In our text for this morning we find Paul imprisoned in Caesarea. Because of a near riot in Jerusalem and a plot by the Jews to kill him, Roman officers had brought him to Felix, the governor, so that his guilt or innocence could be ascertained. Paul remained in prison under Felix for two years, at which time Festus succeeded Felix as governor. During this time, Paul preached the Gospel to both Felix and Festus. But neither one of them could decide what to do with Paul. They both knew that he was innocent, yet they wanted to please the Jews, who wanted Paul in jail. They were in a political dilemma, so to speak. King Agrippa arrived to pay a visit to Festus. And when Festus tells him about Paul, he says that he would like to hear him speak. So Paul is now speaking to a large crowd gathered in Caesarea. Paul is sharing with them his testimony, how he once persecuted Christianity until he met the risen Christ, and now he is a preacher of Christianity.
This gathering was, at best, an informal hearing, a favor to Festus, and probably a matter of curiosity to those who attended. Paul is not trying to prove his innocence as much as he is trying to present the Gospel. Paul is trying to convert this crowd. Last week we looked at Paul's message:
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. Acts 26:20 NASB
Paul preached that men were to change their mind about who Jesus is and to turn from their sin to God. Believers are called to live a life of holiness. Then Paul says:
"For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death. Acts 26:21 NASB
What is "This reason"?--why did they try to put Paul to death? They wanted him dead because he was preaching to the Gentiles. Remember in Acts 22 when Paul was rescued from the Jewish mob by Claudius Lysias, who then allowed Paul to speak to the Jewish mob? Paul was giving his speech on the stairs leading to the Fortress Antonia, and the Jews were all quietly listening to him until he said that God told him to go to the Gentiles:
"And He said to me, 'Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'" They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!" Acts 22:21-22 NASB
Paul says that preaching to Gentiles is the reason the Jews wanted to kill him. Why did this bother them? We'll look at this further in a little while.
"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; Acts 26:22 NASB
How did Paul obtain help from God when the Jews were trying to kill him? Who rescued Paul from the angry Jews? It was Claudius Lysias, the Roman commander! Yet Paul says it was God who helped him. Why? Because he knew that God controlled all things, and that anything that happened was from the hand of God. Do you understand that? Let me show you this idea elsewhere in Scripture:
So the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life." Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a potsherd to scrape himself while he was sitting among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!" Job 2:6-9 NASB
Who does the text say afflicted Job? It says that Satan smote Job. But Job's wife tells him, "Curse God and die." If Satan did it, why does she tell him to curse God? It is because, just like Paul, she knows that all things come from the hand of God. Notice Job's response:
But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Job 2:10 NASB
She says, "Curse God and die" and he says,"Shall we accept good [things] from God and not accept adversity?" The Hebrew word here for "adversity" is ra, which means: "evil." So Job clearly sees the evil that is happening to him as from God. Does the Bible condemn him for saying this? No, it says, "In all this Job did not sin with his lips." This is the same thing he said in chapter 1:
He said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." Job 1:21 NASB
Here he says that it was the LORD who took away all he had and killed his children. That sounds like blasphemy, but notice what the text says:
Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God. Job 1:22 NASB
I like the way the Contemporary English Version puts this:
In spite of everything, Job did not sin or accuse God of doing wrong. Job 1:22 CEV
Job was saying that God did this, but he wasn't accusing God of doing wrong. Job and his wife knew what Paul knew--all things come from the hand of God; both the things we think are good and the things we think are bad.
"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; Acts 26:22 NASB
That the Jews had not succeeded, with all their mobs, and conspiracies, and corruption of rulers in destroying his life, was a matter of astonishment. And because he had obtained help from God, he was standing there testifying to both small and great that the salvation of the world comes only through the "hope of Israel," the Lord Jesus Christ, whose coming, death, and resurrection was foretold by the Prophets and Moses.
"Stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place"this is a very significant statement. Paul is saying that he was preaching nothing but the Tanakh; we call it the Old Testament. But the Jews don't call it that, they call it the Tanakh; which is an acronym that identifies the Hebrew Bible. The acronym is based on the initial Hebrew letters of each of the text's three parts: 1.Torah, meaning: "Instruction," "The five books of Moses," also called the "Pentateuch." 2. Nevi'im, meaning: "Prophets." 3. Ketuvim, meaning: "Writings" or "Hagiographa."
If you can remember back to when we started the book of Acts, I said that something that is critical to our understanding is that the Bible is one book. It is my opinion that the designation "Old Testament" is destructive. We think of something old as outdated, not needed any longer. When I get a new phone, I no longer want to use my "old" one. I think that most Christians have the idea that the Old Testament is not needed or useful for believers. This is due in part to confusing the Old Covenant, which has been superseded by the New Covenant, to the Old Testament. We connect the Old Covenant and the Old Testament, and since the Old Covenant passed away, we believe we don't need the Old Testament. The Old Covenant is fulfilled, and we are under the New Covenant. But the First Testament is not "old," in the sense that we don't need it.
Please understand this: Apart from understanding the First Testament, you will never understand the Second Testament. The writers of the Second Testament all suppose that their readers understood the First Testament. Look at Romans 1:
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, Romans 1:1-2 NASB
What is Paul saying here? He is saying that the Gospel was promised beforehand in the First Testament. "Through His prophets in the holy Scriptures" is referring to the First Testament.
To understand the words of the Second Testament, we must understand the words of the First Testament. For example, the new believer begins to read the Bible and starts in Matthew:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Matthew 1:1 NASB
In the first verse of the so called New Testament, we have to ask, "Who is David? Who is Abraham? "Where do we get the answers to those questions? We have to go back to the First Testament.
Then in verse 21 speaking of Mary, Matthew writes:
"And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins." Matthew 1:21 NASB
Who are "His people"? Israel! Matthew then tells us that this was in fulfillment of prophecy from the First Testament:
Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, Matthew 1:22 NASB
Then He quotes from Isaiah:
"BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US." Matthew 1:23 NASB
So the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus was foretold in the First Testament. So we can't start in the last quarter of the book and expect to understand what is going on unless we first have read the first three quarters. The Bible was written in a time far distant from ours and in cultures quite strange to us. So as we try to discover the author's meaning, we must learn to read his writing as one of his contemporaries would. To do this we must understand the First Testament as they did.
The importance of understanding the first three quarters of the Bible is brought out in Paul's words in our text. He says that he was, "Stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place"--listen, believers, Paul is saying that what he was preaching ALL came from the First Testament. Paul's eschatology was nothing but what the Prophets and Moses taught. So in Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 15 on the resurrection, and in 1 Thessalonians 4 on what most call "the rapture," Paul is teaching nothing but what Moses and the Prophets taught. He is teaching the hope of Israel.
This is a problem to Dispensationalists; they teach what Paul taught was not revealed in the Tanakh. Dwight Pentecost, in his book, Things to Come, on page 137 writes, "The concept must stand that this whole age [he's referring to the Church age] with its program was not revealed in the Old Testament, but constitutes a new program and a new line of revelation in this present age."
How can that be if Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, says that he is teaching nothing but what Moses and the Prophets taught? Who do we believe, Paul or Dwight Pentecost?
Listen to me, believers, There is nothing new in the New Testament. Everything that Paul, and all its writers, taught was nothing but the hope of Israel. All the promises that God gave to Israel are fulfilled in the Church, because the Church is the true Israel of God. This view has been called "replacement theology"; it is said that the Church replaced Israel. But a much better term would be "fulfillment theology"; the promises of God made to Old Covenant Israel are "fulfilled" in the Church of Jesus Christ, which is true Israel. Covenant, not race, has always been the defining mark of the true Israel.
Let me back up the statement that all the promises that God gave to Israel are fulfilled in the Church:
"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, Jeremiah 31:31 NASB
What is promised here? A New Covenant. Who is this New Covenant promised to? Israel! Anyone disagree with that? Good. Then let me ask you this: What covenant is the Church under? Writing to the Church that was in Corinth, Paul said:
who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:6 NASB
The New Covenant is particularly problematic for the Dispensationalist, as Jeremiah 31 is undeniably addressed to Israel. The New Covenant is the very heart of the Gospel, yet, if the Church is fulfilling the promise given to Israel under the New Covenant then the Church is the true Israel of God.
I believe that the Bible teaches the essential continuity of Israel and the Church. The elect of all the ages are seen as one people, true Israel, with one Savior, one destiny.
When I say that there is nothing new in the New Testament, maybe some of you are thinking about Ephesians 3 and the mystery.
that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, Ephesians 3:3-6 NASB
Doesn't Paul teach here that this mystery was not made known in previous generations? Doesn't he teach that it is just now being revealed to him? Well Paul says, "Which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed"--he says that it was not made known "as" it has now been revealed.
Was it taught in the Tanakh that the Gentiles would be partakers of the promise of Christ and brought into the kingdom? Was that taught? Sure it was:
The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Now it will come about that In the last days The mountain of the house of the LORD Will be established as the chief of the mountains, And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it. Isaiah 2:1-2 NASB
This is a prophecy about the "last days" and the establishment of the kingdom. And he says, "all the nations" will stream to it. It sure sounds like there would be equality in the kingdom:
And many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways And that we may walk in His paths." For the law will go forth from Zion And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Isaiah 2:3 NASB
When Solomon dedicated the temple, he talked about Gentiles coming to it:
"Also concerning the foreigner who is not from Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your great name's sake and Your mighty hand and Your outstretched arm, when they come and pray toward this house, then hear from heaven, from Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, and fear You as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name. 2 Chronicles 6:32-33 NASB
So they expected Gentiles to come and worship the God of Israel at the temple in Jerusalem. Notice also:
He says, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth." Isaiah 49:6 NASB
First God restores Israel and then makes them a light to the Gentiles. So what was the mystery that Paul talked about? The mystery was that Gentiles would be equal to Jews. Paul preached that the Gentiles could obtain salvation simply by faith in Christ. Paul was preaching a circumcision-free, Law-free Gospel that made Jew and Gentile one.
There is nothing new in the New Testament, but the New Testament writers interpret the First Testament for us. They unfold in a much clearer, more detailed way the things that were taught in the Tanakh. Please get this: When the New Testament authors comment on a First Testament passage, they do not give an interpretation, but THE interpretation. The New Testament interprets the First. The Old Covenant was a veiled representation of the New Covenant.
It is in the New Testament that we learn that the material things of the Old Covenant were types and shadows of spiritual counterparts found in the New Covenant. We are to interpret the First Testament through the lens of the New Testament. We must understand that the last 27 books are a divinely inspired commentary on the first 39 books.
Milton S. Terry, in his book, Biblical Hermeneutics, writes: "It is of the first importance to observe that, from a Christian point of view, the Old Testament cannot be fully apprehended without the help of the New" (p. 18).
I said earlier, "To understand the words of the Second Testament, we must understand the words of the First Testament." So as I said earlier, the Bible is ONE book. You need the First three quarters of it to understand the last quarter, and you need the last quarter to interpret the first there quarters. We need the WHOLE book.
I need to say one more thing about this verse before we leave it. Notice how Young's Literal Translation puts it:
`Having obtained, therefore, help from God, till this day, I have stood witnessing both to small and to great, saying nothing besides the things that both the prophets and Moses spake of as about to come, Acts 26:22 YLT
Our text has the Greek word mello in it. Paul says that Moses spoke of these things as "about to come." Anything about that bother you? If mello means: "about to come," how could Moses have spoken about the things Paul is teaching as "about to come"? If they are "about to come" for Moses, how can they be "about to come" for Paul?
I think that Paul is referring here to the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32:
"Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak; And let the earth hear the words of my mouth. Deuteronomy 32:1 NASB
Who is God talking to here? The heavens and earth? Is He talking to the stars and dirt? No, he is talking to Israel. Notice what he says to them:
'Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, In due time their foot will slip; For the day of their calamity is near, And the impending things are hastening upon them.' Deuteronomy 32:35 NASB
I think that this is the verse that Paul is referring to in Acts 26:22 when he said Moses spoke of as "about to come." How could Israel's calamity be "near" in Moses' time? If you read this chapter from the beginning, you will see that it is a prophecy of Israel's last days. Moses is talking about what will happen in Israel's future. So Moses is saying that in Israel's last days her calamity is near.
...Stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; 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." Acts 26:23 NASB
Paul wanted them to recognize that what he was teaching is nothing other than the prophets have already said. Scriptures he had in mind would have included:
'I will raise up a prophet from countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. Deuteronomy 18:18 NASB
This speaks of the coming Prophet Jesus. He also would have had in mind the following verses: Isaiah 53:10-12, which could only be fulfilled by the resurrection of the Servant (52:13), where the One Who had been humiliated is exalted on high; both halves of Psalm 22, expressing humiliation and triumph; the triumph of the Messiah in Psalm 16:8-11 and 110:1; Moses' teaching on the sacrifices that are fulfilled in Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7) and are for the forgiveness of sins; Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6 where the Servant is shown to be for the light to the Gentiles.
These promises were fulfilled in the person of Jesus. Jesus was put to death by the Jews and Gentiles (with the help of Roman rulers), and by virtue of His resurrection from the dead, He was (on the road to Damascus) the first to proclaim "light" to the Jews and the Gentiles. And what Jesus first did, Paul and the Church continued to do.
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." Acts 26:24 NASB
I can almost hear Festus mumbling to himself, "This is no defense, it is a crusade! Paul is trying to get us all saved." The Roman governor's outburst shows that he sees neither Jesus' resurrection nor the salvation blessings that flow from it as fit topics for rational discussion. There was no place in the Roman system of belief for a resurrection from the dead. Festus was a rationalist. For him, the notion that Jesus, or anyone else, could rise from the dead was just plain crazy. Festus had called Jesus "a dead man" (Acts 25:19). But Paul was saying that Jesus was alive!
The Greek words ta polla . . . grammata, translated: "great learning" (lit. the many writings) indicate that it was Paul's knowledge of the Scriptures that Festus is talking about.
But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. Acts 26:25 NASB
The word used for sober is often used elsewhere in contrast with the idea of madness as its opposite. Paul's faith, along with the faith of all of the apostles, rested completely on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was not an irrational leap in the dark, but was based on their eyewitness testimony. Paul can make such an assertion because his message is about an objective historical fact, a public event of which even King Agrippa is aware:
"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. Acts 26:26 NASB
The thing that was "not done in a corner" was the death and resurrection of Christ. It was common knowledge. Everyone knew that Jesus had lived and died, and that there was a claim to His resurrection.
"King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do." Acts 26:27 NASB
Now Paul's language becomes second person language, as he turns to Agrippa, and he said, "Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you believe." Do you see what he's saying? He is saying, You know the historical facts of Jesus' life. He had known of Christ because he uses the term "Christian." Paul hasn't used that term. And you believe the Prophets. So put the two together. What did the Prophets say the Messiah would do? Where does that drive you? Jesus fulfilled what the Prophets wrote.
Paul is putting Agrippa between a rock and a hard place. If Agrippa said, "I do believe the Prophets," then he would be tacitly admitting that Jesus is the Messiah. That would put him in deep trouble with the Jewish leaders. But if he said, "I don't believe the Prophets," then he would be in even deeper trouble with them. So he couldn't say yes or no. Agrippa, the politician, did not want to deny the Prophets or agree with a crazy man. So he diverted the question:
Agrippa replied to Paul, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian." Acts 26:28 NASB
The Greek here is a bit obscure. But it doesn't say what we have in our King James Version:
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. Acts 26:28 KJV
He is not saying, "You've almost got me, Paul. You almost have me convinced." I think the best way to see this is that Agrippa sarcastically says, "Do you really think, Paul, that in this short a time you're going to make me a Christian?"
The word, "Christian" is only used twice in the New Testament, here and in 1 Peter 4:16 when Peter encourages one who "suffers as a Christian." The plural form is used in Acts 11:26 where it says "the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." But King Agrippa is the first one recorded to refer to the Church by the name, "Christian."
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." Acts 26:29 NASB
Paul was trying to convert Agrippa and everyone else. As he stands there he says: I wish you could be like I am. I wish you had the peace, the liberty, the power, the joy, the gladness of my heart and life.
The Greek text says, "Altogether such as I am, except these bonds." What a gesture that must have been. I wish that all of you had what I have. In their day Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice had what everyone else wanted. They lived well. They had plenty of money, the finest clothes, the best food, and the most comfortable places to live. Paul owned no property, had no investment portfolio, and probably could pack all of his earthly belongings in one suitcase. But there is no status in this society that can possibly compare with the status of "in Christ." That's the greatest place for any person to be.
Paul's reference to his chains may have been literal--he may have been wearing chains as he spoke--or perhaps metaphorical--he may have been referring to his condition as a prisoner.
The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, and when they had gone aside, they began talking to one another, saying, "This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment." Acts 26:30-31 NASB
Then the king stood up, the indication that the event was now at an end. And following his act the governor and Bernice stood along with him, followed by all the guests, and having left the room all agreed that Paul had done nothing worthy of either death or bonds.
The reason for this meeting was not (in the minds of that crowd) to give Paul a chance to preach to them and to seek to convert them, but to hear Paul's case so as to give Festus something to report to Caesar. They got nothing. There really were no charges against Paul that would hold up in court.
Luke implied that everyone present concurred that Paul was completely innocent. This had previously been the verdict of the Pharisees (23:9), Claudius Lysias (23:29), and Festus (25:25). Now the king of Palestine and the governor from Rome both agreed Paul was innocent. Christianity is not an insurrection, heresy, or political treason; it is a spiritual relationship with the living God.
This whole scene emphasizes the contrast between the uprightness of Roman legal proceedings over against the partiality and injustice of the Jews. God was through with Judiasm, and soon He would utterly destroy Jerusalem.
And Agrippa said to Festus, "This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar." Acts 26:32 NASB
This verdict by the man who could appoint and remove the high priests of Jerusalem was clearly seen by Luke as more than counteracting the verdicts of the high priests themselves. The chief man in Judaism had declared Paul to be innocent.
They could have released him. His appeal was only binding if there were grounds for it, and there were no grounds for an appeal from one who was innocent. To them he was a political pawn. Had he not been a Roman citizen, he would probably have been handed over to the Jewish court . So the alternative of releasing him was not an option. It would have brought turmoil.
Paul's speech explains the intensity of Israel's unbelief. In spite of the fact that the Jews should recognize Jesus (and the Gospel) to be the fulfillment of the promise of God through Moses and the Prophets, they vigorously oppose it. They do this contrary to the Scriptures, history, and logic. They do so because of the hardness of their hearts. Men cannot be logically convinced and converted, any more than Paul was. In order for men to be converted, God must radically and powerfully intervene into their lives, convincing them that Jesus is alive, and that He is the Messiah. Our text is just one of many which reveals the deep-seated unbelief and hard-core opposition of men toward God, and of the dramatic, divine intervention required to save lost men.
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