ACTS CHAPTER 26.
The Hearing before Agrippa. Acts 26, 1-32.
Paulís introduction to his speech: V.1. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand and answered for himself: v.2. I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews, v.3. especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews; wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently. Although Festus was the procurator of the province, yet he courteously yielded to Agrippa, as his guest and as king, the rank of presiding officer. And Agrippaís opening words show that he was just as careful in observing the demands of politeness, for he does not speak in his own name in addressing Paul, but in the third person: It is permitted thee to speak for thyself. Here with Paul was given the floor and the privilege to present his case as he saw fit. And Paul, in opening his speech, employed the gesture which is represented in so many ancient statues. Throwing his cloak, or mantle, off his right shoulder, to be held securely by the left hand, he stretched out his right hand in a gesture commanding attention. In his defense he addressed himself first to King Agrippa directly. He considered himself fortunate because of the fact that he was about to make his defense be. fore this king concerning all those things of which he was accused of the Jews. There was no trace of self-consciousness and of fear in the appearance of Paul. ďHad he been conscious of guilt, he should have feared being tried in the presence of one who knew all the facts; but this is a mark of a clear conscience, not to shrink from a judge who has an accurate knowledge of the circumstances, hut even to rejoice and to call himself happy.Ē (Chrysostomus.) And Paul rejoiced all the more since he knew that Agrippa, having been in charge of the government of the Temple for many years, was well versed regarding all the customs, the usages, as well as the questions, the theoretical discussions which were prevalent among Jews everywhere. Agrippa, like all the Idumeans since the time of Herod the Great, had been brought up in the Jewish faith, and for that reason had been given oversight of religious affairs in Jerusalem, although the city otherwise was under the Roman procurator. For this reason Paul asked the king to listen to him patiently, with all magnanimity. Paulís manner of address was not that of fawning servility, but was the expression of genuine pleasure, due in part probably to the hope of gaining Agrippa for the cause of Christ. The speech of the Christians should at all times he calculated, if not to gain converts for Christ directly, at least not to harm His cause in any way.
Paulís early life and belief: V.4. My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; v.5. which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. V.6. and now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers, v.7. unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. for which hopeís sake, King Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. V.8. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead? Early in life, at the beginning of the period of his youth, Paul had come to Jerusalem. And his manner of living, the habits of his life, how he comported himself in every way: all this, since it had taken place from the very beginning of his formal education, from his early youth, in the midst of his nation and in Jerusalem itself, all the Jews knew and were familiar with, for they knew him before and from the beginning. If they would but choose to testify, they might say the truth, that in accordance with the most severe sect, the strictest body of men in their own midst (Paul here includes himself and Agrippa with the Jews), he lived the principles. followed the religious cult, as a Pharisee. The point which the apostle here makes is that he was most unlikely to violate the Jewish feeling, for their customs were inbred and ingrained in him. and according to the strictest interpretation at that. And now, with his whole life before the people like an open book and with his thorough Jewish training as an argument for his orthodoxy. he stood condemned on account of his hope in the promise made by God to the fathers. For that he was on trial in the Roman court, for that he was condemned by the Jews. And yet the twelve tribes of Israel together hoped to gain, to attain to, this same promise by a service in all intentness both by night and by day; regarding which hope he was being accused by Jews. as he emphatically declares to the king. That was to Paul the strangest feature of the whole affair, that Jews could be so blind as to deny their own teaching and belief in the attempt to do him harm. It causes him to cry out: Why is it considered incredible by you that God should raise the dead? Why should they oppose it with all the force of unbelief if God raises the dead? This puzzled question might well be repeated in our days concerning this greatest truth of revealed religion, the fact upon which the Christian religion is based. The opposition of the unbelievers results in their losing the most glorious assurance that may come to man, and we cannot see their reason for such obstinacy.
Paulís earlier position toward Jesus: V.9. I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. V.10. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem; and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. V.11. And I punished them oft in every synagog, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities. Paul here makes a frank confession of his enmity toward Christ and his believers, in order to bring out all the more strikingly the grace he had received in his conversion. He himself in those days had been of the opinion, he had held firmly to the conviction: it was an obligation which was the result of his willful self-delusion that he must do much against, in opposition to, the name of Jesus of Nazareth. The name of Jesus was so hateful to him that he gave himself wholly to the persecution of those that professed belief in Christianity. In those days his zeal against Christ and the Church had not been one whit behind that of the entire family of Herod: he considered it his most important duty in life to prevent the confession of the name of Jesus, and to enforce this idea with persecution and slaughter. This he did in Jerusalem, being instrumental in shutting up many of the saints in prison, holding authority to that effect from the high priests. Note that Paul here deliberately calls those people saints whom he formerly had persecuted with such unquenchable hatred. And when the believers were put to death, he cast his vote in favor of the execution, either as a member of the Sanhedrin. as some think, or he spoke in favor of the measure, throwing all his persuasive abilities into the balance against the hated name. Neither was his bloodthirstiness satisfied with the executions which he succeeded in bringing about, but in all the synagogs he punished them often, being careful not to overlook a single one, and he forced them to blaspheme. not only to deny and renounce, but even to execrate Christ, in order to save their lives; he made the attempt again and again: and it is only too probable that he had success at least in some cases. His hatred finally drove him to extreme madness, to insanity, so far as the Christians were concerned, the very thought of the extension of the faith drove him wild with fury, and he continued his persecutions of them also into other cities outside of Jerusalem. He had good reasons, therefore, to describe himself as a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious. 1 Tim. 1, 13. His example is that of a man whom the enmity toward Christ will give no rest, neither by day nor by night, who feels compelled to hurt the course of the Gospel by every means at his disposal. Such people Christians must expect to meet in the performance of their duty, and the fact dare not cause them too much anxiety.
Paul's recital of his miraculous conversion: V.12. Whereupon, as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, v.13. at midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. V.14. and when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue. Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. V.15. And I said, Who art Thou, Lord? and he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. V.16. But rise and stand upon thy feet; for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; v.17. delivering thee from the people and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, v.18. to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me. Paul here relates the story of his conversion substantially as it has been told by Luke, chap. 9, and by himself in his speech before the Jews, chap. 22. It was on this errand, on this business of enmity against Jesus, that he was traveling to Damascus, being armed with the authority and power of the high priests themselves; he was acting as their commissioner, as their authorized representative, and was given practically free rein to show his hatred in any way he mould choose. in the middle of the day, in the clear bright light of full day, he had seen a light from heaven, brighter and more dazzling than the sun that shone round about him and those that traveled with him, that enveloped them all in it s blinding brilliance. And when they had all fallen to the ground, Paul first and his companions also after a few moments of dumb and rigid astonishment, he had heard a voice speaking to him in the Hebrew, that is, the Aramaic dialect, asking him why he was persecuting Him, and telling him that it would be hard for him to kick against the goads. In the Orient the ox-goad consisted, as it does to-day, of a long stick, into the end of which a sharp iron point was fixed. Paul was like an unruly ox, kicking when goaded, and thereby adding to his own pains while he persecuted the Church, for the worse his mad enmity became, the less satisfaction did he get out of the gratification of his lust for the blood of Christians. It was a foolish and useless effort for him to try to persecute Jesus in His followers, ďan effort which only inflicted deeper wounds upon himself, an effort as idle as that described by the Psalmist, Ps. 2, 3. 4.Ē Upon Paulís anxious and fearful question as to the exact identity of the Lord that was speaking to him, he had received the answer that it was Jesus whom he was persecuting. The Lord had then given him the command to get up and to stand on his feet, since He had appeared to him for this purpose, to select and thus employ him as a man whom the hand of God had torn out of the midst of dangers threatening his soul to be His servant and witness of the things which he had seen, as well as of the things which the Lord still intended to show him. This the Lord had further explained by telling him that He was lifting him out, rescuing him, from the midst of his own people as well as from the Gentiles. And to the latter the Lord was now sending His apostle, to open their eyes, which were blind in spiritual matters, to turn them away from the darkness of their spiritual blindness and unbelief to the light of the Gospel and from the power of Satan, in whose dominion they were kept by nature, to God, their Savior, to receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance in the midst of those that are sanctified by faith in the Redeemer. Thus the Scriptures in this passage call natural man, so far as spiritual and divine matters are concerned, nothing but darkness. 91) The way of salvation, the method by which God leads sinners to His mercy, is here plainly and explicitly taught. Through the preaching of the Gospel the eyes of the sinners are opened that they might know Christ, their Savior; through the Gospel the sinners are converted that they turn away from darkness, from the service of sin, from the power of Satan, to God and to the light and salvation in Christ, so that all heathenism and superstition is left behind, and nothing but the knowledge, worship, and service of the blessed Redeemer engages their attention. Note that the faith which has worked trust in the salvation of Jesus incidentally consecrates the believer, sets him apart, sanctifies him for the service of the Lord.
How Paul had carried out the work of his call: V.19. Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision; v.20. but showed first unto them of Damascus and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. V.21. For these causes the Jews caught me in the Temple, and went about to kill me. V.22. Having, therefore, obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: v.23. that Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people and to the Gentiles. The miraculous vision, as well as the words of Christ in extending to him this call as apostle, had decided Paul; upon the strength of all this he had not been disobedient to the heavenly vision, the Lordís merciful power had wrought the change in his heart, making him willing and eager to become the ambassador of the Most High, of the exalted Christ. He had begun in Damascus, preaching Christ that He is the Son of God, chap. 9, 20. He had spoken boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus in Jerusalem, chap. 9, 29, and throughout all the coasts of Judea. Finally, he had made at least three missionary journeys into the heathen world. And everywhere his message had been the same; it had been the message of the Baptist, it, had been the message of Jesus, namely, that men should repent and turn to God. First comes the acknowledgment of sin and of its damnableness; then the sinner despairs of himself and all his o m righteousness and turns to God for help and salvation as he hears the glorious news of the Gospel; and then come the works which are worthy of repentance, which measure up to the standard of actual repentance, with nothing of sham or deceit about them, but embodying the sincere effort of the Christian to lire worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For these causes, for the fact that Paul proclaimed the Gospel in all it s glorious purity, the Jews had seized him in the Temple and had tried violently to put him to death. All the other points which they had alleged were partly pure fiction and partly perversion of truth, in order to harm the course of the Gospel. The identical thing happens in our days whenever the enemies of Christ invent excuses to suppress the preaching of the truth. But Paul had been fortunate in obtaining help from God, and thus stood firm to that day, bearing witness before the small and the great alike, making no distinction of persons, saying nothing but that which the prophets had, literally, spoken that it was destined to happen, and also Moses. The message of the New Testament does not differ essentially from that of the Old Testament; the believers of the time before Christ had the prophecies of the salvation to come in the Messiah; the believers since His time look back to, and trust in, the salvation as it has been gained by Christ's birth, life, death, and resurrection. What Moses and the prophets preached, the great central doctrine of Christianity, salvation through faith in Jesus, that is the subject of Christian preaching to the end of time: that Christ was to suffer by the will and counsel of God, that He, as the first to rise from the dead, was destined as a light to proclaim the blessings, to bring the message of light to all people, even the heathen, to Jews and Gentiles alike. As usual, Paul insisted upon it that the identity of the Messiah with Jesus of Nazareth was proved not only by His suffering, as foretold, but also by His resurrection, and by the power which the message of this resurrection was exerting in bringing the blessings of spiritual and eternal light to the hearts of men.
Paul's foremost wish: V.24. And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thy self; much learning doth make thee mad. V.25. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. V.26. For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. V.27. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. V.28. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. V.29. And Paul said, I would to God that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day were both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds. Paul had spoken in all simplicity and truthfulness, without attempt at oratorical effect, only one of his sentences having the force of a rhetorical period. But his seriousness, and the conviction with which he presented his case, could not remain without influence upon his hearers. And almost involuntarily Festus, carried away with the force of the argumentation, interrupted Paul with the exclamation: Thou art beside thyself. The astounding announcements which Paul had made concerning the resurrection of Jesus and of the power of His Word caused the heathen governor to surmise that he must be insane, that he could not be conscious of what he was saying. Festus believed that much wisdom, great learning, had carried the prisoner away to temporary insanity. He may have referred only to the great learning which Paul had just exhibited, or he may have inferred as much from the great number of books which Paul had with him. All this, he believed, had driven the prisoner to madness. But Paul, addressing him as the honorable Festus, Your Excellency, calmly told him that he was not mad, but was uttering words of truth and sobriety. In the judgment of the blind children of this world to this day the faith of the Christians and their calm cheerfulness is considered madness and evidence that they cannot possibly be in their right mind. But they that talk thus have not the faintest idea of what Christianity is, nor of its calm, convincing truth. For the confirmation of this fact Paul called upon King Agrippa, stating that the latter had the proper understanding regarding these things, to whom therefore also Paul had spoken with such cheerful openness. Agrippa knew that Paulís words were sober and sound statements, and that they were based upon facts. A Christian the king was not, but for the truth of history he would surely vouch, and the apostle was fully persuaded that none of these matters were hidden from him, for the entire movement, the establishment of the Christian religion, had not been done in a corner, hidden away from the eyes of the world, but it was a movement of which every one in the entire country might have known and must have heard. Paul argued here as Jesus had done before him, John 18, 21, referring to the fact that the Gospel-message had been proclaimed without the slightest attempt at secrecy. And Paulís boldness: which he had exhibited throughout his address, now also causes him to turn frankly and address himself to Ring Agrippa with the direct question: Believest thou. King Agrippa: the prophets? I know that thou believest. This question was intended further to substantiate the words of Paul; for even if Festus could not consider his words as statements of truth and soberness. Agrippa could not be indifferent to them, since they were based upon the prophets, and Agrippa, as a Jew, at least nominally accepted the Old Testament books and based his belief upon them. It was a forcible appeal, and one which should have had its effect upon the heart and mind of the king. However, Agrippa would not permit himself to yield, but retorted: With but little persuasion thou wouldst fain make me a Christian? He wanted to indicate whether in irony or in cold indifference, that he could not be made a Christian so easily as all that. He wanted a stronger argument than a mere appeal to his faith to induce him to become a Christian. The sarcastic tone of the answer, however, did not intimidate Paul. With the same cheerful boldness as before he states his honest wish: that he hoped to God, whether by little or by much, not only Agrippa, but all those that heard him that day, might become Christians like himself, without, however, being obliged to wear the disgraceful marks of imprisonment, the fetters which confined him. So the apostle, who preached of love in such touching terms, 1 Cor. 13, could not easily be provoked, and took no account of evil. in the same way all servants of the Lord must be careful to be neither dismayed nor provoked by the veiled and open taunts of the unbelievers, but continue to testify of Christ and issue invitations to all men to accept the message of the Gospel and become Christians.
The end of the hearing: V.30. and when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them; v.31. and when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds. V.32. Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty if he had not appealed unto Caesar. When Paul had made his last appeal, the king arose, this being the signal that he wished the hearing closed, and the governor, Bernice, and the rest of the invited. company that had sat beside them. Having left the hall, they retired to another chamber to exchange their ideas. And they all agreed in saying that this man, Paul, was doing nothing that merited either death or imprisonment. This much the open and fearless speech of Paul at least had shown them. And while Agrippa would not permit himself to be persuaded in favor of Christianity, he at least felt himself obliged to state to Festus that this man might well be released if he had not appealed to Caesar. But the appeal had now been made and accepted, and Paul must be sent to Rome. Very likely this opinion as rendered by Agrippa influenced the letter which Festus addressed to the imperial court in this matter and may thus account for the treatment of Paul upon his arrival at the capital. Note: In all these facts, as here presented, the guiding hand of the exalted Christ, the Head of His Church, is plainly seen: He wanted Paul to get to Rome, but He also protected him against all harm.
Summary. Paul makes his speech of defense at the hearing before King Agrippa, which moves the latter to declare that he is innocent of any crime, and that only his appeal caused his being sent to Rome.