Saul’s Conversion & the Body of Christ

05 Feb

Saul was a zealous persecutor of Messianic believers, but I don’t think he persecuted the Church for more than six or seven months, or from the mid 7th month of 34 CE to cir. 1st month of 35 CE. Therefore, the reigning high priest would have been Caiaphas and from him Saul would have sought papers of extradition (Acts 9:1-2) in order to arrest Messianic believers at Damascus and bring them before the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem for judgment.

About this time, Josephus mentions an incident,[1] but is hardly straightforward about it, that took place in Samaria, whereby a certain one excited the Samaritans into believing he could show them certain sacred vessels which Moses placed in Mt. Gerizzim (their holy mountain); so they came armed, indicating this was a messianic attempt to overthrow Roman rule. Meanwhile, Pilate heard of it and, not only prevented the attempt, but destroyed many of those involved. This incident led to his replacement and being sent to Rome one year later to answer charges filed with the governor of Syria by the “Jews”[2] in Samaria who claimed they were not in a tumult, but fled to escape Pilate’s violence.[3]

Luke mentions Saul’s conversion three times in Acts, in chapters 9, 22 and 26; so it seems obvious that he considers this event something very important. On his way to Damascus armed with arrest warrants against believing Jews, Saul was suddenly and forcibly brought face to face with Jesus (Acts 9:3-5). His travelling companions saw a light, but not Jesus (Acts 22:9a), and heard a voice (Acts 9:7) but weren’t able to discern what was said (Acts 22:9b), probably because Jesus spoke in Hebrew (Acts 26:14), and the men with Paul were probably Hellenist Jews, knowing only Greek.

Jesus asked Saul why he was persecuting him. The Greek word for persecute is “dioko” (G1377) and means to impel – (a) to set in motion; (b) to persecute or expel, accuse, pursue (in a hostile manner). It can also mean to follow zealously, attach oneself to (a person) or pursue (a cause). In the New Testament the word is used in a negative way to show the expulsion of the Hellenist believers from Jerusalem and Judea, and Paul pursuing them in order to bring them to judgment at Jerusalem. In a positive manner this same word is used by Paul saying we should follow after those things which are peaceful and that edify (Romans 14:19), to follow love (1Corinthians 14:1), and Paul’s own striving or pressing on in order to lay hold of that for which Christ has laid hold of him (Philippians 3:12). So the word expresses a zeal that could be used for good or evil. Paul began using his zeal to hurt the Body of Christ (cp. Philippians 3:6).

Jesus showed Paul that he, i.e. Jesus, identified with his people. Whatever was done to or for them, was done to or for Jesus (Acts 9:5; cp. Matthew 25:40, 45). Paul was astonished, in that he had no idea that one who died under a curse (Deuteronomy 21:23; cp. Joshua 10:26-27) could actually be chosen by God as King of Israel. Paul would later conclude that Jesus was cursed in our stead (Galatians 3:13), showing that even before his crucifixion Jesus identified with us—what had been our state before our salvation. In other words, Jesus took our curse upon himself and died under the law requiring our death. So, whether we are speaking of the Body of Christ  (Romans 12:5; 1Corinthians 12:3-31) after the crucifixion, or of the Suffering Servant and Israel (Isaiah 53) before the crucifixion, we are speaking of Jesus, our Messiah, identifying with us—in our ministry and our suffering for him, and his own serving and suffering for us. As the prophet said: “In all their affliction, He was afflicted and the Angel of his Presence saved them; in His love and His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:9).



[1] JOSEPHUS: Antiquities of the Jews; 18.4.1-2.

[2] Rome viewed the Samaritans as Jews even though Jerusalem did not.

[3] I mention this incident at this time because the messianic implication of the event occurred after Philip’s ministry. It seems that the Samaritans, like the Jews later, had its own false messiahs in response to the Messianic claims of the Gospel. Also it is worthy to note that when Vitellius, the Roman governor of Syria, replaced Pilate, he also replaced Caiaphas at the Passover of 36 CE, perhaps due to complaints of Messianic believer over how they were being ill treated.

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Posted by on February 5, 2012 in Acts of the Apostles


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