Luke writes in Acts 9:31 that the churches throughout all Judea, Samaria and Galilee had rest. Rest from what? It seems to me that he speaks of the persecution that had begun in Jerusalem in Acts 8:1. Luke has this rest occur immediately following his account of Paul’s leaving Jerusalem for his own city of Tarsus in Syria-Cilicia. Nevertheless, this rest from persecution could not, as some seem to believe, to arise out of Paul’s ceasing to persecute the believing community. First of all Paul had already ceased his persecuting the Church for three years; and secondly, his persecution seemed to have been limited to Jerusalem and his going to Damascus, because the rest of the churches of Judea didn’t know him personally (Galatians 1:22). So, what was responsible for the **rest** that the Church experienced in Acts 9:31?
A second reason offered by some scholarly commentaries, in my opinion, holds the real answer to this question. It is claimed by Josephus and Philo that, due to the trouble the Jews experienced at Alexandria, Egypt, by the Egyptian community, and the verdict of Caius Caesar concerning this trouble, the Jews at Jerusalem were faced with the option of permitting Petronius, the Roman governor of Syria, to place a statue of Caesar in the Temple or take the consequences of extermination of the nation and slavery of the survivors. This national emergency is said by many scholars to be the reason the Church in Judea, Samaria and Galilee had rest, and I agree. The Jewish communities raised up a peaceful protest before the Roman legions at Ptolemias where Petronius was wintering his armies in 38-39 CE. We know the Jew’s protest was peaceful because the men who protested the act brought their families—their wives and children. There they had hoped to cause Petronius to reconsider his intended activity. He did, in fact, do just that. He held his troops at Ptolemias and sent a letter to Caius in an effort to change the mind of his Emperor. All – both Jew and Roman — awaited his reply. Meanwhile the persecution of the believing community had ceased, presumably due to these national concerns.
Be that as it may, I also believe this is only part of the story. There is absolutely no real reason to stop the persecution of the believing Church if the whole nation awaited the reply of Caius for all of 39 CE. War was not taking place. The Roman legions had halted, at least for the time being, just north of the Jewish lands. Yet, the Jewish authorities at Jerusalem had halted all lethal activity against the Jewish believers in Jesus as the Messiah. What was the reason that that pushed this incident over the top and caused the Jewish authorities to cease their evil activity?
If we were speaking of things that occurred under the Old Testament, right about now God would have brought in a prophet or two to state his position and his demand for repentance. However, we are speaking of the New Testament; so what would God do at this point? I believe that what occurred here in 39 CE was the result of God intervening via his prophets, just as it had occurred since the Jewish nation was born in the days of Moses. It is my understanding that in the days just prior to the Jewish trouble Luke wrote his Gospel and submitted it as a warning to the then current high priest and addressee of his Gospel, (Luke 1:1-4), Theophilus, son of Annas—the man so instrumental in the death of Jesus. The persecution of believers had begun under Caiaphas, Annas’ son-in-law, and continued under the succeeding high priests, Jonathan and Theophilus, Annas’ sons. Luke presented his Gospel to Theophilus, showing in the Olivet Prophecy Jesus the Messiah would destroy the Temple, if the ruling authorities didn’t cease their persecuting activity. Luke even names the abomination as the invading [Roman] armies (Luke 21:20). Matthew and Mark make no mention of invading armies, only the abomination mentioned by Daniel. There is always a physical abomination to mimic the spiritual one. Here the Roman abomination answers to the Jewish abomination of rejecting their Messiah in place of reaching out to their lover, Caesar, who had no love for them.
The Gospel of Luke, contrary much of scholarly opinion today, was written very early. There is no real reason to expect there to be only an oral tradition existing from the beginning. There always exists a written tradition alongside the oral tradition. It just doesn’t make sense to believe otherwise, in my opinion.