2. The Early Christian Community
In order to gain the right perspective for the period to be covered in this lesson, it will be necessary to retrace our steps somewhat. The first lesson in this course dealt mainly with the activities of the apostle Peter, and this took us well into the twelfth chapter of Acts. In this second lesson, however, we shall be concerned with some developments in the early Christian community, and mention will be made of several other outstanding leaders who made important contributions during this period. Therefore, as a starting point, the student should refer back to the fourth and fifth chapters of Acts, and review briefly the situation that was highlighted by the dramatic demise of Ananias and Sapphira. This procedure will reorient the student regarding the early Christian community and its activities, and also help him to a better understanding of the following important developments:
(Refer also to Acts 4:32-37 and Acts 5:1-11.)
1. THE COMMUNAL EXPERIMENT.
The New Testament passages given above indicate that at quite an early period the Christians at Jerusalem formed themselves into a self-sustaining community. This does not mean that they lived together in one building, for their increasing numbers had outgrown the facilities of the upper room. However, they met regularly at Solomon's Porch in the Temple courts for their daily devotions; and Scripture states that at this time "they had everything in common" and "there was not a needy person among them." One reason for this communal procedure can be readily understood. It will be recalled that all the early Christians were Jews, and therefore would have been members of the various synagogues. But their conversion to Christianity led to excommunication from these synagogues; and this also meant severance of long-standing friendships, and in many instances loss of means of livelihood. Thus, at the outset, the community was organized to unite the Christians, and to provide them with what was needed for self-preservation.
However, increasing numbers of converts and corresponding problems of supply soon brought dissension into the newly-formed community. The New Testament account states that "the Hellenists" (A.V. "Grecians") "murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution." (Here, the term Hebrews refers to Aramaic-speaking Jews, born in the Holy Land; while Hellenists, or Grecians, indicates Greek-speaking Jews coming from other lands.) In other words, the "Hebrews" were being well fed, but the "Hellenists" were subsisting on short rations. However, this situation was met through prompt action by the Apostles. Seven men were selected and given the responsibility for making impartial distribution of needed supply. These seven men are often referred to as "deacons," although this term is not used in this section of the New Testament. With this new arrangement, all went well in the community for a time.
But at this point an important question arises: How are we to reconcile this Jerusalem community idea with the clear instructions given to the Apostles earlier by Jesus? At the time of His Ascension, Jesus said to His apostles, "Go and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19). Instead, the Apostles remained in Jerusalem and organized this community, so that the Christians might there await the return of the Lord. True, Luke's Gospel states that the Apostles were to "stay in the city [Jerusalem] until you are clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). But this power came upon them at Pentecost—some three or four years prior to the events now being discussed. Why, then, was there this delay in going, as had been directed, to "all nations"?
Perhaps the best answer to the above question is to be found in the change of emphasis, very noticeable in the teaching of the early Church. During Jesus' ministry His major message was, "The kingdom is at hand!"—and He taught that entrance to the kingdom was attained through the New Birth. (See John 3:1-7.) But in the teaching of the early Church, emphasis was placed on the return of the Lord; and with His return there would come the establishment of the kingdom. Thus the kingdom, instead of being "at hand," was projected into the future; and Christians were instructed to patiently await its establishment when the Lord returned. At that time the kingdom message could be carried to "all nations."
Nor is it difficult to discover how this change of emphasis came about. Many pious Jews refused to recognize Jesus as Messiah because His advent was not marked by the splendors indicated in their interpretations of the Old Testament prophecies. The "meek and lowly" Jesus was not the world conqueror or heaven-sent messenger they had been led to expect. But when these self-same Jews were told that Jesus was coming again in His glory, this was more in line with their expectations; and as a result, many Jews were converted during those early days. In other words, these Jews were willing to wait a little longer for the type of Messiah they desired and expected. So the communal idea flourished for a time with steadily increasing membership, and the converts patiently awaited the coming of the Messiah in all His glory.
A further question arises: If this early Christian community was founded and maintained by the Apostles, why did it not continue as a permanent form of the Christian church?
In seeking to answer this question, it should be recognized that the early Christian community was not planned as a permanent organization, but was to operate only "till the Lord comes"—and the expectation was for an early return of the Lord. Thus, all the arrangements made applied only to those persons immediately involved, and the New Testament gives no indication of an intended permanent organization. This was only a "for the time being" plan. What might have happened later on, when the expected return of the Lord was long delayed, can only be conjectured; long before problems of this sort could arise, the Jerusalem community was broken up by the rising tide of religious persecution—as will be discussed later in this lesson. Apparently the organization was not strong enough to withstand this type of attack, and with the persecutions the communal experiment came to an abrupt end. Church history indicates that in later years many attempts were made to revive the Christian community idea, but this appealed only to certain sections of the Christian church, and in many instances these communal groups were short-lived.
2. THE PERSECUTIONS.
Toward the close of Jesus' ministry. He warned His disciples that they would be called upon to endure persecution. One of His memorable statements was: "Remember the word that I said unto you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you" (John 15:20). Prior to this Jesus had intimated that, so far from being dismayed, His disciples should regard persecution as cause for rejoicing. (See Matt. 5:11-12.) These words of Jesus were literally fulfilled during the early developments of the Christian Church; and the New Testament contains many accounts of persecution. For purposes of study, some of these persecution activities may be listed, as follows:
(1) Caiaphas' plot against Jesus. (John 11:47-53.) This was followed by the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, and the temporary scattering of His followers.
(2) Arrest of Peter and other apostles, as discussed in the preceding lesson. (Acts 4 and 5.)
(3) Persecution of the Christian community in Jerusalem, followed by the martyrdom of Stephen and others, and the break-up of the community. (Acts 8:1-3.) This will be further discussed in this lesson.
(4) Persecution by Herod, with the martyrdom of James, and the arrest and imprisonment of Peter. (Acts 12:1-11.)
(5) Various persecutions by Roman emperors. These activities will be discussed in later lessons.
All New Testament accounts of persecutions should be given careful consideration, since they have twofold significance:
First, historical: Many happenings in the early Church arose out of, or were closely related to, the persecutions. Therefore, if we are to understand these happenings, we must first become aware of what was taking place at that time. Also, many statements in the Epistles have direct bearing upon conditions arising out of the persecutions; while some knowledge of the persecutions forms a prerequisite for the study of Revelation.
Second, metaphysical: The persecutions symbolize something that frequently takes place in consciousness. The rise and development of spirituality is oftentimes vigorously opposed by what is usually termed "mortal consciousness," and the acute suffering experienced in the resulting conflict bears striking resemblance to the historical persecutions. To use other phraseology, the "kingdoms of this world" put forth every effort to prevent the establishment of the kingdom of Christ in consciousness. This is understandable, since this would mean the end of the worldly kingdoms! Thus, the persecutions of history are often reproduced by the persecutions in consciousness. All this is vividly portrayed by Paul in his Epistle to the Romans. He writes:
"So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Rom. 7:21-24).
Acts 6:8-15; Acts 7:1-60
3. STEPHEN - FIRST CHRISTIAN MARTYR.
Although seven men were appointed as "deacons" for the Jerusalem Christian community, only two of these receive further mention in the New Testament: Stephen and Philip. The following details concerning Stephen should be given careful attention.
(1 ) Personal characteristics: Stephen's name appears at the head of the list given in the sixth chapter of Acts, and he is there described as "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit." This is splendid testimony—especially in view of the fact that nothing similar is mentioned regarding the other appointees. Stephen's name indicates that he was a "Hellenist," or Greek-speaking Jew, born outside the Holy Land. His appointment would therefore assure fair treatment for other Hellenists belonging to the community.
(2) Preaching activities: Apparently, Stephen's duties to the community did not occupy his entire time. The Scripture passage cited above indicates that he visited several synagogues, carrying the Christian message. And here it should be noted that the main point in early Christian teaching was "Jesus Christ, the Messiah." Furthermore, accusations were freely made that the Jewish leaders had crucified the Messiah; and thus the Cross represented the shattering of Jewish national hopes. Jesus, it was argued, might have redeemed Israel from Roman bondage; but instead, He was put to a shameful death. Apparently Stephen was very skillful in the presentation of his facts, for the account states that although many teachers in the synagogues debated with Stephen, "they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke."
(3) Arrest and trial: Following Stephen's preaching activities, some serious charges were laid against him. He was therefore arrested and brought before the Jewish Council, or Sanhedrin, where he was accused of blasphemy—specifically against the law of Moses and against the Temple. The penalty was death.
In making his defense, Stephen gave an outline of Jewish history. Note the reference to Moses: "This Moses whom they refused ... God sent as both ruler and deliverer. ... This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, 'God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up' " (Acts 7:35-37). Stephen further indicated that this "refusing" had been a characteristic of the Jewish people throughout their history, just as they had in later days refused to recognize Jesus as Messiah. The sudden change in Stephen's discourse at the end of verse fifty should be specially noted. Apparently, at this point some of the judges intervened, seeking to bring the trial to a speedy close. Stephen thereupon quickly reiterated his "refusing" point, and then hurled this charge against his accusers: "You stiff-necked people ... you always resist the Holy Spirit!" This immediately produces an uproar from the members of the Council, and Stephen was hurriedly dragged off to the place of execution.
(4) Stephen's martyrdom: Stephen was stoned to death in accord with the ancient Jewish mode of execution. However, this raises a question. When Jesus was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, the Romans would not allow Jewish courts to carry out an execution; therefore, Jesus was taken before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, to receive the death sentence. (See Part One of this course. Lesson Eleven.) Why, then, did the Sanhedrin have the power to execute Stephen? Had the law been changed? The explanation is that at the time of Stephen's arrest Pilate had been recalled to Rome, to answer charges of misconduct, and the new governor had not been installed. Hence, the Jewish leaders took matters into their own hands during this period; and, since Stephen was charged with blasphemy, they put him to death. Stephen's last prayer, uttered at the moment of his execution, must have been carefully treasured by the early Church. The prayer was, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them"—patterned after Jesus' prayer from the Cross: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
(5) Metaphysical meaning: The name Stephen means "encircled with a crown." However, the reference here is not to a crown of gold and precious stones—emblem of royalty—but to a laurel-wreath crown, such as was placed on the head of the victorious contestant at the Roman games. In early church times this crown was also associated with martyrdom. Paul refers to this crown as "the crown of righteousness" (II Tim. 4:8.) Some further metaphysical suggestions are given in the following quotation:
"Stephen represents the man who is baptized of the Holy Spirit and gets intellectually a clear understanding of the truth of man. The heavens are opened to him; he sees the Son of man standing at the right hand of God. .. . One who has had this experience can see the possibilities seem so real that they become a moving factor in life and the illumined one goes forth preaching them, talking about them as if they had really come to pass, as if all had been demonstrated. ... Stephen was in that illumined state of mind, and in that state of mind he is typical of the students today who receive the Truth, who perceive it, not with the full understanding, nor with demonstration yet, but with an illumination so strong that they become enthusiasts. They are what we call our 'newly Illuminated' students, and they do wonderfully effective work in those early stages—but their work is done in the enthusiasm of the intellect. The full regeneration has not yet been established in them" (Metaphysical Bible Dictionary 630).
Acts 8:1-40; Isa. 53:1-12; Acts 21:8-14
4. PHILIP, THE EVANGELIST.
The second deacon whose activities are recorded in the New Testament bore the name Philip. Jesus had a disciple named Philip, who is frequently mentioned in the accounts of Jesus' ministry. But the Philip appointed to administer the affairs of the Christian community at Jerusalem was not one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, and this is made clear in the account of Philip's activities. Philip (like Stephen) not only fulfilled his administrative duties, but also successfully engaged in proclaiming the Christian message. Hence he is often referred to as Philip, the Evangelist. The recorded activities of Philip are as follows:
(1) Work in Samaria: As mentioned earlier in this lesson, persecution broke up the Jerusalem Christian community, and the converts were "scattered throughout the region." Philip, in order to avoid arrest, left Jerusalem hurriedly and journeyed to Samaria, staying for a while in the city bearing that name, and also visiting several other places in the province. It should be recalled that the Samaritans, although despised by the Judean Jews, were well-acquainted with Hebrew religious traditions and hopes. The Samaritans claimed Abraham as their ancestor, and the five books of Moses (Pentateuch) formed their bible. In all probability, many of the Samaritans recalled Jesus' kindly attitude toward their nation. Thus Philip found receptive audiences throughout Samaria, and his preaching was followed by many healings and other important manifestations.
(2) Conversion of Simon Magus: Reference was made to this event in Lesson I, when considering the activities of Peter. The metaphysical interpretation of Simon Magus was also given at that time. The New Testament gives the name as "Simon," and also states that he claimed to be "somebody great." Elsewhere he is referred to as "Simon the sorcerer," "Simon the magician," "Simon Magus," and so forth. The word magus means "magician," and is the singular form of the better-known word magi.
The New Testament states that "Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip." But although Philip had baptized Simon, along with other Samaritans, the account also states that the Holy Spirit "had not fallen on any of them." Later on, however, when Peter and John arrived and laid their hands on the converts, the Holy Spirit was received. This clearly indicates that Philip did not belong to the select group of "the Twelve," but was regarded only as an evangelist. His work was approved by the Apostolic Council, but his baptisms needed to be supplemented by additional action of a fully-accredited apostle. This indicates an early recognition of varying degrees of spiritual power and authority in the Apostolic Church, and possibly marks the early stages of what later became known as Apostolic Succession. As regards Simon Magus, it would appear that his conversion was not enduring. Tradition indicated that Simon became a leader in the Gnostic movement, and in many other ways he vigorously worked against the Apostles and other leaders in the early Church. One legend states that Simon eventually reached Rome, but there he met a violent death in seeking to demonstrate his supernatural powers.
(3) Philip and the Ethiopian: This account indicates that immediately following the activities mentioned above, Philip departed somewhat hurriedly from Samaria and journeyed in a southwesterly direction toward the city of Gaza—probably bypassing Jerusalem for safety reasons. The account states that as Philip approached Gaza he encountered a traveler, who is designated as "an Ethiopian." Some important conversation followed, with the result that the traveler was converted; and since there was a small stream nearby, he was then and there baptized by Philip.
Here it should be noted that the word Ethiopian refers to the traveler's place of residence, rather than to his nationality. While he is mentioned as holding an important office in Ethiopia, in all probability he was a Jew. This is indicated by the statement that he "had come to Jerusalemfo worship," and also by his actions in reading aloud from the Book of Isaiah, using the Septuagint version (Greek translation) of the Old Testament. The section he was reading contains one of a series of religious poems, known as "The Songs of God's Righteous Servant." Jewish teachers interpreted these poems as depicting the trying experiences of the Jewish nation in its contacts with the outside world. Jesus, however, saw in Himself the fulfillment of these prophetic poems; and this point of view was emphasized in the early Church. Therefore, when Philip spoke to the traveler, it was this Christian interpretation that was given and accepted. Following his baptism, as mentioned above, the traveler returned to Ethiopia and, according to tradition, carried the Christian message to members of the royal household.
Two questions are likely to arise concerning this story:
First: Why is no mention made of the Holy Spirit in connection with this baptism? The Holy Spirit was received by the converts in Samaria, but nothing is stated about the Holy Spirit being received by the man from Ethiopia. Apparently this difficulty was recognized in very early days, for in some ancient manuscripts verse thirty-nine ends in this way: "The Holy Spirit fell upon the eunuch, and the angel of the Lord caught up Philip." However, nowadays this reading is not generally accepted.
Second: Why do some Bibles omit verse thirty-seven? In the King James version, this verse reads: "And Philip said, if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest [be baptized]. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." However, many translations of the New Testament omit this verse. (The R.S.V. places verse thirty-seven in the margin.) The reason usually given for the omission is that the verse is regarded as a later addition, since it does not appear in the earliest manuscripts. However, a baptismal formula similar to this was regularly used in the early Church, and it seems unlikely that Philip would have baptized the man unless there had been some "confession of faith"—either in the words given, or something similar.
(4) Philip's subsequent activities: After parting with the Ethiopian traveler, Philip visited Azotus (the ancient Philistine city of Ashdod) and also preached the Gospel in various other towns until he reached Caesarea. Apparently Philip then settled in Caesarea, and was still living there with his family when Paul visited him some twenty years later.
(5) Metaphysical meaning: While the statements given below are usually applied to Philip, the disciple of Jesus, it will be noted that many of these aspects of power are also to be recognized in Philip, the Evangelist:
"Philip means a lover of horses. We gather from this that he represents the faculty in us that, through love, masters the vital forces; hence we identify Philip as power. Philip exercises his power through the spiritual word, which is outwardly made manifest in speech (Acts 8:4-8); he represents the power of the home missionary movement. ... "In the kingdom of God within man's consciousness the power disciple (Philip) plays an important part in controlling the expression of the many emotions, inspirations, and thoughts of the soul. ... "No great overcoming work can be done by the disciple without a realization of spiritual power, dominion, mastery. Then do not fear to develop your power and mastery. They are not to be exercised on other people, but on yourself. 'He that ruleth his spirit is more powerful than he that taketh a city' " (Metaphysical Bible Dictionary pp. 524, 525, 526).
Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-31; 26:4-20
5. "A YOUNG MAN NAMED SAUL."
The New Testament account of Stephen's martyrdom—as discussed earlier in this lesson—closes with two important statements: "The witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul" (Acts 7:58) and "Saul was consenting to his [Stephen's] death" (Acts 8:1). These statements naturally give rise to several questions: Who was this Saul? What position did he occupy? When and where did he give consent to the death of Stephen?—and so on. The significance of these questions will be recognized when we recall the important contributions to the Christian church subsequently made by Saul. At this point it will be well to become better acquainted with this very important person:
(1) Early Years: Saul was born at Tarsus, in Cilicia (Asia Minor), about A.D. 4-5. He describes himself as being "of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee" (Phil. 3:5)—which indicates that he belonged to a wealthy, well-connected, and highly-esteemed Jewish family. Saul also inherited Roman citizenship. This is indicated by his dual name: Saul, the Hebrew name, and Paul, the Roman (Latin) name. Here it should be noted that although the names have a similar sound, they are otherwise quite dissimilar. Saul means "that which is greatly desired"; while Paul may be interpreted literally as meaning "the little man." Young Saul received a good early education at Tarsus, and, following the Jewish custom, he was also taught a useful trade; he is sometimes referred to as "the tent-maker." However, in all probability, Saul was actually a tent-cloth weaver, engaged in producing a tough, durable cloth, woven from flax and goat hair, which was used not only for tents, but also for sails and protective covering. Tent-cloth making was a very strenuous occupation, and the work was hard on the hands, but it was also highly lucrative.
When Saul was about fifteen he was sent to Jerusalem to be educated as a rabbi, and he studied under the outstanding Jewish teacher Gamaliel. However, after several years of intensive study, Saul left Jerusalem and returned to Tarsus. Possibly there were disagreements between Saul and his teacher. Saul's religious background was of conservative (or orthodox) type, while Gamaliel was noted for his liberal tendencies; and these opposite viewpoints could not be reconciled. This break between student and teacher had far-reaching consequences. A careful comparison of dates reveals that shortly after Saul's departure from Jerusalem, Jesus began His eventful ministry in and around the Holy City. Saul, however, had returned to Tarsus and remained there throughout the entire period of Jesus' ministry. Thus Saul missed seeing, and making personal contact with, the One he was later to proclaim as Savior of the world.
(2) Return to Jerusalem: When Saul was about thirty years of age, he decided to leave Tarsus and again journey to Jerusalem. This journey was undertaken for a twofold purpose: First, possibly through family influence, Saul had been appointed to membership in the Sanhedrin, or Jewish High Council. The High Priest was the presiding officer of the Sanhedrin, and the installation ceremony included laying-on of hands; thus, Saul must needs go to Jerusalem. That Saul was duly installed as a member of the Sanhedrin is shown by his own statement, made when referring to the death of Stephen and other early martyrs: "I cast my vote against them" (Acts 26:10). Saul's further purpose was to investigate personally what he regarded as the heretical teachings and activities of the followers of Jesus. Earlier, the Jewish leaders hoped that the arrest and execution of Jesus would bring these teachings and activities to an end; but following Jesus' resurrection His followers were filled with new enthusiasm, and they openly proclaimed Him as the long-expected Messiah. News of all this reached Tarsus; and Saul desired to make personal investigation, and to assist the religious leaders in eradicating this heretical teaching.
After arriving at Jerusalem, Saul immediately contacted the High Priest, and arrangements were made regarding membership in the Sanhedrin. But the High Priest also recognized Saul as a man well qualified to organize and execute a vigorous persecution against the followers of Jesus. Hence, Saul was invested with the needful authority, and he became actively engaged in the persecution activities mentioned in the New Testament passages listed above.
(3) Journey to Damascus: Saul's vigorous methods of persecution soon broke up the Christian community at Jerusalem, as indicated earlier in this lesson; although many of the converts avoided arrest by fleeing to cities in Samaria and Galilee. Several influential converts traveled as far as Damascus, hoping that at such a distance they would be beyond the reach of Saul. However, warrants for their arrest were issued, and Saul hurriedly departed for Damascus, in order to bring the fugitives back to Jerusalem for trial.
Since something of great historical importance occurred during this journey, the student should take a map of the Holy Land and carefully trace the route probably followed by Saul on this occasion. After leaving Jerusalem, Saul would have passed through Samaria and Galilee, probably stopping briefly at Jacob's well (Sychar), Nain, Nazareth, Cana, and Capernaum—places closely associated with the ministry of Jesus. At these and other points Saul no doubt heard many stories concerning the healing work of Jesus, and people were still talking about how "Jesus of Nazareth ... went about doing good" (Acts 10:38). At the commencement of his persecution activities, Saul probably had been greatly disturbed by the forgiving attitude of Stephen; now these stories of Jesus' helpful ministry must have caused further inner misgivings. Again and again, the question would arise in Saul's mind: "Am I really doing right in persecuting these converts? Or am I actually working against God and His anointed One?" How distressing was this inner conflict between conscience and personal will is indicated by Saul's statement, written many years later: "I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious" (I Tim. 1:13 A.S.V.). This background helps us to understand what happened on the final stage of Saul's journey to Damascus, as recorded in the New Testament. There was a blinding flash of light, followed by the poignant question, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" And when Saul inquired, "Who are you, Lord?" the answer came: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting!" This soul-shaking experience brought about Saul's conversion.
Saul's arrival at Damascus must be regarded as something of an anti-climax. Instead of entering in state, as an important official and emissary of the High Priest, he was led through the gates, having the appearance of being a blind beggar! For several days he sat in darkness and despondency, until he received his healing, as recorded. There is an interesting tradition that Ananias, who laid his hands upon "Brother Saul" and restored his sight, was a relative of one of the Jerusalem converts Saul had come to arrest!
(4) Following Saul's Conversion: The Scripture passages telling of happenings following Saul's conversion should be read, and the sequence of his activities carefully noted. The following call for special attention.
a. Activities at Damascus: Luke's account (Acts 9:20) seems to indicate that, immediately following his conversion, Saul began to preach in the synagogue at Damascus. However, Saul in a biographical passage states, "I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus" (Gal. 1:17). This would indicate that, following his conversion, Saul departed from Damascus for a time, so that he might "think things through" before attempting to proclaim the Christian message.
b. Attempted assassination: Saul's activities following his conversion involved him in an altogether new type of experience. His preaching soon aroused the antagonism of the orthodox Jewish leaders. They understood that Saul's purpose in coming to Damascus was to oppose the new teaching, and to arrest its advocates; but instead he had become an enthusiastic proponent of "the Way"! The Jewish leaders, therefore, began to attack Saul, both verbally and physically, and plotted to kill him. So the erstwhile persecutor began to experience the bitterness of persecution. However, the plot became known, and Saul was enabled to escape from Damascus—probably aided by some of the Christians he had intended to arrest!
c. Return to Jerusalem. After leaving Damascus, Saul returned to Jerusalem, and sought an interview with the leading Apostles. But apparently these Apostles were not fully convinced regarding the genuineness of Saul's conversion, and therefore they gave him the "cold shoulder" treatment. However, Saul found a timely sponsor in the person of Barnabas, "who took him, and brought him to the apostles." Nevertheless the indications are that the official attitude toward Saul was that he still remained "on probation." The New Testament tells of some preaching activity by Saul in and around Jerusalem; but this quickly aroused bitter opposition from the Jewish leaders, and Saul's life was again threatened. However, Christian friends helped Saul to escape from Jerusalem unharmed, and later they assisted him to return to his home in Tarsus. There are indications that the activities of Saul, during this brief period, proved somewhat distressing to the Apostles; and both they and the Christian converts in Jerusalem felt much relieved, and breathed easier, after Saul had departed from their midst.
6. METAPHYSICAL MEANING.
Saul in his early activities presents a twofold picture of the human will activated by zeal. At the outset, personal will is dominant; and at this point Saul
"represents one who is zealous in his search for God but is so filled with the religious ideas that have been inculcated by his previous training that he resists the true Christ understanding. Saul on his way to Damascus. ... represents the fanatical will filled with zeal to destroy everything that opposes its traditional religion" (Metaphysical Bible Dictionary 577).
However, following his conversion Saul represents the consecrated will, with all its energies re-channeled into the service of Christ. Now Saul's dominant purpose is, "Thy will, not mine, be done." Many other metaphysical implications will be found in later activities, which will be discussed in the lessons that follow. Meanwhile, the following quotation will be helpful in connection with this present lesson:
"The will is the very essence of self-consciousness. The story of the conversion and work of Saul of Tarsus fills a large place in Bible history. In this symbology Saul represents the human will. In all permanent character building the action of the will is based on understanding. Will and understanding go hand in hand. They are the Ephraim and Manasseh of Scripture, whose allotment in the Promised Land was in joint ownership ... It should not be inferred that the will is weakened by conversion; it is made stronger in every respect" (Metaphysical Bible Dictionary 506 entry for Paul).
The following familiar lines from Tennyson poetically portray the transition from personal will to consecrated will:
Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen Thy face,
By faith, and faith alone embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove.
Thou seemest human and divine,
The highest, holiest manhood, Thou:
Our wills are ours, we know not how:
Our wills are ours, to make them Thine.
Questions for Lesson 2
- State briefly what is indicated by the term "the Jerusalem Christian community." Why was this community formed? What eventually became of it?
- Who was Stephen? How is he described in the New Testament? What was his attitude toward his persecutors?
- When and where did Philip encounter the traveler from Ethiopia? What important question was asked by the traveler? What was the outcome of this meeting?
- Explain briefly Saul's twofold purpose in returning to Jerusalem shortly before the martyrdom of Stephen. How did the High Priest employ Saul at that time?
- Tell very briefly of Saul's experience when on the road to Damascus. What important change in Saul's life and activities did this bring about?
- Explain briefly how the persecution activities mentioned in the New Testament symbolize something that frequently takes place in our consciousness. How did the apostle Paul describe this experience? (See Rom. 7:21-24.)
- What does Stephen represent metaphysically? Does this indicate that something further should be attained? Explain fully.
- What spiritual faculty is represented by Philip? Where and how should we commence to develop this faculty?
- What is indicated metaphysically by the activities of Saul as discussed in this lesson? What does Saul's conversion represent in our experience?
- Explain briefly how we should deal with personal will. How do the words of Jesus help us in answering this question? (See Luke 22:42 and John 6:38.) What is stated in the Lord's Prayer in this connection?