Acts: Chapter 26
Let’s begin by reading (Acts 26:1-11).
(Verses 1-3) “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself: (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: (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.”
Continuing and recapping from Acts Ch. 25, which flows into this chapter (chapters and verses are later man-made additions to the Bible), Paul is about to speak in an “auditorium” filled with “commanders and prominent men of the city” (Acts 25:23), including Governor Festus, King Agrippa II, and his sister Bernice. Festus has called this meeting (it is not a trial) for two main reasons: 1. Agrippa had heard about Paul, and wanted to meet him (Acts 25:22), 2. Paul had appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11), and Festus was required to send a letter with Paul to Caesar explaining the charges against him. Festus was unsure of what to say in the letter, so he (as a Gentile) was hoping that Agrippa, as an “expert in Jewish customs and questions” could “examine” Paul, and help him understand what Jewish laws Paul was breaking (Acts 25:26-27).
“Agrippa said to Paul, Thou art permitted to speak” – Agrippa, being a “king,” had a higher position than Festus, who was a “governor.” Therefore, it appears that Agrippa was running this meeting. (More details on Agrippa in the previous study: Acts 25:13.) Josephus, in (Antiquities xx. Ch. 1. verse 3), says Agrippa had “authority over the temple, and the money of the sacred treasure, and the choice of the High Priests.”
“Paul stretched forth his hand” – Stretching forth his hand, which was likely chained (v. 29)(Acts 12:6), Paul may have been doing something similar to what was done in (Acts 12:17, 13:16, 19:33, 21:40 – Gr. kataseio), where a signal was made with the hand to ask for quiet, and the people’s attention.
(From the “Barnes Commentary”) – “This was the usual posture of orators or public speakers. The ancient statues are commonly made in this way, with the right hand extended. The dress of the ancients favored this. The long and loose robe, or outer garment, was fastened usually with a hook or clasp on the right shoulder, and thus left the arm at full liberty.”
“I think myself happy… because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews” – (From the “Expositor’s Greek Testament”) – “he (Paul) 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, but even to rejoice and to call himself happy,” Chrys., Hom., lii.”
(Verses 4-5)(NASB) “So then, all Jews know my way of life since my youth, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and in Jerusalem, (5) since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.”
“from the beginning was spent among my own nation and in Jerusalem” – As we first mentioned in (Acts 22:3), “While born in Tarsus, Paul must have moved away from Tarsus to Jerusalem at a fairly early age, perhaps to be taught at the feet of Gamaliel.”
“all Jews know my way of life since my youth” – (From the “Barnes Commentary”) – “It is not at all improbable that Paul was distinguished in the school of Gamaliel for zeal in the Jewish religion. The fact that he was early entrusted with a commission against the Christians Acts 9 shows that he was known.”
“If they are willing to testify” – (From the “Benson Commentary”) – “But they would not, for they well knew what weight his former life must add to his present testimony.” This phrase would seem to indicate that there were Jews in the present gathering who knew what Paul was like before he became a Christian.
“I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion” – A few parallel verses:
(Gal 1:14)(NKJV) “And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”
(Phil 3:4-6) “If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: (5) Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; (6) Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”
Can you explain the meaning of anything in these parallel verses?
(Verses 6-8) “And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God, unto our fathers: (7) Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. (8) Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?”
“hope of the promise made of God, unto our fathers” – (From the “Believer’s Bible Commentary”) – “The flow of Paul’s argument here seems to be as follows: In the OT God made various covenants with the leaders of Israel, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Solomon. The principal covenant had to do with the promise of the Messiah, His coming to deliver the nation of Israel and to reign over the earth. The patriarchs of the OT died without seeing the fulfillment of this promise. Does that mean that God would not carry out the terms of the covenants? He would most assuredly do so! But how could He do it when the fathers were already dead? The answer is, “By raising them from the dead.” Thus, in a very direct way, the apostle links the promises made to the OT saints with the resurrection of the dead.”
And, (From the “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible”) – “Paul was not being judged because he had done something wrong. He had not turned against his own Jewish heritage. Instead he fervently believed in the promises God made to the nation Israel: the promise of a coming Messiah and the reestablishment of the kingdom of God. Paul did not reject the hope of salvation for Israel. Instead he saw that hope fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead confirmed to Paul that all believers would be raised from the dead to enjoy the blessings of the promised kingdom of God.”
Here are some Old Testament verses which prophesied the coming Messiah: (Gen 3:15)(Gen 12:2-3)(Gen 49:8-12)(Num 24:15-19)(Deut 18:15-18)(Ps 78:2)(Isa 7:14)(Isa 53:3)(Mic 5:2)(Zech 9:9).
As we previously mentioned in (Acts 24:15), quoting from the (“MacArthur Study Bible”) “The great hope of the Jewish people was the resurrection (Job 19:25-27; Dan. 12:2).” And, John Gill said, “The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is one of their (the Jews) thirteen articles of faith, and is a fundamental one, which he that does not believe, cannot be said to be of the Jewish religion.”
(Verses 9-11) “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. (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. (11) And I punished them oft(en) in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange (foreign) cities.”
“that I ought to do” – (From the “Barnes Commentary”) – “That I was bound, or that it was a duty incumbent on me. – “I thought that I owed it to my country, to my religion, and to my God, to oppose in every manner the claims of Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah.” We here see that Paul was conscientious, and that a man may be conscientious even when engaged in enormous wickedness. It is no evidence that one is right because he is conscientious. No small part of the crimes against human laws, and almost all the cruel persecutions against Christians, have been carried on under the plea of conscience. Paul here refers to his conscientiousness in persecution to show that it was no slight matter which could have changed his course.”
“saints” – All believers in Christ are called “saints” (Acts 9:32,41)(Rom 1:7)(Rom 8:27)(Rom 12:13)(1 Cor 6:1-2)(Eph 4:11-12)(Heb 6:10). (***Note: The word “saints” [plural] is used 60 times in the NT, but “saint” [singular] is used only once.)
“I shut up in prison” – (see: Acts 8:3, Acts 22:19)
“I gave my voice” (“I cast my vote” – NKJV) (From the “MacArthur Study Bible”) – “Lit. “I threw my pebble” – a reference to the ancient custom of recording votes by means of colored pebbles. This verse may also indicate that Paul had once been a member of the Sanhedrin.”
Sharing another view, the “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible” says, “Some have concluded that Paul must have been a member of the Sanhedrin at some time, since he mentions casting a vote. However, Paul was probably too young to belong to such a body of aged men or elders. Paul may have been the Sanhedrin’s chief prosecutor, urging a verdict of guilty against those Christians he hunted down in the course of his campaign of persecution.”
***Note: There is nowhere in Scripture which says that “Paul” himself was “killing Christians.”
“punished… in every synagogue” – Jesus prophesied that this would happen: (Mt 10:17)(Mt 23:34)(Mk 13:9)(Lk 12:11)(Lk 21:12).
“being exceedingly mad against them” – Paul later says this about himself during this time: (1 Tim 1:13)(NASB) “even though I was previously a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief.”
“compelled to blaspheme” – (From the “Liberty Bible Commentary”) – “A better translation would be “tried to make them blaspheme.” The tense of the Greek word indicates that Paul failed in his attempt to bring them to blasphemy, an experience which certainly would have left a marked impression upon the young Jewish inquisitor.” It is likely that “blaspheme” here primarily means that Paul was trying to get them to renounce their faith in Christ. He may also have tried to get them to “curse” Jesus.
Next, let’s read (Acts 26:12-23).
(Verses 12-14) “Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, (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. (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 (goads).
In verses 12-18, Paul again (also see: Acts 21:40 – 22:29) shares his “testimony” of when he was converted (became a Christian) on the “Road to Damascus.” You can see his conversion in (Acts 9:1-22).
***Note: In short, a “testimony” is simply sharing with unbelievers (or with believers who need encouragement) what your life was like before Christ, and then how you came to place your faith in Jesus Christ, and were “saved.” Then, it should include how your life has changed since you were “saved.” I explain in more detail what a “testimony” is here: https://jesusalive.cc/christian-testimony-definition. If interested, you can read “my testimony” here: https://jesusalive.cc/my-testimony.
(1 Pet 3:15) “…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is within you, with meekness and fear.”
The events mentioned here in (verses 12-14) can be found in (Acts 9:1-5). In verse 13, we are given two details that are not found in Acts Ch. 9 – #1. The light from Heaven was at “midday” (Acts 22:6 says “noon”) #2. The light was “above the brightness of the sun.”
In verse 14, we are given two more details not found in Acts Ch. 9. First, in (Acts 9:4), we are told that when the “light” appeared, Paul “fell to the ground.” Here, we are told that those with Paul “fell to the earth” as well. Also, we learn here that when Jesus spoke to Paul, it was “in the Hebrew tongue.”
“Saul, Saul” – In Bible times, when a word was used back to back, it signified that what was being said was VERY important. Other examples of Jesus doing this can be found in (Jn 3:3)(Lk 10:41-42)(Lk 22:31-32)(Mt 27:46)(Mt 23:37).
“it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks (goads)” – We discussed the meaning of this in-depth in (Acts 9:5), therefore, let me summarize here.
A “goad” (or “prick”) was a long stick, made out of oak or some other hardwood, app. 8′- 10′ long and 6″ in circumference, that generally had a metal point on one end, and a flattened piece of metal on the other end. The pointed end was used to “goad” or prod an ox pulling a plow or cart to move / turn.
When the “goad” was used, an ox would sometimes kick back against it, especially if it was a young ox that was new to pulling. If they did this, the result was that the goad would go deeper into their skin, causing them more pain. By “kicking against the goad,” they were only hurting themselves more (kick = Gr. laktizo – “to strike with the heel”). Instead, what they needed to do was submit to the direction their master wanted them to go, and then there would be no pain.
I believe there is a very interesting spiritual lesson to see with this in relation to Paul (and ultimately ALL non-Christians). This lesson has to do with the drawing of the Father, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit in a non-Christian’s life. The Bible says that no one can become a Christian unless they are first “drawn” by the Father (Jn 6:44). The Father does this through the work of the Holy Spirit, who convicts the world of sin (Jn 16:8). The Bible also tells us that God does not wish that ANY man would perish, but that ALL would be saved (1 Tim 2:3-4)(2 Pet 3:9)(Ezek 18:23,32)(Titus 2:11)(Mt 18:14). This being the case, we know that He draws ALL men at some point in their lives.
However, the Bible is also clear in many verses that God’s will can be resisted: (Jn 5:40)(Mt 23:37)(Lk 13:34)(Acts 7:51)(Mt 21:42)(Acts 4:11)(Lk 7:29-30)(2 Th 1:8-9)(Rom 10:21)(2 Kin 17:14-18).
I believe that when Jesus is telling Paul “it is hard for thee to kick against the goads,” He is talking about Paul fighting against the direction his Master (the Father) is trying to “prod or turn” him. In “kicking against the goad,” Paul is fighting against the “drawing” of the Father, and the “conviction” of the Holy Spirit. In doing so, he is driving the goad in deeper, and only hurting himself.
We can see that after this confrontation with Jesus, Paul stopped “kicking against the goad,” and he gave his life to Christ. He submitted to his Master, and followed the direction He wanted him to go. This same thing happens to all who become “Christians.” We all “kick against the goads” for various lengths of time, but eventually we stop and submit our lives to the Master’s direction. We accept Christ.
(Verses 15-17)(NKJV) “So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. (16) 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. (17) I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you”
“Who are you Lord?… I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (found in: Acts 9:5) – (From the “Believer’s Bible Commentary”) – Jesus? How could that be? Hadn’t Jesus been crucified and buried? Hadn’t His disciples stolen His body and laid it away in some secret place? How then could Jesus be speaking to him now? The truth quickly dawned on Paul’s soul. Jesus had indeed been buried, but he had risen from the dead! He had ascended back to heaven, from where He was now speaking to Paul. In persecuting the Christians, Paul had been persecuting their Master. And in persecuting Him, he had been persecuting the Messiah of Israel, the very Son of God.”
*** NOTE*** It should be noted that when looking at the original events that happened on the “Road to Damascus” in Acts Ch. 9, we are not told that Jesus said the things to Paul that are mentioned here in (verses 16-17). However, when Paul previously shared his testimony in (Acts 21:40 – 22:29), he said in (Acts 22:14-15) that Ananias spoke the words of (verse 16) to him. The words of Jesus to Paul in (verse 17) have not been mention previously.
“a witness… of things you have seen” – Combining this with (Acts 22:14-15), this is certainly speaking of what Paul had “seen and heard” regarding his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul had seen the “resurrected Christ,” and therefore knew that Jesus was ALIVE! He was to share this knowledge with “all men,” pointing to his “witness” to both Jews and Gentiles.
***Note: Based upon seeing the “risen Christ” on the road to Damascus, Paul considered himself an “apostle” (1 Cor 9:1)(1 Cor 15:7-9)(Gal 1:1). Going forward, Paul made the Resurrection of Jesus a cornerstone of his teachings (Acts 13:29-39)(Acts 17:3,18,30-32)(Acts 25:19)(Acts 26:12-18,23)(Rom 6:5)(1 Cor Ch. 15)(Phil 3:10)(Col 2:12)(Col 3:1).
“a witness… of things which I will yet reveal to you” – This is likely referring primarily to the 5 visions given to Paul by the Lord after his conversion – see: (Acts 9:11-12)(Acts 16:9-10)(Acts 18:9-10)(Acts 22:17-21)(2 Cor 12:1-4).
“I will deliver you” – One of my favorite quotes was given many years ago by David Jeremiah, “A man of God in the will of God is immortal until His work is done.” In other words, no one can take the life of a Christian, who is walking in God’s will, until he has completed the mission that God has for him. Over and over in Acts, we see God supernaturally delivering Paul, because He still had more for him to do. Can you think of some examples of this?
“the Gentiles, to whom I now send you” – As we have mentioned previously, over and over we see that when Paul enters a new city, he often heads straight to Jewish synagogues to share the Gospel with Jews (i.e. Acts 14:1, Acts 17:1-3,10,17, Acts 18:4,19, Acts 19:8). He did this primarily because of his great love for his people (the Jews), and his desire to see them be saved (Rom 9:1-5)(Rom 10:1). However, his primary call and mission from God was to lead Gentiles to salvation (Acts 9:15)(Acts 22:21)(Rom 11:13)(Rom 15:16)(Gal 1:15-16)(Gal 2:9)(Eph 3:8)(1 Tim 2:7).
(Verse 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.”
In this verse, we are told 6 things that happen when a person accepts the Gospel, and gives their life to Christ.
#1. Their “eyes are opened” (Isa 29:18)(Isa 35:5)(Mt 13:15)(Eph 1:18)(1 Jn 2:9-11).
#2. They “turn from darkness to light” (Mt 4:16)(Jn 1:3-5)(Jn 3:19-21)(Jn 8:12)(Eph 5:8)(1 Pet 2:9).
#3. They are freed “from the power of Satan to God” (2 Cor 4:4)(Eph 2:1-10)(Col 1:13).
#4. They “receive forgiveness of sins” (Lk 24:47)(Acts 2:38)(Acts 10:43)(Acts 13:38)(Col 1:14)(1 Jn 2:12).
#5. They receive an “inheritance” (eternal life in Heaven) (Acts 20:32)(Eph 1:11,14,18)(Col 1:12)(Col 3:24)(Heb 9:15).
#6. They are “sanctified by faith (not by works) in Jesus” (Acts 20:32)(1 Cor 1:2)(1 Cor 6:11)(Heb 9:13-14)(Heb 10:10)(Heb 13:12).
(Verses 19-21)(NKJV) “”Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, (20) 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. (21) For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.”
“I was not disobedient” – (From “Ellicott’s Commentary”) – “The language of the Apostle is significant in its bearing on the relations of God’s grace and man’s freedom. Even here, with the “vessel of election” (Acts 9:15) “constrained” by the love of Christ (2 Cor 5:14), there was the possibility of disobedience. There was an act of will in passing from the previous state of rebellion to that of obedience.”
“but declared first to those in Damascus” (See: Acts 9:10-25), “and in Jerusalem” (See: Acts 9:26-30).
“then to the Gentiles” – (From the “Barnes Commentary”) – “The word “then” in this verse is supplied by our translators, and not necessary to the proper explanation of the passage. It would seem from that word that he had not preached “to the Gentiles” until after he had preached “at Jerusalem and throughout all the coasts of Judea,” whereas, in fact, he had, as we have reason to believe, before then “preached” to the Gentiles in Arabia. The statement here, in the original, is a general statement that he had preached at Damascus and at Jerusalem, and in all the coasts of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, but without specifying the exact order in which it was done.”
“that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance”
***Note: When I got to this phrase, and started expositing it, God prompted me to study it “in-depth.” I ended up spending almost a month doing this, and I had to temporarily stop teaching this chapter! I ended up looking at nearly every verse in the Bible on the words “repent” and “repentance,” and at the end of this month long study, my views related to these two words were altered. I wrote a lengthy study on how, which you can find here: https://jesusalive.cc/bible-on-repentance. Following, I am going to go into some depth on this phrase, and share “a little” of what I learned.
““Repentance” (Gr. “metanoia” [a noun] describing the “thing or idea”) means to “change your mind,” and “repent” (Gr. “metanoeo” [a verb] an “action” word) means to “take action.” In regards to sin, in the Old Testament, “repent” (Heb. “shub”) is often translated as to “turn” from sin (i.e. 1 Kin 8:33-34, 2 Chr 7:14).
Repentance is made up of three connected, and inseparable “elements:” intellectual, emotional, and volitional (Berkof – Systematic Theology). Intellectually, we must “change our mind” about our sin, and feel “personal guilt” over it. Emotionally, we must feel “sorrow and remorse” for our sin, and feel heartbroken that we have sinned against a holy God who loves us so much. Volitionally, we must “take action” to “turn” from our sin.”
As we see in this verse (Acts 26:20), both the (noun) = “repentance,” and the (verb) = “repent” are used. They are also used both used in a section of verses in (Mt Ch. 3), with (Mt 3:8) being similar to (Acts 26:20). Let’s look at these.
In (Mt 3:3), John the Baptist says to the people of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
(Mt 3:5-8) then follows, saying, “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, (6) And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. (7) But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation (brood) of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (8) Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:”
Notice in verses 3 and 6 that in conjunction with their being baptized by John, the people were “confessing their sins.” Using our “three elements of repentance” from above, “intellectually,” they had “changed their mind” about their sins, and felt “personal guilt” over them. “Emotionally,” they felt “sorrow and remorse” over their sins. “Volitionally,” they “took action” to “turn” from their sins, by “confessing” them, and getting baptized.
However, in verses 7-8, when the Pharisees and Sadducees come, John refuses to baptize them until they “bring forth fruits meet for repentance.” As you later see, all through the New Testament, the Pharisees and Sadducees were self-righteous, believing that they kept the law perfectly, and therefore, they did not feel the need to “repent.” They did not see themselves as “sinners.”
Again, if we use our “three elements of repentance” from above, they displayed “none” of them (intellectual, emotional, volitional). Because of this, John refused to baptize them. John was performing a “baptism of repentance” (Lk 3:3)(Acts 13:24)(Acts 19:4) (to prepare the way for the Messiah [Jesus]), and they were not repentant.
If they “had” been “repentant,” they would have displayed the “three elements.” And, if they had displayed them, the result would have been that they had “fruits meet for repentance.”
This brings us again to our similar phrase in (Acts 26:20), where Paul says, “should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.”
What these phrases mean is that when we have: (#1.) “changed our mind” about our sin, and felt “personal guilt” over it, (#2.) felt “sorrow and remorse” over our sin, and (#3.) “taken action” to “turn” from our sin, our lives should “reflect” that we have turned from our sin. We should look different, and people should be able to see that.
This is what is meant by “WORKS meet for repentance.” Looking at a few other versions of the Bible, the NIV translates this phrase as: “demonstrate their repentance by their deeds,” and the NASB as “performing deeds consistent with repentance.”
In other words, if we have truly “repented,” our lives will change, and our “works” and “deeds” will display this. Here are a few examples from the Bible:
The Thessalonians “turned from idols to serve the living God” (1 Th 1:9).
When Jesus came to his house, Zaccheus told him “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor, and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” (Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house…”) (Lk 19:1-9).
David took a census of Israel and Judah, to know the size of his army. This was a prideful thing, done with wrong motives. God judged David’s sin, and brought a plague upon Israel, which killed 70,000 men. David repented, buying a threshing floor, building an altar, and offering “burnt offerings and peace offerings” (2 Sam Ch. 24).
You can find a few other examples here: (2 Sam Ch. 11-12 / Ps Ch. 32 & 51)(1 Kin 21:17-29)(Lk 15:11-32 – a parable)(Lk 23:39-43).
In particular, note this verse in the Book of Jonah, Ch. 3, verse 10 “Then God saw their WORKS, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster…”
Let me share one more similar section of Scripture in James regarding “faith and works” that can help us to understand.
(James 2:14-17)(NKJV) “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (15) If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? (17) Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Some people (i.e. Martin Luther) have criticized the book of James for saying that it teaches a “works” based salvation. This is untrue. What James is saying is that if we claim to have “faith,” and say we are a Christian, good “works” (helping others) will follow. Our “works” (actions) will reflect our “faith.” If we don’t have good “works,” it shows we don’t have “faith.”
Related to our topic here, if we claim we are “repentant,” and our “works” (actions) don’t reflect that, it shows that we aren’t repentant. We must “do works meet for repentance.”
“For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me” – The Jews “seized” (arrested) Paul in the Temple in (Acts 21:26-36). In these verses in Acts 21, we are told they did so because they assumed Paul had taken a Gentile (Trophimus) into the Temple. However, in the verses here (19-21), Paul tells us the “real” reason they “seized” him in the Temple.
(Verses 22-23) “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: (23) That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the (Jewish) people, and to the Gentiles.”
“Having therefore obtained the help of God, I continue to this day” – (See verse 17) The Greek word “epikouria” is used for “help” in this verse. It is used nowhere else in the Bible. “Ellicott’s Commentary” defines it as: “the kind of assistance which one friend or ally gives to another of inferior power.”
The phrase “small and great” is used only here, and 5 times in the Book of Revelation: (Rev 11:18)(Rev 13:16)(Rev 19:5,18)(Rev 20:12).
“saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come” – “Moses” here is interchangeable here with the “Law” (i.e. Lk 16:29,31, Lk 24:27,44) (since he wrote the first 5 books of the Old Testament in which the Law is contained). The “Law and the Prophets” is mentioned a number of times in the New Testament (i.e. Mt 7:12, Mt 11:13, Mt 22:40, Lk 16:16, Jn 1:45), and it is referring to the books of the Old Testament.
“That Christ should suffer” – “The Law and Prophets” (the Old Testament) contains several prophecies that the Messiah (“Christ”) would suffer: (Ps 22:1,6)(Isa 50:6)(Isa 53:3).
“that should be the first to rise from the dead” – The Resurrection of Jesus was prophesied in (Ps 16:10).
“the FIRST to rise” – (see: Rev 1:5) Of course, we know that several people who died in the Bible arose from the dead (i.e. 1 Kin 17:17-24, 2 Kin 4:18-37, Lk 8:41-56, Jn 11:1-44). However, Jesus was the only person who died, and arose from the dead, never to die again. Two reasons why this is important are:
#1. Jesus’ victory over death and evil showed that we have a Savior who is ALIVE! Death could not contain Him (Acts 2:24)(Rom 6:9)(Rev 1:18).
#2. Because Jesus overcame death, we can overcome it as well through Him (Jn 14:19)(1 Cor 6:14)(Rom 8:11)(Phil 3:21)(1 Cor 15:20).
“light unto the (Jewish) people, and to the Gentiles” – A prophecy of the Messiah to the Jews (Deut 18:15), and salvation for the Gentiles found in (Isa 42:6)(Isa 49:6).
Finally, let’s read (Acts 26:24-32).
(Verses 24-25)(NASB) “While Paul was stating these things in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you insane (“mad” – KJV).” (25)(KJV) But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.”
***Note: The Greek word used for “mad” or “insane” is “mania.” Of course, we use this same word today. It is used nowhere else in the New Testament.
“Paul, you are out of your mind” – (From the “Expositors Commentary”) – “…not a jesting expression; the mention not only of a resurrection, but the expressed belief that this Christ whom Festus could only describe as “one who was dead,” Acts 25:19, should bring light not only to Jews but even to Gentiles, to Romans like himself, was too much—such a belief could only result from a disturbed brain.”
“Your great learning is driving you insane” – Festus does recognize here that Paul is a man of “great learning.” What “great learning” is he referring to? It is very likely that Paul had “books and parchments” with him (2 Tim 4:13), and Festus was aware that Paul had been fervently studying them in his captivity. He may also have been aware of his extensive Rabbinical education (under Gamaliel: Acts 22:3 ).
***Note: Jesus was accused of the same thing in the Gospels (Mk 3:21)(Jn 8:48.52)(Jn 10:20).
“words of truth and soberness” – (From the “Barnes Commentary”) “Soberness (Gr. = sōphrosunē) stands opposed here to madness or derangement, and denotes “sanity of mind.” The words which I speak are those of a sane man, conscious of what he is saying, and impressed with its truth.”
“Sophrosune” (From “Wikipedia”) – “…an ancient Greek concept of an ideal of excellence of character and soundness of mind, which when combined in one well-balanced individual leads to other qualities, such as temperance, moderation, prudence, purity, decorum, and self-control.”
(Verses 26-29) “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. (27) King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. (28) Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. (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 (for) these bonds (“chains” – i.e. Acts 12:6-7).”
“the king (“Agrippa”) knoweth of these things… none of these are hidden from him” – Paul expresses confidence that Agrippa, as a Jew, knowing the Scriptures, understands what he is talking about (as opposed to Festus, who as a Gentile likely had no understanding of the Scriptures, and no idea what he was talking about; thinking he was “mad.”)
(From “Ellicott’s Commentary”) – “The appeal to Agrippa’s knowledge is two-fold. He knew that Moses and the prophets had spoken of the great Prophet and Deliverer whom the Jews knew as the Christ. He knew also that for more than a quarter of a century there had been communities of Jews in Judaea and Galilee and Samaria resting on the belief that the Christ had come, and that He had suffered and risen from the dead. The congregations of those whom the Jews knew as Nazarenes were as far as possible from being an obscure sect lurking in holes and corners.”
“this thing was not done in a corner” – (parallel in Jn 18:20) Everything that Paul has said to this point was well-known. His life before he became a Christian, and his changed life afterwards, could be attested to by those who had either witnessed it personally, or who had heard about it. What he said about Jesus could also be attested to by those who had either seen Him personally, or had been told about Him. The empty tomb was still visible at that time.
***Note: Remember in (Acts 17:6) when the mob said that those who were preaching the Gospel were “turning the world upside down,” and in (Jn 12:19) when the Pharisees said of Jesus, “the world is gone after Him.”
“King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest” – (From the “MacArthur Study Bible”) – “Paul’s shrewd question put Herod in a dilemma. If he affirmed his belief in the prophets, he would also have to admit that what they taught about Jesus’ death and resurrection was true – an admission that would make him appear foolish before his Roman friends. Yet to deny the prophets would outrage his Jewish subjects.”
(From the “Believer’s Bible Commentary”) – “Paul was saying in effect, “I believe all that the prophets said in the OT, You, too, believe their testimony, don’t you, Agrippa? How then can the Jews accuse me of a crime deserving of death? Or how could you condemn me for believing what you yourself believe?””
“Paul, Almost thou persuadest (You almost persuade) me to be a Christian.” – To avoid answering Paul’s question, Agrippa instead replies with this statement.
Also (from the “Believer’s Bible Commentary”) – …there is considerable disagreement as to what Agrippa meant (here). Those who follow the King James tradition feel that the king had actually been brought to the threshold of a decision for Christ. They feel that Paul’s answer in verse 29 substantiates this. Others think that Agrippa was using irony, asking Paul, as it were, “Do you think that with a little persuasion you can make me a Christian?” In other words, he was evading the pressure of the apostle’s words with a joke.” What do you think?
“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”- This reply to Agrippa’s statement leads me to believe that Paul did not take what he said as a “joke,” but instead he believed that Agrippa had understood what he had said, and was close to accepting it. However, as with his reason for not answering Paul’s question in the first place, he certainly would not have been bold enough to proclaim Jesus as Savior in front of Festus, and the crowd.
(From the “Barnes Commentary”) – “What was included in the “almost” (as in “you almost persuade me”); what prevented his being quite persuaded, we know not. It may have been that the evidence was not so clear to his mind as he would profess to desire; or that he was not willing to give up his sins; or that he was too proud to rank himself with the followers of Jesus of Nazareth; or that, like Felix, he was willing to defer it to a more convenient season. There is every reason to believe that he was never quite persuaded to embrace the Lord Jesus, and that he was never nearer the kingdom of heaven than at this moment. It was the crisis, the turning-point in Agrippa’s life, and in his eternal destiny; and, like thousands of others, he neglected or refused to allow the full conviction of the truth on his mind, and died in his sins.”
“such as I am, except (for) these bonds (“chains”) – Paul desire was for Agrippa, and everyone in the room to become a Christian (“as I am”), but he did not want them to have to be “in chains” like he was for being a Christian.
(Verses 30-32) “And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them: (31) And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds (“chains”). (32) Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.”
Mentioned in order of rank, “the king, the governor, Bernice, they that sat with them,” they left the meeting to “talk between themselves.”
As we mentioned at the start of this chapter, part of the reason for this meeting was because Festus was hoping that Agrippa, as an “expert in Jewish customs and questions,” could “examine” Paul and help him understand what Jewish laws Paul was breaking (Acts 25:26-27).
When Paul first appeared before Festus, he “appealed to Caesar” (Acts 25:11-12). In conjunction with sending Paul to Caesar, Festus was required to send a letter explaining the charges against him. With Agrippa’s help, he was hoping to know what to say in the letter.
As we can see here, Agrippa declared that Paul had broken no laws, and that he was innocent. This was the same conclusion that previous leaders had come to: Lysias (Acts 23:29), Felix (Acts ch. 24), and Festus himself (Acts 25:25).
We do not know what Festus eventually wrote in the letter that he sent with Paul to Nero, but based upon his preferential treatment on the voyage to Rome (Acts 27:3,31-32,43), and his “light” imprisonment once he arrived in Rome (Acts 28:16), it appears that the letter must have spoken favorably of Paul.
***Note: Paul was imprisoned “in his own rented house” in Rome for 2 years, and then released (Acts 28:30). It was likely during these 2 years that he wrote what are often called the “Prison Epistles” – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.