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God Brings an End to the Persecution

20 Apr

Before I leave chapter nine of Acts, I have to stop at verse-31. Some folks think that because Paul stopped persecuting the Jewish believers that the Church of Christ had rest or peace. Notice what the Scripture says:

Acts 9:29-31 KJV And he [Saul, later known as Paul] spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him. (30) Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus. (31) Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied. (brackets and emphasis mine)

Notice that the text points to the Churches of Christ throughout Palestine, not just Jerusalem. No matter how zealous Paul was, he could not have undertaken such a vast task all by himself. No, the text at this point refers to something else. Paul had been persecuting the church for about two years. The persecution began just after the Day of Atonement 34 CE. Paul persecuted the church up until sometime in 36 CE. During this year Pilate lost his office and was replaced. The high priest was also replaced by the new procurator. It is probably this high priest, Johnathan (son of Annas) who replaced Caiaphas (son-in-law of Annas) that Paul asked for letters to take to the synagogues of Damascus to capture disciples of Jesus who had this belief of Stephen.

As providence would have it, Jesus met Paul on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:3-5). Paul repented and was baptized and went into Arabia for three years (Galatians 1:15-18). So, for three years Paul was absent from Palestine yet many of the believers in Jesus were still persecuted and didn’t obtain rest until after Paul returned, preaching the Gospel at Damascus and then at Jerusalem. This was 3 years after he left off persecuting believers or 39 CE. What occurred in 39 CE that could have any significance concerning the Jews persecuting Jewish believers in Jesus?

Josephus relates that Caius Caesar had declared himself a god and made Petronius president of Syria in the place of Vitellius, commanding him to raise up a statue of himself (Caius) to be worshiped in the Temple at Jerusalem. Petronius’ armies were wintering at Ptolemais and he planned to execute Caius’ order in the spring of 40 CE. When the Jews heard of this, tens of thousands of them, young and old, men and women left off tilling the land and met him at Ptolemais, which is along the coast in Galilee north of Caesarea. Petronius was so moved with their emotional request not to do this thing, that he put his life in danger and sent a letter to Caius advising him of the situation and telling him of the revenue that would be lost, if he would follow through on his orders. By this time it was early summer of 40 CE. One thing led to another and Caius was assassinated on January 24th in 41 CE without ever having his command carried out.

The point is, that all this while the Jewish authorities had greater things to be concerned about than to pursue the disciples of Jesus who claimed a Temple was not needed to worship God, nor was it necessary for one to be a Jew to be blessed by the God of the Jews. God often works through what appears to be ordinary human events to work out his will. It was his desire not only that the Jews stop persecuting their brethren who believed in Jesus, but to consider the testimony of the believers in Christ for themselves. Nevertheless, as Acts proves later, they may have stopped expressing their hatred for their brethren in an outward fashion, but their hearts remained hostile to God’s will.

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Posted by on April 20, 2011 in Acts of the Apostles

 

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