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At Agrippa's invitation to him to speak, Paul is fully prepared. He expresses his happiness at being privileged to answer for himself to the king, especially because he knew Agrippa to be an expert in reference to the customs of the Jews and as to questions connected with the Jewish law. He respectfully requests to be heard patiently. He refers briefly to his own past history, well known to the Jews, that he had lived in strict conformity to the Jewish law, a Pharisee.
He immediately declares the reason for the Jews' enmity against him, however. It was actually because he stood for the hope of the promise made by God to the fathers of his nation. All Israel, the twelve tribes, still have hope as to the promise, however dim and blurred it may have become in their eyes. He credits them with "instantly serving God" (though of course their zeal for God is not according to knowledge --Romans 10:2; Romans 10:2) in view of this hope. What is the true character of this hope? Actually it is of a resurrected Messiah eventually taking His rightful place in authority and dignity over Israel and the world. Of course the Jews knew the many scriptures that speak of the Messiah's coming glory, but were not so acquainted with the large number of Old Testament scriptures that clearly indicated His resurrection. Of course, to be raised, He must die first, and these two things Israel was too blinded to consider.
Therefore Paul asks his pointed question, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?" It was simply and clearly because Paul preached the resurrected Christ that he was so hated by the Jews, though in this was the very answer to the ages-long aspirations of the nation Israel! Why should they not rejoice to hear a message so wonderful and true?
Paul fully admits in verse 9 that he had had the same strong prejudice against the name of Jesus of Nazareth as did most of Israel, considering that he ought to actively oppose Him, which he did by persecution of those who confessed His name. He had done this in Jerusalem, imprisoning many and advocating their being put to death. In every synagogue he carried on this campaign, compelling men to blaspheme. Evidently this involved his seeking to force them to speak against the name of Jesus under threat of death. This extended also even to foreign cities.
Now he recounts his experience in journeying to Damascus with authority given him by the chief priests. Their authority was rather reduced to nothing by the light from heaven, brighter than the sun at noonday. It prostrated all who were traveling together. We are not told whether the others at the time testified of this to the chief priests later, or not, but if so, the chief priests could likely just as easily bribe them to keep quiet or lie about it just as they had the soldiers guarding the grave of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 28:11-15). The voice was addressed directly to Saul, however, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? It is hard for thee to kick against the goads." His case was similar to that of an animal's kicking when goaded by its driver in a way it does not like. For Saul was rebelling against God's dealings with him and finding it harder than he would have liked to admit.
When he questioned, "Who art thou, Lord?" the amazing answer was "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." If this were not true, what could have possibly changed this determined man from a bitter enemy of Jesus into His devoted servant? This itself may have given Agrippa food for serious thought, but not Festus. The Lord did not make Saul a mystical, introspective recluse, reflecting on the wonder of his visions and revelations. Rather, He had appeared to Saul for the purpose of making him a witness of what he had seen, as well as of other things for which in the future He would appear to Paul, taking him out from the people (Israel) and from the Gentiles. This was certainly an unusual and sovereign operation of God. Paul was fully set apart from both Israel and the nations in order to be a witness to both of these. As to people recognizing this, a great deal would depend on the reality of the man himself. Honest, considerate men would discern this.
The Lord had given Paul a five-fold description of the object of his testimony, first, to open men's eyes; secondly, to turn them from darkness to light; thirdly, to turn them from the power of Satan to God. These things show the tragic condition into which man by nature has sunk, a condition he hates to admit, just as many refuse to face symptoms of serious disease until it is too late. But if honesty would admit this, then the last two objectives would be of wonderful value to them: fourthly, that they may receive forgiveness of sins; and fifthly, to receive an inheritance among those sanctified to God; these things being by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Forgiveness, a vital present reality for the genuine believer, introduces him into the blessing of an eternal inheritance, together with all those who have been "sanctified" or set apart for so precious a purpose.
Again as at the first (v.2) it is King Agrippa himself whom Paul addresses, telling him he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but began immediately at Damascus, later at Jerusalem and in Judea to bear witness as he was told; then going further to declare to Gentiles the same message, calling upon men to repent and turn to God, doing works that would be evidence of repentance. This was consistent with the message of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2-8), who also bore witness that Jesus was the Son of God (John 1:32-34).
These were the reasons, he declares, that the Jews had caught him in the temple with the intention of killing him. Yet he ascribes to God the fact of His being protected and able to continue witnessing both to small and great (notice "small" first), strictly conforming to what the Old Testament (Moses and the prophets) had prophesied, that Christ the Messiah should be the first who should rise from among the dead and bring the pure light of God to both Jews and Gentiles. As to the Jews' strong objection to Gentiles hearing the gospel of grace: if the message was false, why were they not glad that Gentiles (whom they despised) were being corrupted by error?
What Paul had said was totally outside of the material realm in which Festus lived, and Festus, though in utter darkness himself, loudly objected that Paul was mentally affected, and attributed his insanity to much learning. Festus was evidently of that class of people who excuse themselves from learning on the grounds that it might lead them into mental affectation, and specially if they learn what the Bible says! This attitude is plain stupidity, not to speak of its being an insult to God.
Paul however answers with calm dignity and becoming respect, "I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness." The attitude and demeanor of Paul should have been enough to make Festus question his own assessment of the case. Paul adds that the king (Agrippa) knew of the things of which he spoke, things well known among the Jews particularly, for they had not been done in a corner, but publicized in such a way that Agrippa would certainly have some acquaintance with the facts.
Then Paul boldly, yet respectfully addresses a pointed question to the king, "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest." Though it seems evident that Agrippa was seriously affected by what Paul said, yet his reply to Paul was intended to dismiss the question, not as in the King James Version, "Almost thou persuadest me," but "In a little thou persuadest me to become a Christian" (J.N.D.). He was not contemptuous, yet he had no intention of confessing Christ before that assemblage, but virtually tells Paul, "You are trying to convert me."
Paul responds, "I would to God, both in little and in much, that not only thou, but all who have heard me this day, should become such as I am, except these bonds" (J.N.D.). The earnest reality of these words must have had some real effect on all who were present, and only eternity will reveal the results.
The king stood up, indicating of course that the hearing was concluded: he did not want to be further embarrassed. Others followed, including Festus. Talking together then privately, they were agreed that Paul was not guilty of any crime that deserved either death or imprisonment. Agrippa certainly gave Festus no help in suggesting a charge to be laid before Caesar, but told Festus that Paul may have been set at liberty it he had not appealed to Caesar. It was not Festus who said this, but why could the case not have been even then dismissed without troubling Caesar with it? Perhaps the pride of Festus was involved, but one most important reason is that God intended this to be the means by which Paul would bear witness before great men at Rome.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Acts 26". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29