“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today. And I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished. And it came about that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were with me beheld the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go on into Damascus; and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. And a certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’ And it came about when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the cloaks of those who were slaying him.’ And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
And they listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!”
Looking at this with a long-view is required. If you are here for the first time, welcome? We are going through the book of Acts, after already going through the book of Matthew and Revelation. This is not an exhaustive Bible study but a blog dedicated to considering the context of Scripture, ascertaining the author’s aspiration to his audience, jiving with the genre, exploring other examples and dividing rightly the word of truth. We call this the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics because we have caged the Bible with our taught traditions, presumtions, presuppositions and preconceived notions. We let our pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, rip verses out of context, teaching the precepts of men, much like the Pharisees and Sadducees. But we have Bibles available to us, and unless we are learning for ourselves, we only know what we have been taught. The main goal of my missives is to impress on people the need for daily bread and not a daily crumb, considering the continuing context, reading the Bible as it was written, letting the Bible interpret the Bible, not looking at headlines and then interpreting the Bible.
Part of consideration of the context is consideration of the historical context and culture. I will write things such as, strap on your sandals, so that we will remember to whom and when the scripure was written. If you are here for the first time, you may find yourself a bit lost because as Acts builds upon itself, these missive do also. Nevertheless, for a quick review; Paul, the former persecutor of the newly established church, but now an apostle, has preached persistently to the various synagogues throughout the region. Some believe Paul and by being baptized become disciples but others persecute him, Jewish people and Greeks. But after penning many of his letters to the churches, Romans included, Paul concludes his third missionary journey in Jerusalem. He is mobbed by the crowds and beaten but speaking to them in their own language, they now let Paul speak.
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today. And I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.”
Last time we looked at Paul’s picture of a cultivated olive tree in Romans eleven, without coming to a conclusion. The reason was so that we could prime the pumps of our minds to see the current cultural climate in which Paul made this speech. Paul is in a unique time in redemptive history, Jesus has paid the price for sin on the cross, ascended into heaven and sent his Spirit to assist the apostles; amongst other things, yet the temple and sacrifice also still exist. We have seen many miracles but they are ebbing and we will no longer see anyone speak in tongues. We are also inching closer towards the toppling of the temple, although it is not recorded in any New Testament book, but it has been promised! Paul knows this and he is making his last stand in Jerusalem during this overlap in the age of the Law and the age of grace. You don’t have to believe my words, but consider the greater context of the times. Paul has recently written Romans, in it he describes the people of God as branches of an olive tree; some broken off and some grafted in. What we see in today’s text, in Paul’s plea, is for the broken off branches to be grafted back in. We noticed last time that Paul wrote to the Romans in the present tense. Notice; “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s cgracious choice.” When was the present time? The overlap between the Old and New Covenants.
Exploring examples we read in Hebrews; “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second…When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” Jesus said to the Samaritan woman; “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” Hebrews also reads; “The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time…But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation.” And also; “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.”
Broken off branches will be burned and Paul knows this, it is precisely why Paul hurried to get to Jerusalem, not fearing bondage or affection or even death. Remember, he has recently written Romans; “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever.”
Actions usually speak louder than words. Luckily enough, for us, who have the completed Scripture, we not only read Paul’s words but see his actions–this “apostle to the gentiles.” I use too many of my words; read Luke’s. “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they (Paul and Barnabas) went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. And when they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; and they also had John as their helper.”
“Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John left them and returned to Jerusalem. But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down…And Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand, he said, ‘Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen.'”
“And the next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.'”
“But the Jews aroused the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.”
“And it came about that in Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a great multitude believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles, and embittered them against the brethren.”
“And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them, they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; and there they continued to preach the gospel.”
“But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.”
“Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.’ And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a great multitude of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and coming upon the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people.”
“And the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea; and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men. But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there likewise, agitating and stirring up the crowds.”
“After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working; for by trade they were tent-makers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. And when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads! I am clean.'”
“And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.”
“Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.'”
Paul was the apostle to whom? Let’s do what I call, “mathematical presupposition.” It’s actually more accurate and scientific than it sounds. Paul was the apostle to the gentiles but almost everwhere he went, he preached to the Jewish people. Nowhere does Luke write that 0 Jewish people believed and in most cases, many believed, sometimes, multitudes. James and the elders report to Paul the following: “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law.” Literally, thousands, in this text, should have been translated as “ten thousands.” But that doesn’t sound good in English. It’s the word usually translated as “myriad,” which literally means 10,000 but figuratively an enormous number. And this is just in Judea proper and not amongst the nations to which Paul preached. And we’re not even told about other apostles amongst the other places. Therefore we can mathematically presuppose, based on what we do know, and assuming that the other apostles and evangelists had a net gain of more than zero, that at least, a myriad, plus many, plus one, Jewish people have come to Christ. And yet Paul insists on preaching in Jerusalem. Paul’s actions confirm his words. Paul’s deeds, flow from his prayers. I could learn a lot from Paul. Not satisfied with with wishing for the salvation of his countrymen, Paul persistently pounds the proverbial pavement, preaching Jesus to Jewish people everywhere, even in Jerusalem. And he used himself as an example.
“And it came about that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were with me beheld the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go on into Damascus; and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.”
So far, so good. No one is upset or disorderly. No one is crying out and no stones are thrown. Even in the city that has killed the Christ, no one bats an eye at the mention of his name. In fact, everything seems to be going great, it’s as if Paul has them eating out of his hand. Paul even makes the claim that he saw a great sign, a bright light from heaven at noon time. That means that it must have been incredibly bright to blind him. It’s a sign from heaven and that generation loved a good sign. Paul continues; “And a certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’”
There is a break in Paul’s testimony here. After this, Paul jumped ahead several years. Possibly cut for time by Luke, given that Paul has previously preached a young man to death. Nevertheless, Context is King! We have read more than once that Paul did not immediately go to Jerusalem after his conversion. I point this out as an example of considering the continuing context and so that we see Paul and probably Luke, are giving a summary, not an exhaustive approach. But, the main point; one could rip this summary out of context and say that Paul went to Jerusalem immediately after being baptized. There are no contradictions, only confused commentators not considering all of the context and examples. And again, we notice no push-back against Paul from the people present. On the contrary, they are quiet and astutely observing all that Paul is saying to them. Though we have seen the proof, we have yet to discuss it. Paul continues; “And it came about when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the cloaks of those who were slaying him.’”
Paul related an argument that he had had with Jesus, in Jerusalem. Paul believed then, and apparently still believes now, that his testimony of being a persecutor turned preacher, will be accepted by the people. We know that Jesus was right concerning the former, but is Paul right concerning the latter? We don’t know what Jesus said concerning the latter, therefore it is possible that enough time has elapsed between then and now, that the Spirit and the elders and apostles, have softened their hearts. Doesn’t this appear to be the case. Paul has given his testimony to them, even including Jesus telling him that Jerusalem will not believe his testimony. Yet here, they are cool, calm and collected, listening intently to every word. And here comes the proof, and here comes the disproof of what I have written;
“And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
“And they listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!'”
In this age of ripping verses out of context, I never know what, or how much, to say concerning the obvious. I hope that if you have read this far, you can clearly see what has happened.
Paul told the Romans what would happen without specifically saying it.
Nevertheless, Paul preached.
He persecuted the Way, met Jesus on the road to Damascus, regained his sight through Ananias, joined the Way, went to Jerusalem, was told to leave Jerusalem by Jesus because they would not believe him–all was well up to this point because everyone was Jewish.
Only when Paul mentioned the gentiles did the people present scream, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!”
But we take the long view. We understand that of which Paul wrote to the Romans; ‘do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you.” But not all the branches were broken off, a myriad plus many plus at least one remained as a remanent. And the broken off branches make room for the grafted-in branches; figuratively speaking.
Anti-Semitism is an absolute abomination. Look at what Paul also wrote; “I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.” We who believe do not replace Israel but rest on the backs of the myriad, plus many, plus at least one. Because of them we know Jesus and because of the ones broken off, we have an inheritance. However, ripped out of context are Paul’s words, “all Israel will be saved.” Otherwise Paul preached to Israel as a front. But Paul not only tells us his motivation but acts on his motivation in the book of Acts.
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” Paul acted on his motivation but also realized that some were broken off branches, thrown into the fire. Judgement against Jerusalem is coming and Paul prays for and preaches to the people in Jerusalem. Risking life and limb, Paul places himself in harm’s way to make one last stand in Jerusalem. And he isn’t quite finished yet.