Reading through the Bible together
When Claudius Lysias arrested Paul in the Temple, he and his soldiers quickly led him up the stairs to the Castle of Antonia, barely saving Paul from the mob. The commander assumed Paul was an infamous troublemaker from Egypt, whom they had not been able to catch. To the commander’s surprise, Paul spoke to him in Greek, telling him he was actually a Jew from Tarsus (Acts 21:37-39), not the Egyptian. The city of Tarsus was a cultural and intellectual center in the Empire with a large Jewish community. Paul asked him if he could address the mob. As soon as he started speaking in Hebrew, the mob quieted down (Acts 22:1, 2). He addressed them as “brethren and fathers.” Paul had been taught by the famous rabbi Gamaliel, and was once a member of the Sanhedrin. He told them how zealous he was and that he had persecuted Christians everywhere. That is, until one day he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and Jesus spoke to him in Hebrew (Acts 26:14,15).
Ellen White fills in the gaps. Saul began to doubt his course of action against Christians as he witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen. His mind was deeply stirred. In spite of that, he convinced himself that the Sanhedrin must have been right to convict Jesus as an impostor. He couldn’t shake the clear reasoning of Stephen when he was tried before the Sanhedrin that Jesus was the promised Messiah. “At such times he had struggled for entire nights against this conviction, and always he had ended the matter by avowing his belief that Jesus was not the Messiah, and that His followers were deluded fanatics” (The Acts of the Apostles, pp.116,117). That is, until Jesus met him face to face.
There is another factor that contributed to the conversion of Saul the persecutor, to Paul the apostle. Jesus had told his disciples: “Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt 5:44). It seems to me that the early church must have done just that. They prayed for Saul, a man with such hatred, and the Lord Jesus heard their prayers. So, what did Jesus do? He paid the persecutor a personal visit. A few days ago I heard from a missionary who made two visits to Christians who were being persecuted and killed by a terrorist group. Some women shared stories of such pain, that the only response from the missionary was silence. Then one of the women began to pray for the persecutors. I wonder how many enemies of the cross could become its champions if we prayed for them?
Ron E. M. Clouzet
NAD Evangelism Institute Director
Professor of Ministry and TheologySeminary, Andrews University