Conversion stories are the foundation of Christianity. The experiences we have with the divine are how we learn the nature of God. When we share them they speak to the hearts of others who are searching for meaning and identity. What is also interesting about them, is that they can be expressed differently to different audiences and they can mean different things at different times in our lives.
Paul recounts a number of different versions of his conversion and vision of God to different people in these chapters and others. The accounts differ as does the reception of his accounts by his audiences. Most people don’t realize how difficult it is to recount something that happened to you 1 year ago, let alone decades ago, if it wasn’t written down immediately. That is the nature of all the accounts by witnesses of Jesus Christ in the early church. The experiences happened many years before they were written down. I think it is important to note that because they have differences does not make them unreliable. I have many experiences that I know happened to me and have shared them many times. There is no doubt that parts of them changed and meant different things to me as I have shared them.
The end of the Acts of the Apostles marks the end of the narrative portion of the New Testament. We know that the fate of the apostles was death and that between the day of Pentecost and the decades that followed the churches struggled as they grew. The early apostles did not have the luxury of mass publication, the internet, phones, or any effective tools to communicate easily and quickly. They relied upon letters to help the churches as they struggled to keep the faith and to keep their practices consistent among churches.
The remaining books of the New Testament help us see these struggles, how the apostles helped them and we also see the development on the theology of Christianity in the epistles. In the moment that the apostles began their ministry they were a radical new Jewish sect, by the time they all are killed the church has become the foundations for Christianity and its belief system was completely changed. Unfortunately, so many of the doctrines and beliefs that were formed in those years were lost as Christians were persecuted, writings destroyed or altered, and churches were separated from each other.
As we move into the upcoming weeks I hope that we can grow our understanding of the struggles the church faced, how they were strengthened and what that means for us as we face similar struggles.
CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 30 – Acts 22-28
– Spiritual experiences are foundational to our relationship to God, but they can be interpreted differently throughout our lives.
– Faith in Christ is strengthened through our trials, struggles, and suffering.
– All people deserve to have the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Context and Timeline:
– Paul was likely born 5 or 6 years after Jesus Christ in 1 AD. According to sources was executed between 62-68 AD 30 years after hebegan his ministry in 34 AD. He traveled, ministered, taught, and wrote over 30 years for the cause of the gospel.
– Timeline of these chapters – 57 AD – (64-68) AD
– Remember from last week that Paul had been accused of teaching people they no longer needed to follow the Law of Moses at all and so upon returning to Jerusalem, James asked Paul to show his willingness to become clean in the Jewish way. Paul agreed, but before he could finish the rites, many Jews in the temple recognized and accused Paul of bringing Gentiles into the temple, and Paul was arrested. Claudius Lysias believed at first that Paul was the leader of a group of assassins that had caused an insurrection recently.
– Claudius Lysias
– Paul’s Roman citizenship was likely due to the love that many Roman Emperors had for Tarsus. It was a cosmopolitan city and attracted many influential people to live and visit there. It is possible that an emperor would have given all people born in Tarsus in a given period Roman citizenship. It is also possible that Paul’s parents were in favor with the Roman elites.
– The fact that Paul was escorted to Caesarea by 470 Roman soldiers shows how much danger Paul was in at this time.
– Antonius Felix was the procurator (governor) of Judea and was known for his corrupt administration from 52-60 AD.
– Porcius Festus replaced Felix in 60 AD and was the procurator until 62 AD.
– Jews and Christians still saw as the same with a disagreement among similar believers.
– All Roman citizens had the right to appeal their cases to the Emperor in person.
– Herod Agrippa II was the final ruler of the Herodian dynasty. He had the favor of Emperor Nero and expanded his rule to include many more territories than his predecessors. Agrippa was beloved by Jews until he sided with the Romans in the first Jewish-Roman war in 66 AD.
– Euroclydon is the name of a hurricane force storm.
– It is traditionally believed that after Paul was released from prison in Rome that he traveled to Spain to preach the gospel before returning to Rome.
– Eusbius gives the most details related to Paul’s death. After being released from Roman capitivity the first time, Paul went on a 4th mission (possibly spain). When he returned to Rome he captured by Nero and beheaded.
– The New Testament gives us almost no information regarding the fate of the apostles. There are histories from the time and legends spread down over time that tell us they were all killed in varying ways and varying times. This is the best list I could put together from my research.
James (Zebedee) – Beheaded in 44 AD
Philip – Crucified by Soldiers in 54 AD
Matthew – Crucified in Judea 60 AD
James (Brother of Jesus) – Stoned in 63 AD
Peter – Crucified Upside Down in 64 AD
Paul – Beheaded in Rome in 64 AD
Thomas – Thrust with a spear in 70 AD
Bartholomew – Crucified 70 AD
Andrew – Hanged from Olive Tree in 70 AD
Mathias – Crucified 70 AD
Jude – Beaten to death in 72 AD
Simon – Stabbed with a sword 74 AD
John – lived past 100 AD. Tradition holds he may still be alive.
Last week we discussed Paul’s situation in Jerusalem and the confusion surrounding his arrest. This week we begin with Paul addressing his accusers. Jews (likely leaders) who believed he had betrayed them and their beliefs. Paul tells his conversion story to them and at the end points out that they murdered Stephen on his orders, to which he was wrong at the time. The people in the crowd only became more angry at Paul’s words and so Claudius Lysias, being afraid of Paul being murdered as a Roman citizen, sends Paul back to the barracks.
Claudius was in a tough position, because he didn’t want to look weak, but he couldn’t trample on Paul’s rights as a citizen. He also had no idea if Paul was breaking Jewish law or if they were just disagreeing about their religion. Eventually Claudius decides that Paul needs to be brought before the Jewish leaders of the Sanhedrin so he can decide if Paul is guilty.
When Paul addresses the Sanhedrin, he uses his experience as a Pharisee to blame his persecution on his belief in resurrection. This causes a fight between the Sadducees and the Pharisees and the council erupts to the point that Claudius removes Paul again back to the barracks.
Paul’s situation becomes similar to Jesus at this point with at least 40 Jewish leaders making an oath that they will not eat until Paul was killed. They could see the impact Paul was making, like Jesus, and they could not allow him to continue preaching Christ Jesus to the people.
While in prison the Lord informs Paul that he will preach in Rome like he has in Jerusalem, and the next morning Paul’s nephew finds out about the plot. The young man then informs Paul and Claudius that if Paul is taken back to the Sanhedrin that Paul will be killed. This makes the decision facing Claudius easier and he decides to send Paul to Caesarea to be tried by Felix the governor.
After Claudius sends a letter to Felix, Paul is escorted to Caesarea and the Jews hire a skilled prosecutor to try Paul in front of the governor. The prosecutor, Tertullus, who was hired by the Jews outlines the charges against Paul and this gives Paul defends himself against the accusations and it seems wins over Felix. Felix asks to meet with Paul in private and Paul shares his conversion story and his beliefs with Felix, not realizing that Felix is only looking for a bribe. Paul does not pay the bribe and so Paul remains imprisoned in Caesarea for 2 years when Felix is replaced by Poncius Festus.
Festus is new to the politics involved in this case and so he goes to Jerusalem first and gets the Jewish point of view. The leaders of the Jews ask for favor that Paul would be sent back to Jerusalem to be tried in the Sanhedrin, but Festus says he needs to talk to Paul first. Paul can see that Festus is going to bend to the Jews so they have good relations and he then appeals to the Emperor so he can bring his case before the emperor.
This is problematic for Festus as he doesn’t want to seem like he can’t handle his new position but he also knows that Paul has the right to appeal. King Herod Agrippa was a friend of Festus and has been summoned to help Festus in this situation. Agrippa is a Jewish believer and so he should be able to help sort out if Paul is guilty.
Agrippa then listens to Paul recount his conversion to believing in Christ and Agrippa is moved by the things Paul tells him. He lets Festus know that Paul is innocent, but since Paul had already appealed, Paul is then sent to Rome to wait for his appeal to be heard.
Paul’s journey to Rome is riddled with problems, most notably a hurricane that wrecks their ship in Malta. Paul has been promised that he would make it to Rome and so he helps assure all the people traveling and after three months of being stranded they eventually make it to Rome.
When Paul arrives in Rome, with his accusers nowhere to be found and silent, he meets with the Jewish Christians. He explains his situation and also that he plans to continue to bring Gentiles into the fold. Some of them believe and agree, while others do not agree. Nonetheless, the Book of the Acts of the Apostles ends with Paul on house arrest in Rome. The scripture says that he continued proclaiming and teaching about Jesus Christ with boldness and to everyone no matter Jew or Gentile.
Why do really terrible things happen to people who are good? What does faith give us in the face of terrible things?
Most disciples will not face prison for their faith, but what kinds of things do we face that are comparable? How do we overcome such trials?
Can you look back in your life and see the hand of God at times helping you? Will you write those experiences down and share them with those you love?
Key Moment or Scripture: Acts 26:16-19, 22-23, 27-29
16 But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;
17 Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,
18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
19 Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
22 Therefore, to this day, I have had help from God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:
23 That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
27 King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
28 Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
29 And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.
This is one of the most iconic moments in early church history. Paul has been recounting his life, conversion, and mission to bring souls to Jesus Christ and sharing his witness to King Agrippa with his life in the balance. King Agrippa can feel the power of Paul’s words and admits that they have nearly persuaded him to belief. We know that Paul is set free in this moment, but the thing I wanted to point out is in verse 22.
Paul states emphatically that he has received help from God from the beginning even unto now. It is easy to forget how important gratitude and awareness of God’s hand in our life can be. I am convinced that faith increases directly proportional to our awareness and gratitude for what the Lord has done for us in our life. Noticing and celebrating these tender mercies puts our minds in a place to feel and recognize the Holy Spirit. Then when we feel the spirit and act on its promptings we have more tender mercies. This is the cycle of discipleship and one that Paul is expressing to the King.
If you are doing this lesson with your family or others I would suggest talking about experiences where you feel the Lord influenced your life and how it impacted you.
Paul and other apostles are such amazing examples that discipleship includes having an open mind to other people, cultures, and beliefs as they sought to bring people to Jesus Christ. They were men that when faced with direction from God to change fundamental parts of their lives, they changed immediately and trusted in the Lord. I think many of us would struggle to let go of our ‘sacred cows’ of belief. However, I think trusting the Lord requires us to open up to the possibility that we see things in a distorted way and may need clarification or correction. Discipleship is the path to loving relationships and the gospel and church are the ways we learn to love and connect with people who are different from us. I am truly thankful for their examples.