by Greg Williamson © revised 2022
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB © The Lockman Foundation*

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Paul Before Agrippa (Acts 26:1–32)

Paul Before Agrippa (Acts 26:1–32)

From permission to postscript (Acts 26:1-32)

(1) Agrippa said to Paul, "You are permitted to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense: (2) "In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; (3) especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.

(4) "So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at 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. (6) And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; (7) the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. (8) Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?

(9) "So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. (10) And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. (11) And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.

(12) "While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, (13) at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. (14) And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' (15) And I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. (16) But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; (17) rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, (18) to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'

(19) "So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, (20) but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. (21) For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death. (22) So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; (23) that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles."

(24) While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, "Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad." (25) But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. (26) For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner. (27) King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do." (28) Agrippa replied to Paul, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian." (29) And Paul said, "I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains."

(30) The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, (31) and when they had gone aside, they began talking to one another, saying, "This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment." (32) And Agrippa said to Festus, "This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar."

I. THE PERMISSION (Acts 26:1): Agrippa invites Paul to tell his story.
  A. Paul reviews his life as a religious man (Acts 26:2–11).
    1. His activities as a Pharisee (Acts 26:2–8): From birth he was very zealous in this strict Jewish sect.
2. His activities as a persecutor (Acts 26:9–11): He hated and hounded Christians.
  B. Paul reviews his life as a redeemed man (Acts 26:12–23).
    1. He speaks of his conversion (Acts 26:12–14): It occurred on the road to Damascus when Jesus himself appeared.
2. He speaks of his commission (Acts 26:15–18): God appointed him to preach repentance and forgiveness of sin to the Gentiles.
3. He speaks of his consistency (Acts 26:19–23): In spite of terrible persecution, Paul faithfully obeyed the message of his heavenly vision.
III. THE PROTEST (Acts 26:24–25)
  A. Festus's accusation (Acts 26:24): The governor interrupts Paul, accusing him of insanity.
B. Paul's answer (Acts 26:25): The apostle assures Festus he is speaking only the "sober truth."
IV. THE PERSUASION (Acts 26:26–29)
  A. Paul to Agrippa (Acts 26:26–27): "Do you believe the prophets? I know you do."
B. Agrippa to Paul (Acts 26:28): "Do you think you can make me a Christian so quickly?"
C. Paul to Agrippa (Acts 26:29): "I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become as I am, except for these chains."
V. THE POSTSCRIPT (Acts 26:30–32): After the meeting Agrippa and Festus agree that Paul could be set free had he not appealed to Caesar. [ref]
  • (Acts 26:1-32)
    ■ Wiersbe: "Five key statements summarize Paul's defense. 'I lived a Pharisee' (Acts 26:4–11) ... 'I saw a light' (Acts 26:12–13) ... 'I heard a voice' (Acts 26:14–18) ... 'I was not disobedient' (Acts 26:19–21) ... 'I continue unto this day' (Acts 26:22–32)." [ref]
    ■ Toussaint: "This is the climax of all Paul’s defenses recorded in Acts (cf. Acts 22:1–21; 23:1–8; 24:10–21; 25:6–11)." [ref]
  • (Acts 26:1-3) Paul begins his testimony before Agrippa. Bruce:
    Paul congratulates himself first of all on the opportunity to state his case and expound his teaching before a man of Agrippa's eminence, particularly one so expert in the details of Jewish religious belief and practice. He, at least, might appreciate the strength of Paul's argument that the message which he proclaimed was the proper consummation of Israel's ancestral faith. For such a hearer and examiner no perfunctory statement, but a reasoned narration and exposition of his whole case, was appropriate. Unlike Tertullus before Felix (cf. Acts 24:4), Paul did not promise to be brief, but he did ask for a patient hearing; probably he hoped that Agrippa would be interested enough to hear him out at length. [ref]
  • (Acts 26:4-5) Paul claims that his life has been an open book. Marshall: "Paul's fellow countrymen could testify that for a long time they had known him as a member of the Pharisees. Pharisee was an umbrella term. It was used to describe those who bound themselves together in small groups pledged to live strictly according to the law, especially by maintaining the ritual purity which was demanded of priests in the Old Testament and by tithing all their produce." [ref]
  • (Acts 26:6-8) Paul says his case centers on God's promise to raise the dead. Stott: "It was surely anomalous … that [Paul] should now be on trial for his hope in God's promise to the fathers, which he and they shared, namely that God would send his Messiah (foretold and foreshadowed in the Old Testament) to rescue and redeem his people. The twelve tribes were still eagerly expecting the fulfilment of this promise. But he believed it had already been fulfilled in Jesus, whose resurrection was the proof of his Messiahship and the pledge of our resurrection too. Why should anybody think resurrection to be incredible? The Pharisees believed in it. And now God had demonstrated it by raising Jesus from the dead." [ref]
  • (Acts 26:8) Keener: "Ancient courtrooms often counted arguments from probability more heavily than they counted what we would consider hard evidence (such as reliable witnesses); Paul must thus counter the supposition that a resurrection is improbable by reminding his hearers of God's power and that resurrection is rooted in the most basic Jewish hope." [ref]
Our True Hope
William Larkin: "This is the main question for every individual, whatever his or her religious, ideological or cultural heritage: Is Jesus your hope? The Christian message asks, Will you repent of your false hopes -- the American dream for the next generation, the Hindu's Nirvana, the Muslim's paradise -- and let Jesus be your true hope?" [ref]
  • (Acts 26:9-11) Paul recounts his furious campaign to destroy Jewish Christianity. Swindoll:
    Paul confessed to having stood with the temple authorities against those who believed in Jesus as the Christ and proclaimed His resurrection (Acts 26:10-11). ... Paul had led the persecution that killed the Jesus-following sect of Jews and had set out for Damascus as their representative on an errand to round up Christians (Acts 26:12). He made this confession to explain how and why he made a 180-degree theological turn.

    He had believed and behaved as he did because he thought he understood God and His plan. He didn't change to spite his former colleagues or to advance a political agenda or to increase his own power or wealth. His present circumstances should have been proof of that! If he had any selfish motive for breaking ranks with the temple, he could have solved his problem long ago by recanting his belief in Jesus. He changed his theology because a direct encounter with the risen Christ had revealed the truth about God and His plan. [ref]
  • (Acts 26:12-18) Paul tells of his dramatic conversion to the Christian faith.
    ■ Swindoll:
    Paul related the details of his conversion experience to explain how he could make so dramatic a change so suddenly and with such certainty. A personal, direct confrontation with the risen Christ had proven that the resurrection stories were true and that God had a plan Paul had not comprehended. In this recounting of the event, he revealed some new details.

    Paul also compressed the message he had received over several days into one extended conversation. Twenty-first-century Western historians might object to what they perceive as an inaccuracy, but Eastern storytellers did this frequently, and their audiences didn't interpret the timing as necessarily literal. They cared more about relationships and conversations; when people talked, and for how long, were secondary concerns. Some members of this audience would have been delighted to hear that the Hebrew God had repudiated what they considered Jewish arrogance and had approved Paul's ministry to Gentiles. They might have thought, Ah, no wonder the Jews in Jerusalem hate this man so much.

    Paul concluded his quotation of Jesus with a clear statement of the gospel (Acts 26:18). The assembled "Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel" (Acts 9:15) heard the offer of salvation from the lips of Christ as recounted by His apostle. [ref]
    ■ Toussaint: "Some believe that the statement, It is hard for you to kick against the goads [in Acts 12:14], means Paul had guilt feelings and was violating his conscience in persecuting believers in Christ. However, Paul wrote later that in spite of his blaspheming, violence, and persecution of the church he was shown mercy because he was acting in ignorance and unbelief (1 Tim. 1:13). Kicking the goads evidently referred to the futility of his persecuting the church." [ref]
Paul's Apostolic Commission
John Stott:
[In Acts 26:16-18] Christ's commission of Saul took the form of three verbs, all in the first person singular of direct speech, although respectively in the past, future and present tenses: 'I have appeared to you', 'I will rescue you' and 'I am sending you'.

First, I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness (Acts 26:16a). The general call to be a 'servant' is narrowed down into the particular call to be a 'witness'. Luke has already combined the ideas of service and witness in reference to the original apostolic eyewitnesses, and used the same word for 'servant' (hypēretēs) (Lk. 1:2). Also in Paul's ministry as in theirs the emphasis is on being an eyewitness, for he was to bear witness both to what he had seen of Jesus and to what Jesus would later show him (Acts 26:16b).

Secondly, I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles (Acts 26:17). A similar promise of 'rescue' was made to Jeremiah (Je. 1:8). This did not guarantee immunity to suffering. On the contrary, it was part of the vocation of prophets and apostles to endure suffering (cf. Acts 9:16). But it did mean that their testimony would not be silenced until their God-appointed work was done.

Thirdly, I am sending you (egō apostellō se). The emphatic egō ('I'), the personal se ('you') and the verb apostellō ('send') could almost be rendered (as in Acts 22:21) 'I myself apostle you', 'I myself make you an apostle'. For this was Paul's commission to be an apostle, especially to be the apostle to the Gentiles, which was comparable to the commission to the Twelve which was renewed by the risen Lord on the first Easter Day in his word 'I am sending you' (Jn. 20:21).

And what was Paul being sent to do? In essence, to open their eyes (Acts 26:18a). For the unbelieving Gentile world was blind to the truth of God in Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4). Yet this opening of the eyes did not mean intellectual enlightenment only, but conversion: to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:18b). For conversion includes a radical transfer of allegiance and so of environment. It is both a liberation from the darkness of satanic rule and a liberation into the sphere of God's marvellous light and power (cf. Col. 1:12-13; 1 Pet. 2:9). In other words, it means entering the kingdom of God.

Further, the blessings of the kingdom are the forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Christ (Acts 26:18c). The promise of forgiveness was part of the apostolic gospel from the beginning (Lk. 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 13:39). So was belonging to the Messianic people (Acts 2:40–41, 47). For the new life in Christ and the new community of Christ always go together. What was specially significant in Christ's commissioning of Paul was that the Gentiles were to be granted a full and equal share with the Jews in the privileges of those sanctified by faith in Christ, that is, the holy people of God. [ref]

A Perfect Summary
William Barclay:
[Acts 26:17-18] give[s] a perfect summary of what Christ does for men.
  • He opens their eyes. When Christ comes into a man's life he enables him to see things he never saw before.
  • He turns them from the darkness to the light. Before a man meets Christ it is as if he were facing the wrong way; after meeting Christ he is walking towards the light and his way is clear before him.
  • He transfers him from the power of Satan to the power of God. Once evil had him in thrall but now God's triumphant power enables him to live in victorious goodness.
  • He gives him forgiveness of sins and a share with the sanctified. For the past, the penalty of sin is broken; for the future, life is recreated and purified. [ref]

  • (Acts 26:19-23) Paul obeyed Christ's commission by preaching the gospel far and wide, which landed him in serious trouble with the Jewish establishment. The gospel, asserts Paul, is merely the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Stott:
    Paul begins his statement with a double negative: I was not disobedient. How could he have been? The vision was evidently from heaven, and it was overwhelming. His fanatical opposition was overcome in a moment, and his secret doubts resolved. Christ had appeared to him and commissioned him; his obedience corresponded precisely to the charge he had received.

    It was Paul's proclamation and promises to the Gentiles (Acts 26:17, 20–21), indicating that they could receive the new life and join the new community directly, without first needing to become Jews, which had aroused Jewish opposition.

    [A]s the gospel centres on Christ's atonement, resurrection and proclamation (through his witnesses), the resurrection is seen to be indispensable. Paul kept on referring to it during his trials, not in order to provoke the Pharisees and Sadducees into argument, nor only to show that he was faithful to the Jewish tradition, but because the resurrection of Jesus was the beginning and pledge of the new creation, and so at the very heart of the gospel. [ref]

The Substance Of The Message
William Barclay:
Here we have a vivid summary of the substance of the message which Paul preached.
  • He called on men to repent. The Greek word for repent literally means change one's mind. To repent means to realize that the kind of life we are living is wrong and that we must adopt a completely new set of values. To that end, it involves two things. It involves sorrow for what we have been and it involves the resolve that by the grace of God we will be changed.
  • He called on men to turn to God. So often we have our backs to God. It may be in thoughtless disregard; it may be because we have deliberately gone to the far countries of the soul. But, however that may be, Paul calls on us to let the God who was nothing to us become the God who is everything to us.
  • He called on men to do deeds to match their repentance. The proof of genuine repentance and turning to God is a certain kind of life. But these deeds are not merely the reaction of someone whose life is governed by a new series of laws; they are the result of a new love. The man who has come to know the love of God in Jesus Christ knows now that if he sins he does not only break God's law; he breaks God's heart. [ref]
  • (Acts 26:24-31) Festus reacts to Paul's testimony, and then Paul boldly challenges Agrippa.
    ■ Barclay:
    It is not so much what is actually said in this passage which is interesting as the atmosphere which the reader can feel behind it. Paul was a prisoner. At that very moment he was wearing his fetters, as he himself makes clear. And yet the impression given unmistakably is that he is the dominating personality in the scene. Festus does not speak to him as a criminal. No doubt he knew Paul's record as a trained rabbi; no doubt he had seen Paul's room scattered with the scrolls and the parchments which were the earliest Christian books. Agrippa, listening to Paul, is more on trial than Paul is. And the end of the matter is that a rather bewildered company cannot see any real reason why Paul should be tried in Rome or anywhere else. Paul has in him a power which raises him head and shoulders above all others in any company. The word used for the power of God in Greek is dunamis; it is the word from which dynamite comes. The man who has the Risen Christ at his side need fear no one. [ref]
    ■ Wiersbe: "What Agrippa and Festus did not understand was that Paul had been the judge and they had been the prisoners on trial. They had been shown the light and the way to freedom, but they had deliberately closed their eyes and returned to their sins. Perhaps they felt relieved that Paul would go to Rome and trouble them no more. The trial was over, but their sentence was still to come; and come it would. What a wonderful thing is the opportunity to trust Jesus Christ and be saved! What a terrible thing is wasting that opportunity and perhaps never having another." [ref]
  • (Acts 26:24) Keener: "Magistrates could interrupt with questions and challenges, as here. Undoubtedly referring to Paul's Jewish learning (Acts 26:4–5) and probably also his visionary claims (Acts 26:13–19), Festus gives the usual answer that educated Romans gave to concepts so foreign and barbarian to them as resurrection. Greeks associated some 'madness' with prophetic inspiration; philosophers often considered themselves sober and the masses mad, but the masses sometimes considered philosophers mad (possibly relevant to Festus's claim here)." [ref]
  • (Acts 26:30-32) Paul's innocence is confirmed yet again. Swindoll:
    Luke includes this final conversation between Festus and Agrippa to vindicate Paul of any wrongdoing. The Pharisees (Acts 23:9), the commander in Jerusalem (Acts 23:29), the procurator, Felix (Acts 24:27; by his inaction), and Festus (Acts 25:25) all agreed that the apostle had committed no crime and did not deserve his circumstances. Now Agrippa added his opinion to the rest, stating that Paul might have been set free except for his appeal to Rome. Of course, the king spoke purely in legal terms. Felix and Festus both struggled with a political problem that prevented them from ignoring the temple. Besides that, Paul's release would almost certainly result in his death unless he spent the rest of his life on the run in the wilderness. [ref]

Distorted Perspectives (Acts 25:13-26:32)
We should not be surprised if some unbelievers accuse us of being foolish and out of touch with reality because of our faith in Jesus Christ. (Video link) [ref]


*Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.