Acts 26:9-15

Acts 26:9‑15  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The apostle returns from argument to the account of his own life, from which he had turned aside for a moment.
“I therefore thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus the Nazarene; which things I also did in Jerusalem; and I both shut up many of the saints in prisons, having received the authority from the chief priests, and I railed against [them] when they were put to death; and throughout all the synagogues, often punishing I was compelling them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them I was pursuing them even as far as to the outside cities” (Acts 26: 9-11).
We have repeated allusions in the Epistles to his life before conversion. Thus to the Galatians he wrote, “For ye have heard of my manner of life at one time in Judaism that beyond bounds I was persecuting the church and ravaging it, and was advancing in Judaism beyond many of mine own age in my race, being more exceedingly a zealot of my ancestral traditions (Acts 26:13-1413At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. 14And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. (Acts 26:13‑14)). To the Philippians his language is, “As to law a Pharisee, as to zeal persecuting the church, as to righteousness that is in law found blameless” (Phil. 3:5-65Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:5‑6)). Lastly to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:1313Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. (1 Timothy 1:13)) he says, “Though formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and an insulter; but I obtained mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief.”
Here he lets us see how unsafe a guide conscience is for the natural man, no matter what may be his religious helps. He considered it his duty to oppose the name of Jesus and zealously persecute all who called on Him. Nor does God accept such a plea. He had sent His Son with adequate proof of His Messiahship for all who would compare His written word with the facts of Jesus the Nazarene: prophecy accomplished; miracles wrought not only by Himself but by His servants, and of a character quite peculiar, yet harmonizing with a teaching altogether unexampled; and a moral power of holy life ending in a death of deepest shame on the cross, which He ever held out as not man’s sin only, but God’s grace as the ransom for sinners, to the reality of which all sacrifices pointed from Abel downward. Paul therefore had acted ignorantly in unbelief, as do others who refuse all revelation or misuse one part to reject another still faller and more glorious.
The greater the religious zeal in such a state of unbelief, the farther it carries the devotee from the present testimony of God. Hence it was that Paul gave himself up with all his soul to opposing the faith of Jesus as the Christ in Jerusalem, which he would feel outraged by His claims. Here before Agrippa he does not hesitate to confess to his own shame that he shut up “many of the saints” in prisons. To the Jews he had employed the more vague expression “this way” (Acts 22:44And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. (Acts 22:4)); as Luke in the history spoke of “the disciples of the Lord” (Luke 9:11Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. (Luke 9:1)). How little he so thought when he received the requisite authority from the chief priests! Nor was it only imprisoning. When it was a question of putting them to death, had he not given an adverse vote? Notably it was so in Stephen’s case, as this book records. Had he not visited all the synagogues, often punishing souls and forcing out blasphemy if possible? And had he not in his excessive madness pursued them even into cities outside the land?
But a mighty change was at hand. Not a hint of relenting appears here or elsewhere, not one emotion of pity for the victims, not a trace of self-judgment or hesitation in his own course. Who verified so conspicuously the Lord’s own words? “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you shall think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do, because they have not known the Father nor Me” (John 16:2, 32They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. 3And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. (John 16:2‑3)). This is the new revelation of the Messiah come and rejected; and on that rejection bringing to light the Father and the Son, wholly unknown to those who in their zeal for the law broke out into hatred and persecution of what was beyond them and condemned their unbelief.
“On which [business] when proceeding unto Damascus with authority and commission of the chief-priests, at mid-day on the road I saw, O king, a light above the brightness of the sun shining round me and those that were proceeding with me. And when we all fell to the earth, I heard a voice saying unto me in the Hebrew language, Saul, Saul, why persecutest then Me? [It is] hard for thee to kick against goads. And I said, Who art Thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest” (Acts 26:12-1512Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, 13At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. 14And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 15And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. (Acts 26:12‑15)).
Never was sovereign grace so signally demonstrated. I do not speak of the wonder. But now evidently the Lord was giving a typical case, in the letter it would seem for the Jews by and by, in spirit for the Christian now. For what could more completely prove that Christ is all to him that believes? To a man up to that moment blinded by his legal zeal against the grace of God in Christ, that very Christ reveals Himself, sweeping into nothingness all that a Jew boasted of and rested in, and identifying himself in the glory of God with the One Who died, between two crucified robbers, the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.
On earth Messiah is to be set God’s King on His holy hill of Zion. This is the decree. Judgment will surely silence all that oppose, be they kings or nations, rulers or peoples. Their rage is as vain as all their imaginations to the contrary. Execution of judgment will make all plain to every eye. Then will Messiah ask and receive the nations for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. Then will He break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. It will be no longer as now grace preached, but the kingdom established by divine power seen and felt beyond question; and the kings of the earth will be wise, and the judges instructed, serving Jehovah with fear and rejoicing with trembling.
Now Christ sits in heaven on the Father’s throne, and has a new object of love and a new testimony carried on here below by the Holy Spirit suited to His glory on high and that object, even the church which is His body. This mystery is great, as it must be, for we speak about Christ and about the church; concurrently with which goes forth the gospel of God’s grace to every creature under heaven, all distinctions of Jew and Gentile vanishing meanwhile.
Paul was called to be a minister, both of the church and of the gospel, as he says himself in Colossians 1:23-2523If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; 24Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church: 25Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; (Colossians 1:23‑25). And the special manner of his conversion was exactly suited to it in the wisdom and goodness of God. For it was not only unmistakable grace in its deepest character, but from heavenly glory entirely above the distinctions so important on earth. And Paul alone was there personally favored, though the truth of it was to act most powerfully on souls all over the earth. This may help to show the immense importance of what the apostle recounted that day, in substance recorded now for the third time in the brief book of the Acts.
Impossible to doubt that a divine person speaks out from the brightness beyond that of the sun at mid-day. If all were prostrate and heard but a sound, Paul could not mistake the voice of His lips, saying to him (and in the Hebrew language), “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me” How overwhelming, yet how blessed, to hear in answer to his question of astonishment, “I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest!” Thus even from the starting-point he heard the truth that the saints are one with Him. To persecute them is to persecute Jesus.
Doubtless the blessed apostle had revelations of the Lord, and from Him, not a few afterward; and the bearings of the mystery, as well as its consequences were made known to him by the Spirit. It is, however, full of interest to learn that the germ of all was planted in him, as we see here, from the moment that grace wrought in his soul and brought him into God’s marvelous light. He obeyed the truth immediately. It is hard to kick against goads, on the one hand; and on the other the Lord had drawn his heart into the love of the truth, whatever it might cost. He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, which thenceforth gave its impress to his life, his faith and his testimony. “And straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that He is the Son of God.” He was Messiah, but far more; eternally the Son; now exalted and given to be Head to the church in the heavenly places; universal Lord to the glory of God the Father, in virtue of Whose name all things shall bow; as indeed He is our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Henceforth Saul could say, “For me to live is Christ.”