The Faithful Witness of the Apostle Paul—Part 2

Faithful to the Heavenly Vision

THE fact that Paul’s great witness in Jerusalem grew into a noisy demonstration, confused the Roman commander, Claudius Lysias. Although the gathering had listened attentively to Paul’s message for some time, they became boisterous when Paul mentioned his commission to preach to the Gentiles. He told them that, in vision, the Lord Jesus had spoken to him, saying, “I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.” (Acts 22:21) This aroused the listeners and they cried out, “Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live!”—vs. 22

Claudius, not understanding the implications of Paul’s words, continued to probe for explanations; why were so many people in Jerusalem whipped into a frenzy over this man? At last he realized that Paul was being charged with questions concerning the Jewish Law, but that he was not worthy of either death or imprisonment. Recognizing this, he arranged for Paul to be set free, and for an assembly of the chief priests and the Sanhedrin to convene, to give Paul an audience with them.

Thus was provided another opportunity for Paul to witness before the religious rulers of Israel. However it was clear from the onset that they were more intent on punishing him than in listening to what he had to say. With such unreceptive listeners, there was little that Paul could impart to them of the Gospel. He knew full well that not much of a witness could be given at this meeting because of the closed eyes and ears of his listeners. So, when he had discovered that the council was composed of both Pharisees and Sadducees, he took occasion to inform them that he was “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee.”

Paul was aware that immediate dissention would ensue between these two sects when he announced this, and in an effort to emphasize their differences, he added these words: “Of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.” At this point the scribes who were of the Pharisees took Paul’s part, crying out, “We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God!” On the other hand, the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection from the dead, nor did they believe in an angelic creation. The skirmish which resulted was so heated that Paul was in danger of his life. For a second time, Paul was rescued by the Roman soldiers when they forcibly took Paul from the clutching hands of the council members and brought him back inside the castle.

The night following this harrowing episode, Paul was strengthened by the Lord through a vision of comfort “Be of good cheer, Paul, for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” (Acts 23:11) During his entire Christian experience, Paul required extraordinary strength to endure his peculiarly difficult ordeals, which could have been capable of breaking down his resistance to the temptation to seek an easier course. The Lord provided Paul with the necessary encouragement through many visions.

Of course, the first and most dramatic vision was the one which was given to him on the road to Damascus, when the glorified Jesus appeared to him, calling him to his vocation as an apostle. But he had much guidance given to him through vision all during his lifetime. He was warned to leave Jerusalem shortly after his conversion. He was directed to Macedonia in vision, where a missionary effort required his assistance. In Corinth he received assurance through a vision that he should remain, because the Lord had many Christian people in that city who needed his help. And now, again, strength was provided by means of the vision assuring him that his work was not yet ended—that he would bear witness to Jesus at Rome! Even the voyage to Rome provided another opportunity for the Lord to encourage Paul by means of a vision. When the ship was nearly lost in a storm, Paul was assured that all would be safe.

These direct assurances were most important because, from the very beginning of Paul’s ministry, the Adversary was intent on destroying him, and thwarting his work. This becomes evident when we think of the many plots that were formulated to kill Paul. In Damascus, shortly after his calling, an instance is recorded. (Acts 9:23,24) He miraculously escaped. Again in Jerusalem, another scheme to take his life was formulated, causing him to leave that city. (Acts 9:29) On his first missionary journey he escaped from two mobs, but was seized in Lystra, stoned, and left for dead. (Acts 14:19) In Philippi he was beaten and imprisoned.—Acts 16:23

Paul summarized many of these experiences, as recorded in II Corinthians. He told of the hard labors he endured for Christ in ministering to the brethren: “Stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep. In journeying often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren. In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”—II Cor. 11:21-27

But the Adversary was unceasingly persistent in his efforts to get rid of Paul, realizing his great influence in the lives, growth, and firm establishment of the Early Church. And so a band of forty Jews conspired together to make a vow that none of them would either eat or drink until Paul was dead. (Acts 23:12-14) They hoped to accomplish this by ambushing the soldiers who would deliver Paul to the council for interrogation. Through the Lord’s intervention, this plot was foiled when Paul’s nephew overheard the plans being formulated, and reported them to the captain, Claudius Lysias. Immediate action was taken, and Paul was brought safely during the night to Damascus, guarded by 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen.

The council remained undaunted in their purpose to eliminate Paul’s influence. Discovering that Paul had been rescued, the chief priests followed, five days later, to accuse Paul before the governor, Felix, in Caesarea. However, the governor refused to make a decision regarding Paul until he could consult with the captain in Jerusalem, Claudius Lysias. In the meanwhile, he kept the apostle in custody, but permitted him some liberty. He especially commanded his officers that Paul’s friends should not be prevented from attending to his needs. It seems evident that Felix had an accurate knowledge of the Christian religion, and was not eager to convict Paul summarily.—Acts 24:22

We gain some knowledge of Felix from traditional writings, including Josephus, the historian. It is said that he was considered by the Jews to be a cruel and tyrannical ruler. While in Judea he married a Jewess named Drusilla, who was a sister of Agrippa. This couple inquired of Paul concerning the Christian faith. He told them about the future establishment of a righteous kingdom on earth by Christ. Felix became deeply upset, due to his life of indiscretion, and his knowledge that he was not living according to righteous principles. He dismissed Paul, saying he would hear more at a later time. (Acts 24:24,25) The fact that Felix was a politician who was not above receiving bribery is obvious from the fact that he sought such an illegal inducement from Paul to release him. (vs. 26) Of course, there was never any thought on Paul’s part of yielding to this temptation.

For two years, from 58 A.D. until 60 A.D., Paul remained in custody in Jerusalem. Ten years later—in 70 A.D.—Jerusalem would be destroyed by Roman armies, and all Judea would be purged of Jews. Even before that time, immediately following the stoning of Stephen, many brethren had already left Jerusalem, scattering to all parts of the land. But the apostles remained in spite of the persecutions.

There was much harvest work to be done in that city. More than three thousand Jews were brought into the body of Christ through the efforts of the apostles in Jerusalem to witness concerning the Gospel. But exclusive favor to the Jews for the great honor of becoming members of the church class ended in 36 A.D. And soon, national favor would also end.

The apostles and disciples had to be prepared to leave Jerusalem, and quite likely the Apostle Paul was of great assistance in readying them for this next step in God’s plan to have the Gospel preached throughout the world. It was because he wanted them to understand clearly that the Gospel would go to the Gentiles that Paul had desired so strongly to go to Jerusalem. “When he had saluted them [James and other elders], he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord!”—Acts 21:19,20

The Scriptures do not supply us much direct information about the scattering of the apostles in the period that followed the invasion of Jerusalem. Tradition has it that Thomas went to Iran, or India. Andrew journeyed into the Slavic country of Europe, although it is possible that he continued across Europe as far as Scotland. Jude settled in Syria. Peter went to Babylon, or what we call Iraq. Some insist that he traveled on to Rome, but this we cannot confirm. John located in Ephesus after Mary, Jesus’ mother, had died. And nothing reliable has been written concerning the whereabouts of the remaining six apostles.

Getting back to Paul’s situation in Jerusalem, when Felix’s governorship came to an end, he was replaced by Festus. When Festus arrived he made a tour of Judea—showing a particular interest in the city of Jerusalem. There the high priest and the chief leaders of the Jews told Festus about Paul, and asked that he be brought back to Jerusalem to stand trial. This Festus declined, suggesting that the high priest, and other interested parties, come to Caesarea to make their accusations against Paul.

Accordingly, ten days later, Paul was brought before the judgment seat where the Jews from Jerusalem leveled various charges against him, to which Paul declared his innocence. But Festus, desiring to please the Jews, reacted favorably to their request to return Paul. To thwart this action, Paul, knowing it was the Lord’s purpose that he go to Rome, asked for a hearing before Caesar himself, and under Roman law, Festus had no choice but to grant his appeal.

When Agrippa, king of the Jews, and his sister, Bernice, later called on the governor to pay their respects, Festus took occasion to get their opinion of Paul and the crimes with which he was charged. He arranged another hearing to which he called the military tribunal and all the prominent men of the city. As the meeting began, Festus explained to the king that the Jews in Caesarea as well as Jerusalem, had petitioned him to put Paul to death. But, up to that point in time, he could find no reason to do so. Since Paul had appealed to Caesar, he had decided to send him to Rome with a letter of explanation.

Paul, when he was permitted to speak, expressed his gratitude that Agrippa was present, since he was familiar with the customs and controversies of the Jews. Paul began his defense by recounting the type of life he had led from his youth up; that he was a member of the sect of the Pharisees; and how he was now on trial because of his hope of a resurrection—a hope shared by all Pharisees. It was at this juncture that Paul asked his well-known question, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?”—Acts 26:8

The faithful apostle related how formerly, as an intensely devoted Jew, he had injudiciously persecuted the Early Christians in Jerusalem, consenting to their imprisonment and death. Not being content to limit his activities to that city, he tenaciously pursued them to other areas where they had fled to escape persecution. Then he explained the remarkable change that had come about in his life! While he was engaged in ferreting out Christians who had escaped, our glorified Lord Jesus intercepted him on the road to Damascus. He described that meeting in detail, telling how he had been commissioned to be an emissary for Jesus. After that, he explained how he first witnessed to those at Damascus, then in Jerusalem, and all the coasts of Judea; and finally he spoke of his many years of service in Gentile lands.

At the conclusion of Paul’s statement, Festus and King Agrippa interviewed Paul at length. His words were so eloquent, the king was moved to say, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian!” However, Agrippa reminded Festus, “This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.” (Acts, Chapter 26) Of course this was due to the overruling of Jehovah, since it was his design for Paul to go to Rome, and that his final witness would be given in that city.

Paul had said in his own defense, “O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: but showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” All the many glorious and faith-strengthening visions presented to Paul by the Lord had indeed served their intent in his life, and accomplished the purposes of God in the search for his people, most gloriously!

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