This is the third part in a special series looking at the question of whether Paul was a true apostle of Jesus Christ or a fraud. We’re investigating Paul because many people believe that Paul was a false teacher and opposed to Christ and His teachings. That has led those people to deny almost one half of the New Testament (Paul’s letters). They say that what Paul wrote does not represent the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a serious objection and one that must be dealt with thoroughly.
Jesus told His disciples to do everything He commanded them to do and if what Paul wrote to the churches includes the commands of Jesus Christ, we must obey them. However, if Paul was not an apostle of Christ and was in fact a fraud, then we must not do what he wrote in his epistles because they are a lie and do not contain the commands of Christ. Whether we include Paul’s writings into our churches and our lives is all based on certain historical facts which can be verified. In other words Paul is who he said he is or he isn’t. We need to figure out which one is the truth.
When we last saw Christ’s apostles in Acts 5, the Jewish rulers had beaten and threatened Peter and the others not to preach in the Name of Christ again. The first thing Peter and the other apostles did was to “daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” Some of the rulers wanted to kill Peter and the apostles; other rulers did not want to do that. However, the plot to stamp out the apostles’ movement was underway.
Members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen secretly induced men to falsely accuse one of the newly chosen “deacons” (Stephen) of speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God. They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, then seized Stephen and brought him to the council of elders. They set up false witnesses who said, ‘This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”(Acts 6:13-14) The high priest turned to Stephen and asked him if those things were so. Stephen spoke eloquently about Israel’s history of disobeying God, then said this:
“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers,who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” Acts 7:51-53
The people who were listening to Stephen were cut to the heart. They gnashed at him with their teeth, but Stephen, “being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55-56) The people were so angry that they “cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:57-58)
We have just met Paul (Saul) for the first time. He is described as a “young man.” It appears he may have some position of responsibility or authority because the witnesses to the stoning of Stephen laid their clothes at Saul’s feet. We learn more about him in the next sentences in Luke’s narrative to Theophilus.
“Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.” Acts 8:1-3
Paul (Saul) had both responsibility and authority from the Jewish rulers and his job was to put an end to the Messianic uprising led by Peter and the other apostles. Saul was motivated by righteous anger. “Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2) Saul received the letters he needed and headed for Damascus. It was on the road to Damascus to carry out his threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord that Saul met Jesus for the first time.
“As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do. And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” Acts 9:3-9
If you believe that Luke’s letters to Theophilus are true (Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles), then you must believe that Jesus changed Saul’s heart on the road to Damascus. Saul didn’t ask to meet Jesus. He didn’t want to meet Jesus. He wanted to arrest and kill people who believed in Jesus. Jesus wanted Saul. Jesus called Saul by name, twice, and asked Saul why he was persecuting Him. What that means is Jesus saw Saul’s persecution of the apostles and disciples as a personal persecution of Him. Saul’s life was changed that day.
Jesus also spoke to one of His disciples in Damascus; one of the people Saul wanted to arrest. By doing this, Jesus opened an introduction for Saul into fellowship with His disciples, regaining of his sight and insight into what the Lord would have him do for the rest of his life.
“Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.” So the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.’ Then Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.’ And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.” Acts 9:10-19
Ananias became a bridge for Saul between who he was and who he was to become. Ananias was also a witness to the disciples in Damascus that Saul was not pretending to be a disciple of Christ so he could get into the inner circle and arrest and kill the apostles. Saul’s encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus changed his life forever. As we will see further in the Acts of the Apostles, Saul would never oppose Jesus again.
What happened next was quite remarkable. We’ll look into that next time as we continue to investigate Paul – Apostle or Fraud.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”