I was able to get away for a few hours yesterday to meet up with a pastor who heads up a Christian Ministry that seeks to teach Church leaders the skill of teaching others. We spoke about many things but soon we found that our doctrines and theology are the same and although he is not from Africa, he understands something about African cultures and traditions as he visits various countries there. At this point in time he has not yet visited South Africa. My reason for sharing this with you is that when people know and understand Biblical Christianity, it is far easier to discuss matters and reach agreement on various issues. Remember we are dealing with Paul’s defense before King Agrippa. This is the last “court hearing” before he sets out for Rome.
1) King Agrippa II understood Jewish customs and controversies.
Ac 26:2 “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, 3 and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.”
(1) The word “fortunate” in Greek means “blessed or happy”. It is easy to miss what this word means in the English language. In its use by Luke it is associated with the name of God. Paul when writing to young Timothy says:
1Ti 1:11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
That is the concept of Paul’s words to Agrippa. It is because of the glorious Gospel of the Blessed God that he, Paul, is happy, blessed or fortunate to defend himself before the king.
(2) The secondary issue is the charges laid against him, though as he says, he knows the king as a Jew (not practicing, in name only), is acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. The word used for “acquainted” means “an expert” or “connoisseur”. In what was the king an expert or connoisseur? Customs as prescribed by law and all the questions or debates ongoing amongst the Jews about religion, culture and the application of what the “fathers” had written down. Remember Paul is on trial for the Lord Jesus. That is the real issue at stake. There is no question in Paul’s heart that Jesus Christ it the Messiah God … the Sovereign One who Created all things … and that He reigns over all … and that His will for Paul is to bear witness to the Gospel in Rome. So his happiness to defend himself lies in the fact that he represents the Gospel under the banner that Jesus Christ is LORD … and that Agrippa is a Jew and would understand more easily an exposition based upon the Old Testaments prophecies about Messiah and their fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ, for whom he is in chains.
2) Paul’s Jewish history.
Ac 26:4 “The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. 5 They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. 7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. 8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?”
Inspired by the Spirit he starts with his religious conviction from childhood saying …
(1) His life was a well-known fact since a child to the present day.
(2) He was born and grew up in Tarsus in Cilicia which was in ancient Asia Minor … modern Turkey.
(3) The “they” in verse 5 is reference to the leaders of the Sanhedrin. They had known him personally and should they be willing to, they would agree he was “a rigid letter of the law” Pharisee. He is saying that should they deny whom he was, they would be telling lies. He was like they are.
(4) Yet there is a subtle difference as to what those of the Pharisee Party hope in and what Paul hopes in. As you read—
Ac 26:6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. 7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. 8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
—you find him pressing this issue home to the king because the resurrection from the dead as well as the Messiah being put to death and rising from the dead (resurrection) are taught in the Old Testament. Read Isaiah 53 as an example for both Messiah’s death and resurrection. If the larger religious party known as the Pharisees believed in the resurrection from the dead … if this was their hope … life after death … why would it be so strange they persecute Paul for believing the same thing?
(5) Then he poses a provocative question …
Ac 26:8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
The “you” here refers to Agrippa, Bernice, the high ranking officials, the town elders as well as the governor, Festus. Before he goes any further, he challenges them by asking whether it is impossible to believe that God raises the dead. In the context, “consider it incredible” means “is it unbelievable” … that God is able to raise the dead?
Read Romans 1 and see how Paul describes God’s creative activity. Is that unbelievable? If He made life, could He not raise the dead to life? But what does Paul means by the resurrection from the dead? Does He mean taking a dead body like Lazarus and raising it to life after he was dead for a few days?
No! Paul, like the Pharisees, believed in the life hereafter. In other words he believed in an eternity! The resurrection from the dead refers to what happens once Jesus returns … it is about the resurrection unto eternal life or unto eternal death. It is about heaven and hell.
Beloved, let me repeat this because it is so important! The Christian faith is all about God’s rescue plan for mankind … that is, for those He chose to be holy and blameless in His sight and conform to the likeness of the Lord Jesus. We believe in the incarnation, the virgin birth. We believe in the sinless life Jesus lived out subsitutionally. We believe in Jesus substitutional, penal, sacrificial death and His substitutional resurrection from the dead. We believe He ascended into heaven and sent God the Holy Spirit who grants the first resurrection … a spiritual one … being born again. We believe in Jesus present high priestly reign and intercession for us.
But we shall be wrong to ignore that He promised to come again! This is the hope of the Church. If He was not coming again, there would be not individual and personal resurrection from the dead for believers and we would be ruined for eternity. But He promised He is coming again … and when He does He will judge the living (true Christians) and the dead (those who are not blood covered), pronouncing guiltless for the save and guilt for the lost … granting heaven for the saints and hell for the damned. The Bible teaches this. Paul believed it. Do you believe it?
Great and glorious Father, King of heaven and earth, how we people look forward with anticipation to Jesus’ return where He shall usher in the new heavens and the new earth. May You be glorified and may we keep focused on You our King. Amen.