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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Acts 26

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Paul's Defense Before King Agrippa

A. Paul on trial before King Agrippa (continued).

1. (Act 26:1-3) 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: Remember Paul stands 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. This was a man whose 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: Paul is happy to speak before Agrippa. First, because he is pleased to have the evidence of his case examined closely by the highest officials, but also because he is pleased to preach the gospel to kings!

i. 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. (Act 26:4-11) Paul describes his life before his conversion.

"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. 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? 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. According to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee: Paul states his credentials as a faithful Jew before his conversion to Jesus Christ, and reminds Agrippa that he is still walking in faithful fulfillment of the promise made by God to our fathers.

b. Agrippa was an expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews (Acts 26:3), yet he did not believe that God could, or would, raise the dead. Paul boldly exposes the foolishness of limiting God this way, by saying to Agrippa: Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?

i. Why should it be thought incredible that God can do anything? We must stop putting God in a small box, and realize that the only thing that limits God is His own Word, because He will always honor His word (Psalm 138:2).

c. I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth: Paul also described his hatred of Christianity before his conversion, and his energetic persecution of Christians.

d. I cast my vote against them clearly implies that Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin, having a vote against Christians who were tried before the Sanhedrin (like Stephen 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.

3. (Act 26:12-20) Paul describes his conversion and its aftermath.

"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. 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.' 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. As I journeyed to Damascus: Here Paul gives the fullest account yet of his experience on the Damascus road, detailing the fact that he was made aware of his commission to the Gentiles even at that time.

i. The commission was clear: For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness. Paul was commissioned to be two things. First, 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. Second, Paul was 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.

ii. Right now, as he stands before Agrippa, Paul is being obedient to this command of Jesus. Paul knew the significance of telling others what Jesus had done in his life. He knew how to present the gospel not only in words, but also by his life story, presenting the truth that once he was lost, now he was found

b. 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!

c. That they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance: This is a neat summary of Paul's message.

4. (Act 26:21-23) 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 is 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. Saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come: Paul also states his unswerving commitment to the same gospel, because that gospel is based solidly on the Word of God (the prophets and Moses) not on the traditions or spiritual experiences of man.

c. 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, resurrection, and the preaching of gospel to the whole world, without respect to either Jew or Gentile.

B. Agrippa's response to Paul's defense.

1. (Act 26:24-26) Agrippa 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! The gospel, when properly presented, 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 knows that not only is his gospel true, it is also reasonable. Our God may sometimes act above reason, but never contrary to reason.

c. Paul's gospel 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.

2. (Act 26:27-29) 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 brought the challenge home with a shot to the heart: do you believe?

i. Any faithful presentation of the gospel knows when it is appropriate to press the challenge home, and how to press it. Paul knew that this was the time.

b. You almost persuade me to become a Christian: 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".

i. 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.

ii. 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: What in fact is a Christian? What had Agrippa almost become? Acts 26:18 describes five things that happened t Paul when he became a Christian. A Christian has their eyes opened. A Christian has turned from darkness to light. A Christian has turned from the power of Satan to God. A Christian has received forgiveness of sins. And a Christian has an inheritance among those set apart to God.

d. What stopped Agrippa short? Why did he only almost become a Christian?

i. Why was Agrippa only almost persuaded? One answer is 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 crazy too!" And 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 through 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 is Paul - a strong man, a noble man, and man of wisdom and character - but a man in chains. Does Agrippa say, "Well, if I became a Christian, I might end up in chains like Paul! Or at 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 declares his continued trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has not retreated 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 shows that even though he is in chains, he has more freedom in Jesus than any of the royalty listening have.

i. "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)

3. (Act 26:30-32) 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. This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains: Agrippa also sees there is no evidence offered to support the accusations against Paul, and he respects Paul's great integrity, even while rejecting Paul's gospel. So, Agrippa and the others pronounced a "not guilty" verdict.

b. This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar: Yet, Paul cannot be set free, because he has appealed to Caesar. It seems that once an appeal was made, it could not be retracted.

c. 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 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).

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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