The Divine Defense

This is now Paul’s Fifth Defense to the masses and Seventh Overall, if You are Keeping Score.

Acts 26:1-23

And Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense: “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; especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently. 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; since they have known about me for a long time previously, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; 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. Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead? So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 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. 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. While thus engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 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. 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.’ And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But arise, 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; delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ Consequently, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, 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. For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death. And 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; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”

That’s correct, this is now the fith time that Paul makes his defense, saying many of the same things but each time, he progressively adds more testimony to his defense, this time being his complete defense. And this time, it appears that he testifies to hundreds of people. Looking back at the context, we remember reading, “on the next day when Agrippa had come together with Bernice, amid great pomp, and had entered the auditorium accompanied by the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.” Neither the exact amount of men nor the exact location is revealed by Luke, but we can consider the greater context in an attempt to figure it out. However, even a close examination of the context does not give us an exact number of people or the exact location. We can also search the secular history of the time to try to ascertain what similar situations looked like but it is not necessarily conclusive or indicative of today​’s text. We simply don’t know but we do know that it was many men, in Caeserea. It may have  been in the amphitheater that still exists in Caesarea, in which I have stood but there is little evidence of this. However we are sure that  many people were present. If there were not many men present, why all the pomp?

Speaking of pomp, many men and Paul’s testimony, I believe that this was prophesized by Jesus. We hear Paul’s side of the story but the continuing context and vitamin E demands that we recall what Jesus said to Ananias. “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” In Paul’s recent situation alone, he fulfilled his calling from Jesus by the letter. But we consider the greater context and understand that this situation is only a small sample of suffering to Paul. From city to city and in the synagogues, Paul preached and was persecuted, suffering for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But today the prophecy of Jesus about Paul to Ananias comes the closest to being completely fulfilled as it has before because Paul is now preaching to the puppet, proxy king, Herod Agrippa. Agrippa is actually the last in the Herodian dynasty to be called a king. We are never told if Paul preached to Nero while in Rome but he has appealed to Caesar and is sent to Caesar and tradition says that he was killed by Caesar, and Jesus promised he would bear his name to kings, plural. Today’s text is indicative of God’s promises.

“And Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You are permitted to speak for yourself.’ Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense.” We would do well to strap on our sandals and picture ourselves in the cultural context of the first century. This scene in Caesarea, on the shore of the Mediterranean sea, some 1,960 years ago may be timeless in its teachings but is more fully understood if we understand the cultural context and climate. With great pomp, king Agrippa, a regional ruler of Rome, entered into the arena in the midst of many men. He was the great grandson of Herod the great, who enlarged and expanded, built up and beautified the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, he works for Nero Caesar. Agrippa is quite the walking contradiction in many ways because he is not only loyal to his ancestry but also to the Romans, living in a time of tumultuous tension between the two. Even out of his jurisdiction of Galilee and its neighbors to the north and east, he demands great respect in his former territory of Judea, even more than Festus. We notice that the apostle Paul also gives Agrippa his proper respect as God’s chosen ruler of his region, waiting for Agrippa to allow him to speak.

“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; especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently. 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; since they have known about me for a long time previously, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.” Paul is not flattering Festus and Agrippa but is sincere in his statement. Agrippa was not only Jewish and the great grandson of the “king of the Jews,” Herod, he also reigned over Jerusalem for many years under Claudius Caesar, including appointing priests in the temple, being its superintendent. What Paul says confirms this history, calling Agrippa an expert in Jewish customs and considering himself fortunate to be able to give his defense before him. We can clearly take Paul at his word, that he believes he will be exonerated by Agrippa and maybe even able to convert Agrippa; but that’s getting way ahead. Paul begins his defense by telling of his former following of the Pharisee sect and his persecution of the christians, another sect of Judaism at the time but much has changed. Remember that Paul, some 1,960 years ago, rewinds the proverbial clock of 60 AD to around 35 AD. Not long after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the entire body of believers was Jewish, and they certainly still considered themselves Jewish as they should have. They were faithful Israel and understood that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. They lived, and are still living in the overlap between the two Covenants. Yet many years have passed and time is running out for Jerusalem. Nevertheless, Paul returns to his persecution as a Pharisee, retelling of his zeal as a member of the strictest sect. His testimony is corroborated by the stoning of Stephan,  very shortly after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We also can take our vitamin E and explore other examples.

To the church in Galatia Paul writes; “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.”

In 1 Corinthians he writes; For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”

To the Philippians Paul writes; “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

There’s a bit of systematic theology in what Paul wrote, concerning himself in Christ. Nevertheless, we see a complete corroboration between Paul’s testimony to Agrippa and his testimony to the churches because it is his testimony. The problem is that according to Jewish Law, the testimony of two or three witnesses is required to confirm something. Paul is one witness, Jesus and the Spirit would be two more but the people present don’t believe in Jesus. The good news is that Paul, although being tried by the former superintendent of the temple, is being tried in a Roman court, where he has the right to defend himself. I bring this all up so that we see the sad severity of the situation. Let’s take a little more vitamin E.

To Timothy, not a far-future generation, Paul wrote; “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching. At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me, in order that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

As an aside, why do we assume that Paul’s concerns about a time to come where people wouldn’t pay attention to sound doctrine apply to us in 2020 but not bringing Paul a parchment? Automatically we defend this by the obvious; Paul told Timothy to bring his cloak, books (scrolls) and parchments, especially. But follow that correct line of thinking to full fruition. Paul also told Timothy that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry…Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching.” Paul was writing to Timothy and warning him. Does history repeat itself? Absolutely but this is absolutely not a prophecy concerning the end of the world as we know it but the end of the age as they knew it. Context is king, author’s aspirations to his audience are apex, genre is the general, expository exegesis of examples enlightens and dividing rightly the word of truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. The specific line I want us to focus on as we continue considering today’s text and Paul’s defense before Agrippa is what he wrote to Timothy in the midst of his final, recorded and preserved exhortation to Timothy; “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me, in order that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the lion’s mouth.” Paul is all alone, defending not only himself, but the gospel of Jesus. Strap on your sandals and listen to Paul’s defense, as he stood amongst many men, Festus the ruler of Judea and Agrippa, the ruler of Galilee and the former superintendent of the temple.

“And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; 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. Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead? So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 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. 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. While thus engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 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. 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.’ And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But arise, 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; delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ Consequently, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, 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. For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death. And 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; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”

Two sects from the same tree but we notice the radical shift in Paul from the persecuting Pharisee to the suffering servant. In 60 AD, God was still screaming to the people of Israel to repent and believe in Jesus because he is patient and proclaimed that the gospel would go to Jerusalem first, then to Judea, Samaria and then all around the world. The progressive dispersion of the gospel is not only planned but followed–to the Jew first and also to the Greek. You may not like the progressive plan but it is the plan nonetheless. Perhaps you prefer the parenthetical plan; the “plan b” as it were. But as we keep considering the continuing context and exercise an exegesis of examples I don’t see a parenthetical plan but a progressive plan, predicted by prophecy and made known by the Messiah. Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, has preached Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and even as far as Europe. This was not plan b but the plan from the foundation of the world. Long before there was Abraham, Isaac or Jacob, God told the devil that he would crush his head. Progressively the Law and the prophets promised Jesus and promised that he would redeem all nations. “Then in that day The nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious.”

Paul does not defend a rapture, speaking in tongues, healings, miracles, signs, wars, rumors of wars, peace, pestilence, famine, fortune, bread, wine, infant baptism, hymns or praise songs but the resurrection of the dead. Paul calls this “the hope,” but we twist it into a rapture rescue, quoting Paul’s letter to Titus, calling it “the blessed hope.” But that is not even ripping verses out of context, nor is it exegesis but eisegesis, imposing a preconceived notion upon the text. We love the parenthetical plan and rapture rescue, unable to let it go,  even in light of the sacred Scripture and sublime string woven throughout. Notice Paul’s defense once again and notice the parenthetical–his part as a Pharisee. Paul begins with the hope of the resurrection of the dead, parenthetically speaks of his former fame as a Pharisee, which we know he considers rubbish, and then comes back to the resurrection of the dead. Therefore, I will give Paul the last words.

“Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, ‘All things are put in subjection,’ it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.”

 

 

 

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