Those wishing to destroy the Christian Church go to extreme lengths to do so. It is remarkable how some people have, over the last 2,000 years tried. Some were individuals and others became religions and still others were nations, yet the Church of God marches on. Jesus said … speaking to Peter about Himself (Jesus) as the rock on which he would build His Church:
Mt 16:18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Nothing will be able to bring Jesus’ Church (Kingdom) down … not even the fanatical extremist, Saul the Pharisee.
Ac 9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
(“Meanwhile” meaning whilst.)
Ac 8:40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
Saul was seeking to destroy the Church of God.
1) The Gospel in Damascus. Saul obtained letters of introduction to the synagogues in Damascus giving him approval to seize and arrest Christians there. There were many synagogues in Damascus. Some say as much as 30 to 40. The Jewish compliment was a few thousand. Somehow, unknown to us, maybe Christians were scattered after Pentecost—
Ac 2:5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven
—or after Stephen’s martyrdom—
Ac 8:1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria
—we just don’t know … but we do know there appeared to be a large contingent of Christians in Damascus. At this stage the Christians were not yet called Christian and met in the synagogues with the Jews. Remember Christianity came out of Judaism. The fear was that Christians would influence Jews to leave Judaism and follow Jesus. Any Christian would be able to explain to those who remained Jews about God’s promised Messiah who came, died substitutionally at Calvary, rose as promised on the Third Day, ascended into heaven, reigns from glory, will return to judge the living and the dead and that salvation is through faith in what He did at Calvary coupled to confession of sin and repentance. The concern was that some, maybe many would leave the synagogue and follow Jesus. Today, real Christians ought to live so evangelistically that Churches where they attend pull up their spiritual socks and preach the Gospel or face losing people to Churches that do.
2) Saul on the warpath. We met up with Saul in Acts 7:58 and 8:1 and although he was supportive of the persecution of Stephen it’s only in Acts 9:1 that we get a glimpse of his madness towards the people who followed Jesus.
(1) He breathed out murderous threats. This was against the Lord’s disciples (followers). The phrase is a difficult one to interpret but the meaning must be that Saul was hell bent on eradicating the Christians from the face of the earth.
(2) The letters he obtained from the high priest were more that letters introducing him to the synagogue rulers as a protector of the Jewish Faith. It was extradition letters to take men and women who followed Jesus as prisoners to Jerusalem.
(3) What is interesting is that Damascus was in Syria. This means Saul had to cross the border into another country to arrest and bring back the Christians to Jerusalem. The concept of “the Way” referred to those who followed the way of Jesus. It was a title given to the early believers.
3) Why did Saul and many Jewish Religious Leaders behave this way?
(1) They had an incorrect view of Old Testament Prophesy. Although it might be easy for us to interpret the Old Testament Messianic Prophesies because they are fulfilled in Jesus, these spiritual leaders of the Jews had the same God, Holy Spirit and prayer we have. They interpreted passages to suit the way they crafted their religion. Read and interpret the Bible to suit self or a particular ideology will result in grave error.
(2) They had an incorrect view of God’s Kingdom. The Jews had a nationalistic view of the Kingdom of God. God was exclusively their God … all others were barred! Yet to the father of the nation God gave a promise:
Ge 12:1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
(a) He was required to leave his people (nation).
(b) God would make him into a great new nation.
(c) All people on the planet would be blessed through Abraham. This last point (verse 3) tell us that God’s Kingdom is not national but international. If they had a right view of prophecy they would have had a right view of Kingdom. God never made Israel alone His Kingdom. We need to be extremely careful that our view of prophecy and the scriptures are correct or else we too will have a wrong view of God’s Kingdom. Some Churches try hard to prove that certain ethnic groups are excluded from God’s Kingdom based upon misinterpretation of the Bible. We need to be careful neither our Church nor ourselves try to block people out of the Kingdom of God. Always remember:
Rev 5:9 “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
(3) They had an incorrect view of God’s promised Messiah. See the flow? Incorrect view of prophesy leads to an incorrect view of Kingdom leads to an incorrect view of Messiah. The Jews wanted a military styled king such as king David to deliver them from the yoke of the Roman Empire, restore their economy and make them into a superpower again. How wrong they were. Messiah was not interested in a kingship in Jerusalem. He is King of all creation and He wants people from every nation. And the people He wants are those saved by grace not the works of the Old Covenant!
(4) They refused to accept God’s Messiah. He was not what they wanted. So, they slaughtered Him at Calvary. They took the life of the One who could give them Eternal Life. He took His life back and today is King of a Kingdom whose citizens come from all nations, all saved by grace, believing and following the Bible and Gospel.
Father, Thank You that Your Kingdom is Eternal … reigned over by King Jesus. Amen.