Pauline Evangelism in Acts 24, 26, and 28
Having examined Pauline evangelism in Acts 17 at length last week, this week we look at it from the records of his ministry in the final chapters of Acts. Comparing all the accounts, we confirm the validity of the previous observations that we have made.
Paul before Felix
A common element in Paul’s defenses recorded by Luke is his emphasis on his being on trial for “the hope and resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6; 24:15; 25:19; 26:6, 23; 28:20). This record corroborates the centrality of the resurrection that we observed in Acts 17.
After defending himself publicly before Felix the governor (Acts 24:1-23), Paul had many more private opportunities to speak to him (Acts 24:24-27). Luke specifies that on the first such opportunity, Felix heard Paul “concerning the faith in Christ” (Acts 24:24-25).
On that occasion, Paul “reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” (Acts 24:25). This record corroborates Paul’s climaxing his witness at Mars Hill with testimony to the judgment to come (Acts 17:30-31).
We thus see that Acts 24 correlates directly with Acts 17 in supporting our understanding that Paul did not “fail” to preach the gospel at Mars Hill. Just the opposite, Paul’s continuing emphasis on the same truths shows that the resurrection and testimony about the judgment to come were central elements in his evangelism about “the faith in Christ” (Acts 24:24).
Paul before Festus and Agrippa
Luke records at length Paul’s defense before Festus the governor and King Agrippa (Acts 25:23-26:29). Paul focused his testimony on his being on trial for the truth that God raises the dead (Acts 26:6, 8, 23).
After testifying to his preconversion persecution of believers (Acts 26:9-12), Paul related how Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus to arrest him and confront him about his persecuting Him (Acts 26:13-14). The subsequent record provides vital information about Paul’s commission from Jesus and his evangelistic practice throughout his life.
Paul testified that Jesus appeared to him to make him a minister and a witness (Acts 26:16). He added that Jesus commissioned him to go to the Gentiles (Acts 26:17) to “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 [Jesus]” (Acts 26:18).
Next, Paul explained his obedience to the heavenly vision (Acts 26:19-23). His explanation provides the most comprehensive statements about his evangelistic ministry that we find anywhere.
In statements that were comprehensive ethnologically, geographically, chronologically, and socioeconomically, Paul highlighted his focus on testifying to aspects of his evangelism that many have missed—“showed . . . that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:18, 22):
1. Ethnologically – Jews (“them of Damascus and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea”) and Gentiles (“and then to the Gentiles”)
2. Geographically – Where Paul first ministered (“First unto them at Damascus”) and everywhere else thereafter (“them of Damascus and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles”)
3. Chronologically – When Paul began his gospel ministry (“First unto them at Damascus”) right up to his present defense before Festus and Agrippa (“I continue unto this day” [Acts 26:22])
4. Socioeconomically – “witnessing both to small and great” (Acts 26:22)
Paul thus stressed that in his evangelism he demanded that everyone everywhere that he witnessed to throughout his life had to repent and turn to God and do works that showed that they had genuinely repented! His testimony here thus directly corroborates that his emphasis on universal repentance at the climax of his message at Mars Hill (Acts 17:30) was an unchanging element of his entire gospel ministry from its beginning to that very time when he was defending himself before these authorities.
Moreover, Paul made known here something vital that directly confirms the validity of the theme for our entire series—he demanded from all people that those who would be just people who live by their faith (cf. “receive forgiveness of their sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified by which that is in [Jesus]”) have a faith that produces works!
What were the works fitting for repentance that Paul testified to everyone about throughout his life? An analysis of the evangelistic record in the book of Acts shows us that being water baptized after salvation was certainly one of these works (cf. Acts 2:37-38; 10:47-48).
Because Paul is the pattern believer for all other believers (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1, etc.), his being a witness from the beginning of his Christian life (in Damascus; Acts 26:20) right to the end of his life implies that being a witness to others about the faith is another of those works. In support of this observation, we should note how Jesus told the demon-possessed man whom he delivered, “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (Mark 5:19).
(This sermon provides much more detailed information from Acts 26 about how we are to follow Paul in evangelism.)
Paul in Rome
The ending of Acts provides two key accounts of Pauline evangelism in Rome (Acts 28:17-31). These accounts corroborate another key observation that we made previously in our series.
Twice at the end of Acts, Luke records that Paul was ministering to everyone about both the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 28:23, 31). These statements confirm that the record of all believers in Thessalonica testifying to “another king, one Jesus” (Acts 17:7) was not just something that was true in that isolated setting.
Rather, testimony to the kingdom of God was the central focus of apostolic evangelism from beginning to end in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 2, 8, 10, 17, and 28). These concluding statements about Paul’s evangelistic ministry in Rome with everyone show that the gospel did not “change” from being a message about the kingdom of God and Jesus Christ to being a message just about Christ! (See this post for more information about this key point.)