26:1-16 Paul's account of his conversion before King Agrippa II (44 to 70 AD)
This King Agrippa was the son of Agrippa I (reigned 41-44). As a young man aged 17, after his father's early death (Acts 12:23), being too young to reign, he was raised in Rome for six years till 50 AD. After various small assignments, when Nero became emperor (54 AD) he made Agrippa II king of an area from Galilee to the north. When Festus became governor in Caesarea (58 AD) Herod Agrippa II and his wife Bernice came to visit him and the governor told him about Paul and his case. Agrippa and Bernice wanted to hear Paul in person and the next day Festus gathered a huge assembly for this purpose (25:23). When Paul was given permission to speak he recounted his early training as a Pharisee, his persecution of Christians, and his conversion on the road to Damascus.
26:1 It is possible Luke was allowed to be with Paul (see 24:23). This certainly reads like a verbatim account of what Paul's Doctor friend wrote down on that occasion.
26:2-5 Paul began by saying he was glad to make his defense before Agrippa because he had first-hand knowledge of Jewish customs and the controversy between Sadducees and Pharisees (23:6-8, 24:14-15). Luke does not mention this but the previous governor Felix's third wife Drusilla was Jewish (24:24). Her sister was Bernice (25:23) , who was Agrippa's wife (and his sister in an incestuous marriage, as was common among royalty in those days). The king would therefore have been raised as a Jew. Which meant that Agrippa would have known about Paul's education as a Pharisee in Jerusalem.
26:6-8 Paul then explained that the basic charge against him was that he was preaching the Pharisee hope in the resurrection. How could the king find it incredible that God our Creator can raise the dead? Paul will mention Jesus' resurrection again later in his testimony (26:23).
26:9-11 Paul reminded Agrippa of his bitter opposition to Christians before his conversion (as recorded in 8:1-3, 9:1-2). He adds to our previous information that "I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death (26:10). This indicates that others besides Stephen (7:59-8:1), were put to death for saying that Jesus was the Messiah, and Paul was a member of the religious courts that condemned them at that time. He does not play down his bitter opposition to those of the way, and his efforts to make Ch.ristians deny their Lord (as in 1 Timothy 1:13-15). But, as in his previous testimony he stresses he did all this by authority of the chief priests (26:10, as in 22:5).
26:12-13 In Luke's earlier account of Paul's conversion the light from heaven flashed around him, he fell to the ground, and he heard Jesus' voice (9:3). In his testimony to the Jewish crowd on the steps up to the barracks Paul said the people with him saw the light but "did not hear the voice of Jesus" (22:9).
26:14-15 Now he adds that those traveling with him fell to the ground as he did. But he alone heard the voice in Hebrew (Aramaic?). Paul notes that Jesus tenderly called his name twice, as he had called Samuel (1 Samuel 3:4). He also remembered the words "It hurts you to kick against the goads." This metaphor points to the fact that a person who is refusing faith in Jesus as Messiah is like an ox kicking against the goad that encourages him to move, and it is the ox who gets hurt, not the farmer. This illustrates how when we tell a story on another occasion we may remember facts we did not report at the first telling.
26:16-17 Another fact that Paul remembered was that while he was still prostrate on the ground Jesus assured him he had a task for him to do which was to report what had happened to him then, and there was much else he would be told as time went on. Jesus himself would rescue him from the inevitable wrath of his own Jewish people, and his mission would be to the non-Jewish people (as Peter had already begun to do, 10:1-2, 44-48).
26:18 Paul's eyes were going to be closed for three days (9:9) by "something like scales" till he was "filled with the Holy Spirit" (9:17-18). This would be symbolic of his mission which would result in people being freed from the lies of Satan (John 8:44) to see clearly and have assurance of forgiveness and a place in Jesus' church.
26:19-23 Paul's account of his ministry among the Gentiles
It was important for Paul to make Agrippa the King, and Festus the governor, understand the situation that had caused Paul's arrest. The Jewish attack on Paul, and his subsequent protective custody under the Romans in Caesarea involved no crime against the Roman Empire, or even against the Jewish people. The only reason was the jealousy of the Jewish religious authorities who did not want their privileges as a people being shared with other nations.
26:19-20 He then told the assembly of his work first in Damascus (9:19-22), then three years later (omitting his time in Arabia, Galatians 1:17-18) in Jerusalem and Judea (9:26-30), and latterly among non-Jewish Gentiles. The message he gave was the need to turn (26:18) to the light of the Son of God (John 1:4-9), with the result that they would keep doing (a present participle) the works which suited (axia meaning consistent with, corresponding to, comparable, fitting) the children of light. As in John the Baptist's preaching (Luke 3:8), repentance is not feeling guilty about past failures, but turning to the light of the Messiah (John 8:12, 9:5, 12:46) And in that light everything looks different for us as newborn children of light (John 12:35-36).
26:21 It was Paul's mission to the Gentiles that had angered the Jews in Jerusalem, and it moved them to the lynching and attempted murder from which the Roman soldiers saved him (21:27-32).
26:22 He added that he survived all his missionary journeys by God's help, and he was doing nothing but what the prophets had foreseen. Here the reference to Moses probably referred to the five books of Moses and in particular the covenant to Abraham: "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3, 18:18) which was exactly repeated to Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 26:4, 28:14).
26:23 But this promise to Abraham, and the predictions in the prophets, could only be fulfilled by the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah. As a result of the crucifixion and resurrection, the light of the Messiah, which the Jewish people had failed to make known among all nations, was now seen clearly by Jews and Gentiles alike.
26:24-32 King Agrippa II rejects Paul's appeal to believe in Jesus the Messiah
Paul recalls that when the unknown disciple Ananias objected to the danger of going to welcome Saul after his conversion, the Lord gave him this message. "Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel" (9:15). Here Paul not only explains the good news he was preaching to Festus the Governor and King Agrippa II, and the assembled guests, but he makes a direct appeal to the king to become a Christian. The result was that Agrippa and Festus withdrew (perhaps embarrassed), but they concluded that Paul was innocent and could have been set free if he had not appealed to Nero the Roman Emperor. Perhaps the king was privately able to suggest to Festus what he might write as a covering letter (see 25:26-27).
26:24 To avoid Paul's powerful presentation of the good news Festus did not deny the facts or Paul's immense learning, but he announced that Paul must be deranged.
26:25-26 Paul politely claimed he was speaking the "sober truth" and in fact Festus had informed himself of all the facts of the situation among the Jewish people. He adds that Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection was a public fact of history which"was not done in a corner."
26:27 Then he turned to make his appeal direct to the king. The question about believing the prophets was a rhetorical question immediately answered by Paul saying "I know that you believe." Though he was raised in Rome, and so probably viewed himself as a Roman, Agrippa had incestuously married his sister Bernice, who was a Jew. Obviously he was steeped in the Jewish scriptures and traditions (as in 26:3).
26:28 The only definition of a Christian in the New Testament is a disciple (learner) who has been baptized to begin learning about Jesus the Messiah. Earlier Luke had commented "It was for an entire year they (Paul and Barnabas) met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians" (11:26). When Paul had the boldness to ask the king to be baptized, and begin learning about Christian faith in the Messiah, Agrippa objected that Paul was too quickly pressing the king to be baptized, or did Paul think he could be persuaded so easily?.
26:29 Paul then expressed audibly a prayer that the king and queen and others present might enjoy the same faith in Jesus the Messiah that he had (except for the chains he was wearing. Felix had left Paul under house arrest, 24:23, but perhaps Festus had put him in chains to impress the king for this occasion).
26:30-32 As King Agrippa II, his wife/sister Bernice, and the governor Festus, rose from this hearing, the guests (including Luke?) heard them say that Paul had done nothing deserving the Roman death penalty, and he could have been set free. But Paul's appeal to Rome could not be cancelled, and he would have to be sent there (as described in the next chapter).