3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.
6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’
This speech – in the Temple in Jerusalem – during Passover – is happening about 25 years after Jesus was crucified. Peter healed people after that in this same Temple.
Most of the elders that sent Paul on that first mission to Damascus are probably dead. You were old if you were in your late 50s in those days.
What is great is that when Paul says “I persecuted this Way,” he doesn’t have to explain it in a lot of detail. The word about Jesus from Nazareth has spread enough through this crowd that they already know what “the Way” is. You can thank James and Peter for that, too. While Paul was preaching to all of Asia, those guys were holding down the fort in Jerusalem and helping the church grow.
If you keep with the 25-year estimate and remember all that Jesus did for people around Jerusalem, then you can understand how big the legend of Jesus has spread by this time. Even if they hadn’t become Christians, plenty of parents who had been fed, healed, or otherwise taught by Jesus at some point would tell those stories to their kids. All of the Jewish people in town from Asia had heard about this possible Messiah from Ephesus, Galatia, Cyprus, Corinth, Antioch, and other places.
And so, proof and explanation of the resurrection aren’t needed here as much as a direct connection to Paul. That’s what he tells them in this part of the story. Jesus was alive after His crucifixion and Paul saw Him. Jesus identified and showed that He Himself was being persecuted in His people by Paul.
Paul isn’t trying to convert anyone to follow Jesus in this speech as much as he is trying to get them to simply not kill him. If he can calm down the riot, he can get ready for his next move. He can walk them to a point of being open and listening. This speech isn’t typical of his other speeches recorded in Acts, but this is the only one that is in the Temple with a mob during Passover.
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