Sunday: Persecutor of Christians
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Saul of Tarsus first appears in Acts as one involved in the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58) and then in connection with the more wide-scale persecution that broke out in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1–5). Peter, Stephen, Philip, and Paul play a significant role in the book of Acts because they were involved in events that led to the spread of the Christian faith beyond the Jewish world. Stephen is of particular significance because his preaching and martyrdom appear to have had a profound influence on Saul of Tarsus.

Stephen himself was a Greek-speaking Jew, and one of the original seven deacons (Acts 6:3–6). According to Acts, a group of foreign Jews who had come to live in Jerusalem (vs. 9) entered into a dispute with Stephen over the content of his preaching about Jesus. It is possible, maybe even likely, that Saul of Tarsus was involved in these debates.

Read Acts 6:9–15. What charges were brought against Stephen? What do these charges remind you of? (See also Matt. 26:59–61.) 



The fierce hostility toward Stephen’s preaching appears to have resulted from two different things. On the one hand, Stephen drew the ire of his opponents by not placing primary importance on the Jewish law and the temple, which had become the focal point of Judaism and were treasured symbols of religious and national identity. But Stephen did more than merely downplay these two treasured icons; he vigorously proclaimed that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, was the true center of the Jewish faith.

No wonder, then, that he angered the Pharisee Saul (Phil. 3:3–6), whose zeal against the early Christians indicates that he probably belonged to a strict and militant wing of the Pharisees, one full of revolutionary fervor. Saul saw that the great prophetic promises of God’s kingdom had not yet been fulfilled (Daniel 2Zech. 8:23Isaiah 40–55), and he probably believed it was his task to help God bring that day about—which could be done by cleansing Israel of religious corruption, including the idea that this Jesus was the Messiah.

Convinced he was right, Saul was willing to put those whom he thought wrong to death. While we need zeal and fervor for what we believe, how do we learn to temper our zeal with the realization that, at times, we just might be wrong?

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Sunday: Persecutor of Christians — 10 Comments

  1. This Sabbath School Quarter is on the book of Galatians. What a great opportunity to spend some time with Galatians and get to know it.

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  2. I am really thankful for this lesson on Galatians. Already I am understanding more about Saul/Paul and why God choose to use him in such a profound way.

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  3. While we need zeal and fervor for what we believe, how do we learn to temper our zeal with the realization that, at times, we just might be wrong?

    We are told to exercise strong faith so that our prayers can have a positive answer.
    This is zeal and fervor in action.
    The problem is when we stop letting God lead us in our pursuits.
    We may be looking and praying for a spouse and find there are no single people in your church. If you are too zealous, you may choose someone outside of the family of God, a mistake with devastating results.
    Paul was too zealous. His choices were made from an unconverted heart.
    This shows that a true child of God, is a "follower" not a "leader" of Jesus Christ, in the "Kingdom of God." He or She lets their zeal tag closely behind Gods plan.

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  4. Zeal is always good except when it is not for the right reason.

    It is interesting that this lesson is painting the background of why Paul was the ideal person for the job ahead.

    When Paul was on the other side, he knew what he knew and lived by it. The problem being that he was possibly filled with the wrong spirit. It is interesting as we continue, we may see that once the right spirit was in him, he then went out with the same or even more fervor for God and amazing things happened.

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  5. Paul was a man for his time. He was like a pit bulldog and that was needed at a time when physical abuse was the way things were. It was Paul's stiff necked stubbornness coupled with the Holy Spirit that pushed the gospel to the extent that it was. It was also that almost belligerent attitude that forcefully clarified the gospel for the Christian.

    But while Paul's attitude was very useful for the gospel there were times when it got in the way. The Damascus road experience was not the only time the Holy Spirit had to wrestle with Paul.

    When Paul was on his second missionary journey he tried to go into other territories as Luke recounts, "Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them" (Act 16:6-7 NKJV).

    After his third missionary journey he decided to take the sizable offering he had gathered and take it personally to Jerusalem. Time after time prophets warned him what would happen but he wouldn't listen so he ended up in prison with his missionary journeys essentially at an end.

    There has been a lot of discussion concerning Paul's attitude toward the warnings given by the many prophets. Ellen White considered it a type of Christ in that he was willing to sacrifice his life for the church. What bothers me is the fact that the prophets were not false prophets but from God. It was a warning but in most cases God gives His people freedom to choose the direction they would go in and in this case it was Paul's choice.

    What Paul apparently wanted to do was to evangelize Rome (Acts 19:21; Rom 1:15). There were many ways to do that but I doubt that Paul had to be confined in prison in order to get that accomplished. I often wonder how much more Paul could have done had he listened to those prophets and made plans to circumvent what they had prophesied.

    So, yes Paul had what was needed at the time but like most things it had a two edged sword.

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    • Just wondering, Tyler, is it possible that the prophets warned Paul so that he would be prepared for what he was about to suffer? (This is how I have always seen those warnings.)

      I don't call any one of them telling him that he was not to go. When God didn't want him to do something/ go somewhere, He was able to communicate this to Paul quite effectively.

      I'm not denying Paul's humanity and imperfections. I'm just suggesting that there's more than one way to interpret those warnings by the prophets who foretold Paul's fate in Jerusalem.

      (Jesus also knew what would befall Him at the Passover feast in Jerusalem, but it did not prevent Him from going to Jerusalem that year.)

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    • Inge, not only do I think you have a valid argument but Ellen White essentially says the same thing.

      Minimally, Paul should never have allowed the Jerusalem church to force him to prove his loyalty by doing what was obviously dangerous. Apparently Paul felt that he needed to present the offering personally which is a necessity that I tend to question.

      As far as God's enforcement is concerned I really feel that Paul was allowed to do any one of a number of things. To God it wasn't a necessity to go in any particular direction for, "we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28 NKJV). To me it wasn't like going into Asia and running roughshod over someone else's work or refusing to warn a city (Jonah) or condemn the innocent (Numbers 22). This was more of a personal choice like deciding what cities to evangelize or what to do while in the cities.

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      • What you bring up now, Tyler, regarding Paul's doing what the Jerusalem church asked to do -- to go through a purification ritual in the temple -- is a separate matter from going to Jerusalem. I believe was uncharacteristically compromising behavior on Paul's part. I believe that he made a mistake in this instance.

        Whether it would have made a difference to his fate in the long run, we do not know. The Jews were intent on getting him, one way or another. The temple incident was a mere pretext.

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  6. The lesson author stated that Stephen downplayed the two icons of Israel, the law and the temple which I think is true to a large degree. I don’t think that means that he was discarding them but rather he was putting them in their proper place.

    As I read Stephen’s speech to the council it occurred to me that Stephen was doing several things. First he established that God was the one who was leading Israel (Acts 7:2-8). Second, that God raised up several people to establish His kingdom on earth, Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. Then he pointed out that the people rejected Joseph (Acts 7:9-10) whom God made their leader. Stephen then goes on to say that after a while God next raised up Moses who the people generally rejected (Acts 7:20-28) but eventually made their leader (Acts 7:35). Next Stephen brings up the point about a prophesy concerning one who was to be like Moses (Acts 7:37) and the fact that they rejected God’s commands voiced through Him (Acts 7:38-39). Up to verse 44 Stephen was making it rather clear that Israel had rejected both the people God had appointed and the instructions that God gave Israel through them and would shortly lay the same charge on the council members who not only rejected Jesus and all His teaching but also was rejecting Stephen, God’s appointed messenger.

    Third, Stephen next goes into the business of the sanctuary and ends up quoting the scripture, “Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the LORD, Or what is the place of My rest? Has My hand not made all these things?” (Act 7:49-50 NKJV, quoted from Isa 66:1-2). At that point the council turned against Stephen and stoned him.

    What Stephen was showing them is that the temple was not God’s literal home, that that was not its purpose. The Jews had confused the object lesson that pointed to the means of salvation with the literal temple that to them gave them salvation through doing the rituals. They had thought that the temple and the rituals itself was the thing that saved them in much the same way that they thought the scriptures (law) saved them. As Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40 NKJV). They overlooked what all of that was pointing to. So Stephen was indeed redirecting their focus from the literal to the spiritual.

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  7. As MUCH AS WE WOULD WANT PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND OUR FAITH OR BELIEFS WE SHOULD NOT STAND AS RUTHLESS JUDGES IN THEIR WAY TO ACCEPTING OR UNDERSTANDING THAT TRUTH.

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