“Then Agrippa said unto Paul, thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself: 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: 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” (Acts 26:1-3).
Agrippa was informed concerning the conditions in Judaea. He knew the disturbance among the Jews, brought about by the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. He was known to be “expert in all customs and questions” which were at that time among the Jews. Paul was persuaded that none of the things pertaining to the violent opposition to Christ and His cause throughout all Judaea were hidden from King Agrippa (Acts 26:3 and 26).
This explains why Paul spoke “freely” concerning his “manner of life” from his youth to his conversion (Acts 26:4-5 and 9-12); and concerning the promise of the fathers and the hope of the twelve tribes (Acts 26:6-8); and concerning his “heavenly vision” (Acts 26:13-15); and concerning God’s purpose (Acts 26:16); and concerning his own mission to both “the people” and the Gentiles (Acts 26:17-18); and concerning his ministry (Acts 26:19-23); and finally, concerning his personal appeal to the king himself (Acts 26:27-29).
Paul’s “manner of life” before all the Jews was that of a strict Pharisee. Even from his youth up until the day of his conversion he was a Pharisee in every sense of the word. A clear definition of the life of the Pharisees is set forth in Matthew 23:23-33 — “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”
The above quotation represents the very best that religion can produce. Note the difference between the fruits of Phariseeism and the “fruit of Spirit” as set forth in Galatians 5:22-24 — “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.”
May God deliver us from ourselves and from the religions of men and let us “live in the Spirit” and also “walk in the Spirit “(Galatians 5:25).
We must note carefully that Paul was still identifying himself with Israel and with the hope of Israel in Acts chapter 26. While speaking for himself, he said, “I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers. 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. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” (Acts 26:6-8). For a clearer understanding of the promises made unto the fathers, which included kingdom blessings for Israel first and also for the Gentile, study Romans 15:8-12. It is very important that we distinguish between the hope of the promise of God unto the fathers, and the hope in connection with the mystery revealed through Paul, which hope was never promised unto the fathers, but was kept secret from before the foundation of the world until God gave it through Paul.
It is also important to keep in mind that the hope given to the twelve tribes rested entirely upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit has testified clearly that God raised and exalted Christ “with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30-31).
Obedience to the Heavenly Vision
The results of Paul’s thoughts with himself were contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. He opposed everyone who believed in His name. Many of the saints he shut up in prison, and when they were put to death he gave his voice against them. He often entered the synagogues and compelled people to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, he persecuted them even unto strange cities. All of this came as a result of the wrong kind of thinking. It is a dangerous thing for anyone to think with himself and thereby arrive at decisions.
The results of Paul’s obedience to the heavenly vision are clearly set forth in Acts 26:12-23. He met the Lord face to face. His eyes were blinded to the things of this world, but they were definitely opened to the things of glory.
Think how Paul must have felt when the risen Christ spoke to him in an audible voice, saying, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. 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.” (Acts 26:16).
A careful study of the two sets of things spoken of in the above quotation will enlighten us concerning the double ministry of the apostle Paul. It seems clear that God sent him forth immediately after his conversion with a testimony concerning the things which he had seen. Later, God revealed unto him additional truth, which he was faithful to give as God revealed it. This explains why the first part of Paul’s ministry was given over to the Jew first and also to the Gentile, but in the latter part of his ministry he made no distinction between the Jew and the Gentile. During the first part of his ministry he speaks of himself and associates as “able ministers of the new testament” (2 Corinthians 3:6). During the closing years of his ministry he seeks the prayers of the believers that utterance may be given unto him, and that he might open his mouth boldly, “to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19).
It seems clear that in Acts chapter 26 Paul was still giving unto Israel “none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come” (Acts 26:22). Surely the prophets and Moses never mentioned the body of Christ (Colossians 1:25-26).
The things which Paul spoke of in this testimony to Agrippa were things that were testified of by the prophets. Indeed, his appeal to Agrippa was closed with these words, “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest” (Acts 26:27). Paul spoke freely concerning the salvation that was offered through the glad tidings of the prophets. His message was to “open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified.” He gave this message “first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and to do works meet for repentance. This commission included the king and Paul faithfully gave it to him.
Even though King Agrippa said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian,” yet he rose up and with the governor and Bernice they discussed the innocence of the prisoner, but never accepted his Saviour. Their decision was that Paul “might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar” (Acts 26:30-32).