23 So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.”
You might ask yourself at this time, "Why are we doing all of this?" Paul appealed his case to Caesar and Festus agreed. But what is Festus going to tell Caesar? "Greetings Nero! I have sent a case for you to rule on, but as far as I can tell there is no reason for him to even be imprisoned. I did all of this to keep the Jews from make a big to do about nothing. Sorry." Nero wouldn't have been very happy about that.
So this whole presentation is to possibly discover some way to get Paul to Rome and keep Nero from losing his temper about it.
1 So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense: 2 “I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, 3 especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently. 4 “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. 5 They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! 8 Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? 9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
First of all Paul is happy to make his defense before Agrippa. You see, the king was a proselyte Jew (that means he converted to Judaism). He expected the king not only to understand what was going on, but to be concerned about them.
Paul then, in essence, tells Agrippa to sit back and get comfortable. This is going to take a while.
#1 - Paul declares that from Tarsus to Jerusalem he has been a Jew. Not just any Jew, but a Jew of the Pharisaical order. He followed the strictest of all teachings. This is no secret, there are even people who can testify to this fact (the very people who want him dead for that matter).
#2 - I am here, in prison because of what I believe. Then he declares the hope that was made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The promise that was made to there 12 tribes of Israel. I am accused of believing that God will raise people from the dead. (If you haven't seen this so far, this is the only reason why Paul is in prison.)
#3 - I WAS convinced that I had to do everything in my power to defame and destroy the name of Jesus. I put many of his followers in prison, then voted to have them put to death.
#4 - I went from synagogue to synagogue trying to force these believers to blaspheme the name of Jesus. (The greek indicates here that we was never successful at doing that.)
Do you get the picture that Paul is painting here. He is talking about his life BEFORE Christ. He isn't proud of it, nor is he boasting in what he did. He is going to paint a before and after picture for the king. He wants him to see the whole story - not just his defense that has caused his imprisonment.
12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
Paul now moves to his conversion. The road to Damascus. The bight light. The voice of Jesus. There is one thing that Paul adds here that Luke records. "It is hard for you to kick against the goads." In our culture today we might call this a cattle prod. It was a sharp pointed stick used to prod oxen on as they pulled a plow. The phrase itself was common to express someones resistance against God's will.
Now get this. Saul was successful at what he was doing. It isn't like that resisting God made him unpopular or unsuccessful. In the eyes of the people that he was trying to please, the religious leaders in Jerusalem, Saul was a great success. A person who was going to have a long and prosperous career. Saul never knew that they was opposing God. He didn't understand that what he was doing was actually persecuting Jesus Himself. I believe that we have this idea that people who are going through hard times and difficult situations somehow may have earned the anger of God. While people who are successful and comfortable in live have somehow earned his peace. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Now Paul, in verse 16, expands what we know about his experience in the road to Damascus. Jesus tells him, personally, that he is now appointing him to be a minister, servant, witness to everything that you have seen and things you will see in the future. That who will bring a message to both Jews and Gentiles that will rescue them from the darkness of their sins and bring them into the light of Jesus. Their forgiveness will separate them from this world and dedicated them unto God.
English Standard Version (ESV)