|Topical Bible Study||December 1957|
The People of the Bible
Article XXIX—The Book of Acts
Paul, the Twelfth Apostle
JUDAS, one of the original Twelve Apostles chosen by Jesus under the direction of the Holy Spirit, became a traitor and lost his position among the Twelve. Jesus referred to him as the “son of perdition.” (John 17:12) After committing the shameful crime of betraying his Lord, Judas hanged himself, and nothing more is recorded concerning him, except that he was buried in the potter’s field.—Matt. 27:5-7
The word apostle simply means one who is sent forth, a messenger, a delegate. In a broad sense we might say that all the true followers of the Master, serving as his ambassadors, are sent forth by the Holy Spirit in the ministry of the Gospel and hence could properly be called apostles. In Hebrews 3:1 Jesus himself is referred to as the “Apostle and High Priest” of the Gospel-Age order of priesthood. In a very direct sense Jesus was “sent forth,” as are also all his true disciples. He said to his Father, “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.”—John 17:18
While the thought of being “sent forth” into the ministry is true of all Christ’s disciples, the Bible also uses the word apostle in a more restricted sense as applying only to the Twelve who were given to Jesus by his Father. The term was also applied later to Paul. These are the specially inspired servants of the church referred to in Revelation 21:14 as the “twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
After Jesus was raised from the dead, his eleven remaining apostles, without waiting for instruction from him, decided to choose a successor to Judas. The record of this action is found in Acts 1:15-26. There can be no question about the sincerity of the eleven in deciding upon this course; but there is no evidence that the Lord accepted their choice, Matthias. As far as the record goes, there is nothing to indicate that Matthias was ever used to perform any sort of apostolic service.
It should be remembered that at the time the eleven selected Matthias, they had not received the Holy Spirit. They had been commanded by Jesus to tarry in Jerusalem until they were “endued with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) While they did not leave Jerusalem, they did not “tarry” in the full sense, for they took this unauthorized action of choosing Matthias.
In I Corinthians 12:18 Paul informs us that God has “set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.” As far as the “twelve apostles of the Lamb” were concerned, God acted directly through Jesus in choosing them. Jesus recognized this and referred to them as being given to him by his Heavenly Father. (John 17:6,12) Matthias was chosen by the eleven through the casting of lots, which seems quite out of keeping with the manner in which the others were chosen.
Saul, the Lord’s Choice
“Saul of Tarsus” is clearly shown to be the Lord’s choice as the one to take the place of Judas. Saul was the original name of this faithful servant of the Lord. Later he took the name Paul, meaning “little.” He was probably born about A.D. 1 to A.D. 4. Of his parents we know nothing except that his father was of the tribe of Benjamin. (Acts 23:6; Phil. 3:5) Although a Jew, by some unexplained manner he was “born free” as a Roman citizen. While born in Tarsus, Paul was “brought up” in Jerusalem and was educated at the feet of Gamaliel. (Acts 22:3) Paul was also educated in the Greek language as well as in his native Hebrew tongue.
These details of Paul’s earlier life had a bearing on the effectiveness of his ministry later on. Naturally, they were all foreknown to God, which, together with what the Lord also foreknew concerning Paul’s sterling traits of character and his love for righteousness, explains why he was “separated” from his “mother’s womb” for the high position he occupied in the church.—Gal. 1:15
The first mention we find of Saul is in Acts 8:1, where we are told that he was “consenting” unto the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Thus in this introduction Saul is presented to us as an enemy of Christ and of his followers.
Saul was sincere in his efforts to stamp out Christianity. He later said to King Agrippa, “I verily thought [within] myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” (Acts 26:9) Sincerity, however, is not enough in one’s service to God. Indeed, as was the case with Saul, a person may be wholly sincere in his efforts, but instead of rendering acceptable service to God, he may be working against him and dishonoring his name.
Speaking of Jesus’ disciples, Paul also said to King Agrippa: “I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.” (Acts 26:11) Saul “verily thought” it would please God for him thus to cause Christians to suffer; and now there are those who “verily think” that they please God by attempting to bring converts to him through the threat of eternal torture. These are just as wrong, and more so, than was Saul of Tarsus. Their sincerity does not sanctify their God-dishonoring activities.
We read in Acts 9:1,2 that “Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound into Jerusalem.”
Apparently Saul was given the “letters” he requested, “and as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven. He fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.”—Acts 9:3-5
What a revelation this was to Saul! Trembling and astonished, he inquired, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” The immediate instructions were limited. He was simply bidden to go into the city, with the explanation that there it would be told him what he was to do. Saul arose, blinded by the light of the vision, and was led by the hand into Damascus.
Paul Saw Jesus
Apparently the Lord considered that one of the qualifications for apostleship was that each of the apostles should be given “infallible proofs” that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Acts 1:1-3 reveals that the eleven had been given these proofs; but what about Saul of Tarsus? He was not with the eleven when Jesus appeared to them.
Paul himself explains this in I Corinthians 15:3-9. Here he mentions different ones to whom Jesus manifested himself after his resurrection, and then adds, “Last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” This is a reference to Paul’s experience on the Damascus road. Jesus’ appearance to him was very different from that to the other apostles. To them Jesus appeared in a body of flesh, but not so to Paul, who explains, “He was seen of me, … as of one born out of due time.” What did Paul mean by this?
The Apostle John wrote: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:1,2) The eleven did not see Jesus as he “is.” They saw him as he “was”; that is, what they saw was a body of flesh in which Jesus had miraculously appeared.
Actually, however, when Jesus was raised from the dead he was “born of the Spirit” and, as a divine, spirit being, was invisible to human eyes. (John 3:8) His followers are promised that in the resurrection, when they also are “born of the Spirit,” they will be like the resurrected Jesus. They shall see him “as he is” and, in fact, will be with him. —John 14:3; 17:24
When Paul wrote his first epistle to the brethren in Corinth, he had this glorious hope of being born of the Spirit in the resurrection and of thus being with Jesus, being like him, and seeing him “as he is.” But, in telling of his experience on the Damascus road, he said that he saw Jesus as one “born out of [before] due time”; that is, he caught a brief and partial glimpse of the resurrected Jesus prior to his own birth of the Spirit, prior to the “due time” of his birth into the heavenly realm. So Paul did see Jesus after he was raised from the dead and thus had this qualification for apostleship.
A Chosen Vessel
From the Damascus road, where Paul caught that brief glimpse of the resurrected Jesus, he went into the city and lodged in the house of Judas, who lived on the “street which is called Straight.” It was here that the Lord sent a messenger to Paul with definite instructions concerning the things he “must do.”—Acts 9:6,11
This messenger was Ananias, to whom the Lord appeared in a vision. The Lord said to Ananias, “Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, … that he might receive his sight.”—Acts 9:10-12
Ananias at first questioned this arrangement, explaining, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.” (vss. 13,14) “But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”—vss. 15,16
Here is further proof that Paul was chosen by the Lord to be one of the “twelve apostles of the Lamb.” He is a “chosen vessel, the Lord said. And Ananias was to explain to Paul “how great things” he would be called upon to suffer for the Lord’s “name’s sake.” In writing to the church at Corinth, Paul refers to his suffering for Christ as one of the evidences of his apostleship.—II Cor. 11:23-28
“Are they ministers of Christ?” Paul inquires, referring to some who had called his apostleship in question. Then he adds, “I am more,” more, that is, than simply a minister of Christ. All the consecrated followers of Jesus are ministers of Christ; but Paul was a chosen vessel, chosen to be a special apostle; and in this position he accepted the bitter persecution that was heaped upon him as evidence of his calling, as Ananias had explained the matter to him.
Paul was blinded by the light which shone around him on the Damascus road, but as Ananias ministered to him in the house of Judas, the “scales” fell from his eyes and he was able to see. Then “he arose, and was baptized.” (Acts 9:17-19) The “vision” on the Damascus road had opened the eyes of his understanding, and now, having received instructions from Ananias, this man of action was immediately ready to enter upon his new vocation. He who had been doing all he could to destroy Christianity was now ready to lay down his life promoting the cause of his newly found Lord.
Since Paul recognized his direct appointment by the Lord to the apostleship, he did not deem it necessary to confer with the other apostles before entering upon his ministry. (Gal. 1:15-19) We read in Acts 9:20,21 that, after tarrying certain days with the disciples in Damascus, “straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?”
Chronologically, Paul’s early ministry in Damascus is somewhat ambiguous. In Galatians 1:17,18 he explains: “I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.” How long Paul remained in Arabia and what he did while there the Scriptures do not reveal. Seemingly, however, he returned from Arabia to Damascus. It was probably after he returned that he preached Christ in the synagogues. It seems apparent also that he went to Jerusalem for the first time three years after his conversion, meanwhile having gone to Arabia and returned to Damascus.
Because of Paul’s faithful ministry in Damascus, persecution arose against him and his life was in danger. By the assistance of fellow disciples he escaped “by night” from the city, being let “down by the wall in a basket.” It was then that he went to Jerusalem. The brethren in Jerusalem were “all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. And he was with them coming in and going out of Jerusalem. And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him.”—Acts 9:23-29
In Galatians 1:18,19 Paul explains that he went up to Jerusalem from Damascus to see Peter, and adds, “Other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.” This may seem to disagree with Acts 9:27, which informs us that Barnabas brought Paul “to the apostles.” Actually, however, it does not. It is very doubtful that the “apostles” here mentioned included all eleven of them. Doubtless some of them were out of the city at the time doing missionary work. Apparently the only “apostles” in Jerusalem at the time were Peter and James, whom Paul testifies to having seen.
Paul states that he abode with Peter fifteen days, and these must have been busy days. It was apparently during this time that he “spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians.” It is doubtful that he was persecuted by the Grecians. They gloried in their pastime of “disputing” and doubtless found an able contestant in Paul. Perhaps it was here that Paul became acquainted with some of their theories, as revealed by him in his sermon on Mars’ Hill.—Acts 17:22-30
However, the religious rulers in Jerusalem were far from pleased with Paul’s preaching and “went about to slay him.” (Acts 9:29) Again, by the assistance of the brethren, Paul escaped from his would-be killers. “They brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.” (vs. 30) Saul the persecutor was now Paul the Christian. He was back in his home town, no longer himself a persecutor, and temporarily inactive in preaching Christ where the enemies of the cross were most numerous. The church had rest “throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, were multiplied.”—vs. 31
Paul Again Becomes Active
The persecution of the brethren at the hands of Saul, which reached its climax in the martyrdom of Stephen, caused a scattering of the disciples, some of them traveling as far as “Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.” (Acts 11:19,20) The Lord blessed this effort, “and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.”—vs. 21
The brethren in Jerusalem learned of this activity and its results, and, wishing to assist, “they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.” (vs. 22) Of Barnabas it is written that “he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” (Acts 11:24) Having become acquainted with Paul and recognizing his abilities, Barnabas, before going to Antioch, first went to Tarsus to seek out this new apostle and invite him to assist in the work at Antioch.
Paul accepted the invitation and, when they reached Antioch, “it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people.” Evidently the activity of Barnabas and Paul, together with the other disciples in Antioch, attracted public attention. It was here, the record states, that the disciples were first called “Christians.”—Acts 11:26
It does not say the disciples called themselves Christians. Evidently this name was given to them by the world. The name appears only two other times in the New Testament. One of these times is in Acts 26:28, and the other is in a text in which the Apostle Peter says, “If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” (I Pet. 4:16) This suggests that “Christians” were then held in derision, and it is quite possible that this name was applied to the followers of Jesus by their enemies as a means of heaping ridicule upon them. Today the name Christian is generally accepted as though it had been given to the followers of Jesus by God.
Ananias had no doubt revealed to Paul that he would have the opportunity to suffer for the name of Christ, and in Damascus and Jerusalem he had already experienced bitter opposition. In both places the enemies of the cross had plotted to kill him. But now that he was back in active service, he was to learn the awful lengths to which the blinded ministers of the Adversary can go in opposing the light of the Gospel and those who bear witness to it.