillment of the promises, is also connected with faith in the resurrection. All believers to whom the promises were made in the Old Testament died without having received the promises. Nevertheless, they will receive what was promised to them in the resurrection. Promises and resurrection belong together. Above all, it is connected to faith in the resurrection of the Messiah, Who was rejected and killed at His coming to fulfill the promises. By talking about the future restoration of Israel, Paul offers his audience a broad perspective.

With his words Paul especially wants to reach King Agrippa. To that end he addresses him directly when he says to him: “O King.” Afterwards he also has a question for all those present. He binds his hearing on heart and conscience the question why they judge the raising of the dead by God to be unbelievable. This makes the resurrection the central theme of Paul’s speech. Whoever believes in God must believe in Him as the God of the resurrection. This is the core of the difference of opinion between the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles on the one hand and the Christians on the other hand.

Verses 9-11

Paul’s Zeal Against Christendom

Paul is pre-eminently the man to whom what the Lord Jesus said to His disciples applies: “But an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16:2-Leviticus :). As a Jew he considered himself obliged to do a lot of hostility “to the name of Jesus of Nazareth”. The name expresses everything that the person is. This Name was hated by Paul because it was against his deepest belief. Jesus of Nazareth, the Man from Nazareth, was for him the great deceiver.

In Jerusalem, Paul raged against him in the persecution and torture of those he now calls “saints”. There was no pity at all for his victims. He forced them to renounce the Name of Jesus and say ugly things of Him. By the way, the fact that he forced them to slander does not mean that the Christians did the same.

He was so passionate about eradicating this sect that he did not confine himself to Jerusalem in his zeal to do so. The saints were not safe from him in foreign cities either. His persecution madness drove him there as well.

Verses 12-15

Paul’s Conversion

The chief priests had in him a great tool for their evil intent. They were only too happy to give him power of attorney and order to track down and eradicate this new movement in Damascus as well. And then the totally unexpected happens. At the height of his fanaticism comes the turnaround. In the fire of his report Paul experiences this impressive event once again. What he saw then, he cannot deny. How can someone deny a personal experience, something he himself observed?

Through the exclamation “O King” Paul speaks again emphatically to Agrippa in a personal way and emphasizes for him the observation he made. At midday he saw a light brighter than the sun. This cannot but be the light of the Lord Jesus, Who is called “the sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2). Until this moment, this man was blinded by his legal zeal against the grace of God in Christ. Then the light shines into his soul. Then that same Christ reveals Himself and thereby erases everything on which he boasted as a Jew and in which he rested, and makes it to nothing.

This is the moment of his conversion. The jailer is converted in the very midst of the night (Acts 16:25; Acts 16:33), Paul comes to conversion in the clearest of days. The impression this has made on him he presents here again greater than the last time when he recounted his conversion history. Then he spoke of a bright light from heaven (Acts 22:6). Now he speaks of a light from heaven that is brighter than the sun. It shows that his impression of Who the Lord is became ever greater. This is how it should be with us. The longer we live with the Lord, the greater He must become for us. We should always be able to bear witness to that increasing greatness.

The light radiated not only all around Paul, but also all around those who travelled with him. They also fell to the ground. What may have been interpreted by Paul’s companions as nothing more than a natural phenomenon, meant a lot more to Paul. He heard a voice that appealed to him in the Hebrew language and with his Hebrew name.

His name Saul reminds us of King Saul. It is possible that his parents called him so because they expected the same from him as they saw in Saul. King Saul was bigger than all the people and they wanted their son to be too. This parallel also came true in a spiritual sense and not only in the fact that he stood out in knowledge and zeal above all his contemporaries. King Saul became a persecutor of God’s anointed King David; the New Testament Saul became a persecutor of God’s Messiah, which means ‘Anointed’.

In that way of resisting and persecuting the Messianic Jews, Saul was warned by God. God made him feel the goads of His Word (Ecclesiastes 12:11). We can discover these goads in Stephen’s testimony and that of other believers Saul tortured. The words of those believers affected him, but he did not want to listen to them. Until the moment the breakthrough comes on the road to Damascus.

The answer to the Lord’s question is a question from Paul which immediately shows all his submission. He asks: “Who are You, Lord? The answer is that he persecutes “Jesus”. But he persecuted the church, didn’t he? Here we see that ‘Jesus’, the name of the Lord in His humiliation on earth, explains Himself one with His persecuted and humiliated church. Paul thought Him dead and saw the Way he was persecuting as dangerous. That image and all his ensuing activities with which he thought he was doing God a service, are suddenly completely undermined by this encounter.

Verses 16-18

The Lord’s Command to Paul

From now on, his life will take a radical turn. The Lord has not only spoken to him to bring him to repentance and salvation. He has to get up and stand on his feet, because the Lord wants to make him a servant and a witness. Paul immediately learns the purpose of his conversion. This also applies to us (1 Thessalonians 1:9-2 Samuel :; Hebrews 9:14). There was a great work ahead of him. For this the Lord appeared to him.

His testimony has a glorified Lord as its object. He is a completely different witness than the twelve apostles who travelled through Israel with the Lord. Just as the service of Peter and John was typified by the Christ on earth, so his service is characterized by a glorified Lord, a Lord in heaven. Wherever the Lord will appear to him, it will have to do with revealing the mystery of Christ and the church.

His service will also be characterized by being detached from Judaism and all other people in order to be set apart for a service to them all. He occupies a chosen position both with regard to Judaism and paganism. He has a message from the Lord for both, Who sends him to them. He has to bring that message to blind Jews as well as to the Gentiles. Judaism has lost its privileged position.

In a similar way we have been detached from the world at our conversion (Galatians 1:4). This is not to live in isolation, but to be sent straight back into it (John 20:21) to serve the lost people for the purpose of their conversion.

Only God can open eyes (Psalms 146:8). If Paul is commanded to do the same, it means that he can act in the name of God. Opening eyes means that someone’s eyes are opened for who he is towards God to then see what has been given to him by God. In order to open the eyes of others we must have an eye for the possibilities God gives for that. For example, Paul opened the eyes of the Athenians by pointing out the altar to the unknown God (Acts 17:22-Isaiah :). Here he stands before Agrippa, whose eyes he also wants to open. He speaks to him in a penetrating way what this opening of the eyes means.

The few words the Lord has spoken to him about this and which he passes on to Agrippa, contain the fullness of the gospel. Through the gospel one’s eyes are opened; he comes into the light and to God (cf. Colossians 1:12) with all the glorious consequences. In the first place it is about people turning from the power of darkness to the light. Paul has just given an impressive personal testimony of this light. The power of darkness is the darkness in which the soul is enveloped by sin. This power of darkness also reigned in Paul’s soul, despite all his religiousness.

People must also turn from the power of Satan to God. The power of Satan focuses more on the outer bondage through which people come to a life that revolves only around themselves and the satisfaction of their own needs. Paul has testified to this as well. In order to live meaningfully, conversion to God is necessary. God is the Creator and knows perfectly what is necessary for a life to His glory and He also gives what is necessary for that. Such a life “is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and [also] for the [life] to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).

The consequences of conversion are also great. This is what Paul also speaks about. It is a life based on the forgiveness of sins received through faith “in Me”, that is the Lord Jesus. The forgiveness of sins is the awareness that there is nothing more between the holy God and the sinful man who has converted. When sins are gone that make separation between God and man, it opens the way for the Lord to give every converted soul an inheritance among the saints.

Christianity is not some kind of fulfillment of Judaism, but goes far beyond it. It is about “an inheritance among those who have been sanctified”, an inheritance together with all the other saints, in the light. It is not an inheritance on earth, but “in the light” (Colossians 1:12). It is an inheritance with Christ (Ephesians 1:10-1 Kings :). All these glorious things are connected with the faith in Him Who was once hated so much by Paul and Who stopped him.

Verses 19-23

Paul’s Work as an Apostle

With the argumentative word “so” Paul again addresses himself to King Agrippa personally. If the king has heard all this, it is clear that Paul could not have disobeyed this heavenly face, could he? That was simply impossible for him. It is as much about direct obedience to Him Who appeared to him as it is about making known the great privilege he saw. You simply want to testify to this; you are simply being pressed internally to do so. Such a personal experience can be fought by anyone, but cannot be cancelled by anyone. Such personal encounters with the Lord also determine the way in which we testify today.

Paul tells us what effect this encounter and the task associated with it have had on him. With the same zeal with which he first fought against Christendom, he dedicated himself to spreading it through the proclamation of the gospel. He started with this immediately in Damascus. Then he proclaimed it in Jerusalem, then throughout the whole country of Judea and then also to the nations. He brought the gospel in its most elementary form.

He tells what he preached, with which he also shows Agrippa and everyone else, the way of salvation. It is about people repenting, that is, changing their minds, repenting and confessing their sins before God. At the same time as this inner change, a conversion to God must take place, which means that God has the say in life and can determine the course of life.

Paul also tells his audience that it is not a confession with the lips. He points out that he has also proclaimed that repentance and conversion must be followed by works that are in accordance with this (Matthew 3:8). Faith without works is dead (James 2:17). These are not works that lead to salvation, but works that result from salvation.

This preaching is the reason the Jews seized him in the temple and tried to kill him (Acts 21:30-Obadiah :). That they did not succeed, he attributes to the help of God. God gave him life to testify and he still does, until this very moment. Here he stands before the great ones of the earth, but his testimony also applies to the little ones, the ordinary citizens. After all, small and great will have to account for and be judged according to everyone’s work (Revelation 20:12).

In all the testimonies he has given, he has in no way said anything that does not correspond with what the prophets and Moses have said. The prophets and Moses have announced the coming of the Messiah and His kingdom. The Jews were not mistaken in their expectation of the Messiah and His kingdom, of which Israel will be the center. What they are blind to, however, is the testimony of the law and the prophets that the Messiah had to suffer and be killed and rise from the dead.

This means that Paul did not proclaim anything contrary to the Old Testament. He brings nothing new, no anti teaching, but what the Old Testament has always presented as hope for Israel and also for the nations (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6Isaiah 60:1-Leviticus :). The Lord also makes this clear to the disciples of Emmaus (Luke 24:26-Daniel :; Luke 24:44-2 Corinthians :). The suffering and resurrection of Christ form the core of the gospel for Jew and Gentile.

Verses 24-26

Interruption by Festus

When Paul speaks about the suffering and resurrection of Christ, Festus interrupts him. He believes that Paul has now gone mad and is talking gibberish. How many times over the centuries have Christians been declared mad (1 Corinthians 4:10; 2 Corinthians 5:13). The Lord has also been scolded for this (Mark 3:20-Ecclesiastes :; John 10:20). Festus sees Paul’s speech as the expression of a Jew’s superstition, a dream of a man addicted to reading and studying.

The madness is the ecstasy that Festus thinks he perceives in Paul, while he understands nothing of what Paul is saying. Festus has no idea of the content of the words he does understand. He resembles Paul’s companions who traveled with him to Damascus, who heard the sound of a voice but did not hear what was said (Acts 9:7; Acts 22:9).

Paul was not disturbed or insulted by the value judgment of Festus. On the contrary, he sees a new reason for the gospel. Faith does not go against truth and reason. On the contrary, faith bears witness to truth and common sense. He used to be out of his senses (Acts 26:11), but not anymore (cf. Luke 8:35).

By the way, Festus has had his chance. Now Paul speaks to Agrippa who knows about these things. Paul speaks to Festus, but in the presence of Agrippa, expressing the conviction that Agrippa is fully aware of everything that has happened. It did not happen somewhere in a small town in a backward area. It is world news.

Verses 27-32

Agrippa Must Choose

Then Paul turned directly to Agrippa and put him in front of the block. Paul knows that Agrippa believes the prophets. Now the kind of faith Agrippa has does not bring someone to repentance. Familiarity with the facts of Christianity is not enough. There must be a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart, the application of the Word of God to heart and conscience, through which someone confesses his sins and resorts to the Lord Jesus. This does not take away from Paul, Agrippa’s confession. He sees this as a starting point to win him over to the gospel.

For Agrippa, who will have listened very attentively, this confrontation is too frontal. With a feint he turns away from the confrontation. He wanted to know everything about this new religion, but he does not want to be addressed personally. With a remark, perhaps mockingly intended, he avoids the pressure that Paul puts on him. He realizes that Paul’s concern is to make him a Christian. He uses the name “Christian”, which indicates that this name has become widespread and used for the followers of Christ since Acts 11 (Acts 11:26). He may be using this excuse because he does not really want to expose himself to the high society (cf. Matthew 14:9).

In his reaction Paul makes an even broader appeal and speaks to all those present. The motivation of his heart is not only the salvation of Agrippa, but of all. He is rich in God and as such he can call himself an example of happiness. The years in captivity have been blessed years. The more than two years he has been unjustly imprisoned have not made him a bitter man, but a man who can make grace shine all the brighter.

He grants them his inner happiness, not his chains. He does not want someone to be treated as unjustly as he is. This is Christendom. Grace surpasses all evil. Grace desires the best, even for those who surrender to a temporary enjoyment of sin. For Felix, Paul was the preacher of righteousness (Acts 24:25). For Agrippa and Festus, he is the possessor of blessing far beyond all earthly glory.

After these words of Paul, there is no more mocking language, no more threatening language, but a rising and leaving of the whole company. They retreat to confer. In these deliberations it is again established that Paul has done nothing illicit. The conclusion is that “this man” could have been set free. However, since he appealed to the emperor, he had to go to Rome. They cannot decide otherwise either, for it is the path that God has determined in His sovereignty for His servant.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Acts 26". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/acts-26.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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