Acts 26 – Paul’s Defense Before King Agrippa
A. Paul speaks in his hearing before King Agrippa.
1. (1-3) Paul’s introductory words.
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” So Paul stretched out his hand and answered for himself: “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, especially because you are expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews. Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently.”
a. Then Agrippa said to Paul: Paul stood before the man whose great-grandfather had tried to kill Jesus as a baby; his grandfather had John the Baptist beheaded; his father had martyred the first apostle, James. Agrippa’s family history made him unlikely to receive Paul warmly.
b. I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you: Though he was a prisoner, Paul was happy to speak before Agrippa. First, because he was pleased to have the evidence of his case examined closely by the highest officials, but also because he was pleased to preach the gospel to kings and rulers.
i. In the auditorium in the city of Caesarea Paul spoke to Festus, Agrippa, Bernice, commanders of the Roman Legion, and all the prominent men of Caesarea (Acts 25:23). This was a tremendous opportunity, and Paul was certainly happy for that opportunity.
ii. This was a partial fulfillment of what the Lord promised Paul at his conversion: Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. (Acts 9:15)
2. (4-5) Paul’s early life as a faithful Jew and Pharisee.
“My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”
a. My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem: Paul was born in Tarsus, several hundred miles from Jerusalem. Yet at a relatively young age he came to live at Jerusalem.
b. According to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee: Not only was Paul a faithful Jew, but was known as a faithful man among the Jews, living according to the strictest sect of the Pharisees.
3. (6-8) Paul as a faithful, believing Jew confronts Agrippa for his lack of faith.
“And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?”
a. Now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers: Paul made it clear that in both his heart and mind, he remained a faithful Jew. His trust in Jesus was an outgrowth of his trust in the hope of the promise made by God and he argued that for this hope’s sake… I am accused by the Jews.
b. Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead? Since Agrippa was an expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews (Acts 26:3), he should have understood the belief that God could, or would, raise the dead.
i. Why should it be thought incredible that God can do anything? As Jesus said, with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Yet it should be especially easy for Agrippa to believe that God raises the dead, given some clear statements in the Old Testament (such as Job 19:25-27), the nature of God, and the intuitive grasp of the eternal among mankind.
4. (9-11) Paul explains that at one time he persecuted the followers of Jesus.
“Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.”
a. I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth: Before his conversion, Paul believed he must persecute the followers of Jesus. Some he imprisoned (shut up in prison), some he killed (they were put to death), and some he forced to renounce Jesus (compelled them to blaspheme).
i. Paul later speaks of the great regret he had over his prior life as a persecutor (1 Corinthians 15:9, 1 Timothy 1:15). Perhaps the fact that he compelled them to blaspheme weighed especially on his conscience.
b. I cast my vote against them: This clearly implies that Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin, having a vote against Christians who were tried before the Sanhedrin (as Stephen was in Acts 7).
i. If Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin, it also means that at that time he was married, because it was required for all members of the Sanhedrin. Since as a Christian, he was single (1 Corinthians 7:7-9), it may mean that Paul’s wife either died or deserted him when he became a Christian.
c. Being exceedingly enraged against them: Before his conversion, Paul was an angry man. His great rage showed that his relationship with God was not right, despite his diligent religious observance.
5. (12-15) Jesus reveals Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus.
“While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”
a. As I journeyed to Damascus: This is Paul’s fullest account yet of his experience on the Damascus Road. He first noted that he went on his mission of hate and persecution with the authority and commission of the same religious leaders who now accused him.
b. I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun: Paul literally saw the light before he figuratively saw the light. Paul went to Damascus supremely confident that he was right; it took a light brighter than the midday sun to show him he was wrong.
c. Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads: Paul repeats the words from Acts 9:3-6. These words emphasize:
· The personal appeal of Jesus (Saul, Saul).
· The misdirected nature of his persecution (Me).
· The folly of persecuting Jesus (Why).
d. I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting: These words changed Paul’s world. He immediately understood that Jesus was alive, not dead. He understood that Jesus reigned in glory instead of being damned in shame. He realized that in persecuting the followers of Jesus he persecuted Jesus, and in persecuting Jesus he fought against the God of his fathers.
i. Paul had to repent – make a transformation of mind leading to transformed action – instantly. Paul lived a moral life, so he didn’t have to repent of immorality – but of misguided religious zeal and wrong ideas about God.
6. (16-18) Jesus commissions Paul on the road to Damascus.
“‘But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’”
a. But rise and stand on your feet: Jesus called Paul up to his feet. This was not because his humility wasn’t proper, but because he was sent to go somewhere, and he had to rise and stand on his feet if he was going to go anywhere. This was a way to say, “Come now, let’s be going.”
b. For I have appeared to you for this purpose: The religious leaders sent Paul to Damascus for a purpose, with authority and commission. Now he must choose anotherpurpose, the purpose of Jesus.
c. For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness. Paul was commissioned to be a minister, which means he was to be a servant of the things which he had seen, and of the things which Jesus would yet reveal to him. The commission of the Christian is not to make the message or his testimony serve him; he is called to serve the message.
d. To make you a minister and a witness: Paul was also called to be a witness of those things. The commission of the Christian is not to create experience or create the message, but to witness it and experience it.
e. To whom I now send you, to open their eyes: Jesus described the work Paul would do. At that moment on the road to Damascus Paul was blinded by the great light from heaven. His eyes were not yet opened physically, but Jesus sent him to open the eyes of others (both Jews and Gentiles).
i. Jesus then told Paul of four results that would come from the opening of the eyes:
· Being turned from darkness to light.
· Being turned from the power of Satan to God.
· To receive forgiveness of sins.
· To receive an inheritance among God’s people.
f. Among those who are sanctified by faith in Me: This was how Jesus described His followers, His people, His family. They are sanctified (set apart from sin and self), and they are sanctified by faith in Jesus (not by works or spiritual achievement, but by their connection of love and trust to Jesus).
i. The auditorium where Paul spoke was filled with important people and dignitaries (Acts 25:23), but we may fairly imagine Paul speaking these words with special attention on and focus towards Agrippa. This was an invitation to Agrippa to become one of those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus. His eyes could be opened just as Paul’s were on the road to Damascus.
7. (19-20) Paul’s obedience to Jesus.
“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.”
a. I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision: Given the experience Paul just described, this was logical. No one should disobey the God who revealed Himself so powerfully. Paul made a strong case before Agrippa and all there as to why he preached and lived the way he did.
b. That they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance: This is a neat summary of Paul’s message. Paul sets repent and turn to God close, understanding them as two aspects of the same action. One can’t turn to God unless they do repent – and actions will confirm true repentance (do works befitting repentance).
8. (21-23) Paul summarizes his defense.
“For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come; that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”
a. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me: Paul plainly states the truth of the case. It was only because he sought to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles that the Jews seized him and tried to kill him. It wasn’t because he was a political revolutionary or because he offended the sanctity of the temple.
b. Having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great: During his more than two years of confinement, Paul did receive help from God. Yet to that point it wasn’t help that released him; it was help that gave him opportunity and ability to speak to small and great about who Jesus is and what Jesus had done.
i. This seems to have been fine with Paul. He was more interested in telling people about Jesus than in his personal freedom.
c. Saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come: Paul also stated his unswerving commitment to the same gospel, because that gospel was based solidly on the Word of God (the prophets and Moses) not on the traditions or spiritual experiences of man.
d. That the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles. These were the three main points to Paul’s preaching: Jesus’ death, His resurrection, and the preaching of this good news to the whole world, without respect to either Jew or Gentile.
B. The response from Festus and Agrippa.
1. (24-26) Festus asserts Paul is mad, and Paul responds.
Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!” But he said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner.”
a. Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad! Paul was obviously an intelligent man, a man of much learning. Still, at this moment Festus thought he was crazy, saying this with a loud voice among all present. Given Paul’s conduct at this hearing, there are some reasons someone like Festus might think Paul was mad.
· Though a prisoner in chains, he said he was happy (Acts 26:2).
· He insisted that God could raise the dead (Acts 26:8, 23).
· He experienced a heavenly vision and changed his life because of it (Acts 26:14-19).
· He was more concerned about proclaiming Jesus than his personal freedom (Acts 26:22).
· He believed in a message of hope and redemption for all humanity, not only Jews or only Gentiles (Acts 26:23).
i. The gospel, when properly proclaimed and lived, will make some people think we are crazy. Paul put it this way: the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18).
b. I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason: Yet, Paul knew that not only his gospel was true, it was also reasonable. God may sometimes act above reason, but never contrary to reason.
c. For the king… knows these things… none of these things escapes his attention: Festus recently came from Rome, and perhaps didn’t know much of what had happened with Jesus and the early Christian movement. Yet King Agrippa did know, and Paul appealed to his knowledge of the open, historical events that were the foundation for Christian faith – things that were not done in a corner.
i. Paul’s message was characterized by truth and reason, because it was based on historical events (such as the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus), things which were not done in a corner, but open to examination.
ii. The historical foundation of Paul’s message made it true. As for reason, it simply isn’t reasonable to ignore or deny things that actually happen. Who Jesus is and what He did must be accounted for.
2. (27-29) Agrippa is almost persuaded to become a Christian.
“King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.”
a. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe: Paul used Festus’ outburst to appeal to what King Agrippa knew (Acts 26:26). Then Paul brought the challenge directly to Agrippa, asking him: “do you believe?”
i. Paul didn’t first ask Agrippa if he believed on Jesus; he asked, “Do you believe the prophets?” Paul did this because he knew that if Agrippa did believe the prophets, truth and reason would lead him to believe upon Jesus. He wanted to connect what Agrippa already believed to what he should believe.
ii. With this, Paul brought the challenge and a point of decision directly to Agrippa. This is a good and often necessary part of the presentation of the message of who Jesus is and what He did for us – calling the listener to decision.
b. You almost persuade me to become a Christian: When Paul called Agrippa to faith in the prophets and in Jesus, Agrippa refused to believe and to say he believed. Paul almost persuaded him.
i. The literal idea behind almost is “in a little, you seek to persuade me to act a Christian.” The meaning of little could be “in a short time” or it could mean “there is little distance between me and Christianity.” However close Agrippa was to becoming a believer, it wasn’t close enough.
ii. If the sense is “almost,” Agrippa’s reply is especially sorry. Of course, almost being a Christian means that you almost have eternal life and will almost be delivered from the judgment of hell; but almost isn’t enough.
iii. Far from being admired for how far he did come, Agrippa condemned himself even more by admitting how close he has come to the gospel and how clearly he has understood it, while still rejecting it.
c. To become a Christian: We may say that Paul recounted the words of Jesus on the road to Damascus, saying what a Christian is (Acts 26:18). Agrippa didn’t want it.
· He didn’t want to turn from darkness to light.
· He didn’t want to turn from the power of Satan to the power of God.
· He didn’t want to receive forgiveness of sins.
· He didn’t want a place among God’s people.
· He didn’t want to become one of those set apart by faith in Jesus.
d. You almost persuade me to become a Christian: What stopped Agrippa short? Why did he only almost become a Christian?
i. Why was Agrippa only almost persuaded? One answer was the person sitting next to him – Bernice. She was a sinful, immoral companion, and he may have rightly realized that becoming a Christian would mean losing her and his other immoral friends. He was unwilling to make that sacrifice.
ii. On the other side of Agrippa sat Festus – a man’s man, a no-nonsense man, a man who thought Paul was crazy. Perhaps Agrippa thought, “I can’t become a Christian. Festus will think I’m also crazy.” Because he wanted the praise of men, he rejected Jesus. “Alas, how many are influenced by fear of men! Oh, you cowards, will you be damned out of fear? Will you sooner let your souls perish than show your manhood by telling a poor mortal that you defy his scorn? Dare you not follow the right though all men in the world should call you to do the wrong? Oh, you cowards! You cowards! How you deserve to perish who have not enough soul to call your souls your own, but cower down before the sneers of fools!” (Spurgeon)
iii. In front of Agrippa was Paul – a strong man, a noble man, and man of wisdom and character – but a man in chains. Did Agrippa say, “Well, if I became a Christian, I might end up in chains like Paul; or at the least, I would have to associate with him. We can’t have that – I’m an important person.” “O that men were wise enough to see that suffering for Christ is honour, that loss for truth is gain, that the truest dignity rests in wearing the chain upon the arm rather than endure the chain upon the soul.” (Spurgeon)
e. I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains: Paul declared his continued trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He did not retreat from his stand one inch, despite his long imprisonment for the sake of the gospel.
f. Except for these chains: With a dramatic gesture, Paul showed that even though he was in chains, he had more freedom in Jesus than any of the royalty listening had.
3. (30-32) Agrippa admits Paul’s innocence, yet forwards him to Caesar.
When he had said these things, the king stood up, as well as the governor and Bernice and those who sat with them; and when they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, “This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains.” Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
a. When he had said these things, the king stood up: Paul’s direct challenge was too much for Agrippa, Festus, and the others on the platform. It was getting too close, to personal, and they felt they had to end it quickly by standing up and ending the proceedings.
b. This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains: Agrippa also saw there was no evidence offered to support the accusations against Paul, and he respected Paul’s great integrity even while rejecting Paul’s gospel. So, Agrippa and the others pronounced a “not guilty” verdict.
c. This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar: Yet, Paul could not be set free, because he had appealed to Caesar. It seems that once an appeal was made, it could not be retracted.
d. Appealed to Caesar: It seems that Paul might have been set free here if he had not appealed to Caesar. So, was Paul’s appeal to Caesar a good thing or a bad thing?
i. Some people believe it was a bad thing, and that Paul was trusting in the power of the Roman legal system instead of in the power of God. They say that Paul might have been set free by Agrippa if he had not appealed to Caesar.
ii. However, we should see the fulfillment of God’s plan through all these events. By his appeal to Caesar, Paul will have the opportunity to preach to the Roman Emperor the way he had to Felix, Festus, and Agrippa, thus fulfilling the promise that Paul would bear My name before…kings (Acts 9:15).
iii. The appeal to Caesar, and his subsequent journey to Rome at the Empire’s expense, were also the fulfillment of the Holy Spirit’s purpose that Paul should go to Rome (Acts 19:21, 23:11). This also answered a long-standing desire in the heart of Paul to visit the already present Christian community there (Romans 1:9-13).
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission