|"... in journeys often,
in dangers of rivers,
in dangers of robbers,
in dangers of my race,
in dangers of the nations,
in dangers in the city,
in dangers in the wilderness..."
--2 Corinthians 11:26
THE DISCIPLES in Damascus whom Saul the Pharisee had once
come to persecute, probably risked their own lives when, under cover of darkness, they let
him down in a wicker basket from an unguarded part of the city wall, possibly through the
window of an overhanging house. This way of escape reminds us of Joshua's two spies whom
Rahab had let down by a cord through the window, for her house was upon the town wall
(Joshua 2:15). In the same manner David had once escaped when King Saul had sent
messengers to his house to watch him and to slay him in the morning (1 Sam. 19:11,12).
David had been in danger before; when he fled to Samuel and later pleaded with Jonathan,
he had hoped for safety, but there was none for him in the years to come.
Saul of Tarsus was in a similar predicament. He had been in
danger in the city of Damascus, both from his own race and from soldiers of the nations.
When he escaped the peril of death, there was still insecurity ahead of him, for he was
going to face the dangers in the wilderness and the danger of robbers while traveling
night and day.
LO! HE IS PRAYING
When Saul had been called by Christ in His
celestial glory, he did not immediately submit his commission to flesh and blood, but
remained in prayer. And the Lord gave him three days' time so he could prayerfully ponder
over the words of grace which would change his whole life. When we assume that Saul
covered a distance of approximately 150 miles within a week while traveling from Damascus
to Jerusalem, we can readily see that he had ample time to prayerfully review the events
of the past three years; the visions in which he saw the Lord, and the instructions which
he was given. He knew from experience how "the god of this eon blinds the
apprehensions of the unbelieving so that the illumination of the evangel of the glory of
Christ, Who is the Image of the invisible God, does not irradiate them". He had met
the One Who says, "Out of darkness light shall be shining"! (2 Cor.4:4,6).
Though Saul may have remembered the Lord's intimation of suffering
for His name's sake (Acts 9:16), we may assume that he was not distressed nor despairing
on his lonely journey through the wild countryside, for he knew that God "shines in
our hearts, with a view to the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God
in the face of Jesus Christ".
Many years later, after he had been "in journeys
often", he could add, "Now we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the
transcendence of the power may be of God and not of us. In everything, being afflicted,
but not distressed, perplexed, but not despairing, persecuted, but not forsaken, cast
down, but not perishing... Wherefore we are not despondent, but even if our outward man is
decaying, nevertheless that within us is being renewed day by day" (2 Cor.4:7-9,16).
We may be sure that Saul's knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ had
not faded away during the past three years since the splendor of that celestial glory had
enlightened the eyes of his heart and had continued to shine in it. Thus this precious
knowledge of God's glory as reflected by His image, the Son of His love, was indeed being
renewed day by day, enabling him to remain fully engaged in his special commission.
Leaving the Damascus scene, we too, like Saul, should have
learned the lesson that we are called not to be successful, but to be faithful in
fulfilling the service we have accepted in the Lord (Col.4:17). Were it not for all the
dangers and the darkness around us, how would we attain to a full appreciation of the
glorious gift that God shines in our hearts, in the past, right now, and in the
THE PURPOSE OF SAUL'S JOURNEY TO
"Now, on coming along to Jerusalem, he
tried to join the disciples, and all feared him, not believing that he is a disciple. Yet
Barnabas, getting hold of him, led him to the apostles and relates to them how he became
acquainted with the Lord on the road, and that He speaks to him, and how, in Damascus, he
speaks boldly in the name of Jesus." Luke's report in Acts (9:26,27) reflects on the
situation as it was seen by members of the Pentecostal ecclesia in Jerusalem whom Saul,
the Pharisee, had persecuted only three years before, "breathing out threatening and
murder against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1).
As Ananias had had to introduce Saul and vouch for him
before he could start his ministry in Damascus, so Barnabas is instrumental in introducing
him to those of the apostles who were in town at that time. It is Barnabas who relates the
highlights of Saul's story to them. The majority of the disciples in Jerusalem apparently
held the opinion that there might be some trickery involved in Saul's attempt to join
them. They were suspicious that his move might be a cleverly devised plan aimed at
betraying them to the chief priests.
The purpose of Saul's journey to Jerusalem is not revealed
in Acts, since it is foreign to Luke's general topic in this book, which gives us the
answer to the apostles' question, "Lord, art Thou at this time restoring the kingdom
to Israel"? (Acts 1:6). That the vicissitudes of the Pentecostal ecclesia are in view
rather than the motives behind Saul's move, is evidenced by Luke's statement in Acts 9:31,
"Indeed, then, the ecclesia down the whole of Judea and Galilee and Samaria had
peace, being edified, and, going on in the fear of the Lord and the consolation of the
holy spirit, multiplied." This was because the Lord had removed the chief persecutor
from the scene.
We may assume that, while on the road to Jerusalem, Saul
had thoroughly considered the intricate situation he was going to face in this town,
almost the reverse of what it had been three years ago. There was the alienation of all
his former associates, his teachers, the members of the Sanhedrin, and the discussion
leaders in the Hellenistic synagogues who had had Stephen put to death.
Saul might have argued with himself that "they
are versed in the fact that I was jailing and lashing those at the synagogues who
are believing...and when the blood of Stephen...was shed, I myself also was standing by,
endorsing it, as well as guarding the garments of those who are assassinating him"
(Acts 22:19,20). Was he not a living example of God's power which had performed a miracle
by transforming the fiercest foe of Jesus Christ into His staunchest champion? He had no
letters of commendation, but who would refuse to believe the sincerity of his attitude?
Who would not assent to his personal testimony concerning Christ in His celestial glory?
PAUL, RELATES HIS STORY TO CEPHAS
We are not told when it was that Paul
recognized the real purpose of his journey to Jerusalem which his Lord had planned for him
in order to "historicise" (historesai, relate story to) Cephas. In
Galatians 1:18 the editor of Sinaiticus adds the name of Peter so as to indicate
who was meant by Cephas, with whom Saul stayed fifteen days, probably the major part of
his visit to the capital.
About 18 years later, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul
emphasizes the authenticity of his evangel which he was not taught by man, nor
accepted from any man, but which he received through a revelation of Jesus Christ (1:12).
When Saul met Cephas for the first time, he apprised him of these facts which he later
condensed into one compendious sentence: "It delights God, Who severs me from my
mother's womb and calls me through His grace, to unveil His Son in me that I may be
evangelizing Him among the nations" (Gal.1:15,16). We may assume that this was the
gist of Saul's own testimony which corroborated the outlines formerly given by Barnabas
when introducing him to Cephas.
After Saul had reported the details of his own commission
which he had received from the Lord, it is conceivable that Cephas might have referred to
the two Kingdom Commissions, the Creation Commission and the Mankind Commission (which the
Lord once gave to His disciples), Peter's Kingdom Key Commission and Shepherd Commission,
and John's Commission (which He gave to these two).* [* The various commissions have been
dealt with in our series "The Secret of the Evangel," U.R. volumes 53 and 54.]
Saul and Cephas apparently had almost two weeks to
"historicise" one another, i.e. to relate their individual stories and
commissions so as to recognize the fact that the Lord had appointed the twelve to be His
witnesses in Jerusalem and in entire Judea and Samaria and as far as the limits of the
land (Acts 1:8), while He appointed Saul to bear His name before both the nations and
kings, besides the sons of Israel (Acts 9:15).
The experience of the twelve had dated "from the
baptism of John until the day on which He was taken up" from them (Acts 1:21), while
Saul's experience had begun with His life in glory celestial and the astounding promise of
extricating (OUT-LIFTING) him from his own people and from the nations (Acts 26:17). Hence
it is conceivable that Cephas and Saul reached a thorough understanding on the doctrinal
differences, such as were evident at that time, between the earthly kingdom message on one
side, and the celestial message of unaided grace on the other. We may further assume that
at least Saul was keen enough to foresee that his own evangel, since it was based on
spirit, was bound to cause a cleavage in the near future.
If the object of both the kingdom message and the celestial
message were the same, i.e. to rescue the sinner from a terrible doom, then one should
suffice. If Saul was merely to proclaim what the twelve taught, why did he not receive it
from them? What need for Christ to descend from His celestial glory and call him on the
Damascus road at a time when he was the most malignant enemy of the evangel with no
intention to repent?
We do not know how clearly the two men recognized the
divine fact that the ministry of Peter and the Twelve was for Israel. Thus it was part of God's
great demonstration with Israel as to the failure of the flesh, and hence must be based
on Christ after the flesh, while Paul's evangel acknowledges the result of this
demonstration, and hence must be based on spirit alone. With such totally
divergent objects in view, the two evangels cannot help but differ radically, and any
mixture of them is bound to be confusing to its teachers and their audiences; both of them
come under the anathema of stunted spiritual growth.
AGAIN, IN DANGERS OF MY RACE, IN
DANGERS IN THE CITY
After Saul had become acquainted with
Barnabas, Cephas, and James, the brother of the Lord, the disciples no longer feared him,
"and he was with them, going in and out, in Jerusalem. Speaking boldly in the name of
the Lord Jesus, he both spoke and discussed with the Hellenists" (Acts 9:28,29). We
see that Saul made an earnest attempt to repair some of the damage which he had done to
the Pentecostal ecclesia, for he would never be content with spiritual idleness. Hence,
when his time was not taken up by the talks with Cephas, he resumed the line of
discussions with the Hellenist synagogues which had been interrupted by the murder of
Stephen. There were hundreds of synagogues in Jerusalem, some of them maintained by the
various groups of Jews who had returned from foreign lands. These synagogues were
doubtless very lax in their adherence to the Jewish law and customs, even though they had
charged Stephen with "blaspheming Moses and God" and dragged him before
Saul might have remembered Stephen's face in that session,
shining like "the face of a messenger". When Stephen had been in dangers of the
holy city, in dangers of his race, his face reflected "the illumination of the
knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ". Even though "all
those seated in the Sanhedrin perceived his face" (Acts 6:15), their hearts were not
changed by "the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke". Stephen had not been
able to persuade those who later pelted him with stones. Saul, however, tried to gain
their assent to his testimony that Jesus is the Son of God. Apparently he did not realize,
as the disciples did, that it was the very same Hellenists who "took in hand to
assassinate him" (Acts 9:29,30). So the Lord Himself warned him to flee, as Paul
stated about 20 years later when the Jews again laid hands on him.
SAUL ARGUES WITH THE LORD
"Now it occurred, at my returning to
Jerusalem and while I am praying in the sanctuary, I come to be in an ecstasy and to
perceive Him saying to me, `Hurry, and come quickly out of Jerusalem, because they will
not be assenting to your testimony concerning Me'. And I said, `Lord, they are
versed in the fact that I was jailing and lashing those at the synagogues who are
believing on Thee. And when the blood of Stephen, Thy witness, was shed, I myself also was
standing by, endorsing it, as well as guarding the garments of those who are assassinating
him'. And He said to me, `Go! For I shall be delegating you afar to the
nations'"! (Acts 22:17-21).
The Concordant Commentary explains: "With the true
tenacity of a Jew, Saul's heart's desire and petition to God for Israel was for their
salvation" (Rom.10:1). He would wish for nothing better than to be the instrument in
God's hands to bring salvation to his own kith and kin. He did not yet understand God's
greater purpose--to bring salvation to the nations through their defection (Rom.11:11). It
needed more than the entreaties of his brethren to make him leave Jerusalem, so God gives
him a vision, reminding him of his commission for the nations afar".
A similar view is expressed in Unsearchable Riches
magazine, volume 21, page 448, and in volume 22, page 13: "Saul evidently had
returned to Jerusalem eager to testify for Christ, but in this vision the Lord tells him
to leave Jerusalem quickly, because they will not receive his testimony concerning Him.
And when Saul argues with the Lord that surely those who knew his former bitter hatred and
persecution against the believers in the Lord Jesus would now receive his
testimony for Him; when he reminds the Lord that all Jerusalem is aware of his part in the
murder of Stephen, the Lord's witness, and therefore cannot refuse his testimony on His
behalf, the Lord still insists that such testimony will be fruitless, saying, 'Go! For I
shall be delegating you afar to the nations'.
"It will be noted that Barnabas becomes the means of
Saul's temporary association with the disciples in Jerusalem. This is significant, for it
was counter to the trend of the truth. It is evident that neither Saul nor Barnabas
understood that they were to be severed from the Circumcision. Saul tried to join the
disciples. But their ignorant fear was symptomatic and indicative of God's plan to divorce
Saul and his message from the holy city. Barnabas' intentions were the best, but Saul's
boldness soon made his residence in Jerusalem dangerous. The Hellenists, by their
opposition and threats, accomplish God's end, and frustrate Barnabas' plan to unite Saul
with the rest of the Circumcision".
IN JOURNEYS OFTEN
"...the brethren led him down into
Caesarea, and they send him away to Tarsus" (Acts 9:30). This short sentence in
Luke's report seems to indicate that the Jerusalem disciples accompanied him to
Palestine's seaport Caesarea and saw to it that he left for Tarsus right away, probably
sailing home on a northbound ship. Even though Caesarea was situated on the road skirting
the Mediterranean Sea and leading through Syria and from there through the Syrian Gates (a
mountain pass) into Cilicia, it is doubtful that Saul traveled by land via Tyre, Sidon,
and Antiochia this time, as he did later when he set out for his second missionary journey
and "passed through Syria and Cilicia, establishing the ecclesias". We will
remember that those who had fled from Jerusalem during the great persecution, evangelized
to Jews and Hellenists in Antioch, the chief city of Syria (Acts 8:1; 11:19,20; 15:41).
Syria was the region north and east of Palestine,
stretching from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, and from Arabia to the Taurus
mountains. There was easy access to Cilicia through the Syrian Gates, from Syria; and the
term "Syria and Cilicia" was often used in those days in order to describe the
vast geographical region comprised by both. North of Tarsus were the "Cilician
Gates", the only wagon road from Cilicia across the formidable Taurus mountain range,
often blocked with landslides, and during wintertime with snow and ice. Even in fair
weather, the weary traveler through the length of this mountain gorge was always in danger
of robbers and of other hazards of the wilderness. Hence access by land to Cilicia from
Asia Minor was difficult and dangerous. This fact might explain the wording "Cilicia
and the province of Asia" in Acts 6:9; it might also explain the term used in
Galatians 1:21, "the regions of Syria and Cilicia", i.e. the vast area of Syria
and the smaller one of neighboring Cilicia.
Luke reports that the disciples sent Saul away to Tarsus
and that Barnabas found him there years later (Acts 11:25). From this we may assume that
the principal city of Cilicia became Saul's home base during the intervening period, just
as Antioch in Syria became his headquarters during the following year (Acts 11:26).
With these facts in mind, it is conceivable that Saul,
after his arrival in Tarsus (Acts 9:30), concentrated on "evangelizing Him among the
nations" of Cilicia, and later of Syria. His own report on his activity during the
years following, his brief stay in Jerusalem is found in Galatians 1:21-24:
"Thereupon I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. Yet I was unknown by face to
the ecclesias of Judea which are in Christ. Yet only they were hearing that `be who was
persecuting us once, now is evangelizing the faith which once he ravaged'. And they
glorified God in me".
Saul's experience in both Damascus and Jerusalem should
once and for all refute the utterly fallacious fiction that the life of a believer must be
one of settled calm and contentment, with clear-cut answers to the problems of the day,
and with a chance to serve the Lord in our own way, on our own terms. We will not be
spared the unexpectedness and bitterness of disappointments, we will be facing minor and
major choices every day, we may even argue with the Lord in our prayers.
However disconcerting the dangers may be,
"God...shines in our hearts, with a view to the illumination of the knowledge of the
glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ".