Paul’s First Defense

29 May

With the Roman fortress behind him and the Temple of God before him, in chains and surrounded by a Jewish mob crying out for his death and Roman soldiers holding him in a precarious protective custody, Paul began his first of four final addresses. This one is before his countrymen, the Jews. I already discussed Paul’s main defense in a previous blog, but I wish to emphasize the logic behind Paul’s defense in this one. The mob grew silent as Paul lifted his hand in a gesture to speak, and when he spoke in Hebrew, the silence became even more pronounced (Acts 22:1-2). Paul’s defense was a simple narration of his life from birth to his embracing Messianic Judaism and his vision of Jesus in the Temple of God.

The accusation against Paul was that he was an apostate to the faith, a renegade or traitor to his country. Paul’s defense was simply: “I am a Jew…” He addressed the mob as brethren and fathers, thus indicating that among the Jews present were Jewish authorities, elders of the community. Paul continued his defense by showing he was born in Tarsus, but brought up, i.e. educated, in Jerusalem at the feet of one of the most renowned Jewish scholars of that day, Rabbi Gamaliel. Could he have learned his apostasy from him? The answer is obvious. Indeed, he was as zealous for the Law as his enemies were that day (Acts 22:3). In fact, he had been so zealous that he persecuted the Way which he now embraced as true—a statement which the high priest, himself (indicating he was present in the crowd), could verify (Acts 22:4-5). So from whom or from where did he learn his apostasy, concerning which he was accused?

Carrying letters of extradition from the high priest himself, Paul journeyed to Damascus to arrest and take back to Jerusalem for trial and punishment any Jew embracing the Way – Messianic Judaism (Acts 22:5). However, before he reached the city, the Lord, Jesus, appeared to him, showing beyond all doubt that he was indeed alive and that the persecution of the Messianic faith was unjustified, and being struck blind through the heavenly vision, Paul was led to Damascus by the Temple guard who went with him (Acts 22:6-11). The fact that Paul’s journey to Damascus was in service to the high priest is evidence that up to this time Paul’s reputation as a good Jew was unquestioned.

About that time a man named, Ananias—a devout Jew whose reputation among the Jews at Damascus was in good standing—came and not only healed Paul of his blindness but baptized him, as one embracing the Way and called by God to witness to all men that he had seen Jesus, who was dead but is now alive (Acts 22:12-16). So, from where did Paul learn his apostasy, concerning which he stood in chains accused—from this devout Jew whose reputation was spotless? The answer is obvious.

Finally, Paul recounted his return to Jerusalem, showing himself in the Temple and in prayer. At such a time Paul fell into a trance and saw Jesus again, but was told to leave Jerusalem and that the people would not listen to him (Acts 22:17-18). Paul objected, wishing to confess Jesus to his former friends, believing that his testimony of converting from persecutor to one embracing the faith had value (Acts 22:19-20). Nevertheless, Jesus told him that he must leave the city or he would die, for a plot against his life was imminent (cp. Acts 9:29), and that he was being sent to the gentiles (Acts 22:21). All of Paul’s testimony thus far concerned authentic precepts of the Jewish faith—even his being sent to the gentiles (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 60:3). The Jews believed that one day even the gentiles would embrace the God of Abraham as their God (cp. Zechariah 2:11; 8:20-23). So, from where did Paul learn his apostasy? Did he learn it while at prayer in the Temple of God? Such a question is ridiculous.

However, it is to this point—i.e. the mention of going to the gentiles—that the people listened to Paul. When he spoke of God embracing the nations, something their own Scriptures testify would one day occur, they renounced Paul’s testimony and called out for his life (Acts 22:22), showing in their cries for his death the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah that they would hear but not understand, and they would see but fail to believe (Isaiah 6:9-10; 10:6; cp. Luke 4:24-29), for they have no delight in the word of God (Jeremiah 6:10) and stop their ears to what is true (Zechariah 7:11). It was not Paul but the nation that apostatized against the God of Abraham.


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