God’s Word for You
Acts 9:1-2 Breathing out threats and murder
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, January 23, 2020
Luke has brought us forward to about the year 35 AD. So far, there have been many details to fill in; all of the events from the ascension of Jesus to the martyrdom of Stephen and the dispersion of the Christians from Jerusalem. The gospel began to do its miraculous work among the Samaritans, and as we saw on the road down to Gaza, among the Gentiles as well. The stage was set for the great missionary apostle to begin his work among the Gentiles. The one catch was that this missionary apostle was neither a missionary nor an apostle yet. In fact, he wasn’t a Christian at all. He was the most dangerous opponent that the Christian church had in the world.
Jesus Appears to Saul on the Road to Damascus
9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He approached the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found anyone who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
Jacob once feared that Esau was coming after him breathing out threats and murder. He prayed: “I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children” (Genesis 32:11). Unlike Esau, who meant no harm to his brother at that time, Saul’s threats were genuine, and we learn from this passage that he had murdered other Christians besides Stephen. Paul was later willing to say, “I do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). And again: “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death; arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison” (Acts 22:4). Luther: “Luke says that Saul, ‘still breathing threats and murder,’ was going along like a horse or some other beast revealing wrath with its nostrils” (LW 16:38). The intention of young Saul was to put down this religious revolution known as the Way (Hodos).
The Way was the first real designation for the Christians. It is used this way in many times in Acts (Acts 16:17, 18:25-26, 19:9, 19:23, 24:4,14,22). Sometimes it appears with a modifier: “The way of God” (Matthew 22:16; Mark 12:14; Luke 20:21; Acts 18:26); “the way of the Lord” (Acts 18:25); “the way of peace” (Romans 3:17); “the way of love” (1 Corinthians 14:1); “the way of righteousness” (Matthew 21:32; 2 Peter 2:21); “The way of truth” (2 Peter 2:2). Jesus also said at the Last Supper, “I am the Way” (John 14:6), perhaps quoting from Isaiah: “A highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness… It will be for those who walk in that Way” (Isaiah 35:8). It signifies the Christian’s path with God (Psalm 119:105; Job 29:6); our walk with the Lord: “What does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12; cp. Micah 6:8).
By going to the High Priest (still Caiaphas, until he was succeeded by Jonathan in 36 and by a certain Theophilus in 37 AD) Saul hoped to get the approval of the Sanhedrin. The Greek middle voice is used in verse 2. The middle voice suggests that Saul “asked for himself,” for his own benefit. This shows that Saul was asking this as a personal favor. It had been delegated to him to persecute the Christians, and these letters would be proof of his authority from the Sanhedrin. In this verse, Luke pulls back the obscure details of history to show the brilliantly interwoven tapestry of God’s plan within his created world. How so? These letters of authority were to be read in the synagogues in order to further persecute the Christians; they made Saul in a very real sense the apostle of the Sanhedrin. An apostle is someone sent on a specific mission with the authority to carry it out. Therefore:
- Saul was the apostle of the Sanhedrin
- He was sent out on the mission to persecute the Christians
- He had letters to be read in the synagogues to show his authority
But God was going to turn all of this around:
- Saul would be Paul, the apostle of Christ
- He was to be sent out on the mission to make Christians
- He would write letters to be read in churches based on his authority
It pleases God to do the impossible to accomplish his task. Here was the greatest threat to the young Christian church, at a time when a single, organized and driven man like Saul might possibly have succeeded in exterminating every single Christian. The logical and worldly solution to a dangerous man like Saul would be to get him out of the way; to kill him. God’s design involved something more positive.
Pastor Timothy Smith