On Acts 26:16-23

Acts 26:16‑23  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 12
The decisive words were uttered, “I am Jesus,” to one who could not doubt the utterer was the Lord; nor this only, but “I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest,” the germ of that mystery (and it is a great one) which the astonished hearer was to develop beyond all others, even of the apostles. Thereon follows what is of the deepest interest.
“But rise up and stand on thy feet; for to this end I appeared to thee, to appoint thee a servant and a witness both of what thou hast seen and of those things wherein I shall appear to thee, taking thee out from the people and from the Gentiles unto whom I send thee, to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness unto light and the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive remission of sins and inheritance among those that are sanctified by faith that is in Me. Whence, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but reported both to those in Damascus first, and in Jerusalem, and through all the country of Judaea and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance On account of these things the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to slay me. Having therefore obtained help that is from God I stand unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said should come, whether Christ should suffer, whether He first by resurrection of [the] dead should announce light both to the people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:16-2316But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; 17Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, 18To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. 19Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: 20But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. 21For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. 22Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: 23That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles. (Acts 26:16‑23)).
Such a vision to such an end stamped on Paul the apostolic title in its highest character. It was from heaven in the power of resurrection life and ascension glory; and this not only by one determining act, but with the guarantee of all that was to be made known from Him personally in the future. We should not know from this account that he was blind for three days and that Ananias was sent directly by the Lord to heal as well as baptize him. Nor have we particulars of his testimony either in Damascus on in Jerusalem, any more than of his going away into Arabia. Each fact is set forth where it was called for; all was stated not only with truthfulness but according to holy and divine design, as is invariably the case in scripture. The Lord led either Luke or Paul according to His will to say what was fitting. Here the apostle gives summarily what was of moment for his audience, and for all that should read and weigh the words afterward.
It was not only to convert and save him that the Lord had spoken to Saul of Tarsus. He was to arise and stand on his feet; for the Lord had appeared to him to appoint him a servant (ὑπηρέτην) and a witness both of what he then saw and of those things in which He was to appear to him. A work lay before him of immense magnitude and unprecedented character. And the Lord’s revelations then and afterward were of all moment. He was to be a typical servant too, though his own calling might be unique; for no such appearing of the Lord was to be the portion of those who should follow in the faith and footsteps of Paul.
Acts 26:1717Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, (Acts 26:17) is not well given by either the Revisers or the A.V. Though the word may bear “delivering,” as it often signified, its simpler meaning of “taking out” is far more suitable to the context and the truth intended and verified in the apostle’s career. It is admitted on all hands that the Lord’s taking Saul out from the people (or the Jews) is suitable; but De Wette and Meyer allege that it does not chime in with the Gentiles. This seems quite a mistake. Separation from both is most appropriate to characterize his position; and there is no need to extend “unto whom I send thee” beyond the latter. He was to be apostle of Gentiles or uncircumcision, and as such magnifies his function in Romans 11. The “I” is emphatic, and the adverb “now” only added by inferior witnesses. The difficulty these scholars feel is owing to their ignorance of Christian position, and even of Christianity according to scripture. For the Jew believing in Christ is not leveled down to a Gentile, nor yet is the believing Gentile raised up to that of the Jew; but the Holy Spirit unites both to Christ in heavenly glory, while at the same the gospel of grace goes forth indiscriminately, but to the Gentile practically, as the once favored nation is given up to temporary blindness in God’s just judgment. Never was there a more striking representative of both than the apostle, minister of the church, and minister of the gospel (Col. 1). Stier has only noticed half the beauty of the contrast; for if Peter declares himself “a witness of the sufferings of Christ and a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed,” Paul was a witness of the glory of Christ and a partaker of His sufferings; and it is him we are called to imitate, though we only by faith see Him glorified. To share His sufferings is the Christian’s and the believer’s moral glory.
Then follows in verse 18 a vivid description of his works among the Gentiles: “to open their eyes, that they may tarn from darkness unto light and the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive remission of sins and inheritance among those that are sanctified by faith that is in Me.” Doubtless Jews needed these operations of grace no less really than the nations; but in the latter case the necessity was far more conspicuous, besotted as they were not only in shameless immorality but by gross superstitions which darkened and demoralized them more than if they had had no religion at all. If, as the Jews say, it was reserved for the Messiah to open the eyes of the blind literally, here we see how He sent Ηis apostle to do the work, not physically alone but morally. And this was manifested by Gentiles, when they heard the call of the Lord, turning from darkness into light, and (defining yet more their sources) the power of Satan unto God, followed by the great characteristic privileges of the gospel, the reception of remission of sins and allotment among the sanctified by faith in Christ. For there was now a new, deeper, fuller sanctification, not fleshly or by ordinance merely as Israel’s was, but living and genuine by believing on Christ, the permanent result of an accomplished separation to God from the Christian’s starting-point.
The effect of such an announcement of sovereign grace, not only for Paul himself but in his mission, was immediate and immense. “Whence, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but reported both to those in Damascus first and in Jerusalem and through all the country of Judea and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance” (Acts 26:20-2120But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. 21For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. (Acts 26:20‑21)). Undoubtedly it had been not only rebellion, but madness and destruction to have slighted such a vision and call; but this voucher the apostle gave which nothing but self-willed folly could evade or escape, a life of unequaled sufferings as well! as labors in bearing witness of its truth — truth so all-important to every child of man. Hence his burning zeal in reporting to all near or far off that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance. For as the ground of the gospel consists of a person revealed and facts accomplished (not merely a promise as of old), no call to believe can be agreeable to man’s heart, and grace only can effect aught vital or acceptable, the conscience being bad and the will estranged from God, yea enmity against Him. There are doctrines infinitely deeper than elsewhere, and beyond comparison nearer to man’s heart, to say nothing of their essential furtherance of God’s glory. But all the doctrines flow from Christ and His work; and a renewed child can rest confidingly in both and be drawn out in wonder, love, and praise, as well as in a life of devotedness and self-sacrifice. This, however, never can be apart from repentance and turning to God. As surely as there is the faith of God’s elect there is a divinely wrought repentance, which through the confidence which Christ inspires wins the soul to God in self-abhorrence and earnest pursuit of His will, doing works worthy of repentance.
It would be incredible if it were not the most certain fact that a faith and life so formed are abominable in Jewish eyes. “On account of these things the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to slay me” (vs. 21). But none of these things swerved or even moved the blessed apostle, save to sorrow over them. “Having therefore obtained help that is from God, I stand unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying nothing but what Moses and the prophets said should come, whether Christ should suffer, whether he first by resurrection of [the] dead should announce light both to the people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22-2322Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: 23That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles. (Acts 26:22‑23)).
It is not that the Jews erred in looking for a glorious kingdom of Messiah, of which Israel should be the center on earth, but that the law and the prophets were clear that the Messiah should suffer and die as a sacrifice, as well as in rejection by man and even Israel, and thus risen from the dead bring in blessing of grace and mercy to faith, before the glory be revealed publicly. For it needs no reasoning to prove that the suffering and death cannot be after the glory; “but first must He suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.” “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?” So Christ, beginning from Moses and all the prophets, interpreted in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.