March 12, 2014

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe  

                                      

 

Lesson III.B.3: Saul Proclaims Jesus as the Christ (9:19b-30)       

 

 

Scripture

 

19b Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.

20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.

21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, "Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?"

22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

23 Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him.

24 But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him.

25 Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.

26 And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.

27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.

28 So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out.

29 And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him.

30 When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.

 

 

Introduction

 

The newly converted Saul persuasively preached Christ in the Damascus synagogue, to the amazement of all who had known him as an enemy of Christ (vv. 20-22). Learning of a plot against his life, Saul escaped to Jerusalem, where Barnabas insured the Christians that he had been genuinely converted (vv. 23-27). Soon however, people in Jerusalem were trying to kill him, so he returned to Tarsus, his hometown (vv. 28-30).The year was a.d. 38, three years after his conversion.

 

 

Commentary


19b Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.

20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.

21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, "Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?"

22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

The passage begins by taking brief notice of Saul spending several days with the disciples in Damascus after his baptism, which seems to imply that they opened their hearts and homes to him. This was probably time spent acquainting him with the principles and teachings of Christianity. Even though Saul was a Pharisee and rabbi thoroughly steeped in the Jewish religion and the Old Testament and knew some things about Christ and this new religion from his experience as a persecutor of the faith, he was still a new convert and needed instruction in the teachings of Christ before he could strike out on his own as a witness for Him. Evidentially, he was a quick learner because we find him immediately entering the Damascus synagogues (of which there were many) and preaching that Jesus is the Son of God (v. 20). Why was he able to witness immediately? Because he was filled with the Holy Spirit. These were the very same synagogues to which he had been accredited by the high priest for a very different purpose. Bewilderment resulted among his Jewish hearers. They had understood that he hated the name of Jesus. Now he was teaching that Jesus was God. How could it be?

It is interesting that Luke mentions Saul preaching that Christ is the Son of God. This is the only place in the New Testament where this Title of Christ is found. However, Saul connects this term with his call as an apostle recorded in Galatians 1:16 and Romans 1:1-4. Luke’s close connection of Saul’s conversion and call with this title of Christ would seem to be an accurate recollection of Saul’s distinctive views.

The believers in Damascus reacted to word of Saul’s conversion the same way Ananias did (vv. 13-14); they couldn’t believe that a man like Saul could ever go through such a radical turn-around. But this only made Saul preach more forcefully. It could be that his zeal as a Christian witness exceeded his zeal as a persecutor of Christians. Luke even describes him as using his theological training to good advantage by proving (v. 22) that this Jesus is the Christ. The Greek word translated proving means to join or put together and seems to picture him putting together the Old Testament prophesies with their fulfillment and using them to prove that Jesus was the Christ. No wonder the Damascus believers were astonished and unable to find any error in the skillful preaching of this former student of Gamaliel. The two basic teachings in his preaching were That Jesus was the Christ, and that Jesus was the Son of God. Saul had gone to Damascus to persecute the church; he ended up preaching Jesus. What a contrast! What grace!

We have another picture of Saul’s experience following his conversion in Galatians 1:15-17:

But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

He did not consult with anyone, or go to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles. He went into Arabia for an unspecified time, and then returned to Damascus. I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood does not rule out Saul’s communication with The Damascus Christians or the Jewish synagogue. The “conferring” he alludes to was the idea that he had received his apostolic credentials and his apostleship from the apostles in Jerusalem. No, said Saul, he did not go to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles there and receive instructions from them. In Galatians, Saul did not hesitate to emphasize in the face of his Judaizing opponents that his apostleship to the Galatians was a direct call from God, and in no way was dependent on or subservient to the apostles in Jerusalem. Acts would certainly support that picture. For some reason Luke did not mention the Arabian period (Gal. 1:15-17). Perhaps he did not know about it, or he may have chosen not to deal with it at this time, and instead concentrate on the Jewish opposition to Saul and the persecution that resulted.

Both Luke here and Saul in his Epistles picture a radical conversion experience. Saul, the persecutor was stopped dead on the Damascus road. The risen Jesus showed himself to Saul, and this experience was proof enough for him that the Christians were being truthful, and he was completely turned-around in his thinking, and changed from persecutor to witness. Only one category can describe Saul’s experience; it was a miracle, the result of direct divine action. When all is said and done, both Acts and Saul give strikingly similar accounts of Saul’s conversion. Both speak of Saul’s former life as persecutor of the Church (1 Cor. 15:9), and even use the same words to describe how he “ravaged” it (Gal. 1:13). Both speak of his intense zeal (Phil. 3:6). Both place the conversion in Damascus (Gal. 1:17). Both describe the experience as a vision of the risen Lord (1 Cor. 15:8-9; 9:1; cf. 2 Cor. 4:6). Both mention him referring to Christ as the “Son of God” immediately after his conversion (Gal. 1:16; Acts 9:20). For both, it was a radical turn-around (Phil. 3:6-7). For Saul and Luke a totally different man emerged from that vision of the risen Lord; and that, dear reader, is conversion.

23 Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him.

24 But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him.

25 Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.

 

There have been attempts to “explain” Paul’s conversion—everything from disillusioned Pharisee to an epileptic. The simplest and yet the most profound explanation is that Christ took hold of him and turned him about-face—from a zealot controlled by his own will to an equally zealous disciple directed by Christ. The narrative of Saul’s conversion illustrates the fulfillment of Acts 9:16: [I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake.]. Saul the persecutor became Saul the sufferer, first in Damascus (vv. 23-25) and then in Jerusalem (vv. 26-30). The Jerusalem section also legitimizes the ministry of Saul, because it was then that he was accepted by the circle of apostles.  As we move through this study it would be well to bear in mind these two truths, which the life of Saul demonstrates:

1.       When we come by faith to know and love God, we must look for trials; but the Lord knows how to deliver the godly, and will, with the temptation, also make a way of escape.

2.      Christ’s witnesses cannot be slain until they have finished their testimony.

 

Since all their efforts to refute Saul’s preaching (v. 6:10) ended in failure the exasperated Damascene Jews finally “plotted to kill him.”  With the usual chronological imprecision, Luke described this as happening “after many days.” Saul gave more definite information: “Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days” (Gal. 1:17-18). When Saul and his disciples heard of the plot, plans were made to get him away from there safely. It is a bit surprising that Saul had disciples at this point (v. 25), but it shows that Saul was already having a fruitful ministry. They may have been Jews from the synagogue in Damascus who were saved after listening to him preach the Gospel (vv. 20, 22) and teach the Scripture concerning the coming of the Messiah and its fulfillment in Christ. Since the Jewish plotters were carefully watching the city gates, some other way out had to be found if he were to escape; but Damascus was a walled city thus the gates were the only conventional means of escape. Finally, they decided to lower him in a basket through a window of a house built along the city wall. Such windows in the walls of Eastern cities were common, and can still be seen in Damascus to this day. It was a humiliating exit, smuggled out of the city like a common criminal, just as humiliating as it was to be led into the city as a blind man, but he was now a broken man anyway, and broken men can bear reproach for Christ’s sake that others would shun.


Saul refers to this event in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33:

In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me; but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands

Although there are differences between the two accounts, the agreements are remarkable; the setting in Damascus, the plot against Saul, the watching of the gates, the window in the wall, the lowering in a basket. The most significant difference is that in 2 Corinthians the governor is said to be watching the gates in hopes of finding and arresting Saul, while in Acts it was the Jews doing the watching. [Note: Aretas was the king of the Nabataeans, an Arab people, who at the time of Saul controlled the region in which Damascus was located. Arabia (the Nabatean kingdom) was a large, poorly defined area east of Syria and Palestine reaching northward from the Gulf of Akaba nearly to Damascus itself. The garrison he mentions was probably a military force gathered from the Nabataeans for the purpose of apprehending Saul.] Saul’s account raises some questions. Why, for instance, were the Nabataeans after Saul? Possibly, Saul had carried out a mission among them during his Arabian period (Gal. 1:17), and had incurred the resistance of the authorities. In that case, Acts pictures a coalition formed against the common enemy, the Jews watching the gates from the inside, the Nabataeans from without. The Nabataeans perhaps held some jurisdiction over Damascus at this time, therefore, the Jews would have solicited some help from the authorities in apprehending Saul. In any case, Saul saw the incident as particularly humiliating, listing it as the crowning event of his trials as an apostle (2 Cor. 11:23-33). Acts paints the same picture—Saul under trial, Saul the persecuted.

We learned in Galatians 1:17-18 from Saul himself (see above) that he went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus, and that from the time of his first visit to the close of the second, both of which appear to have been short, a period of three years elapsed; either three full years, or one full year and part of two others (see Gal. 1:16-18). But why did Saul go to Arabia in the first place? Perhaps (1) because he felt his spirit needed a period of rest and seclusion, after experiencing the ferocity of his enemies, and the excitement of his new occupation. (2) To avoid the rising storm which was gathering. (3) To exercise his ministry in the Jewish synagogues as he was afforded the opportunity. (4) Saul was quite sure that the One Whom he had persecuted was the risen Lord; but he wanted time now to confer with Him alone. (5) Probably, the Lord instructed him to get alone so that He might teach him his Word. There were many things that would have to be clarified in Saul’s mind before he could minister effectively as an apostle of Jesus Christ. In his letters we find how often he referred to things he received from Christ. I believe in that period in Arabia there was close, intimate, personal, definite, and clear conference between this man and Christ. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus also spent time in the wilderness in preparation for their service for God. Had Dr. Luke included the Arabian period in his account, he would have placed it between Acts 9:21 and 9:22. Upon his return, refreshed and strengthened in spirit, he immediately resumed his ministry, and was able to confound the Jews in the synagogues, proving that this Jesus is the Christ (Messiah of Israel), but soon his life was again in danger. The man whom the Jews once looked upon as their champion was now an ‘apostate,’ a ‘renegade,’ a ‘turncoat.’


26 And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.

27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.

28 So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out.


The emphasis on Saul as the converted persecutor is found for the first time in verse 26. Upon coming to Jerusalem, three years after his conversion, Saul attempted to join with the Christian community, but was spurned at first. Like Ananias, they knew his reputation and could not believe that such a fervent enemy could now be a Christian brother. They probably thought that his new attitude of friendliness was only a trick to get into their fellowship, so he could have them arrested. In addition, the rumor of his conversion, if it ever was believed, passed away during his long absence in Arabia, and the news of his subsequent conversion in Damascus may not as yet have reached them. From the human standpoint, Jerusalem was the most dangerous place Saul could visit. Barnabas then entered the picture as a mediator, his role in Acts. Good old Barnabas, whose very name means the “son of consolation and comfort”! What a blessing he was to him. He took Saul to the apostles, or rather “to see Peter” (Gal. 1:18); no doubt, because he was the leading apostle. He spent four nights with Peter, and also met James, the Lord’s brother (Gal. 1:18). Saul spoke to Peter and James (none of the other apostles were there at the time, Acts 4:36) about his prescribed sphere of labor, especially to the Gentiles, and Barnabas testified to his conversion. After Peter and James were satisfied, the disciples would generally receive him without delay. Through Barnabas’ words we are reminded once again of the importance of this event and the divine action that brought this about. Why Barnabas did not share the fear of the other Jerusalem Christians is not revealed. Perhaps he had heard of Saul’s conversion from other believers who had come to Jerusalem from Damascus. Barnabas being from Cyprus, which was only a few hours sail from Cilicia, and annexed to it as a Roman province, and Saul and he being Hellenistic Jews and eminent in their respective localities, they may very well have been acquainted with each other before this. In any event, Barnabas fulfilled his mediating role, securing Saul’s acceptance in apostolic circles. Saul was now with them (v. 28). The Greek text says literally that he was “going in and out among them” in Jerusalem. Saul was fully accepted into the apostolic circle. He too was a “witness” for Christ.

 

29 And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him.

30 When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.


In verses 29 and 30, the pattern that began in Damascus again repeats itself. Saul’s hope that his witness to his old companions of the Hellenistic synagogues would be effective was not realized. These were not Greeks. They are Israelites who have a Greek background. They had been brought up outside Israel somewhere in the Greek world. Saul witnessed in the synagogues and was resisted. This time Saul debated with his fellow Greek-speaking Jews. We are reminded of Stephen, and he may have debated in the same synagogue as Stephen, and therefore, before those same evil men who took Steven outside the city and stoned him. They had been successful in Killing Stephen (cf. 6:9-10), and now they were determined to kill Saul. Once again, the Christians learned of the plot and hustled Saul off to the port of Caesarea (about 65 miles away by road), and from there, presumably by boat, to his hometown of Tarsus (an ancient city, then over 6,000 years old). But there was another reason for him leaving Jerusalem—he was commanded to leave by Christ, in a vision he received while he was praying in the temple, which is revealed in Acts 22:17-21:

 

Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance and saw Him saying to me, 'Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.' So I said, 'Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You. And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.' Then He said to me, 'Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.' "


 

Saul gave the same itinerary in Galatians 1:21: from Jerusalem he went to “Syria and Cilicia.” Tarsus was located in Cilicia and came under the Roman provincial administration of Syria.


The apostle disputed against the Grecians (v. 6:1), addressing himself specifically to them, perhaps because they were his own class, and during the days of his ignorance he had been the fiercest against them. He failed miserably, because the next thing we are told is they attempted to kill him. Thus, he was made to feel what he had so cruelly made others feel, the cost of discipleship.

 

During the time spent in his home town, Saul continued to witness for Jesus Christ. We leave Saul there and will not encounter him again until Barnabas brought him back to Antioch (Acts 11:25 cf.). The time span from Saul’s sailing to Tarsus, and Barnabas’ bringing him to Antioch covered some ten years or so. Since neither Saul’s Epistles nor Acts cover his activity during this period in Syria-Cilicia; these are often referred to as Saul’s “silent years.” This was his first visit to his native city after his conversion, and it is not certain that he was ever there again (see 11:25-26). It was probably now that he became the instrument of gathering into the fold of Christ, those ‘kinsmen,’ that ‘sister,’ and perhaps her ‘son,’ of whom mention is made in Acts 23:16 (cf. Rom. 16:7. 11, 21. It could have been a time, however, when he was disowned by his family and suffered the ‘loss of all things’ (Phil. 3:8). It may be highly probable that he witnessed in the synagogues in Cilicia and that certain sufferings listed in 2 Corinthians 11:21-28 belong to this period. And then, says Luke, “. . . the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (Acts 9:31). The first wave of persecution seems to have died down with the conversion of the first persecutor.

Throughout his life, the great apostle was hated, hunted, and plotted against by both Jews and Gentiles (“in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles”—2 Cor. 11:26). As you read the book of Acts, you see how the opposition and persecution increase, until the apostle ends up a prisoner in Rome (Acts 13:45, 50; 14:19; 17:5, 13; 18:12; 20:3, 19; 21:10-11, 27). But he counted it a pleasure to suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ, and so should we. “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).


 

Saul’s movements in Chapter 9 may be summarized as follows:

1.       Jerusalem (vv. 1-2)

2.      Damascus (vv. 3-22)

3.      Arabia (Gal. 1:17)

4.      Damascus (Acts 9:23-25; Gal. 1:17; 2 Cor. 11:22-23)

5.      Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-29; Gal. 1:18-20)

6.      Caesarea (Acts 9:30)

7.      Tarsus (v. 30; Gal. 1:21-24)


 

Make a Free Website with Yola.