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‘And Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched forth his hand, and made his defence.’
At this point Agrippa turned to Paul and gave him permission to put forward his defence against the charge that had not been made against him, and the accusations of the Jews.
We should pause and consider here the position in which Paul now found himself. Every notable person in Caesarea, both Jew and Gentile, was gathered there, together with King Agrippa II and the Roman procurator. We may ask how else could Paul have ever been able to face such a remarkable audience? Men whom the church would never ordinarily be able to reach were all gathered with instructions to listen carefully to the words of Paul. And it was not a trial. Everything was relaxed. What an opportunity it presented. God alone is aware of what fruit eventually came out of that hearing. For every now and again we learn of powerful men who had responded to Christ and become His own. And as he stood there Paul remembered the words of the Lord, ‘You shall be brought before kings and rulers for My sake’ (Luke 21:12) and ‘the Holy Spirit will teach you in the same hour what you ought to say’ (Luke 12:12).
Paul’s Presentation of His Defence and of the Good News.
This is the final brick in Luke’s presentation of the hope of the resurrection presented through the words of Paul. Not only does he give these speeches in order to demonstrate that Paul is innocent, but as evidence of the resurrection from one who saw Jesus alive and had spoken to Him. The first half of Acts bore constant witness to the resurrection by the Apostles. This last half bears constant witness to it through the words of Paul (Acts 13:30; Acts 13:34-44.13.37; Acts 17:18; Acts 17:31; Acts 22:7-44.22.10; Acts 22:14; Acts 23:6; Acts 24:15; Acts 26:6-44.26.8; Acts 26:14-44.26.18).
The threefold repetition of Paul’s experience with the risen Christ on the way to Damascus, of which this is the third (compare Acts 9:1-44.9.18; Acts 22:6-44.22.16), reveals how important an evidence Luke saw this whole incident to be. It was further confirmation of the resurrection as originally described and evidenced, was itself evidence of the glory of Jesus Christ in His risen state, and in a sense spoke of what every Christians experience should be. It was also confirmation of Jesus Christ’s intended activity through His own, and of His worldwide purpose. His message was equally intended for the Gentiles. The threefoldness stressed completeness and would therefore draw special attention to the incident so that thoughts would be concentrated on it. And the later hearing audiences in the church, would, as Acts was read through, be impressed, on the second description of it, by how important it apparently was, and totally grasped by it on the third.
Festus Calls On Agrippa’s Assistance In Formulating a Case And Paul Gives His Testimony To Them Both (25:13-26:23).
Festus now condemns himself by admitting that he has no charge to bring against Paul. He is sending him to Caesar to be judged, but he does not know why. He has no case against Paul. This suits Luke’s apologetic purpose but it shows up Roman provincial justice (while exonerating the emperor).
PAUL’S JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM AND THEN TO ROME (19:21-28:31).
Here we begin a new section of Acts. It commences with Paul’s purposing to go to Jerusalem, followed by an incident, which, while it brings to the conclusion his ministry in Ephesus, very much introduces the new section. From this point on all changes. Paul’s ‘journey to Jerusalem’ and then to Rome has begun, with Paul driven along by the Holy Spirit.
The ending of the previous section as suggested by the closing summary in Acts 19:20 (see introduction), together with a clear reference in Acts 19:21 to the new direction in which Paul’s thinking is taking him, both emphasise that this is a new section leading up to his arrival in Rome. Just as Jesus had previously ‘changed direction’ in Luke when He set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), so it was to be with Paul now as he too sets his face towards Jerusalem. It is possibly not without significance that Jesus’ ‘journey’ also began after a major confrontation with evil spirits, which included an example of one who used the name of Jesus while not being a recognised disciple (compare Acts 19:12-44.19.19 with Luke 9:37-42.9.50).
From this point on Paul’s purposing in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem on his way to Rome takes possession of the narrative (Acts 19:21; Acts 20:16; Acts 20:22-44.20.23; Acts 21:10-44.21.13; Acts 21:17), and it will be followed by the Journey to Rome itself. And this whole journey is deliberately seen by Luke as commencing from Ephesus, a major centre of idolatry and the of Imperial cult, where there is uproar and Paul is restricted from preaching, and as, in contrast, deliberately ending with the triumph of a pure, unadulterated Apostolic ministry in Rome where all is quiet and he can preach without restriction. We can contrast with this how initially in Section 1 the commission commenced in a pure and unadulterated fashion in Jerusalem (Acts 1:3-44.1.9) and ended in idolatry in Caesarea (Acts 12:20-44.12.23). This is now the reverse the same thing in reverse.
Looked at from this point of view we could briefly summarise Acts in three major sections as follows:
· The Great Commission is given in Jerusalem in the purity and triumph of Jesus’ resurrection and enthronement as King. The word powerfully goes out to Jerusalem and to its surrounding area, and then in an initial outreach to the Gentiles. Jerusalem reject their Messiah and opt for an earthly ruler whose acceptance of divine honours results in judgment (Acts 19:1-44.19.12).
· The word goes out triumphantly to the Dispersion and the Gentiles and it is confirmed that they will not be required to be circumcised or conform to the detailed Jewish traditions contained in what is described as ‘the Law of Moses’ (Acts 13:1 to Acts 19:20).
· Paul’s journey to Rome commences amidst rampant idolatry and glorying in the royal rule of Artemis and Rome, and comes to completion with Paul, the Apostle, triumphantly proclaiming Jesus Christ and the Kingly Rule of God from his own house in Rome (Acts 19:21 to Acts 28:31).
It will be seen by this that with this final section the great commission has in Luke’s eyes been virtually carried out. Apostolic witness has been established in the centre of the Roman world itself and will now reach out to every part of that world, and the command ‘You shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth’ is on the point of fulfilment.
This final section, in which Paul will make his testimony to the resurrection before kings and rulers, may be analysed as follows.
a Satan counterattacks against Paul’s too successful Ministry in Ephesus and throughout Asia Minor and causes uproar resulting in his ministry being unsuccessfully attacked by the worshippers of ‘Artemis (Diana) of the Ephesians’. This city, with its three ‘temple-keepers’ for the Temple of Artemis and the two Imperial Cult Temples, is symbolic of the political and religious alliance between idolatry and Rome which has nothing to offer but greed and verbosity. It expresses the essence of the kingly rule of Rome. And here God’s triumph in Asia over those Temples has been pictured in terms of wholesale desertion of the Temple of Artemis (mention of the emperor cult would have been foolish) by those who have become Christians and will in the parallel below be contrasted and compared with Paul freely proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God in Rome (Acts 19:21-44.19.41).
b Paul’s progress towards Jerusalem is diverted because of further threats and he meets with disciples for seven days at Troas (Acts 20:1-44.20.6).
c The final voyage commences and a great sign is given of God’s presence with Paul. Eutychus is raised from the dead (Acts 20:7-44.20.12).
d Paul speaks to the elders from the church at Ephesus who meet him at Miletus and he gives warning of the dangers of spiritual catastrophe ahead and turns them to the word of His grace. If they obey Him all will be saved (Acts 20:13-44.20.38).
e A series of maritime stages, and of prophecy (Acts 19:4; Acts 19:11), which reveals that God is with Paul (Acts 21:1-44.21.16).
f Paul proves his true dedication in Jerusalem and his conformity with the Law and does nothing that is worthy of death but the doors of the Temple are closed against him (Acts 21:17-44.21.30).
g Paul is arrested and gives his testimony of his commissioning by the risen Jesus (Acts 21:31 to Acts 22:29).
h Paul appears before the Sanhedrin and points to the hope of the resurrection (Acts 22:30 to Acts 23:9).
i He is rescued by the chief captain and is informed by the Lord that as he has testified in Jerusalem so he will testify in Rome (Acts 23:11).
j The Jews plan an ambush, which is thwarted by Paul’s nephew (Acts 23:12-44.23.25).
k Paul is sent to Felix, to Caesarea (Acts 23:26-44.23.35).
l Paul makes his defence before Felix stressing the hope of the resurrection (Acts 24:1-44.24.22).
k Paul is kept at Felix’ pleasure for two years (with opportunities in Caesarea) (Acts 24:23-44.24.27).
j The Jews plan to ambush Paul again, an attempt which is thwarted by Festus (Acts 25:1-44.25.5).
i Paul appears before Festus and appeals to Caesar. To Rome he will go (Acts 25:6-44.25.12).
h Paul is brought before Agrippa and gives his testimony stressing his hope in the resurrection (Acts 25:23 to Acts 26:8).
g Paul gives his testimony concerning his commissioning by the risen Jesus (Acts 26:9-44.26.23).
f Paul is declared to have done nothing worthy of death and thus to have conformed to the Law, but King Herod Agrippa II closes his heart against his message (Acts 26:28-44.26.32).
e A series of maritime stages and of prophecy (Acts 19:10; Acts 19:21-44.19.26) which confirms that God is with Paul (27.l-26).
d Paul speaks to those at sea, warning of the dangers of physical catastrophe ahead unless they obey God’s words. If they obey Him all will be delivered (Acts 27:27-44.27.44).
c Paul is delivered from death through snakebite and Publius’ father and others are healed, which are the signs of God’s presence with him, and the voyage comes to an end after these great signs have been given (Acts 28:1-44.28.13).
b Paul meets with disciples for seven days at Puteoli and then at the Appii Forum (Acts 28:14-44.28.15).
a Paul commences his ministry in Rome where, living in quietness, he has clear course to proclaim the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 28:16-44.28.31).
Thus in ‘a’ the section commences at the very centre of idolatry which symbolises with its three temples (depicted in terms of the Temple of Artemis) the political and religious power of Rome, the kingly rule of Rome, which is being undermined by the Good News which has ‘almost spread throughout all Asia’ involving ‘much people’. It begins with uproar and an attempt to prevent the spread of the Good News and reveals the ultimate emptiness of that religion. All they can do is shout slogans including the name of Artemis, but though they shout it long and loud that name has no power and results in a rebuke from their ruler. In the parallel the section ends with quiet effectiveness and the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God being given free rein. This is in reverse to section 1 which commenced with the call to proclaim the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 1:3) and ended with the collapse of the kingly rule of Israel through pride and idolatry (Acts 12:20-44.12.23).
In ‘b’ Paul meets with God’s people for ‘seven days, the divinely perfect period, at the commencement of his journey, and then in the parallel he again meets with the people of God for ‘seven days’ at the end of his journey. Wherever he goes, there are the people of God.
In ‘c’ God reveals that His presence is with Paul by the raising of the dead, and in the parallel His presence by protection from the Snake and the healing of Publius.
In ‘d’ we have a significant parallel between Paul’s warning of the need for the church at Ephesus to avoid spiritual catastrophe through ‘the word of His grace’ and in the parallel ‘d’ the experience of being saved from a great storm through His gracious word, but only if they are obedient to it, which results in deliverance for all.
In ‘e’ and its parallel we have Paul’s voyages, each accompanied by prophecy indicating God’s continuing concern for Paul.
In ‘f’ Paul proves his dedication and that he is free from all charges that he is not faithful to the Law of Moses, and in the parallel Agrippa II confirms him to be free of all guilt.
In ‘g’ Paul give his testimony concerning receiving his commission from the risen Jesus, and in the parallel this testimony is repeated and the commission expanded.
In ‘h’ Paul proclaims the hope of the resurrection before the Sanhedrin, and in the parallel he proclaims the hope of the resurrection before Felix, Agrippa and the gathered Gentiles.
In ‘i’ the Lord tells him that he will testify at Rome, while in the parallel the procurator Festus declares that he will testify at Rome. God’s will is carried out by the Roman power.
In ‘ j’ a determined plan by the Jews to ambush Paul and kill him is thwarted, and in the parallel a further ambush two years later is thwarted. God is continually watching over Paul.
In ‘k’ Paul is sent to Felix, to Caesarea, the chief city of Palestine, and in the parallel spends two years there with access given to the ‘his friends’ so that he can freely minister.
In ‘l’ we have the central point around which all revolves. Paul declares to Felix and the elders of Jerusalem the hope of the resurrection of both the just and the unjust in accordance with the Scriptures.
It will be noted that the central part of this chiasmus is built around the hope of the resurrection which is mentioned three times, first in ‘h’, then centrally in ‘l’ and then again in ‘h’, and these are sandwiched between two descriptions of Paul’s commissioning by the risen Jesus (in ‘g’ and in the parallel ‘g’). The defeat of idolatry and the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God have as their central cause the hope of the resurrection and the revelation of the risen Jesus.
We must now look at the section in more detail.
“I think myself happy, king Agrippa, that I am to make my defence before you this day touching all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, especially because you are expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews. Wherefore I beseech you to hear me patiently.”
Paul begins tactfully and carefully. Yet he states nothing that was not the opinion of all present, for Agrippa had the reputation of being such an expert. He therefore simply acknowledged what all present recognised. No doubt, however, it made the king more friendly disposed towards him. Then, in true oratorical style, he asked for a patient hearing. Paul was not inexperienced in such matters. The hope that he might be overawed by those gathered was not realised. He was far too experienced in awkward situations for that.
The speech begins and ends in a very similar way to his previous testimony before the Jews. This should not surprise us as its purpose is the same. Having said that, however it is different in stress, for in each case when giving his testimony Paul very much has a mind for his audience, and selects from the facts accordingly. Yet in both he begins by laying down the foundations of his Jewishness and ends by proclaiming that he was sent to the Gentiles. We may analyse the speech as follows:
a He commences by declaring himself a good and righteous living Jew (Acts 26:4-44.26.5).
b He then asserts the Jewish hope of the resurrection from the dead (Acts 26:6-44.26.8).
c He describes the way that as a Jew and Pharisee he had persecuted the church with the very connivance of the leaders who are now condemning him, ensuring that Christians were put to death (Acts 26:9-44.26.11).
d He describes how on his way to Damascus the bright light above the brightness of the sun had shone from heaven and how the voice had spoken from heaven and asked him why he was persecuting the speaker.
e He had then asked, ‘Who are you Lord?’ and was told, ‘I am Jesus Whom you are persecuting’ (Acts 26:15).
f At this stage he was given the Lord’s commission for his future, that he was to be a minister and a witness both in respect of his seeing the Lord in His glory, and of the things that would be revealed to him in the future (Acts 26:16).
e He had then been informed that he would be delivered from the hands of those to whom he was being sent (and thus from the kind of persecution that he himself had inflicted on Jesus), being sent by the Lord Jesus (Acts 26:17).
d And that he must turn men from darkness to the light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they might be made holy in Him (Acts 26:18).
c Then he had obediently to the heavenly vision declared this truth throughout Damascus and Judea and among the Gentiles, which was the reason why the Jews had tried to put him to death in the Temple (Acts 26:19-44.26.21).
b Although through God’s help he had escaped from their hands and now proclaimed the truth revealed by the prophets of the suffering and resurrection of the Messiah (Acts 26:22-44.26.23 a).
a Proclaiming light both to the people and to the Gentiles (Acts 26:23 b)
As in the previous testimony he opened in ‘a’ with the declaration of his Jewish godliness and ends in the parallel with taking God’s light (as the Servant of God) to both Jew and Gentile. In ‘b’ he has stressed the truth and hope of the resurrection and in the parallel proclaims the resurrection of Jesus. In ‘c’ he had connived with the leaders of the Jews to put Christians to death, in the parallel he himself had been threatened with imminent death by the Jews. In ‘d’ he had seen the heavenly light above the brightness of the sun, and in the parallel he was to turn men from darkness to that light. In ‘e’ he had asked Who the Lord was and had been told that it was Jesus and that he was persecuting Him in what he was doing, and in the parallel he is being delivered from persecution by the Lord Jesus Who has sent him. In ‘f’ comes his central commission, to be a witness of all that he has seen, and has and will hear.
His Previous Manner of Life
“My manner of life then from my youth up, which was from the beginning among mine own nation and at Jerusalem, know all the Jews, having knowledge of me from the first, if they be willing to testify, that after the most strict sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”
He first declares that all who knew him could testify of the fact that he had lived strictly and honestly as a Pharisee, that is (for the Gentiles among his hearers) as one of the strictest adherents of Judaism. This would impress any Caesarean Jews present, for all would know of the dedication of the Pharisees, and it would assure the Gentiles present that he had lived in a godly fashion. He was making all know the piety of his life up to that point. And the point was that what a man was he mostly remained. His views may change but not his approach to life.
The Hope of the Coming Messiah and of the Resurrection
And now I stand here to be judged for the hope of the promise made of God to our fathers, to which promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. And concerning this hope I am accused by the Jews, O king! Why is it judged incredible with you, if God does raise the dead?”
He then declared the hope which was his, and in which he believed. It was a very Jewish hope. He was being judged ‘for the hope of the promise made of God to our fathers’, that is, the hope of the coming Messiah Who would be raised from the dead (Isaiah 53:10-23.53.12; Psalms 16:8-19.16.11) and Who would raise others from the dead at the last day (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2; John 5:29). This was what all Israel (the twelve tribes) also hoped for, the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection from the dead, ‘Jesus and the resurrection’. Let them therefore be aware that he stands to be judged before them this day, because is a Jew and as a Jew he has a Jewish hope. Paul is not shamming here. He believed that the church was the true Israel, the true Vine (John 15:1-43.15.6), the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), and that they were God’s true people.
Once again it is clear that Paul sees one of the main reasons why he is being so hounded as arising from the fact of his belief in the resurrection as especially revealed in the resurrection of Christ. It is this is that the chief priests are so bigoted against. And yet the promises of God concerning the Messiah and the coming resurrection are what all the people of Israel (the whole twelve tribes - apart from these few) hope to attain to by serving God faithfully. That indeed is why he himself is serving God faithfully! And this is the hope concerning which he is being accused. And then he challenges them as to why it should be thought so incredible that God can raise the dead. After all, if He is the living God, can He not do anything?
By facing them up with Christ and the resurrection he was bringing what was possibly a new message to the Gentiles among the audience, as he had in Athens (Acts 17:18; Acts 17:31-44.17.32), but at the same time he was wooing the supporters of the Pharisees who taught the resurrection from the dead, and linking it with the Messianic hope. Let all recognise that the living God will do this. He will raise men from the dead, and He has demonstrated this by raising Jesus Christ from the dead. For in the end Paul’s purpose for both Jew and Gentile is eventually to introduce them to the fact that Jesus Christ, Whom all the trouble is about, did rise from the dead, and is now enthroned as Lord and Saviour.
His Wrongly Expressed Zeal in Serving the Lord In Which He Had Been Supported By His Accusers.
“I truly thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth, and this I also did in Jerusalem. And I both shut up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, and when they were put to death I gave my vote against them. And punishing them oftentimes in all the synagogues, I strove to make them blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.”
He then described how he himself had been a persecutor of Christians in the earliest days, having seen himself as an enemy of Jesus Christ. And in the course of this he had imprisoned men (like he was now imprisoned) and had received authority from the very chief priests (who are now trying to put him to death), to put others to death. Indeed he had been so incensed against Christians that he had beaten them in the synagogues and had tried to force them, by torture and threats of death for them and their families, to blaspheme the name of Christ, and had even followed them to foreign cities for that purpose. He wanted his listeners to know that, although he had been full of religious zeal, he now recognised that he had been totally in the wrong, as his change of life revealed (just as it would now be wrong for them to punish him in the same way, without any real justification). He also wanted them to recognise what a genuine person he was in whatever he did. Let them also consider what amazing thing would be required to alter the course of his life.
‘Gave my vote against them.’ Not as a member of the Sanhedrin, which he never claims to have been, but as one who in one way or another signified assent to the verdict reached, either by yelling his agreement from the crowd who observed the court, or possibly because he was co-opted onto a committee formed by the Sanhedrin to see to these matters. Possibly it includes when having arrested ‘blasphemers’ they discussed among themselves whether they should kill them discreetly in order to save the courts the trouble. But the point is that he was always ‘for’ their death. Such a man could surely never have changed unless something remarkable had taken place.
His Experience of the Glory of the Lord, and the Lord’s Voice From Heaven
“Whereupon as I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, at midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and those who journeyed with me, and when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad.’ ”
And then it had happened. He describes how as he was travelling, with authority and commission from the highest in the land, an even higher Authority had intervened. He had seen a light from heaven at midday, a light brighter than the burning sun, and it had shone round him, and a voice had spoken to him, and all of those present had been humbled before this light, and they had fallen to the ground. All had had to fall before that glorious light. (This was not mentioned in the previous testimony, but there Paul was emphasising the personal nature of his experience as a Jew, and the Jewishness of the whole experience. He had not wanted to over-emphasise the actual experience as a spectacle. But here before this great crowd of notables he wants to bring out the glory and the worship and submission to the Lord of all, for he wants these people also to fall before Him.
And then the voice had asked why he was persecuting the One Who spoke, and declared that it was a hard thing that he was doing, kicking against the nails in the ox-yoke which were designed to prevent such kicking. For he was a man on whom the Lord had put His yoke, and to struggle in the light of this was foolish. Many of his listeners here had their slaves and their cattle. They would understand exactly what kicking against the goads meant.
Thus a Heavenly Authority had spoken to him, and had informed him that he was taking him for His servant, for His ox, so that he might serve Him. But the leading question then was, Who was this One Who made this demand?
‘In the Hebrew language’, probably meaning in Aramaic. He did not want his audience to think in terms of Greek or Roman gods.
“And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.’ ”
So he had asked for identification, for he could not conceive who this Lord was Who was speaking to him. For was he not himself obeying the voice of the Lord in persecuting the Christians? And the voice had then told him, that he was Jesus Whom He was persecuting. It had been the last thing that he had expected to hear. As far as he was concerned Jesus was just a rotting corpse.
This was then a clear testimony to the resurrection, for Jesus had been dead and buried, and yet here He was speaking from heaven and identifying Himself with Christians on earth. Indeed He was declaring that they were so precious to Him, that those who touched them, touched Him. This was the amazing thing that had changed the course of his life. He had been brought face to face with the risen Jesus Christ, and had had to face up to the fact that He was alive, and had recognised His love for, and unity with, His church, His own people.
His Commission Received From the Lord Himself
“But arise, and stand on your feet, for to this end have I appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness both of the things in which you have seen me, and of the things in which I will appear to you.”
It was then that he had been given his commission. Like Ezekiel of old he was told to stand on his feet (Ezekiel 22:3). For Jesus was in a position of total authority. And Jesus had told him that the reason why He had appeared to him was in order to appoint him as a minister/servant, and as a witness, both of what he had now seen of the Lord in His supernatural glory, and of the things concerning which He would appear to him in the future. He had been chosen by God to be a chosen messenger of Christ.
We should note that before this audience it was necessary to bring out what ‘the Lord’ had said to him. They would not recognise Ananias, but they could not fail to recognise a voice of such authority. When speaking to the Jews, however, he had been at pains to point out that his commission had been given to him by a pious and devout Jew. Here it was to be seen as from the Lord from Heaven Himself. Which then was true? We have no reason to doubt that both were true. While the commissions were similar they were not the same, and there is no reason why he should not have received one when Jesus was speaking to him, and a comparative one when his eyes were opened. Ananias had brought him confirmation of what he had already heard. Like many a testimony, each time Paul gave it, it was selective and concentrated on different aspects of his experience suited to the hearers. But in reality, psychologically the reminder and confirmation by Ananias would be necessary so as to enable him to be sure that he had remembered correctly what he had been told at a time when he was under great trauma. God had given him a second reading.
The Purpose behind The Commission
“Delivering you from the people, and from the Gentiles, to whom I send you, to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive remission of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
He had then learned that his commission was clearly to be one which would involve great dangers. For he would need to be ‘delivered’ from both Jews and Gentiles, (Agrippa and Festus please note), as he fulfilled his task of opening their eyes so that they would see the truth, of turning them from darkness to light, from the darkness of ignorance and unawareness, of sin and of idolatry, to the glorious light of Christ now revealed to him, so that they might receive the light of life, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and so that they might be delivered from the power and tyranny of Satan to God.
This commission is full of Old Testament significance.
· ‘To open their eyes.’ Compare Genesis 3:7 (speaking of eyes being opened to a realisation of sin); 2 Kings 6:17 (where a man’s eyes were opened to see spiritual realities); Isaiah 35:5; Isaiah 35:5 (where in the Messianic age the eyes of the blind were to be opened both physically and spiritually); Isaiah 42:7 (where the Servant of the Lord was to open the blind eyes of His people that they might know the Lord). The idea is thus that the Messianic age is now here so that Paul as the Servant of the Lord, having been made one with His True Servant, is to open men’s eyes spiritually, so that they may be opened to know and experience both their own sinfulness and the glory of the Lord and His ways.
To have the eyes closed is to be in a state of spiritual darkness (Acts 28:27 (Isaiah 6:10); compare Luke 19:42). To have them opened is to be brought into the light.
· ‘To turn them from darkness to light.’ That is to bring them out of the darkness of sin and ignorance to the true God as He is, and to His Coming One. Compare 2 Samuel 22:29; Psalms 18:28 (where the Lord will be the lamp of His servant and lighten his darkness); Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16 (where the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light because of the coming of the Messianic king); Isaiah 42:16 (where God will make darkness light before His true people, that they might walk in the right ways); Micah 7:8 (‘when I sit in darkness the Lord will be a light to me’); Luke 1:79 (‘The Dayspring from on high will visit us, to shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace’); Luke 2:30; Luke 2:32 (Simeon says while holding Jesus in his arms, ‘my eyes have seen your salvation -- a light for the unveiling of the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel’). In each case the Lord comes as a light to His people, turning them from darkness. But the central application would appear to be Isaiah 9:2 (Matthew 4:16), as expanded in Luke 1:79; Luke 2:30-42.2.32. The Messianic light has shone, Jesus the Messiah has come, and men must come out of their darkness and respond to His light (compareJohn 3:19-43.3.21; John 3:19-43.3.21; John 8:12; John 12:46). Compare also John 1:4-43.1.5; John 1:9; John 3:18-43.3.21.
· ‘From the power of Satan to God.’ The main Old Testament reference here is Zechariah 3:0 where Joshua the High Priest was turned from the power of Satan to God by having his filthy garments removed, revealing that his iniquity has been removed, so that he might be clothed by the Lord. This was then closely connected with God’s servant ‘the Branch’ Who would remove the iniquity of the land in one day, ushering in the time of blessing, when all men would be neighbours to each other. Thus being turned from the power of Satan to God indicates having the filth of sin removed and being clothed with righteousness and purity, and as Messiah’s people finding a new oneness in Him. This last ties in with the descriptions of the early church in Acts 2:44-44.2.47; Acts 4:32-44.4.35.
However, by New Testament times the idea of Satan had expanded to the idea of world as being in Satan’s control (Matthew 4:8-40.4.9; Luke 3:6) so that the whole world lay in the arms of the Evil One (1 John 5:19), with the result that in order to be saved men had to be delivered from the tyranny of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). This was the work that Paul was called on to accomplish, to bring men under the Kingly Rule of God. The idea was the same as in Zechariah, deliverance from Satan’s power by coming under God’s kingship, blessing and control; by being clothed in righteousness; and by being delivered from sin. For at the cross Jesus had broken the powers of darkness and had triumphed over them in it (Colossians 2:15 contrast Luke 22:53).
· ‘That they may receive remission (forgiveness) of sins.’ The purpose of men’s eyes being opened to their own sinfulness, and to God’s holiness, and of them being turned from darkness to light, so that they may no longer be led astray, but see in Him the One Who is the truth and the life, the Light of the world, and of being delivered from Satan’s power to God, is so that their sins might be forgiven (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; Acts 5:31; Acts 10:43; Acts 13:38). This forgiveness is the most remarkable thing in the world, for it is not a bare ‘letting off because you could not help it’, but the thorough and complete removal of sin through the cleansing of the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7), a ‘blotting out’ (Acts 3:19; Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22; Psalms 51:9), so that man is longer seen as sinful. His filthy garments having been removed, he is seen as clothed in the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), and is thus able to approach the living God.
· ‘And an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ And it is because their sin has been removed that they will be able to enjoy their inheritance among God’s people, enjoying His blessing of eternal life, both now (John 5:24; 1 John 5:13), as they live as citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) and in the coming age as they share and experience the glory of God (Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:5) at the resurrection of life (John 5:28-43.5.29). And all this because they are ‘made holy’, separated to Him as His own, through faith in Him. Compare Acts 20:32, having ‘ an inheritance among all those who are sanctified’, that is, those made holy in Christ through the cross (Hebrews 2:10-58.2.11).
But all this, while apparent to Paul, and intrinsic in the words, would not be apparent to Paul’s listeners. Rather would they gather that light had come in the Messiah, and that men were to have their eyes opened and respond to it, and so be delivered from Satan and enjoy the certainty of the resurrection.
His Response to the Commission Which Has Resulted in His Present Dilemma .
“Wherefore, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared both to those of Damascus first and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the country of Judaea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple, and attempted to kill me.”
And it was because of this commission and the heavenly vision that accompanied it, that he had gone everywhere proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, and calling on men to have a complete change of mind and turn to God, and do the kind of works that will reveal it. And it was for this reason that the Jews had seized him in the Temple and had tried to kill him. Let those then who heard consider whether what he had done was worthy of death. He had called them to God and to works worthy of repentance. The words here echo those spoken about John the Baptiser (Luke 3:8; Matthew 3:8 compare Luke 6:43-42.6.45).
‘Throughout all the country of Judaea.’ He may have had in mind here the trip he made through Judaea on his way to Jerusalem when he first went there after his conversion, a trip which he no doubt took advantage of by preaching on the way (Acts 9:26), or it may refer to the trip at the time of Acts 15:3-44.15.4 similarly, or even one of which we know nothing. He takes advantage of these here in order to bring out that he had not neglected the Jews in their own land, even though the work amongst them was incidental and not a full scale evangelistic effort, for it demonstrated that he was not against them.
His Ministry Which Has Resulted From the Receipt of His Commission
“Having therefore obtained the help that is from God, I stand, to this day, testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses did say should come, how that the Christ must suffer, and how that he first by the resurrection of the dead should proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles.”
And central to all this is Jesus the Christ and the resurrection (compare Acts 17:18). That is why he has received help from God. It was in order that he might proclaim to both small and great the hope of Israel as revealed by Moses and the prophets, namely that the Messiah must come, and that He must suffer, and that through His resurrection He would proclaim light to both Jews and Gentiles. For it is finally His resurrection that is the proof of what God has done and which therefore brings light to all (compare 1 Corinthians 15:14; 2 Timothy 1:10).
And he wants them to recognise that in teaching these things he is saying nothing other than the prophets have already said. Scriptures he has in mind would included Deuteronomy 18:18, of the coming Prophet; Isaiah 53:10-23.53.12 which could only be fulfilled by the resurrection of the Servant; Isaiah 52:13, where the One Who had been humiliated is exalted high; both halves of Psalms 22:0, expressing humiliation and triumph; the triumph of the Messiah in Psalms 16:8-19.16.11; Psalms 110:1; Moses teaching on the sacrifices which are fulfilled in Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7) and are for the forgiveness of sins; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6 where the Servant is shown to be for the light to the Gentiles.
‘And as he thus made his defence, Festus says with a loud voice, “Paul, you are mad. Your great learning is turning you mad.” ’
This reaction of Festus was probably a reaction to the suggestion that Jesus had been raised from the dead in order to proclaim light to both Jews and Gentiles. Resurrection from the dead in the body was very much a Jewish idea. He could probably have accepted as reasonable the idea that the soul should live on. What he found difficult to stomach was a man coming back from the grave capable of activity through His body. To the Greek the body was evil, a cage to be released from. Thus the idea was madness. It just did not happen. He accepted that Paul was a man knowledgeable in the Scriptures, but argued that that learning was making him mad. The reaction is not so unusual. It has been known for modern Christians to be accused of being ‘touched in the head’, in other words of not thinking as the world thinks.
But the reaction also reveals how carefully Festus had been listening. It is only someone deeply involved with what is being said who reacts like this. His heart had been involved. Unfortunately there is no evidence that it ever went beyond this. Felix had been terrified when he heard Paul. Festus was moved to cry out. Neither could say that they had not had their opportunity.
Paul Is Declared To Have Done Nothing Worthy Of Death and Thus To Have Conformed to the Law, but King Herod Agrippa II Closes His Heart Against His Words (26:24-32).
‘But Paul says, “I am not mad, most excellent Festus, but speak forth words of truth and soberness.”
Paul then replies politely that he is not mad and that his words are both true and within reason. The word used for soberness is often used elsewhere in contrast with the idea of madness, as its opposite. We might translate ‘reasonableness’.
“For the king knows of these things, to whom also I speak freely, for I am persuaded that none of these things is hidden from him, for this has not been done in a corner.”
Indeed, he asserts, King Agrippa knows of these things. He knows that the Scriptures clearly teach the resurrection of the body. And he knows of the claims that Jesus has risen from the dead, and of the evidences that have been put forward (as they have been again today). Thus he speaks freely. For none of these things were done in secret. They were well known by the Jews.
“King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”
Then he turns to challenge King Agrippa himself, and challenges him as to whether he believes the prophets. And he will not take no for an answer. He knows that the King believes the prophets. What then is going to be his response?
‘And Agrippa said to Paul, “With but little persuasion you would fain make me a Christian.” ’
Agrippa was probably both taken aback (he was not expecting to be directly challenged) and amused. He could not believe that Paul really expected to win his response so quickly. And indeed the truth is that he was probably not as aware of the prophetic Scriptures Paul was referring to as Paul thought. He may have been an ‘expert’ compared with a Roman, and even compared with many Jews, but he did not even begin to come up to the level of an educated Pharisee. Furthermore he would be conscious of those who were listening. Yet he does not deny it. Thus he replies (no doubt in embarrassment in the presence of the audience), ‘Do you really expect to persuade me to be a Christian in such a short time and with such little persuasion?’
‘And Paul said, “I would to God, that whether with little or with much, not you only, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these bonds.” ’
Paul’s reply was from the heart. Apart from the chains in which he was standing, he wished that both the King and all who had listened to him, whether with little persuasion or with much, were in the same position as he was, not as prisoners, but as prisoners of Christ.
‘And the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they who sat with them, and when they had withdrawn, they spoke one to another, saying, “This man does nothing worthy of death or of bonds.” ’
Then the king stood up, the indication that the event was now at an end. And following his act the governor and Bernice stood along with him, followed by all the guests, and having left the room all agreed that Paul had done nothing worthy of either death or bonds. All had been gripped by his words, and all were satisfied as to his genuineness.
‘And Agrippa said to Festus, “his man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed to Caesar.” ’
So much so that Agrippa said to Festus that Paul might have been immediately set free, if he had not appealed to Caesar. This verdict by the man who could appoint and remove the High Priests of Jerusalem was clearly seen by Luke as more than counteracting the verdicts of the High Priests themselves. The chief man in Judaism had declared Paul to be innocent. Let all take note.
So now Paul must go under escort to Rome. They could have released him. His appeal was only binding if there were grounds for it, and there were no grounds for an appeal from one who was innocent. But all recognised that political expediency prevented his release. They would not unjustly condemn him, but they dared not release him because of the impact on the Jews. To them he was a political pawn. Indeed had he not been a Roman citizen he would probably reluctantly have been handed over to the Jewish court with a helpless shrug of the shoulders, for them to determine ‘justice’, with a view to keeping the peace ‘for the good of the empire’. So the alternative of releasing him was not an option. It would have brought turmoil. He had become too much of a religious issue in a country gripped by religious ferment for that to be possible. They were responsible politicians.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Acts 26". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent