Saul Meets Old Friends and Former Enemies
IT MUST have been with some apprehension that Saul, who later became known as the apostle Paul, returned to Jerusalem for the first time since his conversion to Christianity.* Three years earlier he left the city, breathing threat and murder against Jesus’ disciples. He had a mandate to arrest any Christian he might find in Damascus.
Once he himself became a Christian, Saul boldly declared his faith in the resurrected Messiah. As a consequence, the Jews in Damascus wanted to kill him. (Acts 9:19-25) Could he really expect a warm welcome from former Jewish friends in Jerusalem? What mattered more to Saul, however, was making contact with Christ’s followers in Jerusalem. That would not be easy.
“On arriving in Jerusalem he made efforts to join himself to the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, because they did not believe he was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26) You can understand that. The last they knew of him, he was a merciless persecutor. His profession of faith as a Christian might seem to be a ruse to infiltrate the congregation. Thus, Christians in Jerusalem wanted to keep him at arm’s length.
One of them did help Saul, however. The Bible states that Barnabas led the former persecutor “to the apostles,” evidently referring to Peter (Cephas) and James, the brother of the Lord, apprising them of Saul’s conversion and of his preaching in Damascus. (Acts 9:27; Galatians 1:18, 19) How Barnabas came to trust Saul is left unexplained. Were the two acquainted, moving Barnabas to sound Saul out and then to vouch for his sincerity? Did Barnabas have contact with Christians in Damascus and know of Saul’s about-face? Whatever the case, Barnabas allayed suspicions about Saul. Consequently, Saul stayed with the apostle Peter for 15 days.
Fifteen Days With Peter
Saul had received his commission directly from Jesus without the need for any human sanction, as he emphasized to the Galatians. (Galatians 1:11, 12) But Saul doubtless recognized the importance of being well-informed about Jesus’ ministry. The stay with Peter would afford Saul ample opportunity for that. (Luke 24:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8) Saul would have many things to ask of Peter and James, and they would have questions for Saul regarding his vision and his commission.
Saved From Former Friends?
Stephen has been called the first Christian martyr. Those with whom Stephen had previously disputed were of “the so-called Synagogue of the Freedmen, and of the Cyrenians and Alexandrians and of those from Cilicia and Asia.” Now Saul was “disputing with the Greek-speaking Jews,” or “the Hellenists,” boldly witnessing to them. The reaction? They wanted to kill him.
It would have been natural for Saul to want to explain the radical change in his life and to strive to enlighten former friends about the Messiah. However, these Jewish Hellenists responded venomously to the man they regarded as a traitor.
Did Saul grasp the extent of the danger he was in? We read that as he was praying in the temple, he fell into a trance and saw Jesus, who told him: “Hurry up and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not agree to your witness concerning me.” Saul responded: “Lord, they themselves well know that I used to imprison and flog in one synagogue after another those believing upon you; and when the blood of Stephen your witness was being spilled, I myself was also standing by and approving.”
Some take Saul’s reply to mean that he acknowledged the risk. Others think that he was saying: ‘I was a persecutor like them, and they know that. Surely they should take my conversion seriously. Maybe I can reach them.’ Still, Jesus knew that those Jews would not heed the testimony of an “apostate.” He told Saul: “Get on your way, because I shall send you out to nations far off.”
When fellow Christians became aware of the peril, they hurried Saul down to the seaport of Caesarea and dispatched him on the 300-mile [500 km] journey to Tarsus, his home city. (Acts 9:30) It was several years before Saul returned to Jerusalem.
That hasty departure may have been a protection for the Christian congregation. The former persecutor’s presence was potentially explosive. After Saul departed, “the congregation throughout the whole of Judea and Galilee and Samaria entered into a period of peace, being built up; and as it walked in the fear of Jehovah and in the comfort of the holy spirit it kept on multiplying.”
Lessons in Caution
As in the first century, situations in which it is appropriate to exercise caution may present themselves today. We have no reason to be unduly suspicious of strangers. At times, however, unscrupulous individuals have tried to exploit Jehovah’s people, either for personal gain or with the intent of damaging the congregation. Hence, we use discernment so as not to fall prey to the deceptions of impostors.
Saul’s reaction to preaching in Jerusalem illustrates another way that Christians can exercise caution. Witnessing in certain neighborhoods or to some individuals, including former friends, can be hazardous
We can be confident that the good news of God’s Kingdom will be preached before the end of this wicked system arrives. What a fine example Saul set in that regard, “speaking boldly in the name of the Lord” even to old friends and former enemies!
Saul is better known today as the apostle Paul. In most of the Bible verses cited in this article, however, he is referred to by his Jewish name, Saul.
[Picture on page 16]
Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Saul boldly witnessed to the Greek-speaking Jews