Paul Shares His Testimony
By this time, Paul is quite beaten and bloodied, and having been literally carried by the Roman soldiers to safety, he must have presented a pitiful sight. The Roman tribune thought Paul to be the Egyptian Jewish zealot who led four thousand men into a failed rebellion against the Roman yoke in Jerusalem only a few years earlier. (The first-century Jewish historian, Josephus, independently confirms this person and event.) Thus, the tribune assumed Paul to be a zealot himself and up to no good and thus incurring the people’s wrath. He was ready to take Paul into the barracks and deal with him himself when Paul spoke to him in Greek, the language of the more refined in that day. This surprised the tribune who then allowed Paul’s request to address the crowd—which he then did in Hebrew! Paul was, indeed, a very educated man (Acts 26:24).
Paul’s method of dealing with these Jews is different from what we have seen thus far. Throughout Acts, upon entering a city, Paul would go to the synagogue and “reason” with the Jews from the Scriptures, seeking to prove to them that Jesus was the Christ. But here, he speaks instead of what we would call “his personal testimony.” The notes in my ESV Study Bible tell me that he did this to convince his antagonistic Jewish listeners of his faithfulness to his and their Jewish heritage as he related his own personal history of zealous persecution of the “Way.” But if that were the case, he completely lost them when he said that God commanded him to go “far away to the Gentiles.” Perhaps Paul simply knew ahead of time that these Jews would not hear from him any “reasoning” from the Scriptures, and so he chose this method instead.
It failed. And I believe Paul knew it would fail, but he knew of no better way to proceed. The brethren begged Paul not to go, but he was bound by the Holy Spirit to do so. He knew what was ahead of him, but he went to Jerusalem anyway, he went into the temple anyway (though not with any Greeks), he testified to the grace and mercy of Christ anyway. The Scriptures tell us that we must be wise in what we say and careful to whom we speak. But there will be times when we must speak, and the crowd will be hostile. There will be times when Jesus’ words of taking up the cross and following him are going to be painful in this world, because they will involve sacrifice (Luke 9:23). But He tells us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), and that we should “take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Paul knew this; we must come to know it as well.